On October 18, 2021, the New York Post reported that a video advertisement featuring Vice President Kamala Harris had begun airing. In the video, the Vice President encourages voters to support Democratic former Gov. Terry McAuliffe over Republican Glenn Youngkin in the hotly contested November 2 election for governor of Virginia.
There’s nothing particularly noteworthy about a politician running an advertisement in support of a member of his or her party shortly before an election. What is noteworthy, however, is the fact that the advertisement is not airing on television, on radio, or online; rather, it is being aired in hundreds of churches across the state of Virginia.
In the advertisement, Vice President Harris reportedly reminisces about her childhood experiences in church, calls upon Virginians to “‘raise your voice through your vote,’” and describes McAuliffe as “‘the leader Virginia needs at this moment.’”
Curiously, the Post reported that the advertisement “[raised] questions about the legality of the advertisement being aired in houses of worship.” Based on the Post’s report, the airing of this advertisement in a church is contrary to law. Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code makes it unlawful for churches and other nonprofit charities to “participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of…any candidate for public office.” The IRS website adds that the ban on political activity is absolute, and includes both direct and indirect political participation. While New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms believes this ban to be unconstitutional, the issue has not been decided by the Supreme Court of the United States.
Jason J. McGuire, NYCF’s Executive Director and an ordained minister who served as a pastor for twelve years, offered this comment, “Whether it is constitutional to bar churches and nonprofits from participating in political activity is one question. Whether it is right and good for a church to engage in blatant electioneering during worship is another. Pastors should never be used as a tool by any particular political candidate. A church must be careful not to surrender its moral voice as the conscience of the culture for mere partisan politics.”