What Actions is the Church Allowed to Take? – Sally Ahnger, President of the Board of Trustees


Whenever there is a discussion about the church taking action on a public issue, the question of restrictions on the activities of non-profits always comes up. Here at UUCPA we are governed by two sets of rules: the IRS and our bylaws.

According to IRS regulations, we can work on issues of a political nature, but we cannot be partisan, in other words, we cannot support candidates or political parties.
IRS Guidelines and Congregations: The Three Rules

1. No Limits on Advocacy and Education (activities that raise awareness on a given issue but don’t encourage the public to support/oppose specific legislation).

2. Narrow Limit on Lobbying (advocating for or against specific pieces of legislation). According to the IRS, lobbying must be an “unsubstantial” portion of an organization’s activities. The IRS has not defined what this means exactly, but it’s generally agreed that up to 5% is fine. That is 5% of the total activities of the organization, including money for the building and staff salaries, all staff and volunteer hours, etc, so it is highly unlikely we would ever reach that threshold.

3. Total Limit on Partisan Politics (anything that advocates for or against candidates or parties). In other words, the church can not oppose individual people in office, but we are allowed to oppose their policies.

If you’d like more information, there is a good book called Loud and Clear in an Election Year, available in the church library, about how churches can publicly advocate for their values during elections, as UUCPA has done most recently in support of marriage equality, fighting climate change, and public funding of election campaigns.

In order for the church as a whole to take a stand, according to our bylaws, “Any such stand on a political or social issue must be approved by an affirmative vote of at least ninety percent (90%) of members voting.” So to put the church’s name as a sponsor of an action, the congregation must first have voted to take a stand related to that action. The annual meeting of the congregation in April is a good opportunity to present resolutions for a vote of the congregation. To be successful with such a resolution it is best to start engaging the congregation in discussions about taking a stand a couple of months before the meeting. Any group or individual in the congregation may propose a resolution to the congregation.