Q: What are a few problems with the ban on political activity by charities?

A:

  • Selective enforcement of the law with a few charities losing exempt status while hundreds of others intentionally flout the law with no enforcement.
  • Vague meaning of what is allowed or not
  • That vague meaning chills free speech for everyone.
  • Probably unconstitutional (I watch constitutional debates on the field from the nosebleed section of the stadium, but looks to me like the political ban is way out-of-bounds).
  • Adopted into law in 1954 as payback against an NPO that dared criticize a Senator from Texas.
  • Contrary to very long tradition of political expression in some faith communities.
  • Undermining respect for the law when strong enforcement effort is applied to a few select charities.

Those are a few reasons the Commission on Accountability and Policy for Religious Organizations believes the ban on political advocacy by charities should be substantially relaxed.

The recommendations in their new report are careful and nuanced. It is impossible to summarize a dozen pages into one sentence, but I will take the risk of doing so. The general trend seems to be recommendations to allow verbal expressions of political opinion from the pulpit. Not financial contributions, but sermons.

Please read the report. I have browsed it once and will read it in full.

You can download a copy from the Commission’s website.

The Commission consists of a broad group representing all major faith groups in the U.S. As I mentioned earlier, there are multiple members from the Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu faith traditions. While most of the membership is from the Christian community, there is wide representation outside what would be considered the evangelical community. I’m already on public record as being impressed with the breadth of the commission’s membership.

A few articles on the report and recommendations:

I’ll share my opinion on this issue later. This comment from the Commission’s report is a good starting point for my thoughts:

Having the freedom to do something does not, of course, create an obligation to do it.

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