When the offering gets taken on Father's Day at Faith Evangelical Free Church, senior pastor William Cripe knows exactly where every dollar collected will go afterward: a political action committee (PAC).

The Waterville congregation of 700 will join dozens of other Maine churches planning to send Father's Day collections to Protect Marriage Maine (PMM), a PAC formed to defeat a same-sex marriage referendum on this November's ballot.

"This will be a first for us," said Cripe, who has led Faith's congregation for nearly 22 years. "I see it as a duty, responsibility, and obligation part-and-parcel to our being salt and light in the world."

Cripe doesn't have to worry whether his church's involvement will threaten its tax-exempt status. Despite public perceptions to the contrary, a limited amount of donations and lobbying efforts by churches on behalf of legislation is legal.

Expect to see churches do more of this too, observers say, as legislative measures tied to marriage, abortion, and other controversial social issues continue to go before voters on ballots across the country.

"There is a real misunderstanding about what is involved in the tax code when it concerns a church engaging in legislative efforts," said Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF). "They can be a vital partner in this process."

Strict language from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) regarding what churches can and cannot do with political candidates may be one reason why church leaders assume any involvement with legislative efforts is a no-no, says Steve King, a Virginia attorney who regularly advises churches and nonprofits.

Churches are prohibited in IRS Publication 1828 from "political campaign activity," such as making financial ...

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