New address: 24 Farnsworth Street, Boston, MA 02210-1409.
Religious individuals and groups have played a prophetic role in public life throughout
history by calling attention to oppression, demanding change, and holding
leaders and institutions accountable for their actions and policies. While this
is still true in the United States today, too many people are under the false impression that religious
organizations cannot have a voice in the public policy arena as a result of the
Constitutional separation of church and state or Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
regulations. In reality, there are many activities that any religious group can
do without jeopardizing its nonprofit tax-exempt status. There are restrictions on certain kinds of political actions, but the range of what is acceptable is
wide enough to exhaust the time and resources of any congregation without crossing any legal lines.
This guide is composed largely of
direct quotes from the most recent and relevant IRS publications, organized in a
way that is intended to be user-friendly. All references are clearly documented with footnotes. The most
authoritative IRS publication on nonprofits and electoral/political activity is
Revenue Ruling 2007-41, released June 18, 2007. While an excellent source of
information, it is not designed for a general audience. The more accessible IRS
resource is publication 1828, Tax Guide for Churches and Religious
Organizations. (Rev. 9-2006). To access these documents, visit Tax Information for Churches and Religious Organizations.
LAST REVISED: 2008-03-28
This resource is not intended to be formal legal advice; nor
should it be used in place of legal counsel. It is intended to clarify Internal
Revenue Service guidelines as they relate to religious organizations in the hope
that more congregations will (1) choose to become involved in working for
justice; and (2) know when it is important to seek legal advice.
The mission of the Washington Office for Advocacy is
to influence public policy decisions made by the U.S. Congress and Administration
on issues of concern to the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). The Office also
provides support and resources to congregations and individuals seeking to
create change in their communities and states. For more information, please see the UUA Social Justice website.
This guide was researched and initially compiled by a volunteer, David S. May, a
lawyer and member of Emerson Unitarian Church in Houston, TX.
Thanks to David for all his hard work! Final production was done by
Rob Keithan, Director of the Washington Office for Advocacy. The office would also
like to acknowledge the Alliance for Justice, whose publication The
Rules of the Game: An Election Year Legal Guide for Nonprofit Organizationsprovided the general outline for this guide. The Alliance for Justice
offers many relevant resources; please see "Section F: Additional Information
and References" for their contact information.
For more information contact socialjustice @ uua.org.
This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations.
Please consider making a donation today.
Last updated on Thursday, September 13, 2012.
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