Religion, Politics, and the Tax Code

The U. S. Tax Code allows donor tax deductions to religious organizations, but the deduction comes with conditions that require the ministries to limit political activities. The best known condition is the rule against involvement in political campaigns.

Voter Education and Get-Out-the-Vote

The IRS prohibits any voter education and registration effort that specifically favors one candidate or party.

Individual Activity by Leaders

As individuals, church leaders can express their political opinions; however, the tax code prohibits them from making political comments in publications and at functions that their ministry sponsors.

Official Candidate Appearances

When a ministry invites a candidate to speak, the IRS determines if the event is allowed within the rules of the tax code by asking:

  • Did the organization provide the same opportunity to participate to all candidates for the same position?
  • Did the organization indicate its support for or opposition to any of the candidates in any way?
  • Did any political fundraising occur?

When it invites several candidates for the same office to speak at a public event, the IRS asks other questions:

  • Did questions for the candidates come from an unbiased panel?
  • Did the discussion cover a broad range of issues of interest to the public?
  • Did all candidates have an equal opportunity to present their views?
  • Were candidates asked to agree or disagree with ministry-specific positions or statements?
  • Did a moderator comment on the questions or imply approval or disapproval of any candidate?

Unofficial Candidate Appearances

Ministries may invite political candidates to speak in certain situations: i.e., when those who hold a public office are experts in a non-political field or have led notable military, legal, or public service careers. A candidate also may personally choose to attend a ministry event open to the public. If the ministry introduces the candidate or asks the candidate to speak, the IRS determines if the activity fits the rules by asking questions similar to those mentioned previously.

Public Policy Positions

IRS regulations permit religious organizations to take positions on public policy issues that divide candidates. However, they must avoid taking a position that favors or opposes a candidate or party. A church or ministry can violate the regulations simply by showing a picture of the candidate, referring to a political party, or using facts unique to a candidate's platform or biography.

Business Activity

An organization may not sell or rent mailing lists, lease office space, or accept paid political advertising in a way that the tax code prohibits.

Websites

When a ministry posts something on a website that favors or opposes a candidate, the IRS considers it the same as other political statements a religious organization makes. When a church or ministry allows a link to another website, the IRS may hold it responsible for political statements others make on the linked site.

June 19, 2017
Off-Site Youth Activities
Off-Site Youth Activities

Snow skiing. Camping. Whitewater rafting. A youth group trip can give students an exciting diversion from their weekly routines, as well as an opportunity to strengthen healthy friendships. Off-site activities may challenge your students to step outside of their comfort zones a bit, but this can bring about a positive result.

Tags: youth, insurance, safety
June 7, 2017
Insurance Protection Should Accompany Every Mission Trip
Insurance Protection Should Accompany Every Mission Trip

If you are in the process of planning a mission trip for your church group, make sure to think carefully about insurance, safety, and security as you hammer out the details. Extra preparation could minimize headaches when your group arrives on the mission field.

Tags: mission insurance, foreign travel, liability, coverage
May 24, 2017
Think Before You Loan Your Ministry's Vehicles
Think Before You Loan Your Ministry's Vehicles

Has your church or school ever been asked to loan one of your vans or buses to another? Before you decide to loan your ministry vehicles to another organization, seriously consider the potential risks associated with such a decision.

Tags: auto insurance, loaning vehicles
March 29, 2017
Has Your Church Completed a Personal Property Inventory?
Has Your Church Completed a Personal Property Inventory?

Completing a personal property inventory of your church or ministry could be one of the wisest activities you can pursue. If disaster strikes and you file an insurance claim, you may need an inventory highlighting damaged items.

Tags: claims, coverage, insurance, property
March 15, 2017
Is Your Ministry as Safe as It Could Be?
Is Your Ministry as Safe as It Could Be?

Have you thought through potential dangers that may confront your ministry? Taking steps to consider and address these risks provides important protection from injuries, lawsuits, fires, and dozens of other hazards that may affect your ministry, especially your employees and those you serve.

Tags: safety, security, security team, protecting staff members, risk management
February 22, 2017
Health Care Reimbursement Option Now Available
Health Care Reimbursement Option Now Available

Small businesses—including churches and related ministries—can once again pay premiums for their employees’ health insurance. Previously known as an Employer Payment Plan (EPP) or Health Reimbursement Account (HRA), these arrangements violated the Affordable Care Act (ACA). However, due to a recently passed law, ministries that are not part of a group health plan now have another option to help employees with health care costs.

Tags: church staff, health insurance
February 15, 2017
IRS Warns of Dangerous W-2 Email Scam
IRS Warns of Dangerous W-2 Email Scam

Ministries beware: An email scheme, designed to coincide with tax season, asks payroll and human resource professionals to disclose employees’ personal information. Think you wouldn’t fall for such a scam? You might, if the email looks as if it came from someone in your ministry.

Tags: paying employees, cyber security, church staff, security, damages, digital, IRS regulations
February 1, 2017
Dual Tax Status: What Does It Mean for Your Pastor?
Dual Tax Status: What Does It Mean for Your Pastor?

Under federal law, most ministers have dual tax status. Dual tax status means a minister is an employee of the church for federal income tax purposes, and self-employed for Social Security and Medicare taxes. Here’s what you need to know.

Tags: church payroll, finance, IRS regulations, paying employees, tax code
January 18, 2017
Protect Your Board Against Lawsuits
Protect Your Board Against Lawsuits

Lawsuits against churches and ministries are on the rise, making their board members especially vulnerable. Sometimes, courts have found directors and officers personally liable when their actions have resulted in financial damages.

Tags: protect, directors and officers, protecting staff members
January 4, 2017
Incorporation Can Protect Church Members
Incorporation Can Protect Church Members

Incorporation takes the weight of responsibility off the shoulders of individuals and instead, places it on the organization. In contrast, a court may find all members of an unincorporated church legally responsible for negligent or criminal actions committed by one church member.

Tags: protect, directors and officers, protecting staff members
December 14, 2016
How Well Does Your Ministry Secure Personal Data?
How Well Does Your Ministry Secure Personal Data?

Ministries commonly store a variety of personal information about their members and the people who support them. Mailing lists and donation records may be the most familiar repositories of personal information; however, the average church database is also likely to include Social Security numbers and payment card information. Unsecured, this data could make church members vulnerable to criminals—putting church and ministry members at risk.

Tags: cyber security, digital, protect, risk, church offerings, financial gifts, liability, security
December 7, 2016
Keep Would-Be Thieves from Curbing your Christmas Joy
Keep Would-Be Thieves from Curbing your Christmas Joy

Large or small, churches and ministries are often easy prey for would-be thieves, especially as church holidays, like Christmas, approach and weekly offerings increase as more people return to worship and other ministry activities. Ministry leaders can boost their ability to keep thieves away from their contributions and property by taking just a few precautions—not only during the holidays, but also throughout the year.

Tags: liability, damages, protect, directors and officers, coverage, liability, protect, risk, safety, church offerings, financial gifts
November 30, 2016
Are Your Church Christmas Decorations a Fire Hazard?
Are Your Church Christmas Decorations a Fire Hazard?

Churches seldom look more beautiful than when they're decorated for the holidays. Candles, lights, and greenery add splendor to the celebration of Christ's birth. Unfortunately, they also contribute to a number of fires each December. As you haul out the decorations, remember to balance beauty with safety.

 

Tags: liability, damages, protect, liability, protect, risk, safety, fire prevention
November 16, 2016
Always Looking for Church Nursery Volunteers?
Always Looking for Church Nursery Volunteers?

Having a hard time finding people to serve in the church nursery? Do new volunteers stop serving, shortly after they begin?  There could be a number of reasons for that.

Tags: liability, protect, risk, safety, youth, volunteers
November 9, 2016
Take Steps to Prevent the Flu
Take Steps to Prevent the Flu

Do you remember the last time you caught the flu? You probably sneezed and coughed and ached all over, resting your stuffy head by a box of tissues and wishing you had the energy to do more than lie there. Well, it’s time to watch out. The flu virus is preparing to pounce again.  

Tags: cyber security, digital, protect, risk, health safety, risk
October 26, 2016
Safety Makes for an Enjoyable Hayride
Safety Makes for an Enjoyable Hayride

Every fall, thousands of churches across the nation sponsor hayrides. Unfortunately, these events sometimes lead to serious injuries, even deaths. By following these suggestions, you can minimize the risks involved in sponsoring hayrides and make your hayride a safe and enjoyable experience.

Tags: cyber security, digital, protect, risk, liability, outdoor activities, protect, risk, safety
September 14, 2016
New Overtime Ruling Takes Effect in December
New Overtime Ruling Takes Effect in December

Last May, the United States Department of Labor announced a new standard for determining who qualifies as an exempt employee under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The new ruling says that if an employee earns less than $47,476 per year ($913 per week), then in most cases the employee needs to be classified as non-exempt. This change will take effect December 1, 2016.

Tags: liability, damages, protect, directors and officers, coverage, church payroll, church staff, paying employees, Fair Labor Standards Act
September 7, 2016
Ministries Can Take Steps to Protect their Beliefs
Ministries Can Take Steps to Protect their Beliefs

Issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) laws have received a great deal of media and government attention since the 2015 Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage. As a result, many ministry leaders have questions about what the law requires and how they can accommodate LGBTQ* individuals without compromising their religious beliefs.

 

Tags: cyber security, digital, protect, risk, liability, insurance, protect, religious freedom
August 31, 2016
Take the Confusion out of Borrowing or Leasing Vehicles
Take the Confusion out of Borrowing or Leasing Vehicles

From time to time, your church or ministry may need to borrow or lease a vehicle for a special event. Before using a vehicle that you don’t own, you need to consider a number of factors.

Tags: liability, auto insurance
August 24, 2016
Knowing the Terms Can Help You Understand Your Auto Policy
Knowing the Terms Can Help You Understand Your Auto Policy

Understanding your commercial auto insurance policy can sometimes seem as complicated as navigating rush-hour traffic in a crowded church bus. It doesn’t have to be intimating, if you know some of the common components and terms that every insurance policy includes.

Tags: liability, auto insurance