Recently, Priests for Life put out another call nationwide for churches to do voter registration drives. This activity simply consists of giving church members the opportunity to fill out the voter registration forms at the back of church. The forms take about a minute or two to complete.
It is perfectly legal for a church to conduct a non-partisan voter registration campaign. “Non-partisan” means that it is not limited to people of any given party. In fact, nobody who is eligible under federal and state law is excluded. Voter registration drives in the churches are also fully consistent with the gospel and with the call that the pope and bishops have been making to us to get involved in the electoral process. Jesus commissioned His Apostles to make disciples of all the nations and to teach them to carry out all His commands. The work of the Church is not simply to bring people to believe, but also to carry out the Lord's teachings. The gospel transforms society and renews the face of the earth. That includes renewing the face of leadership, laws, policies, and political life.
The pope, even in his encyclical on the Eucharist, urges us not to neglect the duties of our citizenship, and the bishops remind us in Living the Gospel of Life that “every voice matters in the public forum; every vote counts.”
So we are good to go, legally and spiritually. What keeps us from actually doing it?
One of the obstacles is an excessive fear that some dioceses and parishes have of working with “outside groups.” Some, for example, may not want to do a “Christian Coalition” voter registration drive, or a “Priests for Life” or “National Right to Life” voter registration drive.
Of course, parishes and dioceses are free to work with whom they choose. But that's not really the issue, because the decision not to work with a particular group does not absolve a church of its duty to equip its members to be active voters. Voter registration drives are not inherently linked with any group. Voter registration is an activity that citizens do and that churches have the right to facilitate. The activity is not owned by the church or by any outside group. We at Priests for Life along with many other national groups promote awareness of the need to do voter registration, and share information on how to carry it out. It is the role of the local diocese and parish to then pick up the ball and run with it. If they are afraid to do so, they should admit that, rather than disguise their fear with the excuse that they cannot work with a particular group.
Meanwhile, we will not be afraid to call on everyone to register as many voters as possible with or without the help of the churches. Even night clubs have been conducting voter registration drives, to protect certain immoral activities. Will they do better than God's Church?
Fr. Pavone is the Founding Director of Priests for Life. You may contact Priests for Life at PO Box 141172, Staten Island, NY 10314; Tel: 888-PFL-3448 or 718-980-4400; Fax: 718-980-6515; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Website: www.priestsforlife.org.