Ministers have free speech rights, too:

Reader John Griffin asks:

I though the Internal Revenue Code prohibited political endorsements by religious institutions and religious organizations. Yet, here is a link to an article in The Philadelphia Inquirer about competing endorsements from two religious organizations concerning the US Senate race in Pennsylvania. Curious that they chose opposite candidates, but problematic, are they not?

It’s hard to tell for sure without knowing more details, but it might well be entirely unproblematic — and rightly so.

There’s nothing illegal about religious institutions or organizations as such endorsing political candidates. In fact, if religious organizations were specially banned, because of their religiosity, from endorsing candidates, that would violate both the Free Speech Clause and the Free Exercise Clause (the latter because it would constitute impermissible discrimination against religion).

Organizations, religious or not, that receive tax-deductible charitable contributions may not engage in electioneering using those funds. There are accounting requirements aimed at making sure that tax-deductible funds aren’t used for such purposes, and that endorsements are indeed done only using non-tax-deductible funds. (That’s why many organizations have a 501(c)(3) branch that collects tax-deductible contributions and doesn’t engage in direct electioneering, and a 501(c)(4) branch that collects non-tax-deductible contributions and does engage in direct electioneering.) Sometimes people have charged that various religious groups have violated those rules.

But this story suggests simply that a bunch of ministers have come together into a couple of groups, and then used those groups make whatever endorsements they like. So long as the groups don’t take tax-deductible funds — and there’s no reason why they should, since they probably don’t need much money to fulfill their very narrow role — the groups are free to express their members’ views.

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