Guidelines for Advocating in Parishes or on Church Property

Political participation for Catholics is not only an opportunity but also an obligation. However, it is critical to respect the pastors prerogative and adhere to strict guidelines provided by the legal counsel of the bishops when engaged in lobbying or political activity on Church property.

Information regarding political participation by the laity.

It is legal and acceptable to advocate public policy issues, including ballot measures by Catholic organizations or in parishes. Advocacy or distribution of flyers or collections of signatures can be done in a parish, but only with the permission of the pastor. Some of the background on this page may be helpful to the pastor in making his decision. If a pastor does not wish to support such activity, CCG volunteers should not argue with him but should find other means for advocating that will not conflict with the pastor's wishes.

Note: CCG is scrupulously loyal to the teachings of the bishops. It only takes positions and advocates on issues where the application of the teachings of the bishops is so clear that there is little likelihood of disagreement among serious Catholics.

CCG volunteers should be aware that there are legal and policy restrictions that apply to advocating public policy in parishes and on other Church property. The controlling document for political activity on Church property is Political Activity Guidelines for Catholic Organizations issued by the US Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB).

The California Catholic Conference has published its own guidelines reflecting consideration of California laws -- Guidelines for Pastors and Parishes on Advocacy and Political Action.

In general,

  • Advocating for or against a candidate for electoral office or a political party in the context of an election is prohibited on Church property.
  • Lobbying or grassroots advocacy is permitted on Church property with restrictions (see below). Advocacy or campaigning for or against an initiative or ballot measure is considered lobbying under the law.

Excerpts from Political Activity Guidelines for Catholic Organizations (USCCB)

How does the IRC limit lobbying activity by Catholic organizations? The IRC limits the amount of lobbying in which section 501(c)(3) organizations may engage. Under section 501(c)(3), Catholic organizations may engage in lobbying activities only if they do not constitute a substantial part of their total activities, measured by time, effort, expenditure and other relevant factors. Neither the IRC nor the regulations define what is "substantial" in this context. A few cases suggest that the line between what is substantial and what is insubstantial lies somewhere between 5% and 15% of an organization?s total activities. IRS does not endorse any particular percentage safe harbor, but would clearly be more comfortable at the lower end of the spectrum. [See: Murray Seasongood v. Commissioner, 227 F.2d 907 (6th Cir. 1955) (less than 5% time and effort was not substantial); Haswell v. U.S., 500 F.2d 1133 (Ct.Cl. 1974), cert. denied, 419 U.S. 1107 (1975) (16-20% of budget was substantial).]

Are ballot measures lobbying or political activity? Ballot measures, including referenda, initiatives, constitutional amendments, and bond measures, are considered legislative proposals. Thus, involvement by Catholic organizations in various forms of ballot measures is limited, not prohibited. Catholic organizations may support or oppose ballot measures, etc., in furtherance of their exempt purposes, subject to the relevant lobbying limitation, without jeopardizing tax-exempt status.

In California, pastors are asked to consult with their diocese for guidelines regarding collecting signatures on petitions for ballot measures.



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