a new bunch of taxpayers…

Posted on Monday 29 September 2008

Defying a federal law that prohibits U.S. clergy from endorsing political candidates from the pulpit, an evangelical Christian minister told his congregation Sunday that voting for Sen. Barack Obama would be evidence of "severe moral schizophrenia."

The Rev. Ron Johnson Jr. told worshipers that the Democratic presidential nominee’s positions on abortion and gay partnerships exist "in direct opposition to God’s truth as He has revealed it in the Scriptures." Johnson showed slides contrasting the candidates’ views but stopped short of endorsing Obama’s Republican opponent, Sen. John McCain.

Johnson and 32 other pastors across the country set out Sunday to break the rules, hoping to generate a legal battle that will prompt federal courts to throw out a 54-year-old ban on political endorsements by tax-exempt houses of worship. The ministers contend they have a constitutional right to advise their worshipers how to vote. As Johnson put it during a break between sermons, "The point that the IRS says you can’t do it, I’m saying you’re wrong."

The campaign, organized by the Alliance Defense Fund, a socially conservative legal consortium based in Arizona, has gotten the attention of the Internal Revenue Service. The agency, alerted by opponents, pledged to "monitor the situation and take action as appropriate." Each campaign season brings allegations that a member of the clergy has crossed a line set out in a 1954 amendment to the tax code that says nonprofit, tax-exempt entities may not "participate in, or intervene in . . . any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office."

This time, the church action is concerted. Yet while the ministers say the rules stifle religious expression, their opponents contend that the tax laws are essential to protect the separation of church and state. They say political speech should not be supported by a tax break for the churches or the worshipers who are contributing to a political cause…
They also have a Constitutional right to pay taxes. Tax exemption is a privilege, not a right. I would question tax exemption for churches in general anyway, but the rules currently in place are pretty clear. If he thinks that his input into the American political process so vital, why not let him participate by paying for his share of the government he purports to need to influence?  Reverend Ron Johnson can make quarterly payments to the I.R.S. along with the rest of us. But this is the part of the article that really caught my attention:
Asked why he felt the need to discuss the candidates by name and to be explicit in rejecting Obama and his pro-choice views, Johnson said he must connect the dots because he is not sure that all members of his congregation can do so on their own…
What can he possibly mean when he says this? Is his Congregation intellectually challenged? More likely, he must think of himself as their God…
    September 29, 2008 | 10:38 AM

    They are trying to frame the debate as “protected freedom of speech.” And, since they have such a low estimate of their flocks’ ability to connect the dots, they build a groundswell of support, even to claiming victomhood of prejudice against religion.

    We who champion separation of church and state need to clearly reframe the debate as one of the tax exempt status for religion. I also question whether in modern times that general policy should be sustained. Maybe we could fund the bailout by doing away with it. The Catholic Church alone would probably owe billions for its real estate holdings.

    On the other hand, I think some of the African-American pastors have also skated on very thin ice with regard to political preaching. And when I think about the advantage to Democrats from their (mostly) support, I have second thoughts — not in principle but in selfish electoral pragmatics.

    September 29, 2008 | 10:53 AM

    Yeah my initial thought was, wow, we can use the revenue from these new 527’s. Betcha that’s what the IRS is thinking, too.

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