Engaging Voters on Issues
While the IRS has very strong opinions that non-profit and religious institutions cannot endorse or oppose candidates for public office, that does not mean that these same organizations can't or shouldn't engage their constituents around issues they consider central to their missions.
Take, for example, the question of Proposition 8 on the California state ballot. Also known as the "Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry Act," if passed, it will add a new constitutional amendment to the California Constitution that will have the following text: "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." This is such an important issue to the fundamental social justice values of the Marin Community Foundation that its leader, Tom Peters, feels compelled to communicate the Foundation's stand on the issue to the voting public. In an op-ed piece in the Marin Independent Journal, Dr. Peters writes:
"Equity and social justice per se are not program areas at the foundation. They are, even more fundamentally, core values that pervade all our activities - our grantmaking, our efforts to bring people together to solve problems, and, when called for, our advocacy efforts.
Today, just such an issue is calling out for our attention as we approach this year's elections, and that's the issue of same-sex marriage.
The foundation has a long history of supporting equal rights for lesbians and gay men. Through a variety of efforts, we've wanted to help ensure that our lesbian and gay neighbors receive the services they need to come out and feel proud about who they are, while ensuring that the community where they live is both understanding and embracing of them."
Kudos to Dr. Peters for throwing the weight of the Marin Community Foundation behind this important community issue. Informing the voting public about issues that are critical to the missions of nonprofit and religious organizations is a right--and perhaps a responsibility--that should be embraced by the leaders of those institutions. We'd do well to follow this example.