The Church for Vancouver has published “Guidelines for Church Engagement in Elections” on its website. The guidelines are a shorter version of the 25 page Election Kit prepared by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC).
While the EFC Election Kit includes
A Call to Prayer; Understanding Canadian Elections; and Tips for Holding an All Candidates’ Meeting,
“Guidelines for Church Engagement in Elections” warns,
Whether it is federal, provincial, municipal or school board elections, your church can participate in the democratic process.
However, given that many churches are registered with the Canada Revenue Agency as charities with the ability to issue income tax receipts, there are certain considerations and policies that must be considered. The government has set out specific guidelines that outline the allowable political activities of charities.
and goes on to list what churches can do and what churches cannot do.
get to know the candidates, pray for them, and ask about issues of interest or concern. It is highly beneficial for members to become involved in the electoral process and to vote.
invite all candidates to speak at the same event or service where the church meets. Churches can also organize an all-candidates’ debate.
provide information on issues of interest or concern that flow from biblical teaching, as long as the church does not link its views to any party or candidate.
Invite candidates to speak at different times, or at separate events or services.
Promote or oppose any one (or more) candidate or political party.
Post signs for a candidate or political party on church property.
Endorse a candidate or party from the pulpit.
Highlight or publish how one particular party or candidate voted on a given issue.
Distribute literature for any one candidate or party.
Encourage its members to vote for a particular candidate or party.
Link its views on issues of concern with those of a particular party or candidate.
Collect a church offering for a political candidate or a political party.
The “Guidelines” add this reminder:
Churches that engage in prohibited activities such as partisan politics can face deregistration and lose their charitable status.
If only a few churches would get caught and disciplined for engaging in prohibited activities, that would be great from an atheist perspective. However, don’t depend on this happening. As Douglas Todd says in his Vancouver Sun article,
No church, gurdwara or mosque wants to lose its charitable tax status, which is what could happen (emphasize could, since I’ve rarely heard of it) if Revenue Canada finds a religious group to be directly supporting a political party or candidate. So far Revenue Canada has mainly targeted environmental and left-wing non-profits for tax audits.
On its Twitter account, BC Humanists called attention to Todd’s Vancouver Sun article and asked,
What do you think of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada’s guidelines for church political activities?
Chilliwack Atheist replied,
voted in a church for the 2011 fed election. Election signs not allowed, but the church posted anti-choice propoganda all over.
BC Humanists’ reply to Chilliwack Atheist shows the question had a purpose:
Let us know if that happens again. Studies have suggested polling stations effect voting behavior too.
BC Humanists is correct; polling stations can affect voting behavior. The abstract to Abraham Rutchick’s article, “Deus Ex Machina: The Influence of Polling Place on Voting Behavior” points out
Voting is perceived as free and rational. Citizens make whatever choices they wish, shielded from external influences by the privacy of the voting booth. The current paper, however, suggests that a subtle source of influence—polling places themselves—can impact voting behavior. In two elections, people voting in churches were more likely to support a conservative candidate and a ban on same-sex marriage, but not the restriction of eminent domain.
So if you vote at a polling station in a church on October 19, watch for anti-choice propaganda or any other religious propaganda and let Canadian Atheist or BC Humanists know about it.
BC Humanists is correct; polling stations can affect voting behavior.
Clearly, we must lobby to get some polling stations set up in libraries and science labs, in the hope of subtly nudging voting behaviour in more positive directions.