Thursday, October 02, 2008

Let My People Go

This past week was the Pulpit Freedom Sunday. Some religious leaders and parishes across the country attempted to test the legitimacy of federal tax law prohibiting partisan political speech and election related endorsements by charitable or 501(c)(3) organizations.

The relevant law:

Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity. Violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.

The penalty for engaging in this political speech is the removal of tax exempt status for these organizations. Not a small tribute to pay. As Daniel Webster and John C. Marshall so eloquently put it, the power to tax is the power to destroy. Suddenly slapping a corporate income tax on any well managed parish or religious body would be unlikely to destroy it in its entirety. But almost certainly many of their initiatives and good works would be destroyed in the face of having to hand over 20%, 30% 40%+ of their donations and earnings to the government.

Frankly, the government has forced a pathetic state of affairs for these churches. Be officially silent on decisions of public importance, matters critical to the moral health of society and members of the church. Or give us a huge percentage of the money you raise to do good works with. Or, to put it another way, put your hands up, it's your money or your 1st amendment rights.

The underlying assumption that the government has a right to the money churches raise is problematic in its own right. Oh, you're going to try to use your money to feed the hungry and heal the sick and console the lonely and lead people toward leading righteous lives and eternal salvation? Not until we get our take!

Many on the Left believe this to be no big deal. In fact, they applaud this sanction and see it as just punishment for any organization violating the purity of the sacred federal tax law. Liberal advocacy groups such as Americans United for the Separation of Church and State and the Minnesota Independent (rim shot) have been out front, soliciting reports of alleged violations of the tax code political speech limits so they can be submitted to the appropriate government authorities. (In other contexts, people like this are commonly known as tattle-tales, squealers, stoolies, and collaborationists.)

So, the issue of (tax) free speech in churches is now apparently politicized. It doesn't have to be, but it is. My guess as to why is the direction of the political speech being engaged in. That is, when the dominant religious organizations in this country want to speak freely about the candidates best representing their ideals, those candidates usually happen to be Republicans.

It is an inconvenient truth for the Left, but the fact is, the Republican party of today is more in concert with the traditional bedrock beliefs of Christianity. That wasn't always the case. But in modern times, the Democratic party has chosen to become wholly owned subsidiaries of special interests such as radical feminism, abortion rights, gay rights, etc. That choice has consequences, one of them being the alienation of people of faith who wish to see their society and government institutions reflect their moral beliefs.

One way to ameliorate those consequences is to crush dissent. Stop the organized distribution of the message that many Democratic party candidates are in opposition to traditional Christian beliefs.

Cue Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the churches they have targeted for tax destruction:

Americans United for Separation of Church and State today filed complaints with the Internal Revenue Service about six churches whose pastors endorsed candidates from the pulpit during a mass defiance of federal tax law last Sunday.

"These pastors flagrantly violated the law and now must deal with the consequences," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United.

Continued Lynn, "This is one of the most appalling Religious Right gambits I've ever seen. Church leaders are supposed to tend to Americans' spiritual needs, not behave like partisan political hacks. I urge the IRS to act swiftly in these cases."

That article notes all six churches being accused identified John McCain as the superior choice for President or Barack Obama as an inferior choice. Case closed. String 'em up!

While doing research on another topic, I came across another interesting example of this phenomenon. Curiously, one not targeted by the liberal activist groups for IRS violations.

We go now to Columbus, Ohio, site of the recent annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America. Where the 30,000 attendees were treated to speakers such as:

The well-known preacher Hamza Yusuf, who is particularly influential among the young, received thunderous applause when he called on America's Muslims to vote for the Democratic Party's presidential candidate, Barack Obama.

Before we call a press conference to announce our upcoming anonymous phone call to the IRS reporting these partisan political hacks, I must acknowledge there may be some picayune differences here between what the Christian pastors and the Islamic preacher did. The latter spoke honestly about their beliefs from the pulpit within their 501(3)(c) churches. The former did it at a 501(3)(c) national convention of co-religionists. See the difference?

Well, I don't. Granted, I ain't no Ivy League lawyer or tax specialist, but the intent and application of the tax code is fuzzy in my layman's reading. (Another condemnation of this law.)

Realistically speaking, it's a distinction without a difference. Religious leaders endorsing candidates to their faithful.

I wonder if Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Minnesota Independent know about ol' Hamza Yusef and the Islamic Society of North America? Since the endorsement was for Obama, the more appropriate question is, I wonder if they care?

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