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The power to change America is in your vote

A view of a polling station at the Zion Baptist Church is seen on January 5, 2021, in Marietta, Georgia.
A view of a polling station at the Zion Baptist Church is seen on January 5, 2021, in Marietta, Georgia. | SANDY HUFFAKER/AFP via Getty Images

The 2024 election cycle is well underway. With primary elections are already happening in many states, we’ve observed some religious leaders and people of faith questioning whether they should be involved. Others wonder what rights they have when it comes to addressing political issues.

First things first: Let’s take a look at why people of faith should actively participate in the political process.

Our civic responsibility to vote: The power to change America is in our hands

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Whether an election is to fill a seat on a local school board or the Oval Office, we keep seeing anti-religious-liberty candidates elected who then promote their anti-religious-liberty policies. They’re determined to steer America away from our constitutional heritage while ushering in extreme agendas and ideologies that are hostile to people of faith. How did they gain so much power? The answer is obvious: People of faith largely stayed home and didn’t bother to vote.

Tragically, only a fraction of Americans who say religious liberty is important to them actually vote in the major elections. People of faith need to see voting as not just a right, but also a responsibility.

If more of us took the voting process more seriously, our culture and government would not be nearly as hostile to religious liberty. If we love America and our Constitution, we have a civic obligation to vote. People of faith especially have a responsibility to be good citizens, active and engaged in our political process.

We recognize that religious freedom is indeed one of the greatest blessings bestowed to our country and the first freedom from which all other liberties flow. At the same time, however, we cannot ignore how important other civil rights — such as the right to vote — are to the flourishing of our country.

In the American system of government, the government is “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”  So, showing respect for authority in the United States includes being an active part of the process and voting. In other words, we can show love for both God and our country by consciously participating in our republican form of government. Part of the bargain of living in liberty is a duty to vote.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a person of faith who took a bold stand against the evils of Nazi Germany. His words still ring true, today: “Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” One of the ways we speak and act is by voting; so not to vote is to vote.

This election season, we encourage every religious American to vote according to their conscience and their values. Every person of faith should know this: protecting religious freedom and all our God-given liberties isn’t just a battle that we’re fighting in the courtroom. It’s a fight that we can also win at the ballot box.

There are many misconceptions about what rights and freedoms pastors and houses of worship have on political matters. Opponents of religious freedom often manipulate information to make you believe that politics and the pulpit may never converge, making faith-based organizations, churches, synagogues and everyday religious Americans fear legal ramifications if they mention or participate in politics.

But the truth is, that fear isn’t based on the law. It’s a scare tactic by those who want to silence people of faith and keep them from voicing their opinions and voting their values.

Four things churches and pastors are legally allowed to do during elections

The number of things pastors can do during election season far outweighs the number of things they can’t do — in both quantity and importance.

1. It’s okay to speak about political issues in the Church

It is a misconception that pastors cannot address political issues from the pulpit — even “hot button” issues like religious liberty, abortion, and same-sex marriage. Anyone who attempts to silence a pastor for addressing issues is violating that pastor’s constitutional rights under the First Amendment. Pastors have every right to talk about any of those issues, and there’s never been any case in American history that said pastors can’t do that.

Historically in America and in many places around the world, government and religion have never been mutually exclusive concepts; rather, they coexist. America’s Founders saw religion as a necessary component to a healthy, moral society — not a taboo topic to bar completely from the political realm; neither was political talk to be barred from churches. Sermons on politics, government, and controversial issues were common at our nation’s founding, and popular among pastors and churches on varying sides of the political spectrum.

2. Religious leaders can educate their congregation about politics

Religious leaders are tasked with equipping their congregants in works of service, and that includes representing their faith and morality in the voting booth. Pastors are fully protected when it comes to educating members of their church about the political process, handing out non-partisan voter guides and flyers so members can read about each candidate’s positions, and even providing the opportunity for members to register to vote.

3. Inviting political candidates to speak at church is allowed

Pastors and churches can invite political candidates to address their congregation from the pulpit, as long as all the candidates in a race are included in the invitation. What if only one candidate accepts the invitation and shows up? No problem!

4. Pastors can participate in politics in their individual capacity

Serving in ministry does not disqualify pastors or other religious leaders from their individual rights as U.S. citizens. Pastors can participate in political campaigns, hold office within political campaigns, and even endorse a candidate in their individual capacity as a private citizen.

What religious leaders cannot do during elections

According to IRS regulations, there are only two things that pastors and churches, when classified as a 501(c)(3) organization, cannot do:

A church entity may not endorse one candidate over another

This does not mean that a pastor — in his individual capacity as an American citizen — may not endorse one candidate over another. A 501(c)(3) church or organization may not, however, as an organization endorse one candidate over another or be publicly against one candidate over the other.

A church may not give its money to one candidate over another

This doesn’t mean that pastors or church members, in their individual capacities as private citizens, cannot donate to the political campaign of their choice. They can even be the Campaign Chair for a candidate if they want. But an official 501(c)(3) organization may not donate church funds or resources to one political candidate over another.

We have a resource available explaining your rights during election season. You can download it for free here. 

Originally published at First Liberty. 

Jorge Gomez is the Content Strategist and Senior Writer for First Liberty Institute. He has previously worked as a communications and messaging strategist for faith-based nonprofits and conservative policy organizations. He holds a degree in political science from the University of Central Florida and a master’s degree in public policy from Liberty University.

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