CORPORATION GUIDELINES ON SERVICE OF MEMBERS IN RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATIONS OR ACTIVITIES
The Corporation acknowledges that religious activities play a positive role in healthy communities, that religion is a defining characteristic of many community organizations (faith-based and secular), and that religious belief and action are central to many AmeriCorps VISTA members' lives.
It is important, however, that AmeriCorps VISTA programs and their members do not endorse or promote, or appear to endorse or promote, religion or a specific religious belief. Consequently, we impose a number of limitations on activities that AmeriCorps VISTA programs can support and in which members can engage while serving, or when otherwise, representing AmeriCorps VISTA. AmeriCorps VISTA members are free to pursue these activities on their own initiative on non- AmeriCorps time, and using non-AmeriCorps funds. The AmeriCorps VISTA logo should not be worn while doing so. These limitations are:
- Members may not give religious instruction, conduct worship services, or engage in any other religious activity as part of their AmeriCorps VISTA duties that would be perceived as part of their duties by members of the community in which they serve.
- No religious instruction, worship, proselytizing, or other religious activity may be conducted as part of a project to which members are assigned or referred. Textbooks and other materials used in connection with the project should not have religious or sectarian content.
- Members who serve in an institution that gives religious instruction or engages in other religious activities may not be used as replacements for regular personnel of the institution. For example, members assigned to serve in a program conducted under the auspices of a church-related school may not be used as substitutes for regular teachers in the school. They may work on new programs, however, that are carried on in addition to the school's regular programs and that are conducted in conformance with these rules.
- The opportunity to receive the benefits of any project in which members serve will be open to persons in need without regard to their religious affiliation. Admission to programs supported by AmeriCorps VISTA shall not be based directly or indirectly on religious affiliation or on attendance at a church, church-related school, or other church-related institution or organization. The availability of the project's benefits to all needy persons in the area served will be publicized.
- Participation in an AmeriCorps VISTA project, by members or recipients, shall not be used as a means to induce participation in sectarian or religious activities.
LIMITATION ON POLITICAL ACTIVITIES
AmeriCorps VISTA members, as well as AmeriCorps VISTA programs and projects, are subject to certain restrictions related to their engagement in political activities. Such political activities are classified as either: (1) engaging in electoral activities; (2) engaging in lobbying; or (3) participating in demonstrations.
Engaging in Electoral Activities
AmeriCorps VISTA members may participate in electoral activities to the extent the activities are allowed under a federal law called the Hatch Act, 5 U.S.C. Chapter 73. The Hatch Act defines the rules and restrictions on political activities in which federal workers may engage. The Domestic Volunteer Service Act, at 42 U.S.C. § 5055, applies the Hatch Act to AmeriCorps VISTA members during their service.
The Hatch Act applies to all AmeriCorps VISTA members, whether they serve full-time or parttime, at all times during their service, including off duty hours. Permissible activities under the Hatch Act, unless prohibited by other statutory authority, apply to members when they are on authorized leave or are not perceived to be performing as an AmeriCorps VISTA member (e.g., while not actually or perceived as performing service, or off duty service time).
Under the Hatch Act, during off duty service time, AmeriCorps VISTA members may engage in certain political activities, as follows:
- May be candidates for public office in nonpartisan elections
- May register and vote as they choose
- May assist in voter registration drives
- May express opinions about candidates and issues
- May contribute money to political organizations
- May attend political fundraising functions
- May attend and be active at political rallies and meetings
- May join and be an active member of a political party or club
- May sign nominating petitions
- May campaign for or against referendum questions, constitutional amendments, municipal ordinances
- May campaign for or against candidates in partisan elections
- May make campaign speeches for candidates in partisan elections
- May distribute campaign literature in partisan elections
- May hold office in political clubs or parties, including serving as a delegate to a convention
Under the Hatch Act, AmeriCorps VISTA members are prohibited from engaging in the following activities at all times during service, including off duty service time:
- May not use their official authority or influence, as an AmeriCorps VISTA member, to influence an election
- May not knowingly solicit or discourage the political activity of any individual or organization that has business before the Corporation for National and Community Service or the AmeriCorps VISTA program (e.g., an AmeriCorps VISTA sponsoring organization or project)
- May not engage in political activity while in service time as an AmeriCorps VISTA member (e.g., while on duty as an AmeriCorps VISTA member at a sponsoring organization or project)
- May not engage in political activity while in any office of the AmeriCorps VISTA program (e.g., while at the sponsoring organization or the project)
- May not engage in political activity while using a vehicle owned or leased by the AmeriCorps VISTA sponsoring organization or project
- May not be a candidate for public office in a partisan election
- May not wear political buttons while in service time as an AmeriCorps VISTA member (e.g., while on duty as an AmeriCorps VISTA member at a sponsoring organization or project)
- May not engage in political activity while wearing an article of clothing, badge, insignia, or other similar item that identifies the Corporation or the AmeriCorps VISTA program
Also, AmeriCorps VISTA members generally may not solicit, accept, or receive political contributions, with one rare exception: An AmeriCorps VISTA member may solicit a political contribution from another individual if the request is for a contribution to the multicandidate political committee of a federal labor organization or a federal employee organization, to which both the AmeriCorps VISTA member and the individual belong. Such a solicitation is still prohibited, however, if the member is an AmeriCorps VISTA Leader and the individual is an AmeriCorps VISTA member.
AmeriCorps VISTA sponsoring organizations and projects may not use funds or personnel in a manner that supports or identifies the AmeriCorps VISTA program with partisan or nonpartisan election activities. Sponsoring organizations and projects also may not use funds or personnel in a manner that supports or results in voter registration activities, or that provides transportation to the polls. Additionally, no AmeriCorps VISTA member or employee of a sponsoring organization may take any action with respect to a partisan or nonpartisan political activity that would result in the identification or apparent identification of the AmeriCorps VISTA program with such activity. The Hatch Act also prohibits AmeriCorps VISTA members from engaging in voter registration activities or providing transportation to the polls during VISTA service hours.
Engaging In Lobbying
AmeriCorps VISTA sponsoring organizations may not assign AmeriCorps VISTA members to perform service or engage in activities related to influencing the passage or defeat of legislation, or of legislative proposals or initiatives. Also, AmeriCorps VISTA members are generally prohibited from engaging in such lobbying activities; however, there are two rare exceptions to this prohibition on lobbying:
- An AmeriCorps VISTA member may draft, review, testify, or make a representation on a legislative measure if the member is asked by a legislative body, a committee of a legislative body, or member of a legislative body.
- An AmeriCorps VISTA member may draft, review, testify, or make a written representation to a legislative body regarding a legislative measure directly affecting the operation of an AmeriCorps VISTA project or program to which the member is assigned, as long as:
- The sponsoring organization notifies the Corporation State Director on a quarterly basis of all activity occurring pursuant to this exception; and
- The legislative measure related to the funding of the AmeriCorps VISTA project or program affects the existence or basic structure of the project or program.
Participating in Demonstrations
As mentioned above, AmeriCorps VISTA members may participate in political rallies and meetings (i.e., demonstrations) with certain limitations. They may do these types of activities only while on authorized leave, or while off-duty or not otherwise engaged in performing AmeriCorps VISTA service. Such activities cannot be related to projects of the sponsoring organizations where the member serves. Moreover, AmeriCorps VISTA member may only participate in such activities to the extent that: (1) the member does not represent or attempt to represent the views of AmeriCorps VISTA members on any public issue; (2) the member's participation could not be reasonably understood by the community as being identified with the AmeriCorps VISTA program, the project, or other elements of his or her service; and (3) the member's participation does not interfere with the performance of his or her duties.
No sponsoring organization may approve an AmeriCorps VISTA member's involvement in planning, initiating, participating in, or otherwise aiding or assisting in any demonstration.
An AmeriCorps VISTA member must contact the Corporation State Office, and get its permission, before he/she engages in any of the activities-electoral, lobbying, or demonstration-discussed above.
LIMITATION ON DISPLACEMENT OF EMPLOYED WORKERS AND IMPAIRMENT OF CONTRACTS FOR SERVICE
AmeriCorps VISTA members are prohibited from performing activities or duties that would otherwise be carried out by employed workers, or would supplant the hiring of, or result in the displacement of, employed workers, or would impair existing contracts for service (45 U.S.C. § 5044).
Corporation regulations on nondisplacement of employed workers and nonimpairment of contracts for service are contained in 45 CFR Part 1216 (see Appendix C).
LIMITATION ON RECEIVING ANY COMPENSATION OR OTHER BENEFITS FOR SERVICE OF AmeriCorps VISTA MEMBERS
Agencies or organizations to which AmeriCorps VISTA members are assigned, or which operate or supervise an AmeriCorps VISTA project, are prohibited from requesting or receiving any compensation from members, or from those who benefit from the services that members provide (42 U.S.C. § 5044). In addition, it is the policy of AmeriCorps VISTA that members not accept any benefit from the sponsoring organization or the community served through their AmeriCorps VISTA assignments, unless otherwise permitted by Corporation policy (such as housing, transportation, bus passes, and training materials and tools). Members are expected to serve the community, not themselves.
Cash or in-kind contributions to an AmeriCorps VISTA project, provided under the terms of a Memorandum of Understanding between the primary AmeriCorps VISTA sponsoring organization and another participating agency, is not considered compensation for member services. The Corporation must, however, review and concur in all such Memoranda of Understanding prior to implementation.
LIMITATION ON LABOR OR ANTI-LABOR ACTIVITY
Corporation funds must not be used, directly or indirectly, to finance labor or anti-labor organizations or related activities (42 U.S.C. § 5044). Consequently, an AmeriCorps VISTA member must not be assigned to activities or duties that assist, directly or indirectly, any labor or anti-labor organizing activity or related activity.
PROHIBITION ON NEPOTISM
To avoid actual or apparent favoritism in the operation of a VISTA project, the AmeriCorps VISTA program prohibits certain VISTA placement and assignment arrangements, as follows:
A VISTA member cannot be placed or assigned to a VISTA project site , if the VISTA is:
- In the immediate family (e.g., spouse, domestic partner, parent or guardian whether by blood or adoption, child whether by blood or adoption) of a project site staff member or a project site’s board of directors
- A close relative, whether by blood or adoption, (e.g., grandparent, grandchild, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, first cousin) of a project site staff member or a project site’s board of directors
VISTA Project Supervisory Employees
A project site employee is prohibited from holding a VISTA project supervisory position, if she/he is:
- In the immediate family (e.g., spouse, domestic partner, parent or guardian whether by blood or adoption, child whether by blood or adoption) of any Corporation program official responsible for the AmeriCorps VISTA project or any project site employee who holds supervisory authority over him/her.
- A close relative, whether by blood or adoption, (e.g., grandparent, grandchild, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, first cousin) of any Corporation program official responsible for the AmeriCorps VISTA project or any project site employee who holds supervisory authority over him/her.
LIMITATION ON AmeriCorps VISTA FRATERNIZATION
Relationships between AmeriCorps VISTA members and staff members (including volunteer and contracted personnel) of the Corporation, sponsoring organization, and project site that are exploitive or that have the appearance of partiality, preferential treatment, or the improper use of position for personal gain, are prejudicial to the morale of AmeriCorps VISTA members and will not be tolerated.
Inappropriate relationships between AmeriCorps VISTA members and the aforementioned staff members are prohibited. Inappropriate relationships are those that compromise, or appear to compromise, supervisory authority or could result in preferential treatment. Relationships are prohibited if they appear to involve the improper use of rank or position for personal gain.
You must avoid nonprofessional relationships with other AmeriCorps VISTA members or staff members that create real or perceived conflicts of interest, discord, or distractions that interfere with other members' productivity, or potentially could result in charges of sexual harassment. These problems are serious in situations in which one person has authority over another.
Nonprofessional relationships between members and the aforementioned staff include, but are not limited to:
- Intimate/sexual relationships
- Borrowing or lending money, automobiles, or other personal property
- Engaging in financial or business dealings, or acting as an agent or sponsor with any commercial services
- Allowing services to be performed (compensated or uncompensated) that have no reasonable connection with AmeriCorps VISTA activities
- Gambling for goods, services, or money
- Any activity and/or relationship that, in the judgment of the Corporation State Director, may be reasonably perceived to undermine discipline, good order, and/or morale
- Socializing that might lead to the perception of a relationship or overtures to activities listed above
Inappropriate relations include, but are not limited to:
- Nonprofessional relationships between a Corporation State Office staff member assigned to monitor or oversee a project, and an AmeriCorps VISTA member or Leader of that project
- Nonprofessional relationships between an AmeriCorps VISTA supervisor and an AmeriCorps VISTA member the supervisor oversees
- Nonprofessional relationships between an AmeriCorps VISTA Leader and an AmeriCorps VISTA member the Leader guides Such relationships are strictly prohibited. Violators may be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including removal.
 A VISTA sponsoring organization may operate a VISTA project out of a single project site, or multiple sites. When a “project site” is referenced, the prohibited arrangement is limited to that particular site, rather than a project as a whole.