Church Voter Registration Endorsed
Special Report - September 19, 2012
As the 2012 election season gets underway, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (AU) is warning churches to “avoid partisan electioneering” or face the risk of losing their tax-exempt status. The group, which is known for its efforts to halt the long-standing tradition of prayer before government meetings, including here in North Carolina, recently sent a letter to over 60,000 churches across the nation.
“The First Amendment protects the right of all Americans, religious leaders included, to speak out on religious, moral and political issues,” the letter states. “However, houses of worship and other nonprofit entities classified under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Service Tax Code are barred from endorsing or opposing candidates for public office and may not intervene directly or indirectly in partisan campaigns. Any activity designed to influence the outcome of a partisan election can be construed as intervention. If the IRS determines that your house of worship has engaged in unlawful intervention, it can revoke the institution’s tax-exempt status or levy significant fines on the house of worship or its leaders.”
The letter acknowledges that churches and other nonprofits may sponsor nonpartisan voter registration drives, and candidate forums, but notes that nonprofits, including churches, are prohibited from endorsing or opposing specific candidates.
According to the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the AU letter is aimed at “intimidating” churches. “Letters like this are a favorite tactic of AU. For years now, it has attempted to intimidate churches into silence during election season,” ADF states. “But here’s the problem. AU is using an unconstitutional law to try and intimidate and scare churches.”
ADF explains that the AU letter is based on the Johnson Amendment, which was passed by Congress in 1954 as an amendment to the federal tax code. According to ADF, the Johnson Amendment is “blatantly unconstitutional” and should be overturned. “Under the First Amendment, the pastor has the right to determine what is said from the pulpit, not the IRS,” ADF explains. “AU wants the IRS to monitor a pastor’s sermon, and to censor that pastor if the IRS agent happens to think that the pastor crosses the line. This is especially problematic because the line of what is prohibited under the Johnson Amendment is very fuzzy. That makes it convenient for AU to argue that churches have crossed the line when in fact they have not.” In response to efforts such as this AU letter to churches, ADF is sponsoring Pulpit Freedom Sunday on October 7.
In related news, the North Carolina Family Policy Council has produced a 2012 Voter Registration Toolkit to assist citizens in implementing a nonpartisan voter registration drive in their church, civic organization, local community, etc. Additionally, the Council is also now accepting pre-orders for its 2012 General Election Voter Guide, which is approved for use by 501(c)(3) organizations, including churches. The 24-page 2012 Voter Guide is an impartial and nonpartisan look at where candidates running for state and federal office in North Carolina stand on issues like a marriage protection amendment, religious freedom, embryonic stem cell research, and much more.
The First Amendment protects the rights of church members and church leaders to speak out on policy issues, and to host nonpartisan voter registration drives and distribute nonpartisan voter guides, such as the North Carolina Family Policy Council’s 2012 Voter Guide," said Jere Royall, counsel for the North Carolina Family Policy Council. "We encourage church leaders and members to not be intimidated into silence or inactivity, but instead to use these efforts as an opportunity to educate themselves and others about the rights of churches and people of faith during this important election season.”
Report Documents Religious Hostility - August 27, 2012
Pastors Want Government Out of Pulpit - September 15, 2011
Groups Fight For Religious Freedom - August 31, 2010
Freedom Of Religion Statement Issued - January 20, 2010
Taking a Stand - Findings - 2006
Church Involvement - Findings - 2004
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