Advocacy: What faith groups can & can’t do

What about the Separation of Faith and Politics?

By Rev. Linda Hanna Walling

Freedom of religion is one of the pillars of our nation’s belief system.  Searching for freedom of religious expression was among the driving forces behind our forebears’ willingness to give up everything and risk life itself in the journey to the New World. With the writing of the U.S. Constitution, citizens were guaranteed the government would not interfere with the practice of religion or impose a “state” religion.

Unfortunately, that freedom has been misinterpreted over the years.  What was intended to be protection from government intervention in the affairs of religion has come to be misinterpreted as complete separation of the state and religious practice.  Internal Revenue Service rules for charities have further confused the issue.  Even so, the IRS issue is one of tax-exempt status, not of separating faith and politics.
The truth.  The truth is that people of faith and the faith communities to which they relate have the right to participate in advocacy activities.  Permission is grounded in understanding that lobbying usually refers to protecting one’s self-interest, while advocacy is speaking for those whose voices are not heard.

Non-profit faith-based groups may engage in:

  • Direct lobbying.  Within generous limits, individuals and organizations can express their position on legislation.
  • Grassroots lobbying.  Within generous limits, individuals and organizations can tell the public their positions and ask them to communicate that position to elected representatives.
  • Voter education. Non-profit faith groups are permitted to educate voters about important issues, even if it means influencing campaign issues.
  • Voter registration.  Non-profit faith-groups are permitted to register voters and urge them to vote.

Non-profit faith-based groups may not:

  • Endorse political candidates or mobilize supporters to elect or defeat candidates.
  • Align with political parties.
  • Contribute to candidates or political parties.

Let our voices of faith be heard!

Excerpt from Seeking Justice in Health Care: A Guide for Advocates in Faith Communities, Chapter 7.