Q. Is it legal for a minister to direct a congregation to vote for a particular candidate by name? If it is not legal, how is enforcement handled?
A. There may be ethical questions involved with a minister recommending a political candidate from the pulpit, but apparently there are no state laws prohibiting it.
“I am not aware of this being illegal,” said Wanda Copley, New Hanover County attorney.
On a federal level, however, a law was passed in 1954 that prohibits religious groups and other nonprofit organizations that accept tax-deductible contributions from involvement in partisan political campaigns.
The law does not bar ministers, priests, rabbis and other clergy members from voicing opinions on other ballot issues like voter initiatives, or helping to organize drives to get out the vote and other education efforts connected to elections.
A protest called Pulpit Freedom Sunday was organized several years ago by the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative Christian legal organization that advocates for conservative religious and social causes.
Their plan was to send copies of sermons to the Internal Revenue Service to provoke a challenge to the law.
The Internal Revenue Code specifies that all section 501(c)3 organizations are “absolutely prohibited” from taking part in, contributing to or making any statement “in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office.”
The IRS has not pursued any of the cases brought to its attention, according to several news organizations.
Date posted: February 18, 2014
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