Written by Don Byrd

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Jay Booker surveys the number of candidate endorsements, half-endorsements, and wink-wink political nudges coming from pulpits this year and concludes the ban on tax-exempt endorsements is essentially dead. He thinks the consequences aren’t just legal.

Technically, federal law still prohibits churches and other groups that enjoy tax-free nonprofit status from engaging in partisan politics. In practice, though, that law is seldom if ever enforced because the political cost of doing so would be prohibitive. And while I don’t have a major problem with that turn of events and accept it as inevitable, I think violating federal law was always one of the more minor risks that religious leaders take when they so flagrantly entangle their churches with the sordid world of partisan politics.

Once you step into that political world, the rules change significantly, and I’m not talking federal or state law.

Hopefully the IRS disappearance on this issue is only temporary. I posted earlier about a possible reason, beyond just the political risks, that they have been silent the last couple of election cycles. But I agree with Booker. Involving a church in politics imperils your church in many ways beyond just the potential for a tax bill.

UPDATE: On a related note, see the BJC’s Holly Hollman quoted in a Tennessean story, making the similar point that endorsing candidates is not a good idea:

Holly Hollman, general counsel of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, says endorsing candidates is a bad idea for churches and ministers.

When churches get involved in campaigns, they risk misusing charitable donations for political gains, she said. “It threatens an end run around our campaign finance rules.”