Friday, May 09, 2008


Pastor Dan at Street Prophets takes note of an article in the Wall Street Journal covering the proposed actions of the Alliance Defense Fund, a ‘conservative legal-advocacy group’ based in Scottsdale. It seems that civil disobedience isn’t just for hippie liberals any more:

‘...A conservative legal-advocacy group is enlisting ministers to use their pulpits to preach about election candidates this September, defying a tax law that bars churches from engaging in politics.

Alliance Defense Fund, a Scottsdale, Ariz., nonprofit, is hoping at least one sermon will prompt the Internal Revenue Service to investigate, sparking a court battle that could get the tax provision declared unconstitutional. Alliance lawyers represent churches in disputes with the IRS over alleged partisan activity.

The action marks the latest attempt by a conservative organization to help clergy harness their congregations to sway elections. The protest is scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 28, a little more than a month before the general election, in a year when religious concerns and preachers have been a regular part of the political debate...

...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…’

Forcing a court challenge to what is perceived as unjust is the American way, and can be very effective. The problem is that this issue of divorcing politics from the pulpit is not about free speech as the Alliance Defense Fund proclaims, but is instead about the tax deduction. It’s false to claim that laws prevent priests from advocating for political candidates. It’s totally legal to do such advocacy; you’ll just loose your luscious tax deduction.

The gag rule isn’t all that onerous. It simply prohibits speaking out in favor or against a specific individual running for office. One can rail and thunder from the pulpit on political issues all one wants, you just can’t tell a congregation to go vote for a guy because the other one is going to hell.

But a tell in all of this, is the predominance of the preaching to those who support conservative politicians, and waiting to do so until a point late enough in the election cycle that nothing can be done about it until after the election. That’s why this sound and fury is more about Hail Mary passes to get a few more votes for conservative candidates a month after the ‘protest.’ What’s truly telling, though, is that so far I haven’t seen any church or parish feel strongly enough about this issue to self-revoke their own tax status to allow themselves to avoid the gag rule. Money trumps speech indeed.

From Pastor Dan:

'...C. Welton Gaddy of the Interfaith Alliance had a statement on the ADF's move that seems on-the-money:

Houses of worship belong to divine authority – they are not the property of either political party. The Alliance Defense Fund’s call for pastors to break the law represents the height of irresponsibility. They are putting churches across the country unnecessarily at risk to costly and time-consuming investigations that could result in harsh financial penalties. Putting churches in legal and financial jeopardy seems a bizarre way of defending religious freedom, which the ADF claims to defend.

But there is an even greater issue at stake in this campaign than violating the law. When religious leaders endorse candidates from the pulpit, they weaken both the sanctity of religion and the integrity of democracy. The IRS allows – and the Interfaith Alliance encourages – religious leaders to speak out on the important political issues of the day, but when clergy endorse specific candidates or parties in their official capacity, they abuse their pastoral authority...'