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September 23, 2008
Alliance Defense Fund
Ploy: People of Faith Denounce Pulpit Partisanship
Their fellow Christians
are none too happy with them.
Egged on by the
radically conservative Alliance Defense Fund, three dozen members of the
clergy across 20 states reportedly have agreed to endorse or oppose
specific political candidates by name from their pulpits this Sunday,
The ADF claims an IRS
ban instituted in 1954 on partisan political activities by non-profits
organized under the 501c(3) tax statute violates religious
organizations’ First Amendment speech rights.
organization taking part in the ADF’s “Pulpit Initiative” risks losing
its coveted tax exemption if the IRS finds it violated federal tax
unconstitutional attempt to mingle religion and partisan politics is
just so wrong-headed in so many ways it is hard to know where to start.
perhaps, is the spectacle of Scottsdale, Arizona-based ADF urging the
churches into the breach while not putting its own non-profit status on
the line. The entire exercise calls to mind one George W. Bush’s “bring
it on” bravado when he was never to be in harm’s way. Bombastic but
empty talk is the cheapest of all.
Next is the minor,
pesky fact that the ADF is a consortium of attorneys formed to represent
Christian conservatives in legal battles. Yet these same legal
counselors are nonetheless urging potential clients deliberately to
violate tax law. The goal of this apparently is to develop a test case
to take all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where a presumably more
conservative set of justices will throw out the ban on pulpit
This latter point has
former IRS Commissioner Mortimer M. Caplin and ex-IRS attorneys Cono R.
Namorato and Marcus S. Owens steamed. They have dispatched a letter to
the director of the IRS’s office of professional responsibility urging
an investigation of the ADF’s legal staff for possible violations of the
IRS rule of professional conduct for lawyers who represent clients in
dealings with the agency. This is a fancy way of saying the ADF is
engaged in unethical and unsavory ambulance-chasing wrapped in a First
Amendment fig leaf.
Finally, there is the
question of whether the IRS regulation really does infringe on
constitutionally protected speech. Owens told The Washington Post
he doesn’t think the Supreme Court is likely to overturn lower court
rulings that uphold the ban, or its own ruling in a related precedent.
Owens and his
colleagues are advising Eric Williams, pastor of North Congregational
United Church of Christ in Columbus, Ohio, in his efforts not to let the
ADF get away with this pernicious ploy. Williams has also written the
IRS and petitioned fellow clergy members not to be involved in what he
calls “this latest attempt by the ADF to cross the line and jeopardize
the unique role and moral authority that leaders and communities of
faith have exercised throughout the history of our nation.”
The web site of
Americans United for Separation of Church and State quotes many people
of varying faiths who do not seem to think their freedom of speech has
been eroded by the tax law and disagree with what the ADF is trying to
do. Among them are Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake
Forest, Calif.; Joel Osteen, pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston,
Texas; Sister Mary Ann Walsh, representing the U.S. Conference of
Catholic Bishops; and T.D. Jakes, pastor of The Potter’s House in
Dallas, Texas. None of them thinks their pulpits or congregations should
serve the interest of any one candidate or political party.
In their book on why
they support this year’s Democratic candidate over the Republican
choice, longtime Republicans Wilbur O. Colom and James W. Parkinson said
it well. “The paths of men and women searching for God need to be
protected from the polluting influence of partisanship.”
Amen to that,
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