This is a interesting comment on the erosion of church and state in American politics:
A push for politics in the pulpit
Thursday, September 18, 2008 | 07:27 PM ET
By Henry Champ
The founding fathers of the United States understood the need for a clear separation of church and state. They even wrote the principle into the U.S. Constitution, hoping to prevent the terrible problems they'd seen when the walls between religion and government were erased in Europe.
Then, 54 years ago, Congress went further. They passed a law that banned political endorsements by tax-exempt houses of worship.
It was not designed as a punishment. The rules were set in place to distinguish between religious, educational and charitable institutions – which are entitled to tax exemptions – and political organizations, which are not.
The law was clear. Tax-exempt entities may not "participate in, or intervene in … any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office."
The law has been tested in the courts many times. It has always been upheld.
Most of these cases came as a result of allegations that some preachers crossed the line.
There have also been efforts in Congress to repeal the law, although they must be described as half-hearted, given that so many lawmakers owe a considerable debt to one religious organization or another. Such efforts have never found significant public support.
Now, there is a new and altogether different challenge.
Pulpit Freedom Sunday
The Alliance Defence Fund, based in Arizona, has organized a head-on confrontation. Arguing that clergy have the constitutional right to endorse candidates, the ADF is promoting Pulpit Freedom Sunday. So far, several dozen conservative pastors from 20 states have agreed that on Sunday, Sept. 28, they will endorse candidates and political parties during their sermons.
"Many Americans' attitudes and actions toward slavery, child labour, civil rights and even the American revolution itself started in the pews of the nation's churches," the ADF says in its press release. "As pastors preached and taught biblical principles related to those issues and evaluated the politicians who promoted or decried them, their parishioners could decide their own stance in light of the scripture. Starting in 1954, that most basic right was ripped away from our pulpits."
ADF attorney Erik Stanley added: "For so long there has been this cloud of intimidation over the church.… It is the job of the pastors of America to debate the proper role of church in society."
Not everyone agrees.
A group called Americans United For Separation of Church and State is fighting back. Their spokesman, Joe Conn, describes Pulpit Freedom Sunday as a "stunt" and says the event is part of an effort by the religious right to build a church network that will put their candidates into office.
Two Ohio-based pastors have also called for hundreds of clergy nationwide to preach on Sept. 21 about the value of the separation of church and state. Their lawyer, former IRS official Marcus S. Owens, has urged the IRS to investigate ADF lawyers for "actively advising churches and pastors that they should violate the tax law and offering to explain how to do that.
"The tax system," he continues, "would be shut down if you allowed attorneys to counsel people on how to violate the tax law."
Uncle Sam's quandary
This is a big part of the problem. What does the government do the morning after if 50 or so pastors have ignored the law, figuratively giving the finger to Washington?
There is no question the ADF is counting on some cover from the Bush administration, which has urged faith-based organizations to take a greater public role. Then there are those congressmen and women who have trumpeted their connection to the religious right. And the ADF certainly would be hoping that the more conservative Supreme Court may help.
Yet it's hard to believe the Supreme Court would overturn the IRS ruling. There are the daily examples of abuse by religious leaders who impose orthodoxy through the power of government in Iran, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
And if churches, any churches, got their hooks any deeper into elected officials in Washington, can you imagine the effect on social issues, such as sex education, the teaching of creationism in schools, the blockades of abortion clinics and same-sex marriage?
But the ADF has deep pockets and it has promised to be there for any pastor or church that faces legal problems should the IRS attempt to remove tax exemptions.
Another complicating factor, of course: This circus is being held right in the middle of the presidential race.