Once again, election season is upon us. During this time (and in fact, all the time), it is important to remember that Heritage Church is a 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization – which means that we are not permitted to engage in partisan political activity. Let’s take a look at what that phrase means:
- Neither the church, nor anyone who is representing or speaking on behalf of the church, may endorse, or advocate for or against, any candidate for public office.
- Neither the church, nor anyone who is representing or speaking on behalf of the church, may advocate for or against any political party.
- Neither the church, nor anyone who is representing or speaking on behalf of the church, may distribute campaign material such as partisan literature, candidate bumper stickers or signs, brochures, etc.
- The church cannot fundraise on behalf of candidates, or donate meeting space to candidates, their organizations, or their political parties.
Misconceptions abound, however, according to the Unitarian Universalist Association publication “The Real Rules” (https://www.uua.org/justice-programs/realrules). For example, it is not “illegal,” nor is the church’s tax-exempt status put in jeopardy, when anyone in the church – or even the congregation as a whole – speaks out or takes a position on public policy issues. Religious communities have long advocated for and against the many different issues of their day, and that is perfectly acceptable. Faith communities also have a long tradition of “speaking truth to power,” which sometimes includes holding public officials (i.e., current office-holders, as opposed to candidates for public office) accountable for their actions.
It is also perfectly acceptable for individual church members (even staff members, ministers, Board members, etc.) to be politically active and even partisan – as private citizens. They simply aren’t allowed to do so when they are representing the church. Similarly, it is perfectly acceptable for individuals, as private citizens, to distribute campaign material.
But here are a few reminders:
- We ask that you do not bring campaign signs or literature into the church building (yes, you may wear your T-shirts and buttons to church, provided you are not a staff or Board member, but remember to be respectful of the differing views and opinions of others).
- If you wish to share information or materials with others, please do so outside the church building. Even then, we ask that you remain respectful and consider appearances. Be aware that any activity happening at or near the church can be construed as being endorsed by the church, even if it is not.
- We do not invite candidates for public office to speak at Heritage Church.
- Remember that several years ago, the Board voted to have Heritage stop being a polling place in the community because of the highly charged, divisive, even toxic political atmosphere it brought into our sacred space. Let’s keep our building and our property free from the acrimony that abounds in so many other areas of our lives today.
October 14, 2018.