Monday, September 29, 2008

Pulpit political endorsements.

There have been murmurs for a while that the ADF was going to put together some pastors to risk their tax-exempt status by endorsing political candidates. Well, they've done it:

I love the guy at the end of the video who says that the pastor has the right to let them know that a candidate is not abiding by what the Bible says. I'm assuming your pastor already tells you what the Bible says, but are you really so intellectually inept that you can't find out what the candidates believe and do the comparison on your own?

I know, I know. He was talking about the pastor's right to say what he thinks. Well, the pastor does have that right - he has the right to say what he thinks about the political candidates. And he could endorse candidates all day long around your kitchen table. But a pulpit endorsement isn't a case of the pastor expressing his views as an individual. It's a case of him telling you what the church thinks. Tax exempt organizations cannot endorse political candidates. That's the law. It applies to Planned Parenthood, the ACLU and the local homeless shelter just as much as it does to churches. Now I personally don't have an opinion as to whether tax exempt organizations should be allowed to endorse political candidates or not. But I see no reason to claim an exception for churches. Either all tax exempt organizations should be able to endorse, or none should be able to.

Then again, I don't think that all churches should be tax-exempt anyway. Only non-profit organizations should be free from taxes, since the sole purpose of those organizations is already to put something back in the community. If you've ever seen a megachurch or read a listing of the holdings of the Vatican, you know that not all churches are non-profit. However, while I do hope that these guys lose their tax exempt status, I do feel a little bad. After all, I know the cost will be passed onto the consumer, I mean...uh...the congregation, when it comes time for that tithe. And if the congregations of these churches are so stupid that they can't figure out whether a political candidate is in line with their cherished holy book on their own, then it seems like they've already got enough problems.


ShinyObject said...

I risk divulging my own ignorance in this post but your post made me do it.

Reading the post and watching the video made me start to think that the IRS law must be based somehow on the constitution or the Bill of Rights. The term "separation of church and state" is repeated from the time we first learn about the concept of countries and the laws that govern them. It becomes so commonplace that one assumes it must be stated in the founding documents of the US somewhere. It turns out it isn't. According to wikipedia the term is first used by Jefferson in a letter to the Danbury Baptists in 1802, long after the Constitution and Bill of Rights had been ratified.

While I agree with the concept and am repulsed by pastors preaching support for or against a candidate (mostly because people that listen to them in the first place seem to have trouble thinking for themselves and are easily influenced) it doesn't seem to violate any doctrine the US was created on. Quite the contrary, the First Amendment which claims to keep the church and state separate, protects the church through freedom of speech.

The bigger point I think you make and where I think the IRS has to get involved is the idea of the not for profit. One look at buildings like the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove and a visit to the Vatican museum show you that most religions are based on profit. In the case of the Catholic church, they have so much money and assets that they could probably solve the world's hunger crisis on their own (this is speculation/exaggeration and I have no proof to how much the Catholic church has or how much it would cost to end hunger). I see the Calvary church (which is a really bad virus in the US) building mega churches and pastors driving cars that cost more than their parishioners house.

I think the tax law deserves some attention. I really don't care if a pastor endorses a candidate or not (yet I do because I said it repulses me), but I do care that "not for profit" is so loosely defined. Start taxing these mega churches and maybe we can use the money toward the $700bn we are about to spend.

On a different note I somehow remember you stating in a post or your profile that you liked opera and snapped a picture of the opera house in Antwerp. I didn't attend a performance as I had no idea it existed but will look into the next time I am in Antwerp (which will probably be never).

Artemis311 said...

In stark contrast to so many comments left on the internet, Shinyobject, your's here have never indicated anything close to ignorance. :)

I have wondered myself how the 1st Amendment relates to this law. While "separation of church and state" doesn't appear in the constitution, it is how we interpret the Establishment Clause. You have to admit "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion" is a little ambiguous. They shouldn't respect churches? They shouldn't pass laws with respect to religion? What? That's why we have to look at what the founders said outside the constitution to figure out what they meant. And perhaps taxing churches somehow violates this principle, though I'm not sure how it would. The best I can come up with is that taxing them constitutes "excessive entanglement" since the gov't would be able to audit churches and poke around in their finances. I'm not sure if that really rises to the level of "excessive entanglement", though. It's been a long time since my last Con Law class.

I think you're right that this law looks more like a violation of another part of the first amendment - free speech. And maybe on those grounds they should scrap the entire thing, letting churches along with all the other tax-exempt organizations make political endorsements. Works for me. If all the Veteran's Organizations, Charity Organizations and Scientific Organizations could endorse candidates, I think it would change the political landscape for the better. I have a feeling, though, that there may be something that we're both missing. If this was a violation of free speech rights, you'd think the ACLU would have been all over it already.

The picture of the Antwerp Opera House just about knocked my socks off. So beautiful! Thanks for sharing. Boy would I love to see an opera in Europe. The only thing better would be to see one of Shakespeare's plays at the Globe in London. Ah... pipe dreams.

Just out of curiousity (if you don't mind talking about it) what brought you to Antwerp?

Artemis311 said...

Oops... never mind my last question. After commenting here I went over catch up on reading your blog and, lo and behold, you tell me why you were there.

By the way. Thanks for the link to my blog. :)

ShinyObject said...

I'm glad I am not the only one thrown by that phrase, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." There are some things I leave to smarter people and this is one I put in that category. Though I suspect by the wording the Supreme Court has spent an hour or two discussing it on more than one occasion.

But then the dictionary might help. Respecting doesn't mean quite what I thought it does. It means "regarding; concerning" (see what happens when we are forced to find things out for ourselves? I am often surprised when I look up words that I think I know) which would mean that congress should not pass laws that concern an establishment of religion. If that is the case, does the tax law that states that churches can't endorse candidates go against the first amendment or does the church give up their first amendment rights when agreeing to not pay taxes? Or as you said, does even taxing a church violate this? These are the things that make the law so fun and volatile.

Funny you mention the Globe. An ex-student of mine just went to the AA in London and posted pictures that included the Globe. This was no more than 3 days ago. I also built a scale model of it in 12th grade. Wish I would of taken pictures of it.