Elections and the church

By Sam Lucero | The Compass | September 10, 2014

A reminder of do’s and don’ts

Election 2014 is just around the corner. With it come the seemingly endless political advertisements on television and radio, not to mention questions about what parishes and other Catholic organizations can — and cannot — do to encourage members to get out and vote.

There is a misperception among many people that the church cannot participate in the electoral process. (See this week’s Letter to the Editor.) This is not accurate, but there are guidelines church leaders must follow so as not to overstep church nonprofit status boundaries established by the Internal Revenue Service.

On their website (usccb.org) the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops lists activities that parishes are allowed and encouraged to do as well as those they should avoid.

What can churches do?

They can share principles of Catholic social teaching, including instruction on political responsibility, human life, human rights and justice and peace. Churches can also encourage members to participate in the electoral process by registering to vote. For example, Priests for Life, a national Catholic pro-life organization, promoted National Voter Registration Sunday on Sept. 7.

Church leaders can also discuss issues that impact the dignity of human life as long as they don’t promote one candidate or political party over another. Non-partisanship is a key to political participation. In fact, the USCCB recommends that parishes include this announcement in their parish bulletins:

“We strongly urge all parishioners to register, to become informed on key issues, and to vote. The church does not support or oppose any candidate, but seeks to focus attention on the moral and human dimensions of issues. We do not authorize the distribution of partisan political materials on parish property.”

Here is a list of election Do’s and Don’ts from the USCCB.

DO: 

  • Address the moral and human dimensions of public issues.
  • Share church teaching on human life, human rights, and justice and peace.
  • Apply Catholic values to legislation and public issues.
  • Conduct a nonpartisan voter registration drive on church property.
  • Distribute unbiased candidate questionnaires covering issues of human life, justice and peace that have been reviewed and approved by your diocesan attorney.
  • Check with your diocesan attorney if you have any questions about what is appropriate.

DON’T: 

  • Endorse or oppose candidates for political office.
  • Distribute partisan campaign literature under church auspices.
  • Arrange for groups to work for a candidate for public office.
  • Invite only selected candidates to address your church-sponsored group.
  • Conduct voter registration slanted toward one party.
  • Distribute a biased candidate survey.

As the election season begins, here are parting words of advice for Catholics from our Wisconsin bishops. “Let us enter the public square with a spirit of humility and with love for our fellow human beings, even and especially when we disagree with them.” (A Letter to Catholics in Wisconsin on Faithful Citizenship,” July 2014.)

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