Photo Credit: Rev. Jacqueline Brett
There is urgency in the air this fall about voting and democracy. There were folks in line at 7:00 am on the first day of early voting at ERUUF. By 8:00 am the line stretched from the Fellowship Hall, past the front of the CARE Building, around the side, and down into the back parking lot. Some voters brought folding chairs, books, water, and snacks. Others brought just themselves and their phones. All were masked and remained at safe, respectful distances from each other.
When we talk about voting and democracy at ERUUF, people often wonder what’s legal, what’s simply right and good, and where are the proper lines between church and state? The Constitution is written to preserve freedom of religious belief for individuals and organized religion. The first amendment essentially says that the state can’t compel citizens to support a state-sponsored religion. Nor can the government reach into congregations and dictate what can and can’t be preached or taught.
Congregations and denominations are free to take positions on issues, and speak out and advocate for them. We can host non-partisan candidate forums, and we can serve as polling places. These actions, along with the free and open debate about ideas, is essential to a healthy balance of power in our larger society. As non-profits, congregations cannot endorse particular candidates; if they do they risk losing their tax-exempt status. However, and this is important, denominations and leaders of congregations are fully free to exercise their right to free speech to support or critique elected officials, especially on moral grounds.
We are at a point in our public life when politicians have created vicious partisanship to further their own ends, and citizens who don’t think alike about politics have been manipulated into polarization that threatens our democracy’s ability to function. And because some of these issues are so critically important for our whole society, it’s fair for religious leaders to respectfully speak out about issues on moral grounds. To remain silent when speaking up would make a life or death difference, or would affect whether democratic government survives, would be an abdication of the leadership role that’s been entrusted to us.