Thursday, January 24, 2008

Church / State / Politics - Here's a question for you ...

I have a few honest questions, and I promise there is no agenda attached.

I read this announcment yesterday, with some bracketed things in order to keep it objective:

The [Specific Political Party] Women's Club of [Unnamed] County will meet at 7
p.m. Monday at [Anonymous] United Methodist Church, [Address].
Membership is open to all [Unnamed] County women who are interested in the [Specific Political Party] and upcoming election issues.
The meeting is open to the public and will feature longtime [Specific Political Party] activist [John Doe]. He will provide information about the [Specific Political Party] primary elections and caucus procedures. [Statewide elected official also of the Specific Political Party] will also attend.
For more information, please call [phone number].

Okay, got the picture? I hope all the [brackets] aren't distracting.

My honest questions, then are: Is this okay? Can Anonymous UMC host this meeting without transgressing an ethical or legal boundary? Is Anon. UMC endorsing the Specific Party by hosting this event? What do you think?

8 comments:

Pastor Amanda said...

you are allowed to rent office space to candidates, provided there's equal opportunity for all candidates

Anonymous said...

I saw the same article and wondered the same thing. It may be legal, but is it ethical. If you let organizations rent space in your church, who decides when and where to draw the line? Kathryn

John said...

Legally? I'm not sure.

Ethically? Absolutely not. It suggests an endorsement, which the Church must always avoid.

Bryan said...

I think it depends what the word "host" means. If you are giving the space to them as a public service, I think it would be ok, so long as all candidates were also extended the same opportunity. Better yet would be to treat them as you would treat any outside space user, and charge them for the space accordingly and in the same fair manner you treat anyone else.

On the other hand, if "host" means you are giving them an opportunity that you would not give to other political candidates, I think you are running the risk of violating the terms of your tax exemption. I've even known some churches that felt such a risk was worth it (which I completley don't agree with) or that just going ahead and paying taxes would liberate tham from the "restrictions" on political speech.

Best policy: treat them like anyone else and you are in the clear - but I'm no lawyer.

~c. said...

There is enough political division in our society. The church's purpose would be better served by hosting issue forums with non-partisan panel discussions on said issue. This would promote informed political activity without delving into the red/blue nonsense that has taken hold of America.

Don Yeager said...

It may depend on the type of community and the church's role in that community. In some towns, especially smaller ones, some churches function as sort of "community centers" where a variety of meetings take place because they have some of the best/only facilities for such gatherings. Still, I think churches have to be especially careful to avoid the appearnace of partisanship.

Art said...

An endorsement could be implied to some if equal time is not given. Even if it is, I don' think this is a good idea.

Anonymous said...

See http://www.projectfairplay.org/ for the argument that it's illegal.

Note in particular the "Report A Violation" page, where your candidate's opponents can turn you in.