Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Politics and the pulpit

Courtesy of RCP, Richard Garnett has wise words. A taste:

For starters, and with all due respect to Jefferson, the First Amendment does not constrain — in fact, it protects — "political" preaching and faith-filled activism. Yes, our Constitution preserves a healthy separation between the institutions of religion and government. This wise arrangement protects individual freedom and civil society by preventing the state from directing, co-opting or controlling the church. It imposes no limits, though, on conversations among religious believers — whether on Sunday morning, around the water cooler, or at the dinner table — about the implications of their faith for the controversies of the day. Our First Amendment protects religious freedom, individual conscience and church independence from government interference; it requires neither a faith-free public square nor politics-free sermons.

Even if the Constitution does not presume to tell ministers to stick to parables, is it bad citizenship, or just plain bad manners, for ministers to confuse our "public" role as citizens and voters with our supposedly "private" religious lives and beliefs? No. Religious faith makes claims, for better or worse, that push the believer inexorably toward charitable and conscientious engagement in "public life." To the extent that religion purports to provide insight into human nature and relations, it necessarily speaks to politics. We best respect each other through honest dialogue by making arguments that reflect our beliefs, not by censoring ourselves or insisting that religious believers translate their commitments into focus-group jargon or cost-benefit analysis.

Read the whole thing.  

Discussions - 3 Comments

Reading the excerpt reminds me of a "controversy" in Columbus over the "separation" of church and state recently played on the news. Left-leaning religious leaders have filed suit against two ministers in Columbus for improper behavior with regards to gubernatorial candidate Ken Blackwell. From what I know, the cause of action is not based on the ministers’ public endorsement of Blackwell, but it certainly seemed motivated by it. In an interview, the left-leaning minsiters discussed how the Blackwell endorsement blurs the line of separation because it makes congregation believe it is a duty of their faith to support a certain political candidate.

The idea that a congregation must believe voting for a political candidate is a duty of their faith merely because their preacher endorses him seems to me to say that the left-leaning minsiters have little faith in the ability of their congregation to participate reaponsibly as citizens outside of (but with regard to) religion. If a minister had such shallow faith in my ability to differentiate between religious duty and political duty, or perhaps my ability to incorporate the two based on context and the whole, I would be offended. For, if such is the case, then why would the minister have any faith in the idea that his words had any effect in incorporating the Word of God into their lives?

The entire "controversy" is nonsense. Democratic politicians speak at African-American churches all the time. Hillary was speaking to a congregation when she made her ridiculous "the Senate is a plantation" speech only a few months ago. No one has a problem with it .... until it is a Republican candidate.


Your complaint should be with Congress, although you are certaintly right to complain if the law is being administered in an uneven fashion, although right now the high profile case is a liberal LA Church coming under the gun of the IRS.

Check out section 170(c)(2)(D) of the Tax Code and section 501(c)(3). Organizations that wish to remain charitable, and allow their donors to deduct their donations as itemized deductions must not "participate in, or intervene in...any political campaign."

This is the law. The IRS is charged with enforcing it. The law should be faithfully enforced, against both sides, until Congress has the desire to change it. Congress is not doing much these days, maybe it could make the effort to change a line or two of The Code, although I doubt the will to change the law is there since it serves a useful purpose; it keeps the Treasury from subsidizing particular political messages (although it already offers to do so for Presidental campaigns).

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