While individual citizens are free to engage fully in partisan politics, churches and other 501 (c) (3) institutions that qualify for tax-exempt status under the Internal Revenue Code are not. The Church and Church organizations are not to be involved in partisan politics. Expressions of preference for a political party and of direct or indirect support for or in opposition to specific candidates or political parties are not permissible. Advocacy for or against a specific issue or ballot proposal, however, is permissible and in fact is encouraged.
The following guidelines are intended to encourage and facilitate appropriate parish and Church-organization participation in political activities:
- Do… share the Church’s teaching on human life, marriage and the family, immigration, education, social justice and peace.
- Do… highlight the moral and ethical dimensions of public policy issues and ballot proposals.
- Do… urge parishioners to join the party or campaign of their choice and, in light of Church teaching, evaluate candidate positions.
- Do… facilitate voter education through the provision of materials only published by the local diocesan bishop, the Michigan Catholic Conference or the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
- Do… ensure that a “candidate night” or similar event is conducted within the guidelines established for tax-exempt organizations. All candidates for a particular office must be invited to the Church event and absolutely no bias toward a specific candidate or party should be conveyed.
- Do… encourage active participation in church-sponsored voter registration efforts, “get-out-the-vote” campaigns, and other non-partisan voter education initiatives.
- Do… urge parishioners to register to vote. Registration may be accomplished by means of the internet or through voter registration drives.
- Do… take precautions to avoid partisanship. No diocesan or parish entity or organization shall endorse, oppose or campaign for or against any political party or candidate for public office; nor shall any funds of any such entity or organization be contributed to any political candidate, party, campaign or political action committee.
The above-mentioned points are based on extensive guidelines, which relate to diocesan newspapers, problems of constitutionality and related matters. Questions that might arise should be referred to the Michigan Catholic Conference or the diocesan attorney.
Parish Lists, Campaign Materials, Use of Buildings
Parishioner lists should not be provided to any candidate or political party. Church-owned buildings and properties should not be made available to just one candidate or party, nor is the distribution of partisan campaign materials through official Church or parish channels permissible. Parish officials should avoid any association with the distribution of partisan campaign materials on Church-owned parking lots.
Endorsements and Electioneering
Pastors or other religious leaders are urged to avoid endorsements, contributions, electioneering, or other political activity. Although personal endorsements are not prohibited, it may be difficult to separate personal activity from one’s role as a representative of the Church. Officials and employees of the Church, acting in their individual capacities on political matters, should make clear that they are not acting as representatives of the Church or any Church organization.
Distribution of Election Year Material
Pastors and others should be wary of outside organizations seeking to distribute voter education materials through parishes. It may happen that issues covered in outside materials do not address the range of issues of importance to the Church. Moreover, their content, format and presentation may not satisfy IRS regulations applicable to Catholic organizations. Though distribution of these materials elsewhere may have value, they may not be appropriate for distribution in Catholic parishes.
The Michigan Catholic Conference Board of Directors often speaks to issues that are both moral and political. The consistent ethic of life demands a concern for all the weak and vulnerable members of our society throughout all phases of life and must be promoted through the Church’s social teaching and its applications to today’s social concerns. The independence and integrity of the Church’s social teaching must be maintained. To this end:
Michigan Catholic Conference Board of Directors reaffirms the long-standing prohibition of the distribution of election year material in parishes unless published by the diocesan bishop, the Michigan Catholic Conference or the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.