Magazine article The Christian Century

Bills Would Allow Church Politicking. (News)

Magazine article The Christian Century

Bills Would Allow Church Politicking. (News)

Article excerpt

A longstanding rule that churches be eliminated under two bills introduced in Congress. They have drawn fire from church-state separationists but have backing from a conservative center founded by Pat Robertson.

"This is another example of the Religious Right lobby attempting to fix a problem that doesn't exist and incorrectly attempting to speak for the religious community as a whole," said C. Welton Gaddy, executive director of the Interfaith Alliance. "Legislators must not be allowed to destroy the sanctity of houses of worship by turning them into venues for divisive political activity," he said.

One bill, the Houses of Worship Political Speech Protection Act sponsored by Representative Walter Jones (R., N.C.), would allow churches to endorse political candidates. Referring to the IRS code limiting church and other nonprofit organizations from politicking, Jones told the Raleigh News and Observer, "Prior to 1954, a rabbi, priest or minister could say anything they wanted to say. This is simply trying to return free speech to churches and synagogues."

The other bill, offered by Representative Phil Crane (R., Ill.), would allow churches to spend 20 percent of their money on lobbying and up to 5 percent on campaigning for or against individual candidates without risk of losing their tax-exempt status. Currently, churches can push political causes as long as such activities do not constitute a "substantial" part of the congregation's work--widely interpreted to be about 5 percent. …

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