Posted on October 24th, 2016

Elections: Can I Say That?

I recently taught a voting rights elective for 8th and 9th grade religious school students. Although they weren’t yet old enough to vote, they directed the conversation from the Reform Movement’s historic involvement in securing voting rights for African Americans to the upcoming election. As each student shared ideas for how they might help get out the vote, a teacher who was sitting in on our session wondered aloud, “can we agree to only help Hillary?” (Quick answer: we can’t.)

Although we live in hyper-political times, it is imperative that we separate our political selves from the professional and lay positions that we hold in synagogues. The IRS has set strict guidelines for 501c3 institutions to follow when participating in election-year politics, and we owe it to ourselves and fellow congregants to play by the rules. Here is a quick list of what you can and cannot do – legally – in your capacity as a nonprofit employee or board member:

Do:

–          Talk about the issues and our moral obligations when confronting them

–          Encourage congregants to vote for/against ballot initiatives

–          Register people to vote

–          Sponsor debates, inviting all candidates for an office to share their views

Do not:

–          Endorse or oppose any political candidate, even if they are a congregant!

–          Fundraise for a candidate or party

–          Share email or address lists with a candidate/party

A complete list of rules is available on the IRS website. Share them with your staff, board, and families, and make clear your expectation that we leave partisan politics out of our synagogues. Whatever you do, don’t forget to vote!

Isaac Nuell is currently the URJ’s Assistant Director of North American Events. He served as the RAC’s Manager of Congregational Social Action through June 2016, and lives in Raleigh, NC.