Nonprofit Newswire | 501(c)(3) Churches vs. Freedom of Speech

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September 14, 2010; Source: Canada Free Press | The Canada Free Press may be located in the great country to the north of us, but its conservative focus is very much that of the U.S. (the site’s tagline is, “Because without America there is no Free World”).

This piece examines the trade off for churches in accepting tax-deductible contributions. The author contends that the increase in giving they have won through charitable deductibility is more than offset—negatively—by the churches’ “forfeit [of] part of their freedom of speech rights,” because speaking out on electoral campaigns from the pulpit risks a church’s loss of tax exempt status.

While limitations on nonprofit lobbying date back to the Tax Act of 1934, the restrictions on campaign activity is of more recent vintage, attributed to Lyndon Johnson in the 1950s. According to the author, once government succeeded in shutting down churches’ electoral involvement, the “government became more bold in its attack on religion and American (sic) became more lax in its morality,” evidenced in the 1960s by “the removal of prayer in the schools and the ‘free love’ movement . . . and the ‘women’s lib’ movement.” As a result of charitable deductibility, “churches may have more contributions from their members, but probably have fewer members due to the decline in morality and the lack of interest in organized religion.”

The author subscribes to the movement of having churches and 501(c)(3) charities get involved in electoral campaigns. To do so, he concludes, they might consider eschewing the charitable deductibility of contributions. “Sometimes,” the author concludes, “the old-fashioned way of doing things was just better!” Makes sense to us: if a church wants to jump over the tax code and engage in electoral politics, that’s fine, but just don’t do it and expect to get a tax deductible donations.—Rick Cohen