Is That Legal?

The following article entitled, “Is That Legal?” was taken from the website. It provides pertinent information concerning what churches and pastors can and cannot do in order to maintain a local church’s tax-exempt status. Click here for the brochure “Is That Legal?”

Good question! Many are confused about what is and what is not legal given the IRS restrictions on political activity by tax-exempt organizations. While it is impossible to lay out a definitive list of do’s and don’ts since the IRS interprets what is and isn’t legal, the resource below is offered for general guidelines:


  • Sermons on moral and social issues and civic involvement
  • Educate on political process and political/social/legislative issues
  • Distribution of candidate surveys and incumbent voting records (avoid editorial opinions and make sure they cover a wide range of issues)
  • Encourage members to voice their opinions in favor or in opposition to certain legislation.*
  • Discuss biblical instruction pertaining to moral and cultural issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, etc.
  • Support or oppose judicial, department, or cabinet appointments
  • Support or oppose other political appointments of non-elected officials
  • Use of church facilities by political candidates (as long as all other candidates are allowed or invited)
  • Petition drives supporting or opposing legislation
  • Support or oppose legislation unrelated to the church organization.*
  • Engage in voter registration activities that avoid promoting any one candidate or particular political party.
  • Support or oppose legislation that directly relates to the organization.**


  • Endorsing or opposing political candidates
  • Contributions to Political Action Committees
  • Church bulletin editorial where the pastor or staff member endorses or opposes a candidate
  • Campaigning for candidates
  • Fundraising for candidates
  • Granting use of name to support a political candidate
  • Support or oppose judicial candidates
  • In-kind and independent expenditures for or against political candidates
  • Contributions to political candidates


  • Preach on moral and social issues and encourage civic involvement.
  • Engage in voter registration activities that avoid promoting any one candidate or particular political party.
  • Distribute educational materials to voters (such as voter guides), but only those that do not favor a particular candidate or party and that cover a wide range of issues.
  • Conduct candidate or issues forums where each duly qualified candidate invited and provided an equal opportunity to address the congregation.
  • Invite candidates or elected officials to speak at church services. Churches that allow only one candidate or a single party’s candidate to speak can be seen as favoring that candidate or party. No candidate should be prohibited from addressing a church if others running for the same office have been allowed to speak. Exempt from this are candidates or public figures who may speak at a church, but they must refrain from speaking about their candidacy.


  • Endorse candidates on behalf of the church.
  • Use church funds or services (such as mailing lists or office equipment) to contribute directly to candidates or political committees.
  • Permit the distribution of material on church premises that favors any one candidate or political party.
  • Use church funds to pay fees for political events.
  • Allow candidates to solicit funds while speaking in a church.
  • Set up a political committee that would contribute funds directly to political candidates.

*Churches and other 501(c)(3) organizations may support or oppose legislation so long as such activity comprises an insubstantial part of the overall operation. 501(c)(4) organizations may support or oppose legislation without any limitations.

**A church or any other 501(c)(3) organization may without limitation support or oppose legislation that directly affects the organizational structure and operation. For example, a church may without limitation oppose legislation attempting to repeal the tax exempt status of the church.

Adapted from resources provided by:

Jay Sekulow, American Center for Law and Justice; D. Staver, Liberty Council; Reprinted from Baptist Press (, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.