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Preaching Politics from the Pulpit

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From the pew....

I don't know if any of you have seen this story but on Sunday at least 35 religious leaders from churches across the country will give sermons officially endorsing a Presidential candidate.

"Pastors will tell their congregations which presidential candidate they should vote for, according to the Scriptures. These endorsements represent a direct challenge to federal tax law, which prohibits tax-exempt organizations from engaging in partisan political activity."

The goal here isn't to really influence the 2008 election, it's to challenge the Constitutional ban of the separation of church and state and, more specifically, a 1954 law passed by Congress that makes it illegal for tax-exempt groups to support or oppose political candidates publicly."

Basically by preaching politics openly these churches would, by law, forgo their tax-exempt status. And religious leaders, bolstered by the Alliance Defense Fund or ADF, argue "the IRS tax code violates the free speech of religious leaders."

But wait there's more....

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Now a challenge like this isn't new. It's been tried before, but not with the type of organized protest which will happen Sunday. In fact...

The 1954 statute has been upheld in the courts. In three cases, courts have concluded it does not violate the Constitution's free speech clause, according to Robert Tuttle, professor of law and religion at George Washington University in Washington.

In a national poll released in August, two-thirds of American adults say that churches should not come out in favor of one political candidate over another. The Pew poll shows widespread agreement, including among Republicans and white Evangelicals (both at 64 percent).

Also, under the IRS rules, clergy are free to discuss any issues of public concern in their sermons, and houses of worship can engage in nonpartisan voter-registration and civic education."

via Boston.com

Well crowd, what do you think?

Should religious leaders be allowed to preach openly about a candidate and officially endorse someone?

And if they do, should they loose their tax exempt status?

How about the separation of church and state? That a good thing in your mind?


(Note: I know this isn't necessarily a pop culture story and I was originally going to put this in the YBNBY forum,s but the more I read, the more I wanted to get a bigger sample of people's opinions.)

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31 Comments

"Should religious leaders be allowed to preach openly about a candidate and officially endorse someone?"

Absolutely! Right after their checks to the IRS clear. The back property taxes on the Catholic Church's real estate holdings alone could probably wipe out the national debt.

said Jeem on September 26, 2008 11:22 AM.

Good point Jeem.

However, they'd probably just apply for government bailout.

said Baierman on September 26, 2008 11:48 AM.

In our country's brief history, no politics from the pulpit would have resulted in:

No Revolution
No Constitution
No Emancipation
No Civil Rights Movement

Go ahead, my friends. Ditch all that so you can make sure that political candidates aren't publicly discussed.

Separation of Church and State means:

No State church (check)
No government control of religious practice or speech (check)

It sounds an awful lot like someone's advocating the state putting a gag order on (or at least strong-arming) speech in this post. Yuck.

said Don't Swayze Bro on September 26, 2008 11:58 AM.

I don't think this will make much difference (only 35?). Those who think for themselves will not be swayed by a preacher, and those who do not will have voted for McSame anyway.

said Brother Bill on September 26, 2008 1:21 PM.

Thanks for posting on this, it's an important story that isn't getting a lot of press. My concern with comes from my background as a spiritual person. A minister is there to guide his congregation through an exploration of the text and its effect on our lives. I would consider a pastor giving a political endorsement in violation of that trust, one of the most sacred around. He would be an unfit leader in my eyes, and I would discontinue my membership with that church.

Pastors are free to address what they view to be social ills as freely as they like. His opinions on those ills should make his stance clear as to which candidate he supports, it need not be said. The only group benefiting from the Pulpit Initiative is the ADF. They'll sweep in plenty of legal fees as the churches in this group, under disgraceful leadership of these pastors, fight tooth and nail to keep money donated to them for use in their communities. The ADF are not brave crusaders, they're opportunists. Build a small group of pastors, guide them to break the law, and then represent them in the inevitable trial. It's come under constitutionality review a number of times, this time will be no different. The existing law isn't a gag order, as the person above me said. It's a definition of organizational boundaries. If an organization is making political endorsements and thereby influencing political results, then it should be beholden to that political system, financially and otherwise.

said dukerayburn on September 26, 2008 1:24 PM.

Baier...I live in the South and can tell you that preachers endorse candidates all of the time...as BB pointed out, people who are easily led will succumb to this...

There is a reason that Bush won....and it's not because he's a brainiac...he just courted the church vote. McCain knew he was on shaky ground with that crew--then nominated Sarah. Hmmm...what a co-inkeedink....

said sarcastic one on September 26, 2008 1:30 PM.

I think churches should pay taxes whether they want to or not. They collect a LOT in donations, we could be using that to run the country. Take the $700 billion we need to fix the economy from the churches! They owe us big time for letting them off the hook this long!

said Andy from Phoenix on September 26, 2008 1:40 PM.

Whooo Boy, politics and religion in one post? You tread dangerous waters B.

Anyways, The catholic church wouldn't get a government bailout. They have their own country for god's sake. They make money hand over fist. Just thank god it's not them bailing out these companies. they could certainly afford it.

The problem i have with politics from the pulpit is that quite a few people go to church so they don't HAVE to think for themselves.

Imagine if the "Opiate for the Masses" was spiked with political jesus juice...

said Sheriff Pablo on September 26, 2008 1:44 PM.

Well, we face this kind of things here too...

The Evangelics throw candidates every election, and they have a huge group at the Congress. The pastors endorse some candidates, mostly one from his own church and the crowd of sheep go "baahh baaahh yes mr. pastor baaahh baaahhh"... It's a shame.

The Catholics are the same, but they try to pass the message under the table... some of them go straight to the point, but mostly they say "oh, remember this guy, he did this and that for our neighbourhood" and things like this.

I think that a priest or a pastor or a shaman or whatever, has the right to endorse some candidate, cheer for him and also join the campaign, but he should do it out of the pulpit. In their private lives. Not there, in front of the mass of (most of the times) empty headed people who wait for some words sent by God himself through their leader's mouth.

said Leonardo Carvalho on September 26, 2008 1:46 PM.

Now we're going to get nailed by someone in blue for being Jesus bashers...

No, but just like I don't want a professor telling me who to vote for instead of lecturing on the class I'm taking, I don't want a person of the cloth to tell me. Hell, I don't want ANYONE to tell me who to vote for....

said sarcastic one on September 26, 2008 2:04 PM.

Well my point here wasn't to open the flood gates against religion but any post mixing the 2 P's is bound to head there for some people.

And I don't think it's just Christian faith that's on the hook here. There are jewish groups joining the ADF protest. I've been to temples where Rabbi's speak strongly for the support and protection of Israel and, while I haven't heard an endorsement outright, some certainly infer a choice.

The question is should they begin legally allowed to do so and if so, should that prohibit them from tax-free status.

said Baierman on September 26, 2008 2:31 PM.

You are mixing up three very different issues:

1) Taxation of Churches (a good argument can be made for this - BUT NOT as punishment for free speech)

2) The right of a religious leader to speak out on political matters. I'm stunned that this is even a debate.

3) Whether or not you personally "like" politics in church. Because of the separation of church and state, a person is free to attend any religious service he likes. If he doesn't like politics in the pulpit, there are probably at least a million religious organizations who don't regularly address politics. Pick one of them, or pick none.

There is nothing "sacred" about a pastor keeping politics out of the pulpit. We wouldn't have had an abolition movement without politics in the pulpit, for crying out loud, so to think that a major contributor to society such as houses of worship should somehow be mum on politics is patently ridiculous.

Look, I'm one of those number 3 guys. I don't "like" politics in church. In fact, I passionately don't "like" it. But I'm not about to stomp all over the Constitutional rights of assembly and expression just so I can shut up some pastors with whom I disagree.

I pray there are no Libertarians here who are advocating such pap or I will go and shoot myself in the eye with an unregistered handgun.

said Don't Swayze Bro on September 26, 2008 2:31 PM.

Pablo saying the Catholic Church "have their own country for God's sake," just killed me.

said Johnny Wright on September 26, 2008 2:49 PM.

Tax their income just like any other organization. That is, if they turn a profit (prophet?) of course. If they're operating at a loss, they wouldn't pay.

And give them tax credit for charitable works. But not just for the assumption that they may be doing charitable works. Line items on their tax forms detailing the money contributed to charity.

And then let 'em continue to flaunt the rule they're largely flaunting already.

said limbodog on September 26, 2008 3:26 PM.

Sure, they should be able to preach politics if they want. They do it all the time, but no one tells the IRS about it. They have that right, and taxation is not punishment, it is an equalizer. All the IRS will do is take away a "special privilege". That said, corporations should be taxed just as much.

said Miss Cellania on September 26, 2008 3:38 PM.

What's strange about this particular stunt is that they will no doubt endorse the candidate who never goes to church, and who abandoned his wife for a younger heiress. They won't be endorsing the candidate who is a professed Christian.

said Miss Cellania on September 26, 2008 3:40 PM.

I think churches should be taxed. If for nothing else the fundemantals. Hell, if there's a fire at their church, they don't call Brother Jebediah down the road, they dial 9-1-1.

I think that there should be some type of tax provisions for their charitable work, but I don't think it should be complete tax exemption.

said ConservaLiberCrat_08 on September 26, 2008 3:53 PM.

"No representation without taxation."


said Baierman on September 26, 2008 4:02 PM.

All Yall are going to hell. Vote for Dave btw.

said E on September 26, 2008 4:06 PM.

A few related topics: The Catholic Archdiocese of Portland Oregon has been bankrupt for years due to being sued so many times. They haven't been bailed out by anybody, not even the Vatican. Each diocese is its own parent company and each parish its own institution. If one fails, it fails alone.

Most Catholics don't see moving to another parish as a viable option as has been suggested many times in this discussion. You go to the parish you live in; you can't just drop out and go to another parish.

said whackjob1972 on September 26, 2008 4:07 PM.

Unfortunately in this country politics are inexorably intertwined with religion. The paradox is that by constitutional law, they shouldn't be.

Don't Swayze Bro,
I wholeheartedly disagree. There is a difference between basic human morality, and religion. Religion has been responsible for some pretty horrific things. Saying that the church is responsible for those things is a lot like saying that art school that kicked Hitler out was responsible for the holocaust. We're talking about multiple causes here, and personally I think something else would have filled in if not for religious pressure in those cases.

Let them pick a side. Let them support it. Don't do it under the auspices of a tax-exempt organization. If Preacher X supports candidate A, he can do talk about it afterward the sermon. People will know which side they choose, and where people stand.

Its a lot like extracurricular groups in a public school. For instance, I am a teacher at a state university. My students are smart, and they'll likely pick up where I stand, but I'm not going to preach one side or another. Yet at the same time, there are various religious and political groups that meet on the grounds of the university or in classrooms. But they aren't linked to actual classes or school personnel.

said kbk on September 26, 2008 4:08 PM.

i'm surprised no one has mentioned Jeremiah Wright's church or their political expression (see youtube).

I noticed an earlier post from NOW, describing their endorsement of Obama/Biden.

I say treat them all the same...which means 1st amendment rights.

said rollerballz on September 26, 2008 4:11 PM.

CLC, I almost choke on "they don't call Brother Jebediah"... hahahah

Yes, they can support a candidate, and talk about him as well, but what they usually do is say "this is the guy. vote him. he's the god's choice"

I heard it more than once.

said Leonardo Carvalho on September 26, 2008 4:15 PM.

I want to say that if we allow this kind of thing the next thing we kow the Church of Scientology will be endorsing Tom Cruise for president as the rencarnation of Xenu.

Seriously though I think that It shouldn't matter that a precher tells his congragation who is the right candidate. A religious leader is also looked on a social leader in his or her community. This means that it is there responsiblility to take a social role in the election process.

I agree with Don't Swayze bro when he points out that much of what American underdogs have achieved has been greatly supported by what religious leaders have done to help said causes.

said long2021 on September 26, 2008 5:14 PM.

Yes they should be allowed to. No one is holding guns to their heads making them vote. If you attend a church where you feel you are being swayed one way or the other or flat out told to vote a certain way and you continue to go to that church, then you deserve to be led. I for one will walk out of my church never to return if i hear my pastor tell me who I should vote for.

I encourage every one to collect every piece of information they can and make your own choices.


I heard Michael Madson say something on a radio program that does a really good job of suming up how i feel about politics. They asked him who he was voting for and he said something to the effects of, " I don't tell people who i'm voting for in fear that someone might take that as a cool thing, and vote for someone just because i did."

I love that line of thinking. (like i needed one more reason to be a HUGE fan of his)

said phatlard on September 26, 2008 7:19 PM.

Religion, Politics, Between the two of them, responsible for 90% of the wars in the history of the world.

When election day comes can we vote for none of the above? yeesh.

said Sheriff Pablo on September 26, 2008 7:49 PM.

No. You can't.

said dukerayburn on September 26, 2008 9:38 PM.

Where are all the "recovering Catholics" going to be located?

said molli on September 27, 2008 8:55 AM.

Unfortunately, I cannot respond to this post without sounding racist, but here it is. THIS IS NOTHING NEW. I grew up in the south, where black ministers sometimes even own their churches. I knew one who owned 3 and hired two other ministers to preach... but that's beside the point.

Some churches not only endorse political candidates, but they arrange transportation to the polls for their members to vote for those particular people. They go over the list of candidates from the pulpit, sometimes even handing out sample ballots, to ensure that their followers have a clear view of the candidate for which they are supposed to vote. If they have members who are sick, disabled, or otherwise unable to vote, they will assist them in getting absentee ballots and, again, make sure they vote for the right person.

Some of these same churches hold "seminars" on how to get the largest possible refund from the IRS, including how to capitalize on the so-called "earned income credit." For instance, if you are married with three or more children and both of you make around 7.50 and hour, or more if you don't work the full year, you can divorce and receive up to $9400, combined, from "Uncle Sam" at tax time, even if you didn't pay a dime in taxes. If you stay married and make about the same amount of money, that amount will drop by about $6000. Of course you have to lie and say you live in separate households, but what's the problem with teaching people to lie if you're also discouraging them to marry? Oh... and what happens if you have MORE than 4 children? Shoot... just sell their social security cards to your sister or brother that aren't so blessed and say they're raising them. After all, any additional children after 2 each doesn't profit you come tax time and what's another lie among many? The church says it's ok, so it must be.

I would say, "don't get me started," but it's obviously too late. Whatever your thoughts of "separation of church and state" may be... it ain't happening.

said Meri on September 27, 2008 2:39 PM.

Ministers urging their parishioners to vote for a particular candidate is an abuse of power and emotional blackmail. Shameful. As their congregations' spiritual advisors they are preaching the word of god and thus forcing them to vote the way the preachers do. How is that? If you're a good Christian, don't you need to follow the word of your pastor? To not vote the way he urges you to do is akin to not following Christ's other principles he preaches. Completely unethical. If they say to vote for one candidate, as men of God, doesn't that mean they are saying God wants you to vote that way? A minister's congregation wants to be good Christians so, to not do what he says, makes them bad Christians, right?

said DN on September 29, 2008 12:11 PM.

The other consideration of course is that the separation of church and state works both ways. The state cannot endorse or support any religion, and the church cannot endorse any particular government or candidate for public office.
So, when does the Great American Theocracy begin? And which religion will it be?

said Mike on September 29, 2008 1:21 PM.
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