Fr. Peter thought it would be good for you to read these attached articles before the upcoming elections. The email also will inform you of issues and also why the parishes must remain neutral as to political parties and what we display, say or print. We hope this will help you make good, informed decisions this election year.
Dear Parish and School Leadership –
I know this email is long, but it contains a lot of important information. Please take the time to read it in its entirety.
In just a few weeks, on November 6, Michigan citizens will head to the polls to elect key positions in our state government, including Governor, Attorney General, State Senate and House of Representatives members, some local races, a number of ballot proposals and more. Catholics are called to participate in this process and are strongly encouraged to educate themselves on candidates and issues, particularly in light of our faith as informed by the Scriptures and Catholic Social teaching.
At the same time, because of IRS regulations, Catholic organizations – parishes, schools. Institutions – must refrain from any partisan political activity. Catholic organizations cannot endorse or oppose any candidate or political party, make in-kind contributions or any other partisan-based actions. Priests and leaders can and should teach about issues of our faith, BUT must not suggest a particularly candidate or party may more appropriately or less appropriately fulfills those teachings.
Two items of particular note:
Statewide Ballot Proposals:
It is important to note that even though we cannot take positions on candidates, churches ARE allowed to take positions on ballot proposals. We are to form our conscience by applying our faith and as Catholics, protecting the dignity of every human person is paramount, especially the weak and vulnerable.
This year there are three ballot proposals on the state ballot. Proposal 1 is to legalize the use of recreational marijuana in the State of Michigan. the Michigan Bishops through the Michigan Catholic Conference (MCC), along with Healthy and Productive Michigan, the Michigan Chiefs of Police, Michigan Sheriff’s Association, Michigan Chamber of Commerce, Michigan Association of Treatment Court Professionals and a number of other organizations, opposes this legislation. The recent FOCUS publication from the Michigan Catholic Conference explains this proposal in greater detail. I have attached a copy for your reference. I have also attached a copy of the FOCUS from MCC that is titled “The Issues, The Candidates and Your Vote.”. You may download and make copies of either of these publications as you wish, or you can contact the Michigan Catholic Conference to obtain as many printed copies as you wish for free. Call 800.395.5565 or email email@example.com. Catholics are urged to Vote No on Proposal 1.
The Michigan Bishops have not taken a position on either Proposal 2, Creation of an Independent Redistricting Commission or Proposal 3, Voting Reforms in Michigan’s Constitution.
As noted earlier, Catholic organizations may not engage in partisan political activity. You may be approached – if you haven’t already—by groups or organizations asking you to share their voter information materials or guides. Parishes and schools are not to place, or allow distribution of, political literature on Church property (including schools) unless it has been published by the diocese, the Michigan Catholic Conference (MCC) or the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). Voter guides – even those purported to be non-partisan, materials by organizations which claim to be “Catholic”, or Right to Life, etc. — are not allowed.
The IRS notes: “Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.
The IRS goes on to explain that even in permitted non-partisan activities (allowed forums, voter registration drives, teaching about issues paramount to our faith), “evidence of bias that (a) would favor one candidate over another; (b) oppose a candidate in some manner; or (c) have the effect of favoring a candidate or group of candidates, will constitute prohibited participation or intervention.” Technically, even one violation could result in losing the church’s tax-free designation.
As church leaders and representatives, sometimes it can be hard to separate your personal opinion and speech from your position as a church leader. The Michigan Catholic Conference warns that even in our personal lives: “Pastors and employees, acting in their individual capacities on political matters, should make it clear that they are not acting as representatives of the Church when publically supporting a candidate, as no endorsements or contributions can be made through official Church channels. Additionally, great care must be taken to ensure that none of the organization’s resources or facilities are used by the individual on behalf of the campaign, including but not limited to use of the copy machines, envelopes, email, letterhead, parishioner mailing lists, and paid working time.”
Clergy may not preach from the pulpit, place articles in your bulletin, etc., as to candidates and political parties. You may teach and preach about issues of our faith, but you may not point or hint as to which party or candidate best fulfills or represents those moral teachings.
We need to be very careful in the social media arena as well (Facebook, Instagram, etc.). Some of our leaders have properly launched a “page” on Facebook as opposed to using your personal “profile” for church matters. Remember your fan “page” or account is typically representative of your position in the church. However, if your personal page has you in a collar or with “Fr.” or “Rev.” in the title — or even shows you as the leader of a parish or school — you probably are also going to be seen as a representative of the Church. Keep in mind even the things you share from other sites are ultimately connected to you. Memes and homilies and quotes that circulate on Facebook can easily violate these protocols, especially when connected to you. While the IRS says it doesn’t “troll” looking for violations, it does say their investigations are often triggered by complaints that are made. Do you want to take a chance on being the one that comes “on the radar” and could ultimately cause your church to lose its exemption?
Finally, to assist your, I have also attached the documents “2018 Election Year Guidelines for Catholic Parishes and Organizations” and “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.” You may find these helpful for yourself or for your parish/school. The Michigan Catholic Conference has launched a special section of their website dedicated to the November election. There is really great information there for you and your parishioners. This is the direct link https://www.micatholic.org/advocacy/election-2018/ and I am also placing a link to it form the diocesan website.
I hope this information is helpful to you.
As always, thank you for all you do for Christ and His Church!
Director of Communications
Diocese of Gaylord