Interfaith Alliance unites diverse voices to promote true religious freedom and strengthen the separation between religion and government. Our Election Year program analyzes and interprets the role that religion plays in an election year and seeks to establish a partnership between religion and government that preserves the autonomy of houses of worship and ensures that religious institutions are not held accountable to the priorities and interests of political candidates.
The upcoming presidential election will be especially contentious. Our Vote 2020 Project helps voters assess candidates’ commitment to religious freedom, equips candidates to speak authentically about their own beliefs, and helps houses of worship foster civic engagement without jeopardizing their tax exempt status.
Explore our materials for voters, candidates, and houses of worship on navigating thorny issues in partisan politics.
RESOURCES FOR VOTERS
Regular participation in local, state, and federal elections is a central component of civic life. But decisions about who to vote for, and why, are often challenging.
Despite growing political polarization, most American communities are religiously diverse. As a voter, you have the power to push candidates who seek to represent you – to be your voice – on how their personal beliefs will affect their public service and whether they will respect differing religious beliefs and affiliations if they’re elected.
5 Questions for Candidates about Religion in Public Life
The U.S. Constitution prohibits any religious tests for office. This means that a candidate’s faith should never be a barrier to public service. But during a heated campaign, it’s easy to veer into rhetoric that would imply that faith is a qualification for office. When candidates use the language of faith to advance their own partisan interests, they risk marginalizing religious minorities and implying that their beliefs are the only truth.
From Shared Values to Public Policy
Should values be important in an election? Yes, by all means. But whose values? Voters across the political spectrum have the duty to assess whether a candidate’s policy proposals would expand our shared moral framework to include issues like economic justice, compassion, mercy, humility, justice, peace-making, and reconciliation.
Try using this “Moral Audit” when looking into a candidate’s public policy positions.
RUNNING FOR OFFICE IN A RELIGIOUSLY DIVERSE NATION
There is a lot of pressure these days for candidates to “reach out to people of faith,” to “look more religious” or to “talk more about your faith.” But what does that really mean? Should you follow this advice? In 2016, political candidates on both sides of the aisle used religion as a political tool…you don’t need to resort to these same, often manipulative tactics when communicating with voters about who you are and what you believe.
This publication is designed to help candidates strike a balance between their desire to communicate policies that resonate with constituents and their desire to incorporate religion into their campaign in a manner that reflects their personal identity, respects religious diversity and does not erode the integrity of religious authority.
Our top tips:
- You can’t fake authenticity, so be honest about who you are and what you believe.
- “People of faith” is not a voting bloc.
- Don’t suggest that spiritual authority can be transferred into political authority.
- Talk about your own religious faith or non-religion, not the faith of your opponents.
- Respect religious diversity and religious freedom.
- Don’t let your opponents or third party groups claim to speak for any particular faith.
- If you choose to speak in a house of worship, respect IRS guidelines and respect the integrity of religion.
- Do your research.
- Don’t assume that agreement on religion guarantees agreement on politics.
- Avoid questionnaires from partisan “faith-based” voter guides.
Ready to dig in? Explore Running for Office: A Guide for Political Candidates.
RESOURCES FOR HOUSES OF WORSHIP
Religion plays a vital role in communities across the country and, for many people of faith, these values inspire political action. So it’s not surprising that clergy and houses of worship feel the pull of partisanship at election time. But it is one thing to urge your members to vote and another to tell them how to vote.
The Role of Clergy During Election Season
The back and forth of political campaigns often bring up strong feelings for congregants and clergy alike. But even as they contemplate their own voting preferences, clergy must navigate the additional roles of spiritual adviser and teacher.
President emeritus of Interfaith Alliance, the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, offers his suggestions for preparing a sermon, meditation, or homily encouraging your members to participate in the democratic process – without overstepping your bounds by telling them who to vote for. Read Rev. Gaddy’s “Guidelines For Speaking On Hot Button Issues Of The Day.”
There’s a lot of misinformation out there about government “stifling” the speech of religious leaders on political issues. Interfaith Alliance president, Rabbi Jack Moline, sets the record straight in “Partisan Politicking Has No Place in the Pulpit.”
A Campaign Season Guide for Houses of Worship
By providing religious, moral, and communal resources to their members, houses of worship enhance the quality of life for participants and the communities in which they operate. Like other non-profit organizations, they enjoy a significant benefit from the government: contributions to them are tax-deductible for the donor and tax-exempt for the house of worship.
But Americans don’t want their tax dollars supporting political causes, so these tax benefits come with a catch or two. For our purposes, the most important is this: houses of worship may not campaign – openly or otherwise – for or against candidates for public office.
That doesn’t mean houses of worship are prohibited from encouraging the great exercise of democracy known as an election. It just means that they may not work to elect or oppose one candidate over another for office, or engage in other partisan activities. On the other hand, houses of worship are permitted by the tax laws, and encouraged by Interfaith Alliance and others, to involve their members in the political process by helping them understand the issues and by encouraging them to vote.
So how do you navigate these challenges? Explore A Campaign Season Guide for Houses of Worship.
Straight to the Source
Want the nitty gritty on what a house of worship can and can’t do as a 501(c)(3) organization? The IRS offers a reference guide of federal tax law and procedures for religious organizations to help them voluntarily comply with tax rules – especially during election season.
CIVIC PARTICIPATION: VOTER REGISTRATION AND MOBILIZATION
Working with our local Alliances and via our web site, we are ensuring that people of faith and good will have the opportunity to exercise their right to vote. Through grassroots voter registration drives and broad email distribution, we are helping all Americans to make their voices heard. Our supporters are attending candidate forums, writing letters to their local papers, and sending emails to campaigns to encourage our public leaders to pay careful attention to their concerns.