New Maryland anti-marriage equality site advises pastors how to engage politically, keep nonprofit status
In response to renewed efforts to pass same-sex marriage in Maryland through legislation in 2012, a new website dedicated to maintaining marriage rights for straight couples only in the state popped up last month. Among the goals of the website is to help religious organizations influence legislation without violating tax laws.
Marriage For Maryland, or Marriage4Maryland, is billed as a “resource of information and action tools to help preserve traditional marriage and protect the people’s right to be represented fairly by their legislators.”
The website is registered to Ruth Jacobs, treasurer of Maryland Citizens for a Responsible Government and operated by Rockville, Md.-based software-development firm Moshe Technologies, LLC. Moshe Technologies founder Michael Starkman also contributes blogposts on the site.
The American Independent previously reported that religious leaders and organizations played a large role in preventing the passage of same-sex marriage in Maryland in 2011. A coalition of political and religious groups called Protect Marriage Maryland encouraged church leaders to appeal to the state delegates in their districts to vote against same-sex marriage.
The “church resources” listed on the M4M site include a brochure (PDF) produced by the conservative group Concerned Women for America (CWA), titled “Political Guidelines for Churches and Pastors: General guidelines for churches in determining how to affect government and public policy without jeopardizing their non-profit status.” The CWA encourages church leaders to educate its members on issues such as abortion, education and taxes in order to “make a tremendous difference in government and public policy.” Methods of education that are encouraged include “preaching from the pulpit” and “teaching Sunday school classes.”
However, CWA offers churches advice on how to influence policy while avoiding having to pay taxes:
- “The Internal Revenue Code places no limitations on the legislative activity of church members — including pastors who act as individuals, not as representatives of the church.”
- “A church may loan its membership or mailing list to another organization for the purpose of influencing legislation. However, the cost of providing the list would constitute a legislative expenditure.” However: “A church may not loan its membership list or mailing list to a candidate or political committee for use in an election campaign.”
- The Internal Revenue Code absolutely prohibits 501(c)(3) organizations, including churches, from engaging in activity in support of or in opposition to any candidate for public office—or from participating in a political campaign. On the other hand, a church may engage in some nonpartisan election-related activities, including voter registration and voter education projects.
- A church may conduct a voter registration drive in a coalition effort with other organizations. However, care must be taken that the other organizations do not engage in prohibited partisan activities under the auspices of the coalition, since those activities could be attributed to the church.
Also included on the site is a brochure (PDF) produced by the Alliance Defense Fund that offers guidelines for churches and pastors for how to engage safely in political activities. However, ADF’s brochure offers a caveat, that IRS restriction on churches are unconstitutional:
[W]e believe that churches and pastors have the right to speak Biblical truth from the pulpit about candidates for office, even if that means opposing or supporting particular candidates from the pulpit. … Unfortunately, churches and pastors have allowed themselves to be censored by the unconstitutional IRS guidelines prohibiting any speech that may be considered to endorse or oppose a candidate for office.
The ADF offers similar advice as CWA, with a few additional points about advertising, informing churches that they can post political ads and news stories about candidates in church publications as long as they are not editorials obviously endorsing or opposing specific candidates. According to the ADF, churches “may speak out about social and moral issues, the actions of government officials in office, and the positions of candidates on issues” but not endorse or oppose a specific candidate. Otherwise a church “has broad freedom to praise or criticize officials and candidates.”