FACT: This election campaign raises some of the most profound spiritual issues in our history.
WORRY: Some clergy and some congregational lay leaders worry about what a tax-exempt group (501c3) can and can’t do, both legally and to preserve comradeship among the members.
FACT: only actual endorsement or opposition to a specific candidate or party is totally forbidden to a 501c3. These are ten suggestions for legitimate actions. (For 3 to 10, click on the "Read More" line on the website):
- Getting out the vote in November will be very important, and is totally legal for synagogue, church, or mosque to sponsor. That could be strengthened by asking your congregation’s spiritual leader to give sermons – e.g. on Rosh Hashanah/ Yom Kippur -- or earlier, depending on the registration deadlines in your own state -- urging congregants to register, and to urge their children of voting age to register.
- To help make voter registration communal, not competitive, you might arrange a festive congregational potluck where the congregation provides, collects, and submits voter-registration forms, along with songs and food.
- Congregants & the congregation as a whole can also without violating 501c3 rules take a vigorous hand in voter turn-out on Election Day, preparing ahead of time. For instance, you can ask people to pledge to vote, set up a schedule for reminding people to vote, offer rides to voting booths, etc. Make clear this goes no matter whom people expect to vote for.
- Clergy and congregations of diverse communities could join together in registration campaigns. Rabbis and synagogues could especially weave closer relations to those with historical records of low voter turn-out,* like African-Americans, Latinos, Muslims, and young people.
- The law distinguishes between discussing issues (OK) and endorsing persons (NOT). If you think the personality or character of a candidate is an important policy issue, discuss it that way rather than as a personal quirk or by lambasting.
- Your congregation can sponsor a public event that focuses on a specific major issue, inviting candidates or their surrogates to address the issue. A clergyperson or other religiously knowledgeable person can then on the same program lay out a “Jewish [or Christian, or Muslim, or Buddhist] yardstick” on that issue (e.g. applying in today’s world the Isaiah haftarah on Yom Kippur, if the issue is how to deal with poverty; or a conversation on how to apply biblical Eco-Judaism and the Sabbatical Year to climate and energy policy today).
- Discussing such issues is totally legal and meets a religious educational need, so long as a congregational spokesperson doesn’t specifically endorse a candidate on behalf of the congregation.
- Your congregation or clergy association can allow or encourage discussion in your on-line listserv or printed bulletin, so long as the views expressed come clearly from individuals and do not represent the congregation as a whole.
It would be a good idea for each individual poster to say that, and also for each mailing to carry a statement like this: “All opinions on religious issues, public issues, election candidates, etc. that appear on this list express the views of each writer only, not those of the congregation as a body – unless the post specifically states it has been authorized to speak for the congregation by the Board or similar body. All posts must be respectful toward all other participants.”
9. A clergy-person can as an individual write a letter to the editor of a newspaper endorsing a candidate, and can contribute money and volunteer time to a campaign one likes or to multi-campaign groups like MoveOn that have a political leaning. Best to make clear one is not speaking for any congregation.
10. Shaping the US Senate may be almost as important as the Presidency. (Think about Supreme Court and other judicial & executive-office appointments). These suggestions could be replicated in your state if there is a Senatorial campaign, and in every state in Congressional campaigns.