Can My Church Have a Candidate Speak at a Church Service?

By October 7, 2020 Church
Can My Church Have a Candidate Speak at a Church Service?

Every election season seems to bring a lot of questions from ministry leaders about what they can and cannot do when they intersect with candidates running for political office.

If a church is determined to have speeches that are related to a campaign, it may. But there are certain conditions under current Federal tax law that apply. For example, if the church hosts one candidate for such a speech, they must take care to do so in a manner that avoids partisan favoritism—by treating  other candidates from the various political parties the same. One way this may be managed is by holding a public forum or a debate designed to educate and inform voters—again, in a way that does not betray any form of partisan favoritism, even in the phrasing of questions.

A church may also have a single candidate speak, so long as the speech is not related to that candidate’s campaign for office and no fundraising is done for the candidate. Nor may other people, such as a church member who introduces the candidate, make any sort of recommendation that people in the audience vote for the candidate or offer any other form of explicit support for the candidate.

Recently, legal scholars and advocacy groups have called into question the constitutionality of some of the restrictions in Federal tax law and have pointed out that current IRS regulations can curtail the free exercise of religion and the free speech rights of religious organizations.  There is, thus, a tension between current tax law and the Constitution. While churches must proceed with caution in this area, they should not give up their constitutional rights either.

When a church or nonprofit organization in Arizona needs legal aid or advice about candidate speeches, Provident Law’s nonprofit attorneys are here to help. We recognize how essential these organizations are to society, and how important their tax exempt status is to their continued existence, and we provide broad transactional and general counsel services to keep them running smoothly. Contact us to learn more.