Thursday, September 25, 2008

Mixing politics with religion

In case you haven't heard, the Pulpit Initiative is scheduled for this Sunday in churches all across the country, possibly in one near you. The strategy is to boldly violate the IRS regulations against tax-exempt organizations engaging in partisan political activity by endorsing candidates during Sunday sermons, provoke an IRS investigation, and have the rule overturned in a lawsuit.

The brains, loosely speaking, behind this ploy is one Erik Stanley of the Alliance Defense Fund, who argues that the rule itself violates the First Amendment by giving the government censorship powers over religious speech.

Barry Lynn, of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, points out the delusion: Stanley seems to believe that the First Amendment mandates tax-exemption for churches. It does no such thing.* The IRS rules are entirely religion-neutral, because they cover any organization which has been granted tax-exemption for performing a public service. Any pastor is free to say anything he wants from the pulpit - he just has to choose between being neutral and having to pay taxes. Every other organization in America has to make exactly the same choice.

Oh, and from Christianity Today, here's your moment of zen:

"If we can tell you what to do in the bedroom, we can certainly tell you what to do in the voting booth," said the Minnesota minister [Gus Booth], an evangelical leader of a nondenominational church, who expects to endorse Republican John McCain during his "Pulpit Freedom Sunday" sermon.


* (In fact, if tax exemption were granted solely to churches, for no other reason than that they are churches, that would raise serious First Amendment issues. But churches are lumped together with other public-service organizations, so the church-state entanglement is considered minimal.**)

** (Possibly unwisely, if the Pulpit Initiative is any indication.)


James Hanley said...

You've got it exactly right. Not all non-profits are tax-exempt, because some of them do engage in politicking. But any other number of non-profits that have just as clear an ideologigal bent as these fundies do, such as Sierra Club, expressly avoid endorsing candidates so they can remain tax exempt.

These fools think they're special because they're a church.

And as far as any pastor "telling" me what to do in the voting booth, I'm perfectly capable to telling a pastor what to do to himself, also.

Scott Hanley said...

"These fools think they're special because they're a church."

I meant to add a postscript to the effect that these political religionists have a very poor track record at judging their chances in a lawsuit. They start with an assumption that they occupy a privileged position and get outraged when a judge dares tell them they have no more rights than anyone else.