Churches are not taxed and by all accounts they shouldn't be. But a requirement of their tax-free status is their apolitical nature. Churches are houses of worship, not political centers. When a church or religious organization veers into the political sphere, they put their tax-free status at risk. That's what's behind the Houses of Worship Free Speech Restoration Act submitted to the House. It would permit overtly political speech in the pulpit and in the literature of religious organization, including the endorsement of candidates, without jeopardizing their tax-free status. Separate bills in the House and Senate deal differently with financially supporting candidates. The House bill allows religious leaders and groups to direct people to contribute to specific campaigns and causes while the Senate bill does not. (Details at MyDD, including a link to a remarkable speech by DeLay).
In truth, religious organizations already endorse candidates though they do so indirectly. They produce "non-partisan" voter guides that recommend stances on issues and then list candidate positions on those issues. (In 2000, the Christian Coalition distributed 70 million of these guides.) It's pretty easy to figure out which candidate they're endorsing. So why not let them be honest about it?
Because it's just not right. The fact that religious groups skirt the law by endorsing without endorsement is no reason to change the law. The Republican party has already penetrated the conservative churches, making them an adjunct to their campaign offices. Churches include voter guides that indirectly endorse candidates, pastors preach on issues like abortion and make it clear that good Christians won't support pro-choice candidates. They send their church directories to the RNC, .with the names and contact information for the congregants, building out the Republicans mailing list for fund-raising and volunteer recruitment. They are an adjunct to the Republican party, despite legal prohibitions against politicization of the church. Why make it even easier for them?
The Republican party may have thought that it was smart in corralling the organized power of the local church. But that's backfired as the party is increasingly controlled by religious social conservatives that demand extreme positions on the part of the politicians they own. Passing this bill allowing overt political action would simply increase the stranglehold that the extreme religious right has on our government.
And it hasn't zenithed - it's getting worse. Witness the efforts of the far religious right in Ohio to control local and state government. The Ohio Restoration Project is an organized effort to mobilize pastors and their congregants to elect Sec. of State Kenneth Blackwell as governor in 2006 and to take control of local Republican organizations.They want to increase the "values voter" participation in the next election from 22% to 35% of all voters.
Their stated issues include marriage (no gays allowed), right to life (overturn Roe vs Wade), educational choice (public funds for religious schools), taxes (tax breaks for businesses), employment (pro-business), and medical reform (tort reform a la Bush).
Despite the fact that they clearly support Blackwell, they label themselves non-partisan and claim that they don't endorse candidates. Horse puckey. If they weren't endorsing Blackwell they'd invite other candidates for governor to their Ohio for Jesus and God & Country rallies. Regardless of their current claims, they'll get around tax-exempt requirements by creating a PAC - they've already said they're considering it.
A key objective of this group is to "mobilize pastors". These so-called Patriot Pastors will be tasked with creating a giant prayer chain activated by email ('minutemen of prayer), submitting at least 200 names and addresses of citizens that can be contacted to "make a difference in congressional districts", and registering at least 300 new voters for 2006. With a goal of recruiting 2000 such pastors, that's 400,000 potential volunteers and donaters and 600,000 new voters. They also want a mailing list 300,00 strong and an email database of 100,000.
So how will they get this done? In 2005 they're hosting "pastor policy briefings", they're sponsoring "Ohio for Jesus Advertising" on the radio featuring Ken Blackwell, in November 2005 they'll host an "Ohio for Jesus" pastors' gathering, in Feb/March of '06 they'll have their Ohio for Jesus rally. In addition, "God and Country" rallies will be held throughout Ohio. These rallies will feature speakers like Zell Miller, Ken Blackwell (again), Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, Chuck Colson, Pat Robertson, and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. Patriot Pastors will be trained to preach on "issues relevant to the Christian Community", to host voter registration drives at their communities, to distribute voter guides provided by the Christian Coalition, American Family Association, and Center For Moral Clarity, and to mobilize their congregations to increase voter participation (for the "right" kind of voter).
Lest you think this is a benign organization that represents mainstream Christians, note that the group claims that "America has had a mission to share a living Savior with a dying world" and calls Christians to arms in the battle for America's soul, citing the following as evidence of the power of the "forces of hell".
- Teaching creation in our public schools has become a federal lawsuit.
- Biblical definitions of marriage are seen by academics as obsolete.
- American universities have become the arteries of spiritual toxic waste.
- “Homosexual marriages” are being paraded in 50 states
- In some cities, abortions nearly outnumber births
- HIV and sexually transmitted diseases will kill more Americans than every war this country has ever fought.
- Secularists have hijacked our culture--one year at a time.
- Denominational bigotry, division within the Body of Christ, and apostasy have weakened the voice of Biblical reason. Around the globe, ministers of the Gospel are being threatened with “hate crimes” legislation.
I won't even attempt to debunk this claptrap. It's scary to realize that so many people swallow it hook, line and sinker. And I particularly liked the way they characterized private vs public schooling;
If parents decide to take their children where they can learn of their Creator, read from the Bible, and pray…that should be their prerogative. If some parents chose a secular system that provides a revisionist version of history, excludes the evidences against creation, and discriminates against tax payers of faith…that should be their prerogative.
This is the new face of the Republican party. This is the threat we face, the tyranny of theocracy. The Republican party is in power, it's been hijacked, and the extremists aren't done. The question is - what are we going to do about it?