Pews & Politics
I was hoping that the Olympics might provide us with a respite as well as a diversion from the Presidential campaign. With the presence of social media and TV cable news channels that broadcast 24/7, I am not so sure.
Earlier this week, I watched a new clip of Donald Trump addressing a group of Evangelical ministers. He was asking for their help. So a few questions popped into my head:
Do you think the leaders of the American Renewal Project, the group sponsoring the conference of Evangelical ministers where Donald Trump spoke in Orlando, also offered the opportunity for Hillary Clinton to address them?
What kind of help was he he asking for? Preaching from the pulpit for his support?
Politics is everywhere we turn. News of the presidential campaigns dominate every news cycle, no matter how many gold medals Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky win. Synagogue clergy and volunteer leaders need to be mindful of the Federal laws that govern the role of houses of worship in politics.
The synagogue board can’t come out and endorse a candidate, whether the person is running for president or the Town Council.
The Rabbi can’t give a sermon on Rosh Hashanah endorsing particular candidate, even if that candidate is a member of the synagogue.
The synagogue can hold a candidates night and invite the candidates, or their representatives to come and speak at a public forum.
What might happen if you do any of the stuff you are not supposed to do? Not much. There is always the threat that the IRS will take away the synagogue’s tax-exempt status. Which impacts congregants directly as their synagogue dues/annual commitments and all contributions will no longer be tax deductible. And the synagogue would have to pay taxes on income.
But it hardly ever happens.
Back to Donald Trump’ speech before the Evangelical pastors. Did they invite Hillary Clinton? Maybe they did, but I kind of doubt it. Not sure what would happen to them anyway as I can’t find how the group is registered with the IRS.
Mr. Trump has also stated that he wants to change the laws lessoning the restrictions on the involvement of houses of worship in elections. In the meantime, he was asking all of these pastors for help in going back to their churches and encouraging their flocks to come out and vote in November.
And to vote for him.
The IRS has not been really stringent in their enforcement of pastors’ involvement in support of candidates and speaking from the pulpit about a particular candidate. I am sure we will once again see in October, if not before, “Pulpit Freedom Sunday”, where many Christian ministers speak out endorsing particular candidates.
Synagogues should and do play a vital role in any election – national, state, or local. Educate congregants and the community about the candidates and about the issues. Get out the vote-you know who needs a ride to services on a Friday night. Why not ask those congregants, and everyone if they are in need of ride to vote on Election Day.
The next 90 days should be pretty interesting.