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Legal considerations for churches when engaging politicians

At all times

Churches are charities, bound by charity law. The law allows churches at any time to engage in political activity and campaigning in support their charitable purposes. Churches must, however, always maintain and stress their political neutrality and independence, being careful to avoid being associated in the minds of the public with a particular candidate or political party.

Guidance can be found here for England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

In the lead-up to an election

Charity law

While churches must remain diligent in maintaining political neutrality, churches can:

  • Approach candidates, set out concerns and ask for candidates’ opinions
  • Invite candidates or party representatives to public or private meetings
  • Comment on party manifesto pledges and promises

Public events: If churches host public events with candidates, they should invite candidates from all main parties (unless there are very good impartial reasons for not doing so).

Private events: There is nothing, however, to stop a church engaging with just one or two candidates if it is a private meeting open only to the church members.

The Charity Commission for England and Wales has published further guidance for use by charities in the period between the announcement of an election, and the date on which an election is held.

Electoral law

Electoral law also has rules about election-related campaign activity during the 12 months prior to a General Election. The Electoral Commission has published this guidance on what constitutes election-related campaigning here.

The Electoral Commission’s view is that the activity of a church that is abiding by charity law is unlikely, in most cases, to be classified as election-related campaigning.

Following the recommendations below should further reduce the possibility of undertaking election-related campaign activity to an almost negligible level.


1. Make explicit the connections to your church’s mission

Whenever engaging politicians or communicating your political activity, explain the links between your concern for poverty, your activity and the mission of the church.

2. Go private

Consider holding private meetings with the election candidates or party representatives you most wish to engage. Private meetings are restricted to church members, with no publicity.

3. Avoid:

  • Saying/publishing anything that could be seen as seeking to influence voters (this includes avoiding public comparisons between the church’s view and the views of candidates or parties)
  • Being closely associated with particular candidates or parties (consider carefully how photo opportunities could be used by candidates and how media coverage or social media output could be interpreted).