Despite a legal environment that is becoming increasingly indifferent and even hostile toward religious freedom, Christian ministries still enjoy many strong legal protections. Ministries should steward these freedoms by standing for them and using them. In this episode, we will begin a two-part conversation on the topic of seven key facts about religious freedom every Christian ministry leader should know. My guest is Larry Crain, a partner at Crain | Schuette Attorneys and a team member at the Bold Church Initiative. Larry is a nationally recognized Constitutional attorney that has defended Christians and Christian ministries for much of his career, including litigation in 26 states and in the U.S. Supreme Court. You can read his full bio here. Here are facts #1-#3:

#1 Churches Are Automatically Tax Exempt

We are often asked about tax exemption or 501(c)(3) status for churches. By virtue of being a church (if you have weekly worship, teach Scripture, operate for a religious purpose and your donations support Gospel ministry rather than a single individual or group of individuals, etc.), your church is automatically tax exempt. Your church is not required to file Form 1023, Application for Tax Exemption with the IRS. See IRS Publication 1828.

Here is a summary from the IRS about the factors that we mention in the podcast:

Certain characteristics are generally attributed to churches. These attributes of a church have been developed by the IRS and by court decisions.  They include:

  • Distinct legal existence
  • Recognized creed and form of worship
  • Definite and distinct ecclesiastical government
  • Formal code of doctrine and discipline
  • Distinct religious history
  • Membership not associated with any other church or denomination
  • Organization of ordained ministers
  • Ordained ministers selected after completing prescribed courses of study
  • Literature of its own
  • Established places of worship
  • Regular congregations
  • Regular religious services
  • Sunday schools for the religious instruction of the young
  • Schools for the preparation of its members

#2 Ministries Must Consider External Threats and Internal Conflict

Ministry leaders should address external threats and potential sources of internal conflict when planning for the future of their ministries. At the writing of this resource, no church has been forced to change its doctrine or officiate an event that is contrary to its religious beliefs. However, many churches, ministries and denominations have faced tremendous turmoil and distraction because of internal conflict. Ministries should carefully consider how to address both external threats and internal division as they prepare for the future.

#3 Ministries May Speak About “Political” Issues

The IRS—in a provision that is of questionable constitutionality—prohibits 501(c)(3) organizations including churches and most ministries from “directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.” Ministry leaders should note that this prohibition does not forbid speaking or preaching about cultural issues such as life, poverty, racial tension, immigration, sexual ethics, the sex trade, religious freedom, the relationship between church and state, etc.. See IRS publication 1828.  In May of 2017, President Trump also signed an executive order confirming this interpretation. For our post explaining Trump’s Executive Order on religious freedom, click here.

Quote by Martin Luther King, Jr., “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state…It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.”

If you have questions about these facts, please email us at info@theboldchurch.com