Jun 09, 2004
Oh that Josh Marshall is so five minutes ago. No, but seriously, the swordsman supreme links to the “Safe Harbor for Churches” story today, which we hit up yesterday, but who cares about us - let’s hear what Jewish Week reports on the subject:“This is the most shocking example of politicizing churches I’ve ever seen,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, the Americans United executive director.
Some Jewish groups agreed.
“This week, the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign and President Bush took new steps to politicize religion and jeopardize the integrity of houses of worship for partisan purposes,” said Mark Pelavin, associate director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.
Pelavin was referring to both the church electoral gambit and last week’s expansion of the president’s faith-based initiative into three additional executive departments.
By trying to involve religious institutions in politics, the campaign is trying to “hurl a wrecking ball at the wall separating church and state,” he said, and warned that the effort “puts in jeopardy the non-profit status of 1,600 houses of worship by encouraging them to engage in partisan politics.”
Specifically, the measure would allow church leaders to “unintentionally” endorse or oppose candidates up to three times a year without risking their tax exemption.
“This is very strange legislation; I don’t know of any other law in the U.S. code that allows you a certain number of mistakes before penalties set in,” said an official with a major Jewish group here. “As a matter of legislative drafting, it’s a very awkward bill.”
The measure’s co-sponsors are all Republicans. Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), the majority leader, has indicated it will be a priority for the House leadership.
Numerous Christian as well as Jewish groups oppose the measure. But it has been a top priority for the powerful Christian Coalition, which has gotten in trouble with federal election officials in the past for its distribution of voter guides — which critics charge are blatantly partisan — in churches.
Michael Lieberman, counsel for the Anti-Defamation League’s Washington office, said support for the measure is based on “vast misunderstanding and even disinformation about the extent to which religious leaders can participate in the political process.”
Clergy can already speak out about critical issues, he said, adding, “The question is: ‘Can a tax-exempt organization endorse candidates, and make direct political expenditures?’ That crosses the line.”
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