Free Speech and the 501 (c)(3) – What Every Pastor Needs to Know
Our Nation’s Founding Fathers gave us something many other countries do not enjoy and that is the protected right of Free Speech that is granted in the first amendment to our Constitution. However, freedoms do not come without responsibility. For instance, you may have the right to free speech, but you do not have the right to yell “fire” in a crowded theatre. With that said, Pastors may enjoy the Constitutional right of Freedom of Speech, but there are some restrictions to that right when operating under the Non-Profit 501 (c)(3) umbrella. So, what are some dos and don’ts?
Pastors are unique people who have a tremendous responsibility to “watch” for the souls of those who attend their Churches. Not only must they preach an uncompromised truth from Scripture, but often, members will want the Pastor’s personal opinions. Unfortunately, some of these opinions may not be legal.
When Is It Illegal
Due to the nonprofit status afforded to Churches, there are some things that must be avoided if the Church is to maintain its exempt status. Most of those deal with politics. Although Pastors are allowed personal opinions on political matters, they are not allowed to voice those opinions from the pulpit, nor are they allowed to make an endorsement for a particular political candidate or assist in swaying an election.
Another problem is with the Pastor’s blog. If that personal blog is linked to the Church website, the Pastor cannot speak personally about any candidate or an upcoming election.
As 501(c)(3) organizations, Churches/Pastors are prohibited from endorsing a political candidate or from intervening in a political campaign.
Most of us have strong, personal convictions of candidates running for political office. Since this is an election year, many pastors will feel the need to voice their political opinions. Most of their political opinions are based upon their Judeo-Christian beliefs. However, current law prohibits tax-exempt funds, such as those of a church (including from the pulpit or blog), to be used to intervene in or influence a political campaign.
Does this mean a Pastor should remain silent? Absolutely not! It does mean that the Pastor should take great strides to make sure his or her remarks, or methods used to make such remarks, are legal.
Keeping It Legal
A Pastor can say anything he or she wants (1st Amendment Freedom of Speech) as long as he or she does not use Church funds, methods, or equipment to propagate that opinion.
Therefore, if a Pastor is expressing his or her opinion on political matters or candidates through a blog – keep the blog personal and do not allow it to be linked to the Church website. If the opinions are spoken, make sure they are not spoken during a Church service or event.
This also applies to podcasts and social media posts. Make sure the podcasts and social media posts are not connected to or sanctioned by the Church. A good rule of thumb is, “Keep the spiritual, spiritual, and the personal, personal.” Do not mix the two.
Don’t Get Left Behind
Ministry is rapidly changing. We cannot “do” Church like we used to do it. To keep it proper and legal is often overwhelming for any Pastor or Church Board. As a rule this was not a class in Bible College, and if it was, what they taught is now outdated.
Often when Pastors and Church Leaders hear the latest legal changes, many want to resign. Do not be discouraged.
Pastors, do what you do, and seek help with that which you are not called or qualified. The best thing to do is connect with Chitwood & Chitwood who has been taking care of Church compliance issues for more than 79 years. We are the best.
Since the ministry world is changing so rapidly, I would encourage every Pastor and Church Leader to attend the nearest Church Management and Tax Conference. During these conferences we will show you how to protect the ministry vision God has given you for your city. To register, contact us at www.cmtc.org or call 800-344-0076. Do not delay. Time is not on your side.
With our assistance, every Pastor and Church Leader will again discover the joy of ministry.
Remember, for us, “It is A Ministry – Not A Job!”