Date posted: March 22, 2016
Guidelines for permissible political activities by Catholic organizations
(For a printable version, go HERE)
In the United States of America, all adult citizens are blessed to have the opportunity to vote for our political leaders. This is not a responsibility to be taken lightly, and the Bishops of New York State have once again renewed their call to Catholic citizens to inform their consciences on the critical issues of the day, to learn the positions of candidates for office, and to exercise their right to vote. These issues include, but are not limited to, respect for the sanctity of human life from the moment of conception until natural death, issues of war and peace, religious liberty, the education and formation of children, the needs of the poor, oppressed and vulnerable, and access to health care for all people, particularly the elderly and infirm.
In the document Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the bishops of the United States remind us of the role of the Church in the public square. “The United States Constitution protects the right of individual believers and religious bodies to participate and speak out without government interference, favoritism, or discrimination. …Our nation’s tradition of pluralism is enhanced, not threatened, when religious groups and people of faith bring their convictions into public life. Indeed, our Church’s teaching is in accord with the foundational values that have shaped our nation’s history: ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ ”
But the document goes further than asserting the rights of Catholics to participate in the political process. It notes that such participation is obligatory. “In the Catholic Tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation…The obligation to participate in political life is rooted in our baptismal commitment to follow Jesus Christ and to bear Christian witness in all we do.”
Turning again to Faithful Citizenship, we are reminded of the importance of a well-formed conscience: “The Church equips its members to address political questions by helping them develop a well-formed conscience.” It is the exercise of conscience, aided by prudential judgment, that assists Catholics in determining effective ways to promote the common good. The U.S. Bishops state, “Catholic voters should use the framework of Catholic social teaching to examine candidates’ positions on issues affecting human life and dignity as well as issues of justice and peace, and they should consider candidates’ integrity, philosophy, and performance. It is important for all citizens ‘to see beyond party politics, to analyze campaign rhetoric critically, and to choose their political leaders according to principle, not party affiliation or mere self-interest’ (Living the Gospel of Life, no. 33).”
Keeping in mind their duty to educate the faithful, the Bishops of New York State have joined with their brother bishops throughout the country in urging Catholics to become informed about issues, communicate their positions to elected officials, register to vote, and vote according to conscience. To this end, the New York Bishops created the Catholic Action Network, which serves as an educational arm of the New York State Catholic Conference. The Bishops encourage all Catholic New Yorkers to join the network to remain up to date on important issues involving fundamental issues of justice and respect for the sacredness and dignity of all human life.
The Bishops and the Catholic Conference respect the laws of our land with regard to restrictions on political activity by not-for-profit organizations. We therefore reprint the following guidelines from the Bishops to Catholic pastors and citizens regarding permissible political activity. Individual bishops may have issued additional guidelines beyond what is listed below. The statewide guidelines do not supersede such local guidelines. We urge pastors to consult with their chancellor for additional guidance.
Guidelines for Political Activity
While the Catholic Church often speaks to issues that are both moral and political, it directs its attention to the issues, not to political parties or candidates.
All activities of the Church, (and its parishes, schools and affiliated organizations) in the political arena must conform to the requirements of section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. This prohibits tax-exempt organizations from participating or intervening in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office.
As a result, Church organizations, as well as individuals as representatives of Church organizations, are prohibited from engaging in partisan political activities, including raising money for candidates or political parties, making or distributing statements favoring or opposing candidates or parties, running for elected office, or otherwise participating in political campaigns.
Church employees and officials, however, including clergy and religious, acting in their individual capacity as private citizens, may participate freely in the political process, provided they are not acting as representatives of Church organizations or utilizing Church facilities or assets. There may be times when it is difficult to distinguish between activities undertaken as a private citizen and activities undertaken as a Church representative, and prudence should be exercised in this regard.
While we are aware that other tax-exempt organizations may not always abide by the law, we, as Church, are committed to obeying the law.
Church organizations should be particularly cautious when asked to distribute voter education materials prepared by outside organizations. Such organizations may not be subject to the section 501(c)(3) requirements and may intend to favor or oppose particular candidates. We recommend that all voter education materials be reviewed and approved by the diocesan attorney or the State Catholic Conference prior to authorization for distribution.
Permissible Church Activities
- Endorsing/opposing legislation, including ballot referenda
- Homilies/bulletin inserts on moral issues, and on the moral responsibilities of voters
- Providing educational materials on public policy issues, but not candidates, to parishioners
- Arranging for groups to meet with their elected officials to advocate for or against legislation
- Encouraging letter-writing, phone calls and other contacts with candidates and elected officials about issues
- Inviting all candidates for public office to a Church-sponsored public forum, debate, or candidates’ night
- Conducting a nonpartisan voter registration drive on Church property
- Distributing unbiased candidate questionnaires or voting records on a wide variety of issues
Prohibited Church Activities
- Endorsing/opposing candidates for political office
- Homilies/bulletin inserts regarding specific candidates
- Distributing or permitting distribution of partisan campaign literature under Church auspices or on Church property
- Arranging for groups to work for a candidate for public office
- Funding or financial support of any candidate, political action committee, or political party
- Inviting only selected candidates to address your Church-sponsored group, or permitting/hosting political meetings on Church property
- Conducting voter registration that is slanted toward one party
- Rating candidates numerically, or “favorably” or “unfavorably”
- Sharing parish resources, including mailing lists, with political campaigns or parties
The above guidelines serve as a summary of the principle rules regarding political activity for tax exempt organizations. A more complete explanation of the regulations governing 501(c)(3) organizations is available from the New York State Catholic Conference.
Neither these guidelines nor any other church document should be used to endorse candidates or otherwise instruct people how to vote on candidates, nor to inhibit Catholics, acting as private citizens, from partisan political activity. Any questions which may arise should be referred to the Chancery Office of your (Arch)Diocese or the New York State Catholic Conference.
Revised and updated March 23, 2016
Date posted: January 11, 2016
Cardinal Dolan being honored by Senate after delivering opening prayer of session Jan. 6, 2016. (Christina Primero/NYS Senate)
The New York State Catholic Conference applauds the New York State Senate for once again passing the Education Tax Credit bill, with a bipartisan vote of 47-15. As one of the first Senate bills passed in the 2016 session, it clearly demonstrates that the tax credit will be a priority for senators as it negotiates with Gov. Cuomo and the Assembly on the state budget. More
Date posted: December 16, 2015
Proponents of the “Patient Self-Determination Act” argue that it contains safeguards which protect vulnerable patients. Yet a close examination of the bill’s language reveals inadequate protections for patients most at risk of abuse, and lower medical standards than elsewhere in the Public Health Law. In addition, the legislation lacks transparency and accountability and contains extremely weak conscience protections for both health care professionals and health care institutions.
1. The bill invites coercion and undue influence.
The bill requires two witnesses to a patient’s written request for assisted suicide, and one of these two witnesses cannot be “a relative of the patient…a person who at the time the request is signed would be entitled to any portion of the estate of the patient…[or]an owner, operator or employee of a health care facility.” § 2899-d(12)
However, the bill does not prohibit the other witness from being a relative, a person entitled to a portion of the patient’s estate, or a person associated with the health care facility where the patient is receiving treatment. There is also no requirement that either witness be an adult or even someone who knows the patient.
This is problematic because patients, particularly isolated elderly patients in long-term care facilities, are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. In theory, one witness may be a person who has a vested financial interest in the patient’s death, and the other witness may be a minor.
There is no requirement that a patient be determined to be competent and acting voluntarily at the time that they self-administer the lethal drugs. This leaves patients vulnerable to coercion and abuse once they are outside of the direct oversight of their doctor.
Date posted: June 23, 2015
I am heartened by the promising news out of Albany that the Governor and the leadership of the State Senate and the State Assembly have reached an agreement that will enable the payment of $250 million in unreimbursed mandated services to Catholic and other religious and non-public schools around New York State. This money, which has been owed for several years, is sorely needed by our schools, many of whom have been struggling to remain open.
We Catholic leaders were part of a broad coalition of religious leaders, business executives, labor officials, parents, and many others, all of whom fought long and hard on behalf of the Education Investment Tax Credit, a bill that would have helped all of our children, in public, religious, charter, and private schools. We are disappointed that, once again, we have come up short, but we will redouble our efforts next year to make this common-sense bill become law. We remain ever more committed to the principle of parental choice in education.
However, on behalf of Catholics throughout New York, and especially the parents who send their children to our schools, let me express appreciation to Governor Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Flanagan, and Assembly Speaker Heastie for recognizing the needs of our schools, and the action they have taken today.
Catholic schools for generations have been a lifeline for low-income families. Our schools have helped countless children, many of them new to our shores, reach their full potential and rise out of poverty. We are committed to maintaining a strong Catholic school system, and continue to urge lawmakers to finally do their part in helping these parents exercise their right to educational choice for their children.
Date posted: June 8, 2015
As a sexual abuse crisis engulfs New York City public schools, Assembly Member Margaret Markey is again promoting a bill to make it easier for sexual abuse victims to sue almost anyone – except public schools. This bill is fatally flawed, which is why it has been consistently rejected. There are several reasons why Markey’s approach is the wrong one.
1. This is not a controversy over criminal penalties for sexual abusers.
There is no controversy in the New York Legislature about the need to protect children and prevent sexual abuse. Yet the Markey bill, proposed seven times, has never been enacted. There is a good reason – and it’s not related to prospectively extending the criminal or civil statutes of limitations so sexual abusers can be prosecuted or sued.
Indeed, there is broad agreement on extending the criminal statute of limitations to cover non-felony sexual offenses, just as there was broad support in 2006 when New York enacted a law eliminating the criminal statute of limitations on felony sex offenses. There also is broad agreement on prospectively extending the civil statute of limitations, giving victims of sexual abuse up to five additional years to file civil lawsuits claiming sexual abuse
2. Amid a sexual abuse crisis in New York City public schools, the Markey bill selectively targets private schools and exempts public schools. Why?
The fundamental objection to the Markey bill is that it eliminates the statute of limitations on civil lawsuits for sexual abuse claims that are decades old. Statutes of limitations establish a reasonable time period in which civil lawsuits must be filed. This bill would waive that time period for one year, allowing any lawsuit claiming sexual abuse at any time in history to be filed against any party – with one very big exception. The Markey selectively targets private organizations – religious groups, private schools, non-profits and businesses. Public schools and other government entities are exempted due to the restrictive “notice of claims” requirements put on individuals who wish to sue public institutions, which her bill does not address.
This is not an oversight. Markey introduced a bill in 2009 that applied evenly to public and private schools and other entities. But she abandoned that approach because of the broad, legitimate opposition to any proposal that invited more lawsuits against every public school and municipality in New York State.
Tragically, sexual abuse occurs everywhere children and adults interact. To be fair and effective, laws targeting sexual abuse must apply evenly to all sectors of society. There is no legitimate basis to discriminate against private schools, churches, businesses and charities.
The Markey bill targets private organizations only because it amends the Civil Practice Law and Rules and fails to amend the General Municipal Law and the Education Law to remove the short “notice of claim” requirement for individuals suing public institutions.
As a result, an individual abused in a private school in 1950 would get an additional year to sue. But a child abused in a public school even as recently as four months ago would be afforded no additional time to sue. Sexual abuse is sexual abuse, no matter where it occurs. The discrimination in the Markey bill makes no sense.
3. Waiving the statute of limitations is constitutionally suspect and poor public policy.
Retroactively rescinding the civil statute of limitations casts aside a fundamental principle of American jurisprudence. It changes the rules after the fact and eliminates an essential protection against fraudulent claims – a protection that is in place in every jurisdiction in the United States.
As the New York State Bar Association has observed:
“Over time, evidence is lost or destroyed and witnesses die or become unavailable or, when they are available, their memories are less reliable. These circumstances make proof and defense of such actions extremely difficult, if not impossible, for all parties involved.” — New York State Bar Association’s Committee on Civil Practice Law and Rules Legislative Report #8, Feb. 25, 2003
4. There is a fairer, more effective approach.
Any proposal that creates two different classes of victims, depending only on where the abuse occurred, is fundamentally unjust. A child abused in a public school should have the same legal rights as a child abused in a private school.
The Catholic Conference of New York State supports A5418 (Cusick)/S3933 (Lanza), the bipartisan, comprehensive Senate and Assembly bills that protect children and protect the rights of victims without discriminating based on where sexual abuse occurred.
The Catholic Conference represents New York State’s Bishops in matters of public policy.
Date posted: June 1, 2015
At the invitation of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, Timothy Cardinal Dolan, several other New York State Bishops and representatives from all eight dioceses will meet with members of the New York State Senate and Assembly today, June 1, at the Executive Mansion in Albany.
The luncheon meetings continue the push for passage of the Governor’s Parental Choice in Education Act, which is the top priority of Cardinal Dolan and the Bishops and is crucial to the future of Catholic schools and other religious and independent schools in New York State. More
Date posted: March 30, 2015
Governor Cuomo and the leadership of the New York State Senate and Assembly have announced a three-way agreement on a state budget, which again does not include the Education Tax Credit, a critically needed piece of legislation for the parents and students of Catholic and other nonpublic education in the state. Following is a statement of Timothy Cardinal Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the New York State Catholic Conference:
“Last week, I made the comment that there would be plenty of blame to go around if the Education Tax Credit didn’t get done in the state budget. And now, sadly, this has played out yet again. My brother bishops and I are sorely disappointed in all of our political leaders in Albany, who again assured us of their strong personal support, but again could not deliver for the children of our state. Yet we have no alternative but to turn to them again and implore them to please pass this legislation once and for all before the close of the legislative session.
“The Education Tax Credit encourages increased charitable giving to public schools and to foundations which provide scholarships to help children in need escape failing public schools. This is why the legislation is supported by so many in our minority communities, where the financial need is the greatest and the disparity in educational outcomes between public and Catholic schools are so great. Parents in these communities are desperate for a better future for their children, a future that our schools can provide. Why their representatives are insensitive to them is a mystery.
“We have a difficult time understanding how in the world this has proven to be such difficult legislation to pass. We have a Governor who has called it a ‘matter of justice’ and included it in his executive budget. We have a Senate that passed it overwhelmingly by a vote of 44-16 earlier this year. And we have an Assembly with a solid majority of Democrats and Republicans who have said they support it. In addition, it has the support of more than 150 community, business, education, faith and labor organizations. Yet, somehow, it ended up pulled from the budget agreement, while the public schools again get a new boost to their gargantuan budget.
“So, while we have many supporters we can and do thank, there is also plenty of blame to go around. Our elected officials must cease allowing public school teachers unions intent on creating a government school monopoly to continue dictating education policy in our state. We turn again to our leaders to do the right thing, and pass the Education Tax Credit, not for any interest group, but for the children of our state. Every year that goes by is more lost opportunity for untold numbers of children. Their futures will not wait. Who will put their needs first?”
The Catholic Conference represents New York State’s Bishops in matters of public policy.
Date posted: March 24, 2015
A Statement from Timothy Cardinal Dolan and the Bishops of New York State
One year ago, with the promise of Education Tax Credits on the horizon, thousands of tuition-paying families were left out in the cold – excluded from a state budget that provides the nation’s highest level of spending per pupil in public schools. Governor Cuomo knows how genuinely disappointed we were.
This year, the Governor has included Education Tax Credits in his proposed state budget. And so we have renewed hope. But in politics, it is not enough to propose; the measure still must survive the negotiation process with the Legislature in order to be enacted, and we are strongly urging the Governor to be unwavering in demanding the tax credit be included in the final budget. More
Date posted: March 16, 2015
In a news conference today, Speaker Carl Heastie announced that the New York State Assembly will vote today on legislation aimed at protecting victims of human trafficking and helping to eliminate that scourge from our state. Though the bill has passed in the Senate this year and in years past, the Assembly had previously bundled it with a 10-point “Women’s Equality Act,” which included a controversial provision to expand access to late-term abortion. Today’s action allows the trafficking measure to stand on its own.
Kathleen M. Gallagher, director of pro-life activities for the New York State Catholic Conference, made the following statement today:
“We congratulate Speaker Heastie for allowing this important vote. It will no doubt save countless girls and young women from the horror of human trafficking. Assembly Member Amy Paulin, who led the fight for this bill should also be commended. We hope and expect that the Assembly will also take up the other provisions of the Women’s Equality Agenda already passed by the state Senate, under the leadership of Senator Dean Skelos.
“Today’s vote is a victory of policy over politics. We look forward to the bill’s passage and its signing into law by Governor Cuomo.”
The Catholic Conference represents New York State’s Bishops in matters of public policy.
Date posted: March 5, 2015
Following is a statement by Richard E. Barnes, executive director of the New York State Catholic Conference, on the death of Edward Cardinal Egan, archbishop emeritus of New York and president emeritus of the Catholic Conference:
“We are so saddened to learn of the death of our beloved former Conference President, Edward Cardinal Egan, archbishop emeritus of New York. Cardinal Egan was a dear and true friend and he will be terribly missed by those who knew and loved him.
“The cardinal’s contributions to the work of the New York State Catholic Conference cannot be overstated. As the founder of the Catholic Action Network, he had the vision to use the potential of the Internet to fundamentally reshape our grassroots education and advocacy. It was a model copied not only by other state Catholic Conferences throughout the country, but by advocacy organizations of all kinds.
“He was a tireless defender of the poor and vulnerable, the unborn, the sick and the elderly. He had a particular devotion to Catholic education, calling it the Church’s most important charitable ministry, and he raised untold millions to ensure its viability.
“I personally will miss his friendship, his wise counsel, his sense of humor, and the example he showed as a man of holiness. His episcopal motto, ‘In the holiness of truth,’ summed him up perfectly. Cardinal Egan was a man of truth, who recognized the holiness of that virtue.
May he rest in the peace of the Lord whom he loved and served so faithfully here on earth.”