April 23, 2015
Digest: A judge may serve as an officer of his/her religious institution, and may preach a sermon and make administrative announcements, but may not solicit tithes or contributions. The judge may allow his/her sermons to be broadcast via live streaming on the internet.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.2(C); 100.4(C)(3); 100.4(C)(3)(b)(i), (iv); Opinions 13-161; 12-142; 10-148; 08-176; 08-20; 90-28.
The inquiring judge asks whether he/she may serve as a deacon at his/her church, preach sermons, make administrative announcements, and allow his/her sermons to be broadcast via live streaming on the internet.
A judge must avoid even the appearance of impropriety (see 22 NYCRR 100.2) and must always act to promote public confidence in the judiciary’s integrity and impartiality (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[A]). A judge may be a member or serve as an officer, director, trustee or non-legal advisor of a not-for-profit religious organization, subject to certain limitations (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C]). Although a judge may assist such an organization in planning fund-raising and may participate in the management and investment of the organization’s funds, a judge may not personally solicit funds or participate in other fund-raising activities (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][b][i]). Moreover, a judge may not use or permit the use of the prestige of judicial office for fund-raising (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][b][iv]; see also 22 NYCRR 100.2[C] [a judge may not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others]).
The Committee has advised that “[t]he Rules Governing Judicial Conduct do not prohibit a judge from serving as a deacon of a church or from personally making contributions, whether at the level of a tithe or otherwise, to any permissible charity or not-for-profit organization” (Opinion 13-161 [citations omitted]).
Permissible extra-judicial activities are, of course, subject to applicable limitations on judicial speech, e.g., the bar on personally soliciting funds (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][b][i], [iv]; Opinions 13-161; 12-142). Thus, although a judge may join a church-sponsored mission to Africa, he/she may not join in, or lend the prestige of judicial office to, the church’s fund-raising efforts for the mission (see Opinion 08-20). The Committee also advised that a judge must not solicit funds from the congregation by discussing tithing and other contributions to the church in his/her sermon (see Opinion 10-148); nor be the deacon running a church fund-raiser or otherwise participate “in any prominent or substantial manner,” as this involves the judge “too closely” in fund-raising efforts (Opinion 90-28; see also Opinion 13-161).
The fact that an otherwise permissible sermon delivered by the judge, as deacon, is to be broadcast via live streaming on the internet, however, does not in any way make this permissible activity impermissible (cf. Opinion 08-176 [noting that the Committee could not “discern anything inherently inappropriate about a judge joining and making use of a social network”]).
Thus, the Committee concludes the inquiring judge may serve as deacon in his/her church, make administrative announcements, and deliver a sermon, provided he/she does not solicit tithes or contributions. The judge may also allow his/her sermon to be broadcast via live streaming on the internet.