In a April 4 letter to congressional leaders spearheaded by the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship joined a group of 99 religious and denominational organizations opposing “any effort to weaken or eliminate protections that prohibit 501(c)(3) organizations, including houses of worship, from endorsing or opposing political candidates.”
CBF Executive Coordinator Suzii Paynter also released a brief statement expressing her opposition to partisan politics in the pulpit.
“Partisan politics have no place in our pulpits. In fact, it’s the absence of that very thing — partisan politics — that gives us the power to speak with moral authority on issues of the day.”
Below is the full text of the April 4 letter. Visit the Baptist Joint Committee website to view the list of organizational signatories. We invite Cooperative Baptists to offer their support for this letter and tell our elected officials in Congress that partisan politics have no place in our pulpits.
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Dear Speaker Ryan, Majority Leader McConnell, Leader Pelosi, Leader Schumer, Chairman Brady, Chairman Hatch, Ranking Member Neal, and Ranking Member Wyden:
We, the 99 undersigned religious and denominational organizations strongly oppose any effort to weaken or eliminate protections that prohibit 501(c)(3) organizations, including houses of worship, from endorsing or opposing political candidates. Current law serves as a valuable safeguard for the integrity of our charitable sector1 and campaign finance system.
Religious leaders often use their pulpits to address the moral and political issues of the day. They also can, in their personal capacities and without the resources of their houses of worship, endorse and oppose political candidates. Houses of worship can engage in public debate on any issue, host candidate forums, engage in voter registration drives, encourage people to vote, help transport people to the polls and even, with a few boundaries, lobby on specific legislation and invite candidates to speak. Tax-exempt houses of worship may not, however, endorse or oppose candidates or use their tax-exempt donations to contribute to candidates’ campaigns. Current law simply limits groups from being both a tax-exempt ministry and a partisan political entity. 1 Some have suggested a desire to remove this safeguard only as it applies to houses of worship and to keep all other 501(c)(3) organizations at the status quo. This path, however, is constitutionally problematic under Texas Monthly v. Bullock, 489 U.S. 1 (1989). 2 As religious organizations, we oppose any attempt to weaken the current protections offered by the 501(c)(3) campaign intervention prohibition because:
People of faith do not want partisan political fights infiltrating their houses of worship. Houses of worship are spaces for members of religious communities to come together, not be divided along political lines; faith ought to be a source of connection and community, not division and discord. Indeed, the vast majority of Americans do not want houses of worship to issue political endorsements. 2 Particularly in today’s political climate, such endorsements would be highly divisive and would have a detrimental impact on civil discourse.
Current law protects the integrity of houses of worship. If houses of worship endorse candidates, their prophetic voice, their ability to speak truth to power as political outsiders, is threatened. The credibility and integrity of congregations would suffer with bad decisions of candidates they endorsed. Tying America’s houses of worship to partisan activity demeans the institutions from which so many believers expect unimpeachable decency.
Current law protects the independence of houses of worship. Houses of worship often speak out on issues of justice and morality and do good works within the community but may also labor to adequately fund their ministries. Permitting electioneering in churches would give partisan groups incentive to use congregations as a conduit for political activity and expenditures. Changing the law would also make them vulnerable to individuals and corporations who could offer large donations or a politician promising social service contracts in exchange for taking a position on a candidate. Even proposals that would permit an “insubstantial” standard or allow limited electioneering only if it is in furtherance of an organization’s mission would actually invite increased government intrusion, scrutiny, and oversight.
The charitable sector, particularly houses of worship, should not become another cog in a political machine or another loophole in campaign finance laws. We strongly urge you to oppose any efforts to repeal or weaken protections in the law for 501(c)(3) organizations, including houses of worship.