Defining what Churches can and can’t do in Politics.

David Waters of the Scripps Howard News Service has written a really good article titled Faith Matters: Line between church, state—Just how thin is it?

As Election Day draws near, James Madison’s “line of distinction” between church and state seems to bend and blur.

Candidates pop up in pews and speak from pulpits. Voter guides are packed in church bulletins. Churches turn into polling places.

Here’s a brief guide for the perplexed:

Q Can churches distribute “nonpartisan voter guides” produced by extremely partisan organizations? ח Pat R., Virginia

A Yes.

They also can distribute tracts written by the Tooth Fairy. That doesn’t mean they should.

Legally, if the IRS determines that a voter guide is partisan, churches can be penalized for distributing it, regardless of who produced it.

How can you tell if a voter guide is partisan?

First, read it. Does it try to inform or persuade? If it tries to persuade a voter that one candidate is preferable to another, chances are it’s partisan.

Second, check to see who produced it. Groups such as the League of Women Voters try to inform. Others such as the Christian Coalition and the NAACP try to persuade.

There’s about 8 questions and answers in total that should be required reading for church directors everywhere. It pretty much lays out in plain English what political activities churches can engage in without risking their tax exempt status. This would be to their benefit to know as what churches can and can’t do is rather specific and it’s always best to be informed about the law before engaging in activities that could put you on the wrong side of it.

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