Unitarian Universalists Running for Office

A recent story was posted on uuworld.org about Unitarian Universalists (UUs) across the country running for political office. These candidates, in Kentucky, Florida, Louisiana, Oregon, Texas, Wisconsin, and Maine, offer interesting insights into the intersection of faith, politics, and the campaign trail.

At a critical juncture in our country’s history, UUs across the country are finding many ways to have a positive impact on our future. While most UUs will not run for office, there are other ways UUs and UU congregations can engage in this election. Your congregation can help get out the vote, support or oppose ballot measures, and register voters. The UUA has many resources that can help your congregation engage in those actions in ways that do not violate IRS guidelines.

Happy election season!

The Real Rules and Faithful Democracy Help Protect Churches

On Sunday, September 28th, thirty-three conservative churches broke IRS regulations by endorsing a specific candidate for president. This action is in direct violation of a 1954 law prohibiting non-profit organizations from endorsing candidates for political office. This has brought up many questions in the media about this rule. The UUA has released several resources to help answer some of them.

The IRS designation for non-profits including churches and religious communities is known as 501 (c)(3). Named after the provision in the IRS Tax Code that protects them, 501 (c)(3)’s are prohibited from making any explicit statements for or against any political candidate. But that does not mean they are barred from participating in political conversations.

The regulations surrounding 501 (c)(3)’s are difficult and complicated. However, the UUA’s Real Rules and Faithful Democracy clearly explain what congregations and their leaders may or may not say. It gives many fine examples of what the IRS does and does not expect a church to do during election cycles.

There you will learn how congregations and its leaders may:

  • support positions and policies, but not candidates;
  • use congregational funds to support voter registration and Get Out The Vote (GOTV) campaigns;
  • and/or host a polling site but not a campaign headquarters.

Please look at the Real Rules and Faithful Democracy in order to prepare and protect yourself in this election season.

IFEA- Our Meeting with Iraqi Parliamentarians

On Friday, June 6th, Adam and Alex attended a panel discussion featuring two Iraqi parliamentarians, Sheikh Khalaf Al-Ulayyan, founder of the National Dialogue Council, a nationalist Sunni Islamist political party, and Dr. Nadim Al-Jaberi, co-founder of the al-Fadhila Party, a nationalist Shiite political party. The lawmakers testified before congress earlier in the week. Their visit was arranged by the American Friends Service Committee http://www.afsc.org/, particularly through the work of their consultant, Raed Jarrar. The discussion touched on many issues, including reconciliation within Iraq, the role of the United States in the future of Iraq, oil resources, and the threats faced by Iran and al-qaeda. Here are some brief reports from Adam and Alex…

Adam Reports… It was unequivocally made clear that in their opinion America needs to leave Iraq. Dr. Al-Jaberi responded to the three main fears about what would happen as a result of an American withdrawal. Dr. Al-Jaberi believes, contrary to popular belief:

  1. Iraq will not crumble due to increased sectarian fighting – Such fighting did not exist before America arrived. Iraqis have coexisted peacefully across its sectarian divides since the country came into existence. He does not anticipate any increase of fighting after American withdrawal.
  2. Al-qaeda will not take over – there was no presence of al-qaeda before 2003. The only reason that they have grown and been able to recruit so many people is because they are rallying people around a call for liberation from the Americans. Once America leaves, there will be nothing to rally around.
  3. Iran will take not over – Iran has only been able to gain influence in Iraq under America’s presence.Iran’s main reason for meddling in Iraq’s affairs is that America poises a major threat by being so close to their borders.Iraq has defended itself from Iran throughout its history and is capable of doing so without an American presence.

The lawmakers were also strongly against the proposed Security Agreement by the Bush Administration. Sheikh Al-Ulayyan said that such an agreement would push Iraq from being occupied by America to being part of America. He asserted that it would give the U.S. the rights to use its military bases in Iraq to carry out military missions to any part of the world and that it would give the U.S. the right to arrest any Iraqi without permission of the Government. He thought that it was completely unfair to the Iraqi people.

When asked about the upcoming elections and which of the candidates’ policies they preferred, Dr. Al-Jaberi responded that Iraqis do not rely on a change of faces in Washington to determine their future, they rely on themselves.

Alex reports…the members of Parliament were also adamant that the US State Dept. and Pentagon should give the Iraqi government full self-determination. Especially in the realm of the Reconciliation process, the lawmakers were frustrated by how many times the US had overturned or blocked laws created by Parliament.

Dr. Al-Jaberi told us the US Government blocked a resolution that would grant amnesty to organizations that took up arms against occupying Coalition forces. He believes bringing those groups to the table would be crucial to the Reconciliation process—much like they did in Northern Ireland in the 1990’s. However, the Pentagon is not eager about granting amnesty to these groups.

Sheik Al-Ulyyan was very certain that the reconciliation process could not be successful with a large presence of U.S. and Coalition forces. He said the occupation forces:

  1. ignore or create problems in order to justify their presence;
  2. protect many parties;
  3. refuse to protect other groups as a way of political punishment.

While he did not explain his point of view, it is very interesting to see how Coalition troops are perceived by Iraqi parliamentarians.

Initially, the AFSC had planned to bring many different voices to the table to hear how different political parties are working for the Reconciliation process. Unfortunately, many were unable to attend. I am sure this would have made the conversation much different. However, it was an extremely fascinating conversation and I am glad I was able to attend.

Faithful Democracy

This isn’t exactly news, but five months from now, our nation will be choosing a new President and a new Congress. Participation in the electoral process is perhaps the most sacred act of citizenship. It is the most direct involvement each citizen has in determining the future of our country. History will be playing out over the next five months and undoubtedly a lot of you will be getting involved in the elections. We encourage you to get involved by volunteering for your favorite candidate or by becoming a poll worker as our Program Associate for Peacemaking, Alex Winnett, did during the D.C. primaries.

Some congregations may want to get involved in the elections as well. If your congregation wants to play a role in the upcoming elections, please remember there are some things you can do, like voter registration drives, and some things you can’t do, like put yard signs for candidates on your church property. For a more thorough explanation of the electoral restrictions on non-profits, view our enlightening resource, The Real Rules.

We also invite you to discover Faithful Democracy. Faithful Democracy is a living Web-based project that aims to inspire people of faith to participate thoughtfully in the 2008 electoral cycle. The Unitarian Universalist Association is one of the faith partners that founded this project in order to encourage civic participation based on religious beliefs, values, and ethics.

This is an exciting time! Get involved, and bring your faith with you.