Is my congregation being “political?”
Is my congregation being “political?” What is legal for faith communities to do during election years? What is not?
Our nation is jumping into primary and election seasons with both feet. As people of faith, we inevitably would like to see our values (however those may differ from one to another) become the basis of policies in our democratic republic.
Conscience should lead us to vote according to our beliefs in what is good for the people of our land, and beyond. But in electoral seasons, questions and misunderstandings often arise over what is lawful involvement for a religious congregation or its leaders.
A religious congregation holds tax exempt status with the IRS as a 501(c)(3) organization. Any such organization may not “participate in, or intervene in any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office.” It may not endorse particular candidates or make political contributions to their campaigns.
However, there are no restrictions against educating members and community regarding issues in an election year, and seeking to promote certain values in relationship to these issues, whether immigration, climate change, gun violence, abortion, or any others. By the same token, a preacher or rabbi may address such issues from the pulpit, as long as she or he does not endorse or oppose specific candidates for election.
These are First Amendment rights.
Other unrestricted activities may include holding nonpartisan voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives, sponsoring candidate forums, and distributing nonpartisan voter guides.
Biblical principles of charity and justice always have implications for our public life together. Few of us would want to have practicing these, and expressing them, muzzled. It is vital to provide ample space and respect for differing views during election years and always.
The Justice Committee’s Mission Statement includes this statement: Because human need and vulnerability inevitably have political dimensions, as people of faith we understand the connections between faith and political action. We will be guided by our traditions as we seek to engage political leaders and others in the public square.