Decorative Scales of Justice in the CourtroomWritten by Don Byrd

IRS regulations prohibiting the endorsement of candidates by 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations are well-established and clearly articulated. The extent to which those regulations extends to clergy within non-profit religious organizations like houses of worship has become a source of controversy and debate.

Adelle Banks of Religion News Service reports that some voices on both sides of that debate are unified in the view that the IRS should clarify this rule with bright lines. Representatives of both the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Center for American Progress met at the National Press Club yesterday to discuss this rare area of agreement.

Erik Stanley, a lawyer for Alliance Defending Freedom, said IRS laws about “indirect” campaigning are too vague and the IRS is not enforcing its rules about direct campaigning. He said some 4,000 “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” pastors have self-reported to the IRS that they have talked about candidates, often supporting or opposing particular ones, during a worship service.

[T]he lack of clarity is creating confusion for a range of nonprofits, said Alex DeMots, vice president and deputy general counsel for the Center for American Progress.

“It’s just bad public policy for a small charity or church or community organization to have to hire a lawyer to figure out what it can and can’t do,” he said.

The Baptist Joint Committee supports the current IRS rules as “striking the right balance between protections for individuals and tax-exempt entities and maintaining a healthy separation of church and state.” Visit the BJC’s chuch electioneering resource page here.