5/1/2006 - May 2006 Educational Update - Political Activity in the Church
AN EDUCATIONAL UPDATE FROM
THE SOUTHEAST LAW INSTITUTE™, INC.
To: SLI Supporters
Date: May 2006
From: A. Eric Johnston
Re: Political Activity in the Church
With the upcoming June 6th primary vote on candidates and constitutional amendments, we want to provide you a brief overview of what political activities are permitted or not permitted in the church:
Sunday School: One of the most common questions is whether candidates may visit Sunday School classes to participate in and/or distribute campaign literature. As a practical matter, experience has demonstrated that an open door policy resulting in some frequency of visits is offensive to most members and may also encourage more visitation, all of which will compromise the true mission of the Sunday School hour. However, we want to encourage candidates to make themselves known to fellow Christians. The proper course is for class members to feel comfortable bringing a candidate to the class and introducing him around, including an acknowledgement by the leader of his presence. If a candidate is permitted to speak, his comments should not include any political information at all, but should be at most a personal testimony or if he is to participate in a material way in the class, in the nature of an ordinary Sunday School lesson. In other words, nothing related to campaigning.
Worship Service: The worship leader may wish to recognize the presence of a candidate at the worship service. It is permitted that he may be recognized by name and the office for which he is a candidate and nothing more. A candidate should not be permitted to speak at a worship service, unless he is participating in his individual capacity and speaking on something totally unrelated to his candidacy. No speech on the candidacy should be made and campaign literature should not be distributed at that time.
Distribution of Campaign Literature: Staff, officers and members should be free to distribute campaign literature to their friends at church. This should not be done in any “church organized” manner, but simply individuals giving cards or brochures while at church. This should not be done to disrupt Sunday School or worship service time. This will be an entirely individual act with no participation of the church.
Officers: While officers may hold an office within the church, they should not be treated any differently than members. An officer is free to participate in political campaigns and may acknowledge his official status with the church as an elder, deacon, messenger, etcetera, but should in no way conduct himself so as to suggest that he is acting on behalf of the church.
Pastors: Pastors are often asked to endorse or promote candidates. A pastor may do this in his personal capacity, even acknowledging his official position with the church. He may not do this in the name of the church, from the pulpit, or at any organized church activity. A pastor may participate in political campaigns, give endorsements, and engage in similar activities in his individual capacity, but being permitted to use his official title. A pastor should encourage members to register, become informed and vote; this may be done from the pulpit.
Church as an Entity: The church as an entity may not endorse, give money to or help candidates. It should not permit any of its resources to be given to or used by candidates. If mailing lists are generally made available, either free or for a fee, they should be made available to candidates on the same terms as other persons; however, it is not required that a mailing list be made available.
Voter Registration: The church may promote voter registration drives. This is a good thing to do. Urge your church to do it. Information may be obtained from your local probate court or registrar’s office. It is a very simple procedure.
Voter Guides: The church may publish or distribute voter education information. This would include voter guides or other information about candidates prepared in an unbiased manner by the church or others.
Church Forum: The church may sponsor or support a public forum at the church to which all candidates are invited for a fair and open debate. This may include campaign speeches, distributing campaign literature, etcetera.
Issue Campaigns: Issue campaigns, such as the June 6th primary vote on amending the Alabama Constitution to prohibit same sex marriage and civil union, is permitted to be addressed by the church through preaching and distribution within the church of campaign information. The church should not engage in expenditures for advertising or outside the church promotion; this is permitted, but only if the church registers as a political action committee. If you want to become involved in the marriage amendment issue, please contact us for advice on how to do so.
This Educational Update should not be taken as legal advice. Please feel free to contact us with specific questions. We will be glad to provide more information on any of these activities or guidance on how to be involved. Participation in the voting and political process is an important right that should be taken advantage of by all citizens.
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