As a religious people who affirm human compassion, advocate for human rights, and seek justice, we must never make the mistake of confusing a legal right with a moral right. The forced removal of Native Americans from their land and onto reservations was legal. The importation and sale of African slaves was legal. South African apartheid was legal. The confiscation of the property of Jews at the beginning of the Nazi regime was legal. The Spanish Inquisition was legal. Crucifying Jesus was legal. Burning Michael Servetus at the stake for his Unitarian theology was legal. The powerful have always used the legal system to oppress the powerless.
It is true that as citizens we should respect the rule of law. More importantly, though, our duty is to create laws founded on our highest sense of justice, equity, and compassion. Loud voices urge us to choose fear, denial, reactionary nationalism, and racism. We must resist and choose the better way urged by every major religious tradition. We must choose the path of compassion and hope. We must choose a path that is founded on the recognition that we are connected, that we are all in this together.
—Peter Morales, “We Are One,” A People So Bold
A political cartoon from a few years ago depicts American Indians building a log wall to block a boat of pilgrims from landing on shore near a large stone labeled “Plymouth Rock.” The caption reads, “They say they’re building a wall because too many [pilgrims] enter illegally and won’t learn their language or assimilate into their culture.”
Another cartoon features three panels in which a white man first tells an African-American, “Go back to Africa!” and then tells a Latino, “Go back to Mexico!” But in the final panel he can only clench his fists in silence when he meets a stern-looking American Indian with his arms crossed.
A final cartoon features a white man in an expensive suit yelling at a Latino family, “It’s time to reclaim America from the illegal immigrants!” An American Indian responds, “I’ll help you pack.”
One of the historical factors at the root of these satirical cartoons is the Doctrine of Discovery. Many of us as children learned the rhyme that, “In fourteen hundred ninety-two / Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” And it was precisely around this time in the late 15th century, in the so-called “Age of Discovery,” that a worldview began to develop that Europe was the only civilized part of the world; therefore, any part of the planet that Europeans conquered would do that land the favor of bringing both a “superior religion” (Christianity) and a “superior culture” to territory that was either unoccupied or occupied by people the Europeans viewed as heathens or savages.
The Doctrine of Discovery was buttressed by the worldview of the Crusades. Papal bulls encouraged Christians to “capture, vanquish, and subdue the…pagans, and other enemies of Christ,” to “put them into perpetual slavery,” and “to take all their possessions and property.” Disturbingly, the Doctrine of Discovery, as initially articulated by rulers such as Pope Nicholas (1452) and Henry VII of England (1496), was later imported into the United States legal system in conflicts over the rights to American Indian land such as the 1823 Supreme Court case Johnson v. McIntosh:
Writing for an unanimous court, Chief Justice John Marshall observed that Christian European nations had assumed “ultimate dominion” over the lands of America during the Age of Discovery, and that — upon “discovery” — the Indians had lost “their rights to complete sovereignty, as independent nations,” and only retained a right of “occupancy” in their lands.
As recently as 2005, the United States Supreme Court explicitly referenced the Doctrine of Discovery in City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation of New York: “Under the Doctrine of Discovery…fee title to the lands occupied by Indians when colonists arrived became vested in the sovereign — first the discovering European nation and later the original states and the United States.”
But what about the prior sovereignty of the original inhabitants, who were present long before Europeans “discovered” the land? It seems that the word “discovery” is a code for “Might makes right”: the Europeans and later the U.S. government had more power, so they set the terms about what was fair, skewing the terms in their favor. But that’s a dangerous precedent to set because there’s always the danger that someone could become mightier than you in the future. And our bloated military budget attests to the perpetual arms race and never-ending quest for U.S. military dominance that continues to this day.
Remember those opening political cartoons? A sentence that could have come from the transcript of a contemporary debate about the U.S.-Mexico border is completely inverted when said not by U.S. citizens about Mexican immigrants, but by American Indians about European pilgrims: “They say they’re building a wall because too many of us enter illegally and won’t learn their language or assimilate into their culture.”
Why do so many European Americans, in particular, seem to either lack the historical memory that their ancestors were also immigrants or lack empathy for contemporary immigrants in a parallel situation to their ancestors? If a European American feels compelled to chant “Go back to Africa!” or “Go back to Mexico!” shouldn’t he or she also direct that aggression back at him or herself: “Go back to Europe!” As that third carton reminds us, “If it’s time to reclaim America from the illegal immigrants, many American Indians might say, “I’ll help you pack.”
Just as the Doctrine of Discovery is code for “Might makes right,” the word “discovery” is also code for a highly Eurocentric perspective of history — that a land is only really discovered not when the first human being finds it, but when the first European finds it. From the perspective of the American Indians, the arrival of the European colonizers and conquerers was what could be called a “(dis)covery” — with the first three letters in parenthesis: a dismissal and covering over of their history, humanity, and rights. As you can see in the title of this post, I put in the parenthesis as a way of disrupting the meaning of this sometimes too-familiar word. The familiar meaning can allows us to unreflectively say sentences such as, “Columbus discovered America,” when the historical reality is much more complex.
~ ~ ~
I’ve been thinking about these matters a lot in the past few months. In June, I had the opportunity to attended the annual Unitarian Universalist General Assembly, which was focused this year on immigration justice. Although GA was almost two months ago, wrestling with immigration justice on this Labor Day Weekend is perhaps particularly appropriate given how enmeshed the issue of immigration is with the issue of labor rights, employment, and jobs.
In beginning to untangle these issues, one of the questions we were invited to ask at General Assembly was, “How can I respect both my own story and the stories of others?” We cannot change the history of colonization, but listening to the stories of marginalized indigenous groups can help us imagine a better way forward that accounts for past injustices.
Just as the Doctrine of Discovery is for the American Indians more of a (dis)covery — a dismissal and covering over — so too the word immigration is sometimes written with the first two letters in parenthesis to signal that some indigenous people see their ancestors as migrants, not immigrants. Migrant has the ancient connotation of nomadic hunter-gatherers moving around — such as over the land bridge from Asia to North America, where some of the ancestors of today’s American Indians actually were the first people to “discover” North America. In contrast, immigrant has the connotation of crossing a border. Every human being’s ancestors were migrants at one point, before “immigration” ever existed, before borders ever existed. Laying out these facts can debunk some of the unhelpful myths that cloud contemporary immigration debates and policies.
Recognizing that historically we all come from migrants can also help us to be more reticent in using loaded terms such as “illegal immigrant.” On the danger of this term, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel has said:
Do not use that term illegal to refer to these immigrants because there is no such thing as an illegal human being. You may have broken an immigration law…in this case actually a misdemeanor…but that does not make you an illegal person. That’s as if you have ever been stopped for speeding and given a ticket…does that make you an illegal driver now? There is no such thing as an illegal human being and it is a dangerous term to use. The Nazis declared the Jews to be an illegal people and that was the beginning of the Holocaust.
Peter Morales makes a similar point in the opening quote:
[W]e must never make the mistake of confusing a legal right with a moral right…. The powerful have always used the legal system to oppress the powerless. It is true that as citizens we should respect the rule of law. More importantly, though, our duty is to create laws founded on our highest sense of justice, equity, and compassion.
A study of the past reminds us of howhistorically contingent the borders that separate us are. And our Unitarian Universalist Principles call us to work for a future that dissolves borders and moves toward a world community based on the conviction that every human being has inherent worth and dignity. To adapt a lesson from my seminary Latina Theology class, when we look at a globe or map, we should see national borders as gaping wounds on the interdependent web of all existence, wounds that are arbitrary divisions crying out to be healed.
Is this vision any more radical that the fullest meaning of Thomas Jefferson’s vision in the Declaration of Independence that, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”? Of course, we have fought for more than two centuries about how inclusive we mean that word “men.” Does it include only landed white men? Does it include men of all skin colors? Does the word “men” include women too? Do these self-evident truths about “all men” include people who are of other nations, including people who, at first, seem to be “not like us.”
In working to achieve Jefferson’s egalitarian vision, it is noteworthy that at the 2012 General Assembly, the gathered Unitarian Universalists did vote overwhelmingly to join a number of other denominations in repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery. But despite the symbolic importance of this gesture, I’m unclear that there are many concrete consequences that will flow from this repudiation. For example, I’m sure there are indigenous people who would resist a call to move toward world community and would prefer to move toward a past vision in which their people roamed freely in places such as the land now known by many as North America. For better or worse, returning to that situation seems unlikely at this late date. Nevertheless, repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery is a step toward healing past colonialism.
Looking toward how we can continue to move forward, I will confess that the immigration debate is dizzyingly complex. But on this point, one speaker at the UU General Assembly powerfully said, “The U.S. Immigration System is not broken; it was designed to be difficult.”
If you do feel led explore the issues of Immigration Justice further, your opinion and actions on this or any other social justice issue ultimately must be based on your own discernment and conscience, but in admitting the complexity of the situation, let me be clear that I do not mean to imply that we should do nothing.
The main lesson of the 2012 annual UU General Assembly was that we can and must work for social justice. This most recent General Assembly was nicknamed “Justice GA” because the business sessions were limited to the minimum required by the bylaws so that there would be time for the gathered participants not only to talk about social justice, but to do social justice.
As with most major annual gatherings, the locations for UU General Assemblies are scheduled years in advance. But as immigrations policies in Arizona became increasingly harsh, concerns were raised amongst UUs at the 2010 GA in Minneapolis about whether we should cancel our reservations at the Phoenix Convention Center and boycott Arizona in protest of the increasingly inhuman immigration legislation. Instead a compromise position was reached: we would go to Arizona, but the focus would be a series of public witness events to protest the unjust immigration laws and to call for more humane immigration policies.
I was honored to be a part of the largest of these public witness events. On a Saturday evening in late June, I gathered with nearly 2,000 other Unitarian Universalists, along with representatives from our partner organizations in Arizona, to protest Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s inhumane Tent City jail. The street was filled to overflowing with UUs wearing bright yellow Standing on the Side of Love shirts, waving candles, and singing songs of social justice. As UU World reported:
Complaints of cruel and unusual punishment have been lodged against the outdoor complex since Tent City opened in 1993. In the desert heat, temperatures in the tents have reportedly reached into the 130°s. Tent City has been condemned by numerous human rights organizations, and given rise to lawsuits charging civil rights violations. The U.S. Department of Justice is suing Arpaio and Maricopa County for civil rights violations, including what it said is the long-standing racial profiling of Latinos.
The protest was both exhilarating and emotionally wrenching: exhilarating because of the gathered crowd’s enthusiasm, but also wrenching to know that so many were suffering in the Tent City jail only yards away from us. But our presence did help bring more national attention to this situation, contributing to the groundwork so many others have been and continue to do for immigration justice in Arizona.
But I think that UUA President Peter Morales was also right to say that, “The true test of this GA, the true test of what we learn, is what our congregations…do five years from now. The programming at GA is aimed at raising the capacity of your congregation to engage in local justice issues.”
To that end, my sermon title is En La Lucha, a Spanish phrase meaning “In the struggle,” which I learned from the late Latina Feminist theologian Ada Maria Isasi-Díaz (1943-2012). Dr. Isasi-Díaz emphasized solidarity in her ethics, a similar theme to what we heard voiced repeatedly from our local Latino and Latina partner organizations in Arizona: don’t try to sweep in and solve our all our problems in one week (that was the error of colonialism); come and stand beside us, amplify our efforts, and tell our story when you get back home. And so we did, helping to embody UU slogan of standing on the side of love.
~ ~ ~
We may not yet have 2,000 Unitarian Universalists ready to march in the streets of Frederick for social justice, but if you are interested in getting more involved with immigration justice, there are a host of resources in the appendix to this post. But more concretely, I want to highlight two related issues that are focal points this fall for the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of Maryland. These are two ways in the coming months that you can directly make a difference — in educating others and getting out the vote, even if you don’t live in Maryland.
The first directly involves Immigration Justice. Maryland’s DREAM Act, which “provides for in-state college tuition rates for Maryland’s immigrant children, whether documented or undocumented in status.” It was passed by the General Assembly and signed by Governor O’Malley in 2011, but was then petitioned to referendum and will be on the General Election ballot on November 6, 2012. I encourage you to read the information, and discern how your conscience dictates that you should vote in November:
“Standing on the Side of Love” is also about discerning how to “Vote on the Side of Love” to help change our institutions and system to be more humane, compassionate, and just.
Along these lines, all the UU ministers in Maryland received a video message in an email last week from UUA President Peter Morales encouraging UUs in Maryland to pay attention to Referendum #6 on The Civil Marriage Protection Act, which involves extending the right to marry to same-sex partners in the state of Maryland:
This legislation is significant to me because if it passes, I will have the right to sign marriage licenses for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender couples starting on January 1, 2013.
The goal is for us not only to talk about social justice, but also to create social change. And as we continue to take steps — even tentative steps — toward more social action, I leave you with these words adapted from the “Franciscan Blessing,” from the tradition of Francis of Assisi:
May you be blessed with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, that you may live deep within your heart.
May you be blessed with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, that you may work for economic justice for all people.
May you be blessed with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, hunger, homelessness and rejection, that your may reach out our hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.
And may you be blessed us with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in the world so that together we can do what others claim cannot be done.
written by the staff of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis, Maryland for use in worship at the 2012 Justice General Assembly in Phoenix, Arizona
We light this chalice as a justice-seeking people, who face a bleak and desolate midnight of cruelty and exploitation. Our eyes are open; our souls cry “Enough.” Sailing upon an ocean of injustice, we seek a compass, a true course to a land where love reigns and justice prevails. We are not alone in this journey. There is a light from that distant shore that beckons us, “Come, come.” It is the light of our faith and the call of peoples from around the world. “Come, come,” we hear as we head into the bright.
written by Sea Raven, D.Min., a Lay Minister at UUCF, and inspired by Gospel of Thomas 10, where Jesus says, “I have cast fire upon the world, and look I’m guarding it until it blazes.”
Fire of faith be ours,
Fire of truth be ours,
Fire of freedom be ours,
Fire of justice be ours,
And as we extinguish our chalice, may we guard these fires until they blaze.
Process for Approving a UUCF Social and Environmental Justice Initiative
Approved by Board of Trustees on June 14, 2012
See “Acting with a Single Congregational Voice,” under Policy on Taking Public Positions
1. Each 12months, the UUCF Social and Environmental Justice Committee (SEJC) will select onesocial justice and environmental issue about which they believe it is desirable to adopt a UUCF Initiative. The SEJC will describe the chosen issue and give some reasons for choosing it, including how it relates to our UU Principles. This description will be communicated through multiple channels to the UUCF congregation.
2. Before voting whether or not to adopt a UUCF Initiative on the chosen issue, there will be a 6-month open, congregation-wide process of education, discussion and evaluation of alternative written proposals regarding the UUCF Initiative. Proposals should include projects that will provide opportunities for persons of all ages and abilities to support the Initiative. All UUCF Members and Friends are invited to participate in this process. A short term task force with a leader chosen from among the congregation, working in coordination with the SEJC, will lead the planning and implementation of this process.
3. UUCF Members and Friends are invited to develop written proposals that address the chosen issue. To be considered during the evaluation process, each alternative written proposal must include a statement of the proposed UUCF Initiative as well as a UUCF action, or series of actions and/or projects, designed to make a positive impact on the issue. The amount of funding, if any, required for such a project, and the means of this funding, must be presented as part of this proposal. During the evaluation process questions can be raised about the proposals, and they can be modified in response. Elements of different initial proposals can also be combined into a final proposal.
4. At the end of the evaluation process, each competing final proposal on the issue will be voted upon at a special UUCF congregational meeting called specifically for that purpose. Only UUCF Voting Members (those who have been members for at least 60 days) will be able to vote at that meeting. 50% of the Voting Members of UUCF (including either proxy or absentee votes) is required for a quorum at this meeting. To be adopted, a final proposed Initiative must be supported by 75% of those voting at the meeting. A positive congregational vote to adopt a proposal for a UUCF Initiative makes it incumbent on all UUCF Voting Members to implement the action(s) as broadly as possible. (See, however the possibility of dissent below).
5. Voting Members who oppose an adopted UUCF Initiative may (but are not required to) write a short (1-2 pages) message giving their reasons for dissenting from the adopted UUCF Initiative. Such dissents will be attached to, and remain a permanent part of, the adopted UUCF Initiative for as long as it remains an active Initiative. Otherwise, Voting Members who oppose an adopted UUCF Initiative should notify the Secretary of the Board of Trustees to add their name to a list of those opposed to the Initiative. Voting Members who dissent in writing, or by their name on the list, from an adopted UUCF Initiative would not be expected to participate in the implementation of action(s) called for in the adopted UUCF Initiative. All other Voting Members would be expected to participate.
6. Approved UUCF Initiatives are binding only on persons who are Voting Members at the time the Initiative is adopted. New Members and UUCF Friends may choose to participate in approved Initiatives by notifying the Secretary of the Board of Trustees.
7. After an adopted UUCF Initiative has been in effect for one year, the SEJC can choose to continue it for another year, or terminate it and propose a new issue for consideration.
8. Implementation of this process is not intended to prevent adoption of new, or pursuit of ongoing, social and environmental justice projects by small groups of individuals within UUCF.
Urgency Clause: When an issue deemed to be of importance to the Congregation by the Minister arises on short notice, the Minister may request that the Board of Trustees call a Congregational meeting to propose a UUCF position on the matter. All requirements stated in #4 above will be followed.
Appendix 3: Resources from UUA General Assembly 2012
Please contact Lora or Carl for more information about the following resources, which we brought back to UUCF from this year’s annual gathering in Phoenix.
Compilation of General Assembly 2012 links: http://www.uua.org/ga/2012/index.shtml
Immigration Justice Links: http://www.uua.org/immigration/index.shtml(Recipes for Immigration Justice Work, Best Practices, Ideas for Faithful Witness and Action, Congregational Stories, Worship Aids, Theological Reflection, Religious Education Suggestions, Immigration Policy Information.) Also see New York Times Topics: Immigration.
“Justice As a Family Value” resources: http://www.uua.org/re/families/ga/200424.shtml
Building the Beloved Community: 15-hour curriculum coming in the fall
Ideas for events: Invite Margaret Regan, author of The Death of Josseline: Immigration Stories from the Arizona Borderlands to come to UUCF for lecture/worship? This book is a previous UUA “Common Read”: http://www.uua.org/re/multigenerational/read/josseline/index.shtml. After a group read and discussion, host an immigration film festival (suggested titles at the website above) and/or do a materials drive for borderlands ministry.
Resources on Immigration Justice from the UUA bookstore
- David Bacon, Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants.
- Aviva Chomsky, ‘They Take Our Jobs!’ and 20 Other Myths about Immigration.
Talking About Immigration with Children and Youth: http://www.uua.org/re/children/ga/200406.shtml
Studying the Doctrine of Discovery (Note: the delegates at General Assembly voted to repudiate the Doctrine):http://www.uua.org/immigration/re/ga/200419.shtml
Spanish for Social Justice: An 8-week program meant to teach very basic Spanish to English-speakers seeking to do immigration justice. The course is best supplemented by language exchanges (English-speakers practice their Spanish with Spanish-speakers practicing their English): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sVJ8vGbN39M (video introduction).
Restoring Trust: Breaking the ICE’s Hold on Our Communities (“Immigration and Customs Enforcement”):
Creating a Detention Center Ministry: http://www.standingonthesideoflove.org/tag/webinar/
Service Learning Trips to the U.S.-Mexico Border with BorderLinks:
UUSC’s new College of Social Justice: http://www.uua.org/news/pressroom/pressreleases/199054.shtml
- UU Legislative Ministry of Maryland will be offering advocacy training for two referenda items (Marriage Equality and DREAM Act): http://www.uulmmd.org/ (Also a good resource for making connections with other groups working for immigration justice in the region.)
- Justice Ministries at UU Church of Silver Spring, UU Arlington, All Souls DC, UU Rockville, UU River Road.
Satirical Cartoon of Immigration Process form Reason Magazine:
Starr King School for the Ministry “Power of the Spirit” Tool Kit (on a ThumbDrive in Carl’s office). Contents include the following:
1. Catalyzing Liberation Toolkit
2. Immigration as a Moral Issue
3. Inspired Faith Effective Action Docs
4. Non-Violent Direct Action Training Manual
5. Resources for Small Town Occupations
6. Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker documents:
- Five Fold Path.pdf
- Queer(y)ing Religious Education.pdf
- Educating to Create Just Communities and Counter Oppressions.pdf
- Speaking Out – Words of Thomas Starr King.pdf
7. Ruckus Society documents about direct action
8. Social Justice Empowerment Handbook
9. Urban Agricultural Resources Toolkit
- 10 Steps to Starting a Community Garden.pdf
- Essence of Permaculture.pdf
- Permaculture 101.pdf
- Resources for the Activist Gardener.pdf
- Starting a Community Garden (Detailed).pdf
- Starting a Farm in the City-Change Your Community By Growing What You Eat.pdf
1 To read the full text of “CITY OF SHERRILL, NEW YORK, PETITIONER v. ONEIDA INDIAN NATION OF NEW YORK et al.” visit http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/03-855.ZO.html (the quoted section is from the first footnote). Also, in tracing some major points in the history of the Doctrine of Discovery, I am following an open letter from Oren Lyons, Faith Keeper, Turtle Clan of the Onondaga Nation, January 2012 (http://www.uua.org/documents/lyonsoren/1201_uua_ltr.pdf) and “Five Hundred Years of Injustice: The Legacy of Fifteenth Century Religious Prejudice” by Steve Newcomb of the Indigenous Law Institute (http://ili.nativeweb.org/sdrm_art.html). For many more details, see Newcomb’s 2008 book Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery. For related resources, see: http://www.uua.org/ga/2012/189502.shtml.
2 I first heard the terms “(dis)covery” and “(im)migration” in my seminary Latina Feminist Theology class, taught by Daisy L. Machado.
3 Elie Wiesel was quoted by Maria Hinojosa, who delivered the 2012 Ware Lecture, which is highly recommended in full: http://www.uua.org/immigration/re/ga/208868.shtml.
4 For a vision of steps toward world community, view the Global Marshall Plan described at www.tikkun.org/GMP.
5 The quote about borders as “wounds” is adapted from my seminary Latina Feminist Theology professor Daisy L. Machado’s lectures.
6 “GA repudiates Doctrine of Discovery,” available at http://blogs.uuworld.org/ga/2012/06/24/ga-repudiates-doctrine-of-discovery/.
7 Michelle Bates Deakin, “Thousands wage peaceful protest at Tent City” (June 24, 2012), available at http://blogs.uuworld.org/ga/2012/06/24/thousands-wage-peaceful-protest-at-tent-city/. For an update on the current status of Tent City and Joe Arpaio, visit http://topics.nytimes.com/topics/reference/timestopics/people/a/joseph_m_arpaio/index.html.
8 Peter Morales, “Bring General Assembly home with you,” available at http://www.uuworld.org/life/articles/199507.shtml.
9 “Ada María Isasi-Díaz, Dissident Catholic Theologian, Dies at 69,” available at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/06/nyregion/ada-maria-isasi-diaz-dissident-catholic-theologian-dies-at-69.html?_r=1.
10 For more on “Voting on the Side of Love,” visit http://www.uua.org/documents/ssl/120823_bulletin_voting_sol.pdf. For more on the IRS rules governing the separate of church and state, see the UUA’s “The Real Rules: Congregations and the IRS Guidelines On Advocacy, Lobbying, and Elections,” available at http://www.uua.org/action/realrules/index.shtml. The following are some salient excerpts:
- “Religious individuals and groups have played a prophetic role in public life throughout history by calling attention to oppression, demanding change, and holding leaders and institutions accountable for their actions and policies. While this is still true in the United States today, too many people are under the false impression that religious organizations cannot have a voice in the public policy arena as a result of the Constitutional separation of church and state or Internal Revenue Service (IRS) regulations. In reality, there are many activities that any religious group can do without jeopardizing its nonprofit tax-exempt status. There are restrictions on certain kinds of political actions, but the range of what is acceptable is wide enough to exhaust the time and resources of any congregation without crossing any legal lines.”
- General Issue Advocacy: “There is no limit on the amount of time, effort, or expense congregations may devote to working on general issues such as civil rights, civil liberties, economic justice, the environment, or peace. Some of the many acceptable activities include: advocating positions in the media and to elected officials; educating and mobilizing congregants and the general public, and working in local coalitions or partnerships on issues of social justice.”
- In general, no organization, including a congregation, may qualify for Internal Revenue Code 501(c)(3) status if a substantial part of its activities is attempting to influence legislation (commonly known as lobbying).” Legislation…. Although the IRS has not defined what is “substantial,” courts and the IRS have ruled in the past that lobbying activities constituting 5% or less of total activities is acceptable. The IRS has also noted that where 16 to 20% of total activities have been devoted to lobbying, those activities have generally been considered “substantial.”
11 The “Standing on the Side of Love” campaign is based on the conviction that, “In public debates over immigration, LGBT rights, and more, religious people stand on the side of love and call for respect, inclusion, and compassion.” For more, visit http://www.standingonthesideoflove.org/about/.
12 To view the Peter Morales video sent to the UU Ministers in Maryland, visit
13 See “Appendix 2” of this document: “Process for Approving a UUCF Social and Environmental Justice Initiative — Approved by Board of Trustees on June 14, 2012.”
The Rev. Dr. Carl Gregg is a trained spiritual director, a D.Min. graduate of San Francisco Theological Seminary, and the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Frederick, Maryland. Follow him on Facebook (facebook.com/carlgregg) and Twitter (@carlgregg).
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