Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Thoughts on Freedom of the Pulpit Day

I have been talking about the conservative's Freedom of the Pulpit Day on Facebook.  Here are some of those posts. 



I may be the only religious liberal who supports Freedom of the Pulpit Day. The IRS regulation that prevents churches from direct involvement in the democratic process of the country is a violation of the rights of every person. Since when does receiving a tax preference preclude a person or institution from expressing their political views? 

Corporations can tell people how to vote and contribute to campaigns, but churches cannot? What are the tax breaks we are threatened with losing? Most churches do not make a profit. The real thing we would lose is our exemption from real estate taxes, which finance the communities that support us, and which we say we serve. 

Everybody has a price at which they will give up their freedom. Is the church's that low?

Colleagues discuss some of the tax implications of the IRS rulings and ways that 

Another way to do it is for the government to declare churches tax-exempt and NOT require them to be silent on political questions.

 If Corporations who make their money providing goods and services to the government can contribute and lobby and endorse candidates through their PACS, or even now directly; why should churches not be permitted? And those corporations get lots of tax benefits, preferences, deductions and credits. 

To be consistent, I believe that anyone who gets a mortgage interest deduction should be banned from putting a lawn sign in front of the house that is site of such largesse. [reductio ad absurdum]

More on Pulpit Freedom Day: the theory that churches need to be restrained from overt political speech is, in my opinion, based on class prejudice, probably rooted in anti-Catholic prejudice. It assumes an gullible ignorance on the part of some portion of the population who will be swayed by the authority of the preacher. The attitude shows up now in the efforts of the GOP to avoid early voting on Sundays, because the African American churches will "herd" their ignorant voters to the polls. The belief that evangelical protestants vote GOP because their preacher tells them to is insulting. Churches are usually culturally and politically cohesive; it doesn't mean that they are mindless.

A colleague says that the IRS has its business and [he] has his.

I reply: 

 Here is my problem: The IRS regulation on the political speech of non-profits establishes the norm that we are to be non-partisan and above that fray. However, in a polarized political environment, more and more of life's issues are viewed as partisan issues. To talk of climate change is seen as a partisan signal. To talk of marriage equality is seen as a partisan signal. To talk of compassion for the poor is seen as a partisan signal. 

The pushback starts long before I would make an endorsement. In fact, every time I preach on any social issue, I am reminded that the church is supposed to be non-partisan and politically neutral and that I am approaching some line over which I must not go. People who disagree with me use it as a substitute for substance. I laugh most of this off, of course. 

But the IRS regulation establishes the atmosphere that works constantly to herd churches away from real engagement. Yes, the IRS has its business and I have my mine. 

The problem is that in this area, the IRS business is regulating political speech.


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