After about an hour of discussion, Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill that would exempt religious assemblies from registering as political committees despite advocating for specific political issues.
H2490, sponsored by Rep. Steve Yarbrough, passed with a 4-3 vote on March 22.
Deborah Sheasby, legal counsel for the Center for Arizona Policy, said churches and houses of worship have the constitutional right to speak out on political issues without having to register as political committees and abide by state campaign finance laws.
“They have a role based on their religious beliefs to discuss these issues,” she said.
Sen. Meg Burton Cahill, a Democrat from Tempe, said she didn’t understand why religious entities would want to privately conceal their political identities rather than publicly declare their stance through registration.
“If their stand is conveying the belief of that organization, why wouldn’t they want to be registered or legally claim that position?” she said, adding that they need to be held accountable for opinions that are being given to the public.
Before declaring their official support, both Committee Chairman Chuck Gray and Sen. Russell Pearce referred to the First Amendment of the Constitution that the government should not restrict religious establishments.
“These are moral issues,” Pearce said. “I would expect a church to stand by their moral issues.”
The bill would still require churches and religious organizations to follow 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. They would be able to maintain tax-exempt status as long as they don’t contribute “substantial amounts” of money to influence legislation. The actual amount that they could spend on political activities was unclear.