Friday, September 26, 2008

Pandering Unto Caesar

O, brave Sir Robin!

Just in time to rally the flagging troops, a group of Christian clergy have selected this Sunday to indulge in a little civil disobedience, according to this NY Times article.

Defying a federal tax law they consider unjust, 33 ministers across the country will take to their pulpits this Sunday and publicly endorse a candidate for president. ...

The protest, called Pulpit Freedom Sunday, was organized by the Alliance Defense Fund, a consortium of Christian lawyers that fights for conservative religious and social causes. ...

Organizers said they wanted a range of clergy of various faiths and political persuasions to join the protest, but acknowledged that the participants might be “weighted” toward the conservative end of the spectrum and more likely to support the Republican candidate, Senator John McCain, than the Democrat, Senator Barack Obama.
[Emphasis added]

Now, it is highly unlikely that the pastors involved will simply tell their flocks to vote for Sen. McCain or risk damnation. Instead, they will poll a representative sample of angels dancing on that pin over there and conclude that the numbers support him:

"I’m going to evaluate each candidate’s positions in light of Scripture and make a recommendation to my congregation as to which candidate aligns more so."

Sadly, the scriptures involved will not include Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, or prophetic utterances against the oppression of the poor and vulnerable, but I'm certain their concordances will provide them with plenty of ammunition.

What's the deal? Well, there's an election coming up, but that's just part of it. A segment of the Christian community, what I like to refer to as the Religious Reich, is unhappy with the concept of the separation of church and state mandated by the US Constitution and really unhappy with a 1954 law which restricts endorsements from the pulpit:

The protest is challenging an amendment to the tax code passed by Congress in 1954 saying that charitable organizations known as 501(c)(3)’s, which accept tax-deductible contributions, cannot intervene in political campaigns. The legislation was intended to prevent nonprofit organizations from funneling money and resources to political candidates.

The clergy, as educated by such as the Alliance Defense Fund, believe that the law restricts their constitutional right to Free Speech. Now, that's a rather specious argument if you think about it. I don't recall that statute keeping Jerry Falwell from speaking out in favor or against any particular candidate, or any other religious leader, for that matter. The IRS just doesn't want the endorsements coming from the pulpit located in the church situated on land that doesn't pay any taxes to use that tax-free space to assist a particular candidate with resources given with the understanding that they are tax deductible.

The whole exercise is intended to provoke a law suit challenging the constitutionality of that statute, and while I trust the statute will be upheld in the federal lower courts, I'm a little concerned that the current activist Supreme Court will be at least a little sympathetic to the concerns of the poor oppressed preachers.

I suppose having all that dry powder is somewhat of a trade-off, but I really would have preferred a country not run by the Religious Reich.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Karen said...

My father - a Methodist minister - is somewhere in heaven sobbing.

6:04 PM  
Anonymous Nora said...

It's utterly insane on the part of the planners of this event. How much money are they going to get from their parishoners if tithes to the churches are not tax deductible? How much are their expenses going to rise if they have to pay property taxes? And to get John McCain and Sarah Palin elected, they're willing to risk this?

My feeling is that anyone in any church should be able to make those kinds of sermons. Sure, misuse Jesus' words, ignore the prophets, twist whatever you can find in the Bible to show that greed is good and the people who are suffering are suffering because they deserve to be and that hatred is good if you hate the right people. Sure, tell your flock who to vote for and how to vote.

Just don't use one penny of my tax dollars to do so. If they want to walk away from the special privileges they get as churches, then fine. They can use their pulpits any way they like. But the law on this is very clear and has been for decades.

5:21 AM  

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