Lobbying - a Political Communication Tool for Churches and Religious Organizations

Article excerpt

Abstract: The paper focuses on demonstrating that, in spite of the controversies, lobbying has become an important political communication tool for churches and religious organizations in the United States and in the European Union as well. The American highly regulated lobbying system is compared to the lowly regulated system working at the level of European institutions. The following analysis highlights the differences that the two environments have generated in terms of the main issues and tools used by churches and religious organizations in order to influence policy-making, mainly in the framework of the pluralist - corporatist dichotomy. While the American religious lobbying has been very efficient in influencing the public policy regarding issues like the health care reform, immigration, same-sex marriage, abortion etc., the most significant result of the European religious lobbying has been the recognition of religious communities as partners of dialogue for the European institutions.

Key Words: advocacy; churches; dialogue; European Union; lobbying; political communication; religious organizations; United States.

Compatibility of churches and religious organizations with lobbying activities seems to be a debatable matter almost everywhere. Many politicians and citizens as well object to the very idea of religious lobbying on the reason that it violates the principle of church - state separation. Moreover, most of the religious staff involved in promoting certain views and positions on various issues of public policy prefer to use other words for describing their work, such as "advocacy", a term that covers a broader range of activities aimed at supporting a cause, a right, or a case. This reluctance is largely the consequence of the fact that "lobbying" and "lobbyists" quite often have negative or pejorative connotations and sometimes are associated with allegations of corruption and influence trafficking.

However, the legitimacy of lobbying has often been emphasized. In the United States (US), this legitimacy is widely accepted as deriving from the First Amendment to the Constitution, which asserts the freedom of speech, the right of people to assemble and to petition the government. This is the reason why the US has chosen not to limit the lobbying practice but to regulate it in order to assure more fairness, transparency, and responsibility. Although, traditionally, most European countries have proved more skepticism towards the legitimacy of lobbying and have not adopted formal regulations, in recent decades, the European Union (EU) institutions have started to pay attention to this matter, as a consequence of the lobbying explosion. The European Parliament has decided on the 'Rules of Procedure' referring to lobbying, and the European Commission has adopted measures for improving the framework for the activities of lobbyists ("interest representatives").

Obviously, the legitimacy of lobbying does not necessarily involve the compatibility of the religious institutions and organizations with such an activity. This paper tries to demonstrate that, in spite of the controversies, lobbying has already become a political communication tool for churches and religious organizations. The approach is based on the comparison between the longer experience that the US has had in this respect and the newer one, which has been developed at the level of the EU. This comparison will take into account both the similarities and the differences between the religious landscapes in the two environments. On the one hand, the so-called "new religious pluralism", deriving from the increasing religious diversity, is emerging on both sides of the Atlantic.1 On the other hand, the specific traditions have generated significant differences between the US and the EU countries, especially those derived from various approaches to the relationship between church and state. The analysis will highlight the new facets of these traditional differences, which have emerged in the process of the European integration. …