Rethinking Political Speech for Non-Profit Organizations

| October 12, 2013

Commission_Report_2013_smallAn advisory commission of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability has recently released recommendations for reforming the ban on electioneering by churches and other 501(c)(3) organizations. The commission has recommended that the it ought to be up to the organizations themselves to decide whether to speak about candidates.

The Commission on Accountability and Policy for Religious Organizations is organized by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. Its report, Government Regulation of Political Speech by Religious and Other 501(c)(3) Organizations: Why the Status Quo Is Untenable and Proposed Solutions, is the second of two sets of recommendations the Commission prepared in response to concerns expressed by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). The first report Enhancing Accountability For The Religious and Broader Nonprofit Sector, was issued in December, 2012.

The Commission points out that the ban on election involvement by 501(c)(3) organizations, which includes a prohibition on endorsing or opposing candidates and on funding candidates and their campaigns, is vague and inconsistently enforced–and improperly suppresses political speech and the political views of religious leaders. If the ban was consistently enforced, it would be especially a problem for African-American churches which, as historically the central institutions of the community, have played and do play a major political role.

 The solution, the Commission says, is not a more consistently enforced ban but rather modified rules that better respect religious and political freedom.

The Commission agrees that it is right to bar 501(c)(3) organizations from expending their tax-privileged dollars on election campaigns. But clergy (and the leaders of other religious and secular nonprofits) should be free to make political statements, including statements about political candidates, in the course of their usual activities (e.g., conducting worship services or offering web-based information about civil rights), as long as no significant expenditures are required. This change would allow clergy to speak not only about the moral consequences of government policies but also about the candidates who will support or oppose various policies. The organizations would not be free to engage in full-blown media campaigns about candidates for public office.

When is it wise–or essential–for a member of the clergy to speak directly in support or opposition to particular candidates? The Commission doesn’t offer advice about this. Rather, it simply proposes, and rightly so, that this is a decision that the religious organization and its supporting religious community is better able to make than the IRS.

The full report of the Commission is available at it website at


The Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance works to preserve a public square that is welcoming to faith-based services, and guard religious freedom in the marketplace. Learn more here:



Category: Non-Profits

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Email | Website | Stanley Carlson-Thies is the Founder and Senior Director of the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance (IRFA), a division of the Center for Public Justice. As part of this role, he convenes the Coalition to Preserve Religious Freedom, a multi-faith alliance of social-service, education, and religious freedom organizations that advocates for the religious freedom of faith-based organizations to Congress and the federal government. In addition he is also a Senior Fellow at the Canadian think tank Cardus. He has served on task forces and initiatives under both President Obama and President George W. Bush. Previously, he was Director of Social Policy Studies for CPJ and directed CPJ’s project to track the implementation and impact of the Charitable Choice provision of the 1996 federal welfare reform law. He received the William Bentley Ball Life and Religious Liberty Defense Award from the Center for Law and Religious Freedom and the Christian Legal Society in October 2004. He holds a doctorate in political science from the University of Toronto. He lives in Annapolis, Maryland, with his wife, Christiane.