"Responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation."
Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship
The New York State Catholic Conference has authored, “Pastors, Parishes and Political Responsibility”
All activities of the Church, (and its parishes, schools and affiliated organizations) in the political arena must conform to the requirements of section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. This prohibits tax-exempt organizations from participating or intervening in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office. As a result, Church organizations, as well as individuals as representatives of Church organizations, are prohibited from engaging in partisan political activities, including raising money for candidates or political parties, making or distributing statements favoring or opposing candidates or parties, running for elected office, or otherwise participating in political campaigns.
Church employees and officials, however, including clergy and religious, acting in their individual capacity as private citizens, may participate freely in the political process, provided they are not acting as representatives of Church organizations or utilizing Church facilities or assets. There may be times when it is difficult to distinguish between activities undertaken as a private citizen and activities undertaken as a Church representative, and prudence should be exercised in this regard. While we are aware that other tax-exempt organizations may not always abide by the law, we, as Church, are committed to obeying the law.
Church organizations should be particularly cautious when asked to distribute voter education materials prepared by outside organizations. Such organizations may not be subject to the section 501(c)(3) requirements and may intend to favor or oppose particular candidates. We recommend that all voter education materials be reviewed and approved by the diocesan attorney or the State Catholic Conference prior to authorization for distribution.
Permissible Church Activities
Prohibited Church Activities
- Endorsing/opposing legislation, including ballot referenda
- Homilies/bulletin inserts on moral issues, and on the moral responsibilities of voters
- Providing educational materials on public policy issues, but not candidates, to parishioners
- Arranging for groups to meet with their elected officials to advocate for or against legislation
- Encouraging letter-writing, phone calls and other contacts with candidates and elected officials about issues
- Inviting all candidates for public office to a Church-sponsored public forum, debate, or candidates’ night
- Conducting a nonpartisan voter registration drive on Church property
- Distributing unbiased candidate questionnaires or voting records on a wide variety of issues
- Endorsing/opposing candidates for political office
- Homilies/bulletin inserts regarding specific candidates
- Distributing or permitting distribution of partisan campaign literature under Church auspices or on Church property
- Arranging for groups to work for a candidate for public office
- Funding or financial support of any candidate, political action committee, or political party
- Inviting only selected candidates to address your Church-sponsored group, or permitting/hosting political meetings on Church property
- Conducting voter registration that is slanted toward one party
- Rating candidates numerically, or “favorably” or “unfavorably”
- Sharing parish resources, including mailing lists, with political campaigns or parties
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has developed numerous Faithful Citizenship resources, including bulletin inserts (Spanish, English versions enclosed), videos and materials for various parish and school ministries.