Santorum to Speak During Sunday Service at Eden Prairie Church

3 Feb

Patch is reporting that Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum will be speaking at an Eden Prairie church on Sunday morning, two days before the Minnesota caucuses. According to Patch and MinnPost, Santorum will speak during the 9:30 a.m. worship service at Grace Church in Eden Prairie on Sunday, Feb. 5.

For what it’s worth, I couldn’t find any information about Santorum’s visit on the church’s web site.

Political views notwithstanding, there are plenty of issues implicated when religious institutions and candidates for public office intersect. It’s important to note that the IRS does not strictly prohibit these types of appearances, although they have some helpful suggestions. Pages 9-10 of IRS Publication 1828 lists a bunch of recommendations that churches hosting candidates should bear in mind if they hope to retain their 501(c)(3) tax exempt status (I assume Grace Church is a 501(c)(3). Although Guidestar didn’t specify, it’s mentioned in the church’s bylaws).

According to the IRS, a church must not “participate or intervene” in a political campaign. In accordance with this requirement, the IRS has a long checklist for churches hosting a candidate. Among other things, the IRS thinks a church needs to provides equal opportunity to other candidates seeking the same office, indicate no support of or opposition to the candidate (this should be explicitly stated when the candidate is introduced and in all communications about the candidate), insure no fundraising occurs, and maintain a nonpartisan atmosphere on the premises or at the event where the candidate is present. Interestingly enough, the church is also not supposed to mention the individual’s political candidacy or the upcoming election in the communications announcing the candidate’s attendance at the event.

Of course, it’s important to remember the IRS doesn’t get the last word on what the First Amendment allows, as other organizations are quick to point out. Now, I doubt that this Sunday’s Santorum visit will lead to a Constitutional law showdown between Grace Church and the IRS , but one can always hope…

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