RELST 308/308H: Lobbying & Religious Advocacy

Course Description

This course examines how—through approaches to lobbying and political advocacy—different religious communities engage in American politics, how their religio-historical views play a role in that engagement, and how their socio-historical context often have determined (or continue to determine) their level of access in the political realm.


This course is designed for the following:

To familiarize students with various institutions involved in the creation of public policy, including the legislative branches of municipal, state, and federal government;

To introduce students to the methods employed by those most directly involved in the conversation about public policy;

To provide students with first hand experience engaging in citizen advocacy in a democracy.


The following texts are available at the Scribner Bookstore at VWC. You are free to purchase them elsewhere, but you should check with me to be certain you are purchasing the correct edition.

Avner, Marcia, et al. The Lobbying and Advocacy Handbook for Nonprofit Organizations: Shaping Public Policy at the State and Local Level (2nd edition, 2013). [AVNER]

Holyoke, Thomas T. The Ethical Lobbyist: Reforming Washington’s Influence Industry (2016). [HOLYOKE]

In addition, links to articles have been inserted into the “Schedule of Readings and Assignments”; others may be distributed in class or electronically (via email).


Responsibilities & Evaluation

In-Class Participation (30 points; 308H: 20 points):

As per College policy, you are expected to attend all classes and complete all assignments. In this class, you are expected to participate fully in class discussions and engage the materials.

Regular and thoughtful participation in class, as well as enthusiastic participation in the assignments, will be rewarded in this category; mindless blather will not. Students uncomfortable with classroom participation requirements are expected to discuss this with me privately at their first convenience.

Class Trips (10 points):

There are currently two class trips planned: the first is local (Norfolk City Council meeting) and will take place during the evening, while the other (Washington, DC) is scheduled for an entire day. For both, your participation is required. These trips have been specifically designed for the implementation of ideas and materials developed in class. Your failure to participate in any activities related to the preparation or execution of these activities will have a direct and adverse effect on your grade.

You may be asked to contribute a small amount to defray the cost of transportation for the class trip to Washington, DC.

Advocacy Write-up (20 points):

On the date indicated on the schedule, you must submit an analysis of our statement / visit to Norfolk City Council, paying particular attention to the following questions:

What did you do to prepare for the meeting?

What more could you have done to prepare for the meeting?

How would you follow-up now, after the meeting?

Web Site Analysis (10 points x 2 = 20 points):

Web Site Analysis #1: Locate the Web site of an advocacy organization directly or indirectly affiliated with a specific religious tradition or movement. Analyze that Web site specifically as it relates to concepts of religious liberty (broadly or for that specific religious organization), and discuss its presentation of position, access to advocates, and general “feedback loops” for those who might be similarly interested in the site’s message or affiliation.

Web Site Analysis #2: Locate the Web site of an elected official or elected body (municipal, state, or federal). Analyze that Web site specifically as it relates to communication, and discuss its presentation of positions, access from constituents and advocates, and the presentation of information for those hoping to communicate with the person / elected body.

Public Statement to Norfolk City Council (308H: 10 points):

In preparation for our visit to Norfolk City Council, you will participate in the construction of a class statement appropriate for the occasion and the goals of the class. More information will be provided in class.

Final Paper (20 points):

On the last day of class, you will submit a longer paper (8-12 pages) analyzing the process of public interest advocacy, including the development of strategies, the implementation and execution of those strategies, and the reception by elected officials, as well as possible outcomes. This paper will be based on class readings and discussions, as well as your experience with elected officials, and should use materials from all of these areas.