Guides outline political activity rules for religious organizations

The Pew Forum has issued its 2012 Guide to IRS Rules on Political Activity by Religious Organizations.  The Unitarian Universalist Association’s own guide, The Real Rules, has additional information. 

John Hurley, the UUA’s director of Communications, notes, “Over the years I’ve seen far more of our congregations shy away from political activity due to misunderstanding what is acceptable than to overstep the limits. The IRS regulations for political activity by non-profits afford a great deal of latitude for congregations: voter registration drives, candidate forums, and advocacy for or against ballot amendments are all acceptable practices. Engagement in the political process is an excellent way for our congregations to put our faith into action.”

Election guidelines for congregations

As another election approaches, keep in mind that congregations may engage in elections in some ways, but not in others. In general, congregations may support issues, but not candidates. Issues can include, but are not limited to: civil rights, economic justice, and the environment. Congregations may not support individual candidates or political parties. To do so risks a congregation’s federal 501(c)3 tax-exempt status. It is also not inclusive, since congregations are generally not of one mind politically.

UUA.org has a recently updated website, 2012 Elections: Funding and Resources for Congregations, to guide congregations through the election season. Especially helpful is the UU Service Committee’s “Election Engagement Guide for Congregations” (PDF). Other resources on the website include “The Real Rules: UU Congregations and IRS Guidelines on Advocacy, Lobbying, and Elections,” plus ways to find local partners to work with, and video from a General Assembly 2012 workshop, “Values into Action, Unitarian Universalists Reclaiming Democracy.”