Thursday, September 25, 2008

Political speech

Remember the case a few years back when All Saints Pasadena got charged by the IRS with breaking the rules about political speech? A guest speaker spoke out against the war, leading the IRS to threaten All Saints with loss of its tax-exempt status. Eventually the IRS backed down .

Churches are not allowed to promote or advocate specific candidates, although they can advocate issues (see my previous post about Prop8, and Dr Primrose's helpful comments). Interestingly, however, all the investigations appear to be against liberal churches, as we all know that the conservatives have been able to push the envelope considerably.

The LA Times reports today that the conservatives are going to challenge this rule very deliberately.
Christian ministers from California and 21 other states will use their pulpits Sunday to deliver political sermons or endorse presidential candidates -- defying a federal ban on campaigning by nonprofit groups.

The pastors' advocacy could violate the Internal Revenue Service's rules against political speech with the purpose of triggering IRS investigations.

That would allow their patron, the conservative legal group Alliance Defense Fund, to challenge the IRS' rules, a risky strategy that one defense fund attorney acknowledges could cost the churches their tax-exempt status. Congress made it illegal in 1954 for tax-exempt groups to publicly support or oppose political candidates.

"I'm going to talk about the un-biblical stands that Barack Obama takes. Nobody who follows the Bible can vote for him," said the Rev. Wiley S. Drake of First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park. "We may not be politically correct, but we are going to be biblically correct. We are going to vote for those who follow the Bible."
Meanwhile, a separate group of 180 ministers, rabbis and imams also has sought to counter the "pulpit initiative."....
"Political activity and political expressions are very important, but partisan politics are . . . . a death knell to the prophetic freedom that any religious organization must protect," said the Rev. Ed Bacon, rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena....
At the heart of the controversy is the Johnson amendment, named after former President Lyndon Johnson, a senator from Texas when it was enacted in 1954. The measure stated that nonprofit, tax-exempt organizations cannot participate in political campaigns for or against candidates for public office.
So, does political speech belong in a church, along with a tax-exempt status? or should the speech limitations be rescinded along with the tax limitations? Of course, these folks want to have their cake and eat it too, by keeping the tax limits but speaking freely.

What do you think?


DaYouthGuy said...

Maybe I just missed this in my education but when did organizations and companies get individual rights? My understanding is that Freedom of Speech is an individual right but the courts seem to be broadening out the rights to include all kinds of corporate bodies.

I have no trouble with the Johnson amendment. If you want to advocate corporately for candidates then you need to enter the body politic. And the body politic pays taxes.

David said...

I think progressive churches and religious organizations should send visitors quietly to those conservative churches to serve as witnesses to the political speech.

That way they can later file complaints & serve as witnesses in court against these "have their cake and eat it too" types.

Leonardo Ricardo said...

Self-righteous religious fundamentalist renegades ought volunteer to PAY THEIR TAXES and give unto Georgie Boy HIS due! Afterall, they are so into the rule of law, selfo-honorability and TRUTH! Really, these puritan bigots, thieves, fear/hate-mongers are not only dangerous to themselves they are dangerous to fellow human beings...sure let them pay for all the destruction they preach forth/froth.

Fred Schwartz said...

I love and second your comments.

I do not want religious groups endorsing candidates. We will in short order have ministers telling people God wants you to vote for whoever. Please let's just leave God out of politics.

rick allen said...

This looks like a win-win to me. These guys can endorse whoever they want from the pulpit--which, yes, under the first amendment, and any conception of human rights, they have a perfect right to do--and we get just a little less of a deficit from the sudden non-deductability of all their contributions this year.

JCF said...

we get just a little less of a deficit from the sudden non-deductability of all their contributions this year

I'll believe that when their check clears, Rick.


An Ethical Situation:

I have this friend who...

Nah, it was me.

There's this RC adoration chapel I like to visit (whatever the Popoids' problems, I don't doubt the validity of their Wafer-y Jesus in the monstrance).

This week, just outside the door, there were "Catholic Answers Action Voter Guides for Serious Catholics" (a total of 4 booklets). With a gut-level instinct for anti-choice/anti-LGBT Popoid Propaganda, I took 'em. All of em. For pulping.

Shortly thereafter, I felt guilty. Had I done the right thing?

Still later---and miles away from the chapel---I looked at the things. Sure enough, they teach that making me a second-class citizen is a "non-negotiable" for them.

I thought: would I POSSIBLY blame an African-American, who'd taken (for pulping) KKK literature? Of course not!

Ergo, I'd decided I'd done the right thing, after all.

Internalized homophobia is still a difficult thing to overcome: "be a good lil' closet case, and respect THEIR freedom" says the automaton voice.

What do y'all think? Direct (if possibly illegal) action for liberation, or should I cooperate in my own oppression, and passively let 'em spew their hatred of me, to any&all?


rick allen said...

I don't think I'd lose any sleep over four booklets. But to respect the freedom of those with whom we disagree is not a matter of self-closeting, but a fundamental element of an open society. It's nice to have it written in the Constitution, but if we cease to believe in it ourselves, what's written and enshrined in Washington can be ignored with impunity.

Personally I think the Church itself should be less directly involved in these things, especially at a time when neither party can exactly claim to be the repository of Catholic values with a straight face.

I do think it's appropriate for the Church to address these issues. About a month ago the pastor of my parish gave the "political" sermon: As citizens of a democracy it's your duty to vote. As Catholics you have to consider the imperatives of the gospel. He summarized all the issues--war and aggression, welcome to the alien, care of the poor and friendless, "life issues" (abortion and euthanasia, yes, but also capital punishment and American hegemony in weapons of mass destruction), imperialism, materialism, and exploitation of third world countries. He told no one how to vote (though I'd peg him as a fellow Obamaite). But he made it very clear that no one can compartmentalize the religious and the political. And I think he was quite right.

Anonymous said...

JCF, I'm not sure why you think pulping four pamphlets is a problem. You seem to have a good healthy dose of Catholic guilt!;-)

Rick Allen, about time someone's priest pointed out that life issues are not limited to in utero.

Indeed, I still fail to see how civil marriage for gay folks rises to the level of import as war, violence, and economic collapse.


Doorman-Priest said...

Religion and politics DO mix. Many of Jesus' sayings are overtly political.

The problem with being prophetic is that sometimes you risk being identified with the lunatic fringe.

Damned if you do and damned if you dont.

Anonymous said...

jcf, I can tell you that a fair number of Catholics are irritated at the bishops telling them how to vote, whether from a video message from the bishop, a written text that all priests are required to read at every Sunday mass for 1 to 4 weeks before the general elections, or from pamphlets that insult the intelligence.

You may have hastened the demise of the pamphlets, but perhaps they were headed for the circular files anyway.

A lot of church-goers want something more substantial from their churches - sermons reflecting on a balanced selection of Scripture. A steady diet of screeching that conveys the message that "We Christians are better than Those Other People Who Do X" is somewhat like a steady diet of any one single constipating food.

Admittedly, a lot of Christians are in it for the ego massage or for the safe feeling of being in the middle of the herd - the latter being a nearly universal need among humans, although differing in intensity for individual humans at individual times.


I think that non-profit groups should not engage in significant amounts of promotion of candidates. Maintaining a publicly disseminated database targeted to a specific mission of the non-profit group, listing sitting officials' voting records on the NPG's issue - that is reasonable. Maintaining a legislative alert service for members or public - that's good too. I'd draw the line at election activity, though. That should be done by a 501c4 affiliate group, funded by non-deductible donations. I think that tax-deductible status should be granted on the grounds that the organization does some public service. I think that endorsing candidates or parties should be done by those who are willing to put their money on the line. Individuals and corporations have never gotten tax deductions for their contributions to candidates or parties. Why should they be able to launder their contributions through a non-profit organization of any type, effectively making other taxpayers support specific candidates or parties? If the bishop wants to endorse a candidate, let him do it as a member of a 501c4 organization issuing a press release, not as The Bishop from the pulpit.


JCF said...

It wasn't really something I thought about, before I did it.

Like I said, it was just an instantaneous gut-level revulsion... context. I KNOW Popoids (again, as contrasted to Roman Catholics: the former is but a small subset of the latter) and I aren't going to see things eye-to-eye.

But do I have to be confronted by their bullsh*t, at the door to the adoration chapel? Y'know, a silent place, where I only go because I know I'm not going to be accosted by any pulpit-rantings? Can't I have an encounter with Jesus, in the Blessed Sacrament, which is just as He chooses to come to me, in my heart?

It's almost like they (the pamphlet-placers) didn't trust Jesus to deliver their agenda, y'know? >;-/

Cany said...

If these clowns want to talk politics, they are free to do it outside of the church or do it inside the church and pay taxes.

I could care less either way, but it has to be one way or the other.

JCF... good on you.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of speech, in the ongoing twilight zone that is our Presidential race, McCain says that what a candidate says is not necessarily their position. He told ABC's George Stephanopoulos today,"In all due respect, people going around and… sticking a microphone while conversations are being held, and then all of a sudden that's—that's a person's position… This is a free country, but I don't think most Americans think that that's a definitve policy statement made by Governor Palin."

Got that? What she says is not what she means.

Honestly you cannot make up this stuff.


JCF said...

Heh: if I want to know what Sarah Palin really thinks, I'll just listen to Tina Fey! ;-)

Fred Preuss said...

All religious bodies should pay taxes. Period. End the hidden establishment of religion now.
You make a speech for or against a candidate-you lose your tax break. Period. No exceptions. Black, white, brown, yellow, GLBTQQXYZM-I-C-K-E-Y-M-O-U-S-E, liberal Unitarian, snake handling Appalachian, fundamentalist Muslim, humanist Jew, cultural Orthodox, Afro-nationalist testifyin' storefront, Liberal/Pius X Catholic: anybody who makes a political speech loses all tax privileges.
End of story. That's the law.

Fred Preuss said...

jcf, what you did was petty and pitiful censorship. If you want to refute someone, leave literature of your own.
Passive-aggressive is so obviously and pitifully mainline Protestant/WASP.
If you don't like their literature, stare at bread somewhere else.
rick allen, your 'pastor' (does this mean you're a sheep?) was talking politics. He shouldn't have been. If he tells you it's important to vote, that's your business. If he's making a speech in which you can tell pretty much how you should vote, that's the law's business.
Don't get paranoid-I'd say the same thing if you could tell he wanted you to vote the opposite way.

rick allen said...

"rick allen, your 'pastor' (does this mean you're a sheep?) was talking politics."

I am a human being. But, metaphorically, I am a sheep, yes. Lots of that imagry in the gospel of John. No reason to be ashamed of it.

"He shouldn't have been."

So how come suddenly war, murder, adultery, poverty, and welcome to the stranger are not the concern of "religion"? Jesus talked about all of them. Was he out of line?

"If he tells you it's important to vote, that's your business."

I've always been kind of fascinated by that expression, "your business." You know, "Get out of my business." "It's none of your business." Like it's holy ground. But you remember what Jacob Marley's ghost said to Scrooge when Scrooge protested, "But Jacob, you were always a good man of business."

"If he's making a speech in which you can tell pretty much how you should vote, that's the law's business."

You're welcome to turn him in if you want. Santa Maria de la Paz, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Fred Preuss said...

Rick, if that's what the 'gospel' says, then it's ridiculous. Yes, you should be ashamed of it. Don't ask me rhetorical questions, please. Jesus is not the be-all and end-all of ethics. Cursing fig trees for not bearing fruit out of season, for example, strikes me as somewhat pointless, especially if you think that he was god and could have created them to bear fruit year-round and so saved himself future disappointment. Lack of planning there, if you ask me.
What the hell does 'welcome the stranger' mean? How is this political? Are you handing out cups of coffee? Or ignoring Federal immigration law? Then you're right, it is other people's business. I would have no hesitation reporting your 'Pastor' or Bishop or whatever to the police; the idea that churches have sanctuary is a medieval concept; there should be one set of laws for everyone, everywhere.
I still haven't heard what you think about paying taxes. Considering that the episcopal church in the US has over 9 billion in pension funds, it's not like you people need the money.
One final thing: if some nutjob fundamentalist concerned himself with your lovelife, I'd bet you you'd be at least as quick as myself to tell him to mind his own business.

rick allen said...

"Yes, you should be ashamed of it."

יְהוָה רֹעִי, לֹא אֶחְסָר.

"Considering that the episcopal church in the US has over 9 billion in pension funds, it's not like you people need the money."

I'm not Episcopalian. I just think that they're nice people and like talking with them.

And I don't see what the size of their pension fund has to do with the price of tea in China.

"One final thing: if some nutjob fundamentalist concerned himself with your lovelife, I'd bet you you'd be at least as quick as myself to tell him to mind his own business."

It's more my style to just say "thanks" and ignore. But on political matters--well, the whole idea of democracy is that nutjobs have the same number of votes as geniuses.

Fred Preuss said...

Rick, it's touching that you think I know dead languages, but I don't. And you've probably guessed that about 95% of the population doesn't either.
If you have something to say to me, say it to my face. This is more typical for males.

Fred Preuss said...

Leonardo, BOTH/ALL sets of believers should pay their taxes.
If they have a direct line to an all-powerful, all-knowing and all-loving being, He/She/It/They should have no problems finding them the cash.

rick allen said...

יְהוָה רֹעִי, לֹא אֶחְסָר

"The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want." It's an ancient image, still beautiful, and apt, even for those of us who rarely run across them.

(When we lived in Albuquerque our house was near an acequia, and on occasion a local shepherd would take his flock down it, and come up and down the street offering to have the sheep gobble up high backyard weeds.)

On the matter of taxes, I think your problem is with the non-taxability of non-profits, in general. Why should contributions to a church school, or a church charity, not be tax deductable when a donation to a private school, or a private charity, is?

One little point: Hebrew is not a dead language. It is the national language of the modern state of Israel.