Tax Break

Critical swing states big part of Pulpit Freedom Sunday

October 12, 2012

Last Sunday, 1,586 priests and pastors stood up before their congregants across the United States and endorsed a candidate running for public office.  They were purposefully breaking the portion of the tax code which prohibits non-profits from making such endorsements, something they see as a violation of freedom of religion and speech. 

A tax-exempt group may take positions on political issues and argue for them, that  is allowed under U.S. law. Recommending a vote for or against a certain candidate, however,  is not permitted.

When Reuters spoke last week to Erik Stanley senior legal counsel of the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which has been organizing “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” since it began in 2008, he said the group was not pushing any particular political agenda and participants came from both conservative and liberal churches. He also said no special focus had been put on the nine swing states expected to have the biggest impact on the Presidential election November 6.

Now the ADF has posted a list of who spoke on Sunday.

Of the 1,586, churches involved on Sunday, 425 (or 27 percent) were in the nine swing states  of North Carolina, New Hampshire, Florida, Virginia, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Colorado and Nevada. Of those swing states, North Carolina had the biggest contingent, 116 houses of worship took part.

As we wrote Sunday, President Obama won North Carolina by just 14,000 votes in 2008. Recent polls show the Democrat now in a dead heat there with Republican challenger Mitt Romney, making sermons just before elections potentially critical, according to strategist from both political parties.

Paul Shumacker, a long-time North Carolina consultant to Republican candidates, explained that regular churchgoers tended to form a strong voter base. In a race as close as the one between Obama and Romney in the state, “anything that works to build intensity becomes absolutely critical,” he said.

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Those who twist the First Amendment to suggest that it supports political dictates from the pulpit are what I would call lost on a straight road. By definition such behavior erodes the separation of church and state that the amendment guarantees in the USA.

We may sit in the pews of one or another house of worship on the weekend, but that does not preclude our vociferous disagreement on political matters. Why? Because this is the United States of America, which by law prohibits the establishment of any religion.

In this great country, founded by people who fled religious persecution, you may be of any religion or no religion, and whatever your choice in that matter, it need not affect how you see political issues nor how you vote.

When a religious leader assumes the pulpit in order to tell you how to vote, it’s not a long step from there to telling you what you may read, with whom you may associate, how you may dress, whether and how you may work outside the home or local community, how your daughters and sons will be educated as they grow up to define the realities of tomorrow for all of us on planet earth.

Fundamentalist preachers of any allegedly Christian stripe in the USA may see themselves as bringing enlightenment to their flocks. However, to the rest of us they may look curiously like the imams of radical Islam.

Personally, if some preacher opened his or her mouth to tell me how to vote in the USA, that would be the last time I’d be found in that particular house of worship, and the last time my wallet would be opened in support of its allegedly charitable endeavors.

Do not imagine that some kindly pastor in the pulpit up there who is telling you how to vote today will be a cleric of the same religion telling your great-grandchildren how to vote, or that he will limit his dictates to matters of voting. What you wish for this afternoon may look very different thirty years down the road.

Think ahead. Give your great-grandchildren the same First Amendment rights you have. The only way to do that is to insist on the separation of church and state. Both church and state may make mistakes in their guidance of human beings. The chance of their making the same mistakes at the same time are fewer if they are separated than if they are sleeping in the same bed.

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