Administrative Council, after months of research and listening, approved a Policy on Advocacy in our yearly meeting which encourages Friends to follow their individual leadings and also articulates the limitations of a religion under the law. This story shares the policy and offers context and examples.
A review and discussion of this policy was held on April 4th on Zoom with Jim Waddington, the clerk of Administrative Council. The introduction to the policy by Jim and a detailed review of it by Christie Duncan-Tessmer, General Secretary, is recorded in this video.
Quaker practice invites Friends to listen deeply to the Inward Teacher and then to follow the leading that comes as a result. Philadelphia Yearly Meeting wishes to embrace our whole community in witness. When we offer our own leadings and work, it may draw others into contributing with their own individual gifts as well. Engaging in spirit-led and community-wide activism deepens our relationship with God. PYM can use the wide range of activity and expression allowed by advocacy to further its mission and witness.
Faith & Practice provides queries to guide us in our witness, including in civic engagement:
Witnessing in the World: Witness and Civic Responsibility
- What is our meeting doing:
- To become aware of systemic legal, economic and political injustices in our local community?
- To build relationships with other faith communities around common concerns?
- To reduce polarization within the larger community?
- To work together with others to address injustice?
- How does our meeting assist in restoring public recognition that government fulfills legitimate functions?
- Am I mindful of how my lifestyle, work-life and investments affect others?
- Am I open to seeking clearness on matters of conscience? Am I open to assisting others in doing so?
- Do I fulfill my civic responsibilities when they do not conflict with divine leading?
Activism and Advocacy
Activism and advocacy cover a wide range of engagement and activities which Friends enter from a starting place of spiritual grounding. When PYM Friends’ engagement is political, we must also consider the legal expectations for the organization.
Religious nonprofit organizations may express opinions about policies, issues, and legislative priorities, including specific legislation. Organizations may contact legislators and public officials about their concerns without asking those elected officials to vote in a specific way on specific legislation. Nonprofit organizations may educate their members about issues and effective participation. They may encourage their members to contact legislators and public officials about issues and legislation, as the individual members are led.
Tax-exempt organizations—and more explicitly churches—are extremely limited in their ability to lobby, that is, they may not attempt to influence specific legislation. They may not issue a call to action to ask public officials for a specific vote for or against specific legislation. They may not directly try to affect decision-makers’ actions on legislation, and they may not engage in political campaigning for candidates for public office.
Individuals are not affected by these distinctions. Nothing inhibits or limits an individual’s personal freedom to lobby or advocate as they are led.
Approved Policy on Advocacy
Administrative Council approved a PYM Policy on Advocacy in February 2022. It was drafted following consultation with:
- PYM Friends with multiple points of view
- Our attorney for nonprofit issues
- Other nonprofits including Friends Committee on National Legislation and Friends Committee on Legislation in California
- The clerks of the active PYM Collaboratives
The policy was reviewed three times by the Administrative Council before it was finalized and approved. The policy is an expression of what we as a religious tax-exempt organization are able to do and therefore applies to PYM groups such as collaboratives and granting groups and also to quarterly and monthly meetings. The policy states:
PYM, including groups and meetings in PYM, may advocate for issues and concerns that are rooted in spiritual discernment and the testimonies.
PYM, including groups and meetings in PYM, may not engage in direct or grassroots legislative lobbying or in political campaigning.
PYM communications channels, programs, or events may not be used by individuals or groups to call for action on specific legislation or on candidates for public office.
Lobbying has a very specific meaning to the IRS which is:
A church or religious organization will be regarded as attempting to influence legislation if it contacts, or urges the public to contact, members or employees of a legislative body for the purpose of proposing, supporting or opposing legislation, or if the organization advocates the adoption or rejection of legislation.
The key aspects of lobbying are attempting to influence the outcome and specific legislation.
Direct lobbying is a form of advocacy that attempts to influence legislation by contacting public officials to propose, support, or oppose specific legislation or urge the adoption or rejection of specific legislation. Grassroots Lobbying is attempting to influence specific legislation by encouraging members of your group or the public to contact legislators about that legislation.
In addition to lobbying, the IRS strictly prohibits nonprofit organizations and churches from “participating in any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.”
As a tax-exempt church-based nonprofit, we agree to limit our influence on political activity. This applies to the US Congress and to local school boards and everything in between.
The Policy in Practice
To help illustrate what this policy means in practice we’ll walk through an example. H.R.40 is a specific piece of legislation that would stand up a commission to study and develop proposals for reparations for African Americans. It has been introduced at every congressional session since 1989, and for the first time was voted out of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties in April 2021.
There are many PYM Friends who believe that reparations are a comprehensive way of reckoning with the disastrous effects of slavery that continue to compound for Black people every day. Those Friends want to see our country take real steps toward establishing reparations and they want to see H.R.40 passed by Congress. Their work on the issue may be ministry for them and they can and should do everything they can, as individuals, to help the bill get passed.
As an individual, a Friend may work on reparations and try to get H.R.40 passed in any and every way, including direct lobbying and grassroots activity. When they experience their work as being part of their faith, they can and should lift up their Quakerism and our testimonies to their congress members.
As a monthly or quarterly meeting or a PYM group, such as a collaborative or as the middle school Friends community, Friends can advocate to congress members for reparations as a matter of policy and justice. They can educate themselves and others about what H.R.40 is about and the impact it would have. The one thing they can’t do is advocate for H.R.40’s passage as a path to reparations. Advocating for the passage of H.R.40 is attempting to get to a specific outcome for specific legislation. So a Friend may say that their Quaker faith leads them to personally support H.R.40, but may not say that PYM, or their monthly meeting supports H.R.40.
Another example is H.R.2021, the Environmental Justice for All Act, which “establishes several environmental justice requirements, advisory bodies, and programs to address the disproportionate adverse human health or environmental effects of federal laws or programs on communities of color, low-income communities, or tribal and indigenous communities.” The chart below is another way to show some examples of what PYM meetings and groups can do to advocate for eliminating the intersection of racism and environmental concerns.
|Example Activities of PYM or PYM Group||Advocacy||Grassroots Lobbying||Direct Lobbying||Partisanship & Campaigning|
|As a PYM Group, provide research, analysis and commentary on H.R.2021 in a news story||yes|
|Visit your state representatives as a monthly meeting to discuss the importance of eliminating disparate health impact on neighborhoods of color||yes|
|Visit your representatives as a meeting to tell them why they need to vote for H.R.2021||no|
|As a PYM Council publish a news story about why H.R.2021 needs to be voted into law as a way to address both racism and climate change.||no|
|Encourage Friends to only speak with Democratic legislators about H.R.2021||no|