Political Activity for Pastors

DO'S AND DON'TS OF POLITICAL ACTIVITY FOR PASTORS

James Bopp, Jr., General Counsel
National Right to Life Committee, Inc.
July 9, 1990

Pastors are concerned about the legal effects of political activity on themselves and their churches. Churches are exempt from federal tax only so long as they do not participate in political campaigns. Federal election law also places restrictions upon political activity by individuals and institutions, particularly corporations, both profit and non-profit. The scope of proper political activity varies from case to case, but the following "do's and don'ts" are applicable in many cases.

  1. A pastor may individually and personally endorse candidates for political office.
    • A pastor's personal endorsement may be made from the pulpit if it is clear that it is his personal view and not that of the church itself.
    • A pastor may allow his name to be used as a supporter of a candidate in the candidate's own political advertisements. In this connection, the pastor may be identified as pastor of a particular church.
  2. A church may not endorse candidates for political office, and a pastor may not endorse candidates on behalf of this church.
    • Churches may engage in non-partisan voter registration and voter education activities so long as such activities are not intended to benefit any political candidate or party.
    • A church may allow political candidates to speak on church premises on the same basis that civic groups and other organizations are allowed to do so. If civic groups and other organizations are required to pay some rent for using the church property, the political candidate should be charged the same amount.
  3. A candidate should not be allowed to appeal to a church congregation at a church service for support or funds to be used in his political campaign.
  4. Lists of members of the church congregation may be provided to candidates for use in seeking support or raising funds only on the same basis that such lists are made available to other individuals and organizations. If a charge is normally made for such a list, the candidates should pay the same amount. No favoritism should be shown among candidates in providing a list of congregation members.
  5. A church may not establish a Political Action Committee (PAC). Pastors and other like-minded individuals may establish a PAC, but care should be taken that the committee is separate from the church.