Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Religion and Politics

The Associated Press reports that the IRS is going to investigate a pastor, also an official in Sounthern Baptist Convention, who wrote parishoners on church letterhead endorsing Mike Huckabee for President. The endorsement letter said in part “I ask all of my Southern Baptist brothers and sisters to consider getting behind Mike and helping him all you can. . . . I believe God has chosen Mike for such an hour, and I believe of all those running, Mike Huckabee will listen to God.” The pastor is defending himself by arguing that the letter was only a personal endorsement of Huckabee. The Associated Press also reports that “Americans United for the Separation of Church and State filed a complaint with the IRS. Drake [the pastor who wrote the letter endorsing Huckabee] later lashed out at them in an Aug. 14 press release and urged his supporters to direct "imprecatory prayer" toward two of the group’s officials, Joe Conn and Jeremy Leaming. He gave as examples of imprecatory prayer: "Persecute them. ... Let them be put to shame and perish." "Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow." "Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg."”

Discussions - 14 Comments

I feel like imprecatory prayer is not an entirely Christian notion. Never noticed any examples in the Book of Common Prayer, anyway.

That bit of U.S. law is B.S.

Seperation of Church and State was never meant to mean that a church can't endorse a candidate.

Dale: " That bit of U.S. law is B.S. Separation of Church and State was never meant to mean that a church can't endorse a candidate."

Perhaps not, but Pastor Drake's use of church letterhead was a foolish blunder ... a red flag before a bull.

But worse, his response is embarrassing. It is the kind of response enemies of God can use to paint an unflattering picture of "Christians." All stereotypes are based on a kernel of truth, and there is a reason why the left's caricature of "born again Christians" includes the attributes of anger and spite.

I have no doubt that Pastor Drake can cite from Scripture examples of "imprecatory prayer" ... probably from the Psalms. But I doubt he could offer a plausible reconciliation of the practice with the essential teachings of Christ. Those teachings call for His followers to operate from a heart void of anger and contempt; a heart that mirrors the gentle and humble nature of God Himself.

Of course, if Pastor Drake's original objective was to see his name in the news ... well, then it all makes sense.

Dale:

The issue is NOT the federal constitution, rather it is the federal tax code. If the church wants to remain a 501(c)(3) organization it cannot get involved in political campaigns. 501(c)(3)s get exemption from income taxes, and contributors to them get income tax deductions.

Dr. Tucker, your association of Huckabee with this is ridiculous. Any fair minded person doesn't go running around shouting stories about one or two extreme people who support a candidate.

The IRS attacking churches is a sham as well. You seem to support such foolishness. Don't you realize that "separation of church and state" quickly becomes an attack on the church by the state. Today they attack churches for speaking about a candidate. Tomorrow they attack churches for speaking about abortion because that issue favors a candidate. Twenty years from now they attack churches for speaking about God because He affects politics. You think the by lying in bed with the liberals you can draw a principled distinction, but your vision of separation is really a vision of secularism. If a church can't endorse a candidate, it isn't long before a church won't be able to endorse an idea and finally even God--who is after all an insensitive bigot.

Dr. Tucker: Doesn't freedom of speech mean that churches should be allowed to take political stands without political reprisal and lawsuits?

See Steve Sparks' comment above. Nobody's denying anyone's freedom of speech, only questioning the "freedom" of openly political churches to not pay taxes. Face it, if this were some Jim Wallis-type church (or a similar tax-exempt organization) calling on the congregation to support Obama, we conservatives would be all over it.

When is a church not a church? When it loses its tax-exempt status. (?) (!) Really?

Otherwise, I think I mostly agree with Clint. Not the personal attack, just the principle that there can be any separation of religion from politics. How do we separate our faith (and how we see the world through the lens of faith) from our politics? Surely, what we believe in the one area has effect on our politics.

Before I was a Christian, I was a liberal. My Christianity forced me to change how I saw personal liberty, how I saw all sorts of things. The word "religion" means to tie back; when I had nothing much to tie back to, except a vague liberal tradition, my politics were different. Everything about me and how I dealt with people was different. What we believe makes a difference and I do not see how we can separate church and state within ourselves.

Imprecatory prayer is ugly by its nature and I wouldn't have the nerve to pray that sort of stuff against Osama bin Laden, who probably really deserves it. Thinking Biblically, it is what comes out of man's mouth that defiles him. Mr. Drake, whoever he is, defiles himself with this.

And yet, the idea that his church loses tax-exempt status as an attempt to shut him up seems not quite in the American tradition, either.

Holding aside the issue whether the IRS should or should not do this -- I think the more interesting public question is, now that they did this to a pro-Huckabee pastor, will they do the same to every pro-Obama pastor in the black churches? If not, how do they distinguish the latter from the former?

Kate, where was the personal attack? The blog was ambiguously worded to sound almost as if Huckabee sanctioned the prayers. He did not; it is disingenuous to tie him to it. I pointed out the ridiculousness of it--nothing personal. Dr. Tucker probably does much fine work and is extremely smart--this doesn't mean his post was poor.

Dr. Moser, that may be a principled position, but realize that it is the logic of campaign finance reform and curtailment of the first amendment. Saying because the IRS code says so doesn't solve the constitutional issue. You and Steve essentially say what J. Marshall said in Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce. Marshall, writing for the liberal majority, said that because corporations received special status from the state, the state could then pass laws limiting their political participation. Because the state confers benefits, they can impose restrictions on constitutional rights (free speech and association in this case). Scalia dissented calling the decision "Orwellian," noting that many individuals receive tax breaks and special status under different government law. The state gave one benefit, but this does not give them a right to take another. Merely because the IRS code grants the benefit of tax exemption, it does not give the government the power limit constitutional rights.

Government could cancel tax exemptions for all churches, just as they could repeal the laws creating corporations. However, they cannot use beneficial laws as excuses to deprive rights.

Scalia says it better:

Those individuals who form that type of voluntary association known as a corporation are, to be sure, given special advantages-notably, the immunization of their personal fortunes from liability for the actions of the association-that the State is under no obligation to confer. But so are other associations and private individuals given all sorts of special advantages that the State need not confer, ranging from tax breaks to contract awards to public employment to outright cash subsidies. It is rudimentary that the State cannot exact as the price of those special advantages the forfeiture of First Amendment rights.

Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce 494 U.S. 652, *680, 110 S.Ct. 1391, **1408 (U.S.Mich.,1990)

I do not see that discussing the relation of religion to politics has to be off-limits. You call Dr. Tucker "disingenuous" which implies a mendacity that I do not see at all. To suggest that he is anti-religion is to misunderstand any probing of the issue an imposition. It seems to particularly bother you that Dr. Tucker did not denounce the IRS in this situation? Did he have to?

(Candidates are always tied to awkward contributors and supporters. Mrs. Clinton was not helped by hers - is it a matter of the company we keep whether that company is sought or not?)

The relation of the state to the church(es) is and always has been a delicate matter for Americans. Mr. Huckabee raises the question, by his rhetoric and self-definition. When the State was not as powerful as it has become, this sort of thing could be a matter of personal belief. Now that our government seems to increasingly concern itself with directing and controlling belief, as so many other things, it might be time to erect some boundaries between church and state, for the protection of religion.

No, I do not like the idea, but there are a lot of things I do not like about the state of governance in the US.

It is rudimentary that the State cannot exact as the price of those special advantages the forfeiture of First Amendment rights.

-Justice Scalia

Clint:

You really don't have a leg to stand on. The law has been around since 1954 and its never been thought to be unconstitutional. In comment 10 you noted Scalia's nice statement, but also noted it was a dissenting view, which means it is not law at all. Scalia also wrote (in a majority opinion) that the state can regulate religion through general laws; that was the Peyote case.

Here is the real issue: lack of integrity and not practicing what you preach. Religious people claim money is nothing, that serving God and serving right is all that matters. They can speak about what ever they want, but they'll have to give up some money to do so. If they lack the conviction to do it they should be ashamed. It says a great deal about religion in America when church leaders won't give up special tax rights to do what they think is right. They'd rather feed from the government trough than serve God.

Steve, the argument is clear. I said that government can remove all tax breaks if they want; government can also regulate religion. However, government should not have the power to offer the quid pro quo exchange of benefits for constitutional rights. Especially, when they can economically (as with corporations) force groups to make the decision that forfeits their rights. I'm sorry that you are satisfied with this current state of the law.

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