Wednesday, August 12, 2009

In the run-up to election season...

there are some things congregations need to know about what is permissible in the promotion of issues and candidates. We've recently had occasion to explore this area as one of our members is running for office on the island and it's important to know how best to support his candidacy without running afoul of regulations that would endanger our 501(c) 3 status.

In reading a document called The Real Rules published by the UUA to help congregations sort out what's okay and what's not, I learned that, in general, it is okay to advocate and promote issues of virtually all kinds, as a congregation.

However, it is not okay to promote a candidate for office, as a congregation. I know, I know, lots of churches violate this rule, apparently without punishment. But it's not okay. It's not right. It's a distinct violation of the separation of church and state for a church to promote a political candidate. And we UUs believe in the separation of church and state, so we need to be careful about adhering to the regulation.

Issues that we promote, as congregations, tend to be social justice issues we are passionate about and we promote them as part of our religious mission. We have to be careful about how much lobbying we do with legislators, because to spend more than a certain amount of time, energy, and money lobbying also violates our 501 (c)3 status.

It's a very valuable thing, to have a Unitarian Universalist elected to public office, because that person is in the position of bringing UU ideals and principles to his or her public service. So how to be helpful to the candidate without violating the rules? That's a little complicated, but it's not really hard.

Rather than my outlining the "how-to's" of candidate advocacy, I suggest you download the pdf from the UUA. You'll find it extremely helpful. Click here to access it.

As a colleague of mine has suggested, however, the even more important issue than tax status is inclusivity. When we advocate for one candidate over others, we are making the assumption that everyone in the congregation agrees about this person as the best choice. To do so excludes anyone who doesn't agree and that's not okay in a whole other way.

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