As religious educators working in Catholic schools or volunteering in Catholic parishes, we have the opportunity to teach young people about the right to vote in a democratic election. This topic becomes even more important during the presidential election years in the United States.
In this lesson plan I wanted to offer a basic framework in which to teach about how to inform our consciences as we vote. The Catholic Church does not endorse any particular political party or political candidate and you shouldn’t either as you teach about the election.
Instead, take some time to teach about the value of voting and the issues that both citizens and candidates must wrestle with the most. An important thing is to make sure young people aren’t discouraged by the electoral process. Instead, let’s make it a goal to inspire them to be active participants as Catholic citizens in this country.
For United States citizens, the U.S. Bishops have released and updated a document Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship. I highly recommend you read it before teaching this lesson. It is short enough for teenagers to read and discuss. It is something you can summarize and use to influence your approach to teaching this lesson for young people.
It would also be wise to give parents a heads up about your intention to teach about the election in an impartial way. Many parents have very strong political feelings. Be transparent with parents about what you intend to do with the kids in class to avoid unnecessary conflicts.
A Note on Teaching Older vs. Younger Students
Students in middle school and high school will be able to comprehend the specific issues facing our country. This lesson will be beneficial in putting the issues they hear about into context.
If you teach younger students, however, it would be best to focus on the principles of Catholic Social Teaching and the Common Good then skipping the part of this lesson on the research of the specific issues and candidates. Instead, have them skip to the “Becoming a Candidate” part of this lesson.
Catholic Election Lesson Objectives
- Students will be able to list the Seven Principles of Catholic Social Teaching and define the Common Good.
- Students will be able to list the most important moral issues facing our country today.
- Students will feel grateful for the opportunity to vote.
Catholic Election Lesson Plan
The Seven Principles of Catholic Social Teaching
Begin by introducing your students to the Seven Principles of Catholic Social Teaching. These principles, especially the Dignity of the Human Person, are the fundamental goals we must strive for as a society. Our votes should align with the hope of protecting each one of these principles.
This video gives a basic summary of the principles and the issues that relate to each principle:
The Common Good
When it comes to voting in an election, our goal should be to strive for the common good. This is different than voting for the good of one group above others. It is different from voting for the good of the greatest number of people. Instead, the goal of the common good is to vote for those that will strive for the good for all of our citizens and all of our world.
Here is a short video to summarize the meaning of the Common Good:
(The videos and the graphic organizers that go with them are a part of The Religion Teacher’s Catholic Social Teaching Activity Pack.)
2020 Catholic Election Activities
1. Summarize the Issues
Take the students a step further and introduce them to the most important issues facing the country in this year’s election.
For 2020, the USCCB defined these issues in the parts II and III of their document: Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.
Part II offers an in depth discussion of each of the issues.
Part III, paragraph 92 offers a more succinct summary of the issues.
Invite students to read paragraph 92 of the document and summarize each bullet point in one word or phrase.
For example, the first bullet point reads: “Address the preeminent requirement to protect the weakest in our midst—innocent unborn children—by restricting and bringing to an end the destruction of unborn children through abortion and providing women in crisis pregnancies the supports they need to make a decision for life.”
Students could summarize this issue as “Abortion” or “Pro-life/Pro-choice” or “Protecting the Unborn.”
Have the students carry out this activity in any of these ways:
- Print out paragraph 92 with all of the bullet points and have students write the word or phrase summaries of each of the bullet points in the margins.
- Print and cut out each bullet point on slips of paper. On the back of each slip of paper, have students write the word or phrase summary.
- Split the class up into groups or pairs of students. Assign a bullet point to each group and have them come up with a word or phrase summary to present to the rest of the class.
Word or Phrase summaries about the issues in the bullet points could include:
- Culture of Death (Abortion, Euthanasia, Death Penalty, etc.)
- LGBTQ Issues
- Health Care
- Cooperation for Catholic Social Teaching
- Military Force
- World Peace & Human Rights
2. The Catholic Church & the Candidates
Neither candidate in this or any election will align with the Catholic Church’s teaching on all of these issues.
If you teach older students, give them the chance to study the candidates on each of these issues. Direct them to the candidates campaign websites. Invite them to read news articles that summarize the candidates position on certain issues.
Using a graphic organizer, have students research the Catholic Church’s teaching about a moral issue and summarize it as best they can. The Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship document is the best resource.
Then have them research the candidates and summarize where each of them stands in comparison to the Church’s teaching.
I created this worksheet to help students organize their research:
3. Becoming a Candidate
One of the wonderful things about living in a democracy is that we have the right to vote, but also the ability as citizens to run for office.
Now that the students are aware of the issues and the candidates, invite them to imagine what they would focus on as their top priorities if they were to run for office.
First, have them list the three issues that they feel most passionate about changing in this country.
Then, invite them to write a one-minute “Vote for Me” speech to explain what they would do if they were elected into office.
4. Praying for Our Country, Citizens, and Candidates
The reality is most students you teach cannot vote yet.
They can, however, pray for our country, candidates, and the citizens participating in the election.
Prayers for Our Country
Using what the students learned about the most important issues in the election, have them compose prayers of intercession. Give them these templates to help compose these prayers:
- We pray for an end to __________ because __________.
- We pray for those who suffer from ___________, may they __________.
- We pray that our country will __________ so that __________.
A Catholic Election Prayer for Citizens
The USCCB offers a Prayer Before an Election on their website for citizens and voters to use as they discern their voting decisions.
Since your students will be praying for other citizens in this case and not themselves, I adapted and shortened the Prayer before an Election to help you lead them with this prayer for citizens instead:
Lord God, as the election approaches,
we seek to better understand the issues and concerns that confront our city/state/country,
and how the Gospel compels us to respond as faithful citizens in our community.
We pray for the discernment of all citizens
so that they may choose leaders who hear your Word,
live your love,
and keep in the ways of your truth
as they follow in the steps of Jesus and his Apostles
and guide us to your Kingdom of justice and peace.
We ask this in the name of your Son Jesus Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit.
A Prayer for the Candidates
Finally, invite students to pray specifically for each one of the candidates running for office.
Here are two intercessions, written by Diana Macalintal of the Diocese of San Jose, for candidates of local and national office:
Let us pray for all candidates who desire to serve in our national and local government [silence]:
May all seeking election commit themselves to the common good and encourage a peaceful response so that our nation may be faithful to its pledge of liberty and justice for all. We pray.
Let us pray for our presidential candidates [silence]:
May those who seek the immense responsibility of the highest office of the United States know the peace that comes from God alone. May they and their families be protected from harm, the hearts of their opponents be softened by mercy, the people they seek to lead show them respect, and may God forgive them and each of us our faults. We pray.