Rep. Walter B. Jones' "Houses of Worship Political Speech Protection Act"
(H.R. 2357) was drafted by attorneys with TV preacher Pat Robertson's American
Center for Law and Justice and is being aggressively pushed by numerous Religious
Right organizations. The measure would change the Internal Revenue Code to allow
houses of worship to use personnel and resources to endorse or oppose candidates
for public office.
Federal tax law currently forbids non-profit groups, including houses of worship,
from intervening in partisan campaigns if they are tax exempt under Section 501(c)(3)
of the tax code. The Jones bill would lift that regulation -- but only for houses
of worship. Religious Right groups are eager to get rid of the provision so they
can draft churches as cogs in their political machines.
"Americans do not want their churches turned into smoke-filled rooms where
political deals are cut and partisan politics replaces worship," said the
Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church
and State. "When people put their money in the collection plate, they don't
expect it to be used for candidates' campaign literature and attack ads."
Lynn continued, "This bill threatens the integrity of the faith community
and subverts the political process. It would be deeply divisive both for congregations
Many Religious Right supporters of the legislation have said the bill is necessary
to protect religious leaders' ability to speak out on issues. AU's Lynn said this
argument is "nonsense."
"Religious leaders are already free to expose moral evils, propose ethical
solutions and hold our leaders to the highest standards," Lynn said. "The
only thing that tax law prohibits is intervention by tax-exempt groups in political
Survey data shows that Americans are opposed to this legislation. A recent
poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that 70 percent of the
respondents said they disapprove of churches endorsing political candidates.
Nevertheless, the legislation has also been introduced in the Senate. On Aug.
1, Sens. Bob Smith (R-N.H.), Tim Hutchinson (R-Ark.) and Jesse Helms (R-N.C.)
unveiled S. 2886 to change federal tax law to allow "churches and other houses
of worship" to engage in partisan politicking.
Religious leaders and organizations across the theological spectrum have announced
opposition to the Jones bill. They include the American Jewish Committee; the
American Jewish Congress; the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs; the Central
Conference of American Rabbis; the Church of the Brethren Washington Office; the
Friends Committee on National Legislation (Quakers); the General Board of Church
and Society, United Methodist Church; the National Council of Churches of Christ
in the USA; the Presbyterian Church (USA), Washington Office; Seventh-day Adventist
Church, General Conference; Soka Gakkai International -- USA Buddhist Association;
Union of American Hebrew Congregations; the Unitarian Universalist Association
and the United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries.
Lynn urged Americans United members to contact their representatives in the
House and give their opinions about the Jones bill.
"This country doesn't need partisan pulpits," Lynn said. "The
Jones bill deserves to go down in defeat."
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington,
D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance
of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.