Is it constitutional to condition a tax exemption for religious groups on refraining from electioneering?

And, as he might have added but did not, none of that would violate the law under the Faustian bargain that church and state have entered. In exchange for the generous public subsidy of avoiding all income and property taxes, and for its donors’s ability to deduct their contributions from their taxable income, the church limits its speech by staying out of electoral politics. That doesn’t mean it can’t take positions on issues such as abortion, gay marriage, civil rights, and poverty, unless the matter “has been raised as an issue distinguishing candidates for a given office,” according to the IRS explanation. When they apply for, and receive, tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(3), religious and secular organizations alike may not “participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office.”

Jackson understands that perfectly well, as he told me in his study after the service. “If you just advocate the issue, that’s OK.” But as soon as you speak for or against a candidate, “evidently it’s against the law.” Getting involved in a campaign is prohibited. “That’s the boundary. And don’t even mention if you’re gonna try to do ads. So we’re just putting our toe across the line.”