The African-American Church, Political Activity, and Tax Exemption




James, Vaughn E.

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Seton Hall Law Review


Ever since its inception during slavery, the African-American Church has served as an advocate for the socio-economic improvement of this nation’s African-Americans. Accordingly, for many years, the Church has been politically active, serving as the nurturing ground for several African-American politicians. Indeed, many of the country’s early African-American legislators were themselves members of the clergy of the various denominations that constituted the African-American Church. In 1934, Congress amended the Internal Revenue Code to prohibit tax-exempt entities—including churches and other houses of worship—from allowing lobbying to constitute a “substantial part” of their activities. In 1954, Congress further amended the Code to place an absolute prohibition on political campaigning by these tax-exempt organizations. While these amendments did not specifically target churches and other houses of worship, they have had a chilling effect on efforts by these entities to fulfill their mission. This chilling effect is felt most acutely by the African-American Church, a church established to preach the Gospel and engage in activities which would improve socio-economic conditions for the nation’s African-Americans. This Article discusses the efforts made by the African-American Church to remain faithful to its mission and the inadvertent attempts made by Congress to impede the fulfillment of this mission. The Article will propose a solution to the tug-of-war that would enable the Church to fulfill its mission while acting within the confines of the law. This proposal would allow the future involvement of the Church and other houses of worship in political activity, with these entities funding their involvement with taxable funds. The adoption of this proposal would allow the Church, for the first time since 1954, to fulfill its mission without fear of breaking the law or losing its tax-exempt status.



Religion, Politics, Race, Tax, African-American, Tax exemption


37 Seton Hall L. Rev. 37