Two bills pending in Congress would allow churches to engage directly in partisan political activity without risking their tax-exempt status.
"It's obvious to anyone with half a brain that the free speech of pastors has been limited" by federal restrictions enacted in 1954, D. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church told a House Ways and Means oversight subcommittee on May 14.
Conversely, Barry Lynn, head of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, told the committee that the legislation was "morally repugnant [and] politically unhealthy."
One bill (HR 2357), which Rep. Walter Jones, R-North Carolina, initiated, would change the tax code, removing the ban on political participation by any house of worship. As of early June, the Jones bill had the support of 116 House members.
The other bill (HR 2931), sponsored by Rep. Phil Crane, R-Illinois, would allow houses of worship to spend up to 5 percent of their annual income on politics. Existing federal limits on church spending on politics are unclear.
Both bills are in the House Ways and Means Committee. Internal Revenue Service official Steven Miller said his agency has revoked the tax-exempt status of only two churches and has prosecuted "four or five" church-related agencies for violations of existing law.
Christianity Today sister publication Your Church looked in 1998 at the regulations on political activity placed on churches.
Articles on the Jones bill include:
Jones would let churches address political issues—Human Events Online (Oct. 29, 2001)
Restoring free speech to America's church—The Raleigh World1