Total Drek

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Monday, October 06, 2008

Your Total Drek Breaking Very Old News Report!

Towards the end of last September a peculiar protest took place. This protest, conducted by thirty-three pastors in twenty-two states, did not involve any marches, or slogan chanting, or tear gas. Instead, it involved those pastors just doing what they always do- preaching. Interestingly, however, they preached not about god, or religion, or even faith, but instead about politics:

This weekend a select team of 33 pastors in 22 states will be preaching on politics in a direct challenge to a federal tax statute that forbids churches from interfering with political campaigns.

The pastors are participating in "Pulpit Freedom Sunday" as part of an effort called the Pulpit Initiative developed by the Alliance Defense Fund, an organization of lawyers dedicated to defending religious liberty.

As WND [World Net Daily] reported earlier, ADF launched the Pulpit Initiative to challenge a 1954 amendment to the Internal Revenue Service code submitted by Democratic Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson that permitted the IRS to revoke a church's tax-exempt status if the preaching gets too political.

The ADF believes that pastors have a First Amendment right to speak on politics if they choose, and that by using its tax authority to limit pulpit content, it is the government, and not the preacher, who is violating the separation of church and state.

Now, a few points. First, World Net Daily is, in my opinion, thoroughly crazy. And oddly I can't decide if they're crazier becuase of the hard conservative Christian line they push, or because it's fairly obvious from their website that the money changers have well and truly entered the temple. Second, the "Alliance Defense Fund" isn't so much a group that defends religious liberty as a group that promotes conservative Christianity. So, whereas the ACLU has a habit of defending groups they more or less find distasteful, the ADF is not inclined to defend anyone's religious liberty except for conservative Christians. And I'm not the only one who says so.

Next, we need to consider the reason for the tax exemption for religious organizations. John Marshall, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1801 until 1835 famously observed in McCulloch vs. Maryland that "...the power to tax involves the power to destroy." In other words, if one organization can impose a financial burden on another then it can, in theory, destroy that organization without technically outlawing it. Based on this logic religious organizations are granted a tax exemption, thus protecting them from state intervention that would be technically legal but in violation of the spirit of the constitution. Put differently, if the government can tax, say, Evangelical churches so heavily that they can't survive then it has the ability to outlaw Evangelical Christianity without actually making it against the law and, thereby, side-step the constitution. I have no problem with this logic and agree that religious organizations should be tax exempt. When the IRS tax code was amended in 1954 to make this exemption provisional on churches not engaging in political activity, the idea was simple: if the government has to keep its hands off of religion then, logically, religion should keep its hands off of government.

At least officially. Everyone knows that religious groups will have political agendas, but this provision at least provides a mechanism for keeping it from getting totally out of control.

These pastors are arguing that their first amendment rights are being restricted, and maybe they are,* but the purpose is to maintain the separation of church and state that it a fundamental part of the constitution. And oddly, this policy protects members of every faith from being overwhelmed by those of another. Under the guise of working for their constitutional rights, these pastors are trying to have their cake and eat it to- to prevent the government from influencing them, while retaining their ability to influence the government.

And maybe it's just me, but that ain't right.

* Keep in mind, however, that it is well-established in case law that the first amendment does not protect all kinds of speech. Think of yelling "fire!" in a crowded theatre, for example.

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