The Wall Street Journal reports that the Alliance Defense Fund, a Scottsdale, Ariz., conservative legal-advocacy group is attempting to provoke a new legal challenge to the rule that requires nonprofits to refrain from intervening in political campaigns. To be clear, it is llegal for nonprofits, including churches and synagogues, to endorse or publicly oppose political candidates or to intervene in candidates’ elections, although they are free to take sides on issues.
Alliance fund staff hopes 40 or 50 houses of worship will take part in the action, including clerics from liberal-leaning congregations. About 80 ministers have expressed interest, including one Catholic priest, says Erik Stanley, the Alliance’s senior legal counsel.
“The government should not be telling the church what it should or should not be saying,” says the Rev. Steve Riggle, senior pastor of Grace Community Church in Houston, who hopes to take part in the Alliance effort. Mr. Riggle says he told his congregation from the pulpit, before the Texas primary in March, that he was supporting former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee for president. “As a pastor, a private citizen, I can speak for myself. The IRS cannot quench my voice,” he says.
In recent years, attempts by members of Congress to change the law have failed. “Tax exemption is a benefit, and it comes with conditions,” says Rob Boston, a spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a nonprofit that has filed more than a dozen complaints in the past year with the IRS, accusing nonprofits of tax-code violations. “So if any pastor out there feels he is gagged or can’t speak on partisan politics…forgo the tax exemption and say what you want.”
Personally, I think this is a crock. The “Alliance” is attempting to get some liberl clergy involved with it’s attempt to overturn this rule, but the rule is there for a good reason; to prevent the kind of nonsense we see in Israel with rabbis giving out amulets to vote for this one, or cursing people who vote for that one, and telling people who they must vote for or be booted. It’s not like if your minister/rabbi/preacher/ priest has an opinion on the candidate it’s likely to be a big secret (although I did once have a conversation with a rabbi who told me that their congregation couldn’t guess who they would vote for. They were proud of it, I thought it a sign that that person never engaged in real advocacy; IMO a problem if you actually believe in the words you read in our texts), which is, IMO okay. I think that clergy should have opinions – and I don’t limit it to those whose opinions agree with mine (although if they don’t they’re wrong, of course)- and act on them, but I don’t want to see the pulpit devolve into an opportunity to socially coerce the votes of their followers . As we all know, there are clergy who may not be perfect out there, and I’m just as happy for them not to abuse the privilege.