In my inbox this morning was a mass email from Crosswalk.com with the subject line "Pastor Jailed for Sermon!" With such a suitably alarming subject, I opened it instead of deleting it as I normally do. Turns out a pastor, by the name of Ake Green, has been sentenced to one month in jail for alleged "hate speech against homosexuals" in quoting Romans 1:24-27. This, of course, happened in Sweden which made the story kind of anti-climactic for me. The email goes on to request that I, good updstanding Christian citizen that I am, sign a petition in support of H.R. 235 - the Houses of Worship Free Speech Restoration Act, because "THIS ATROCITY IS NOW IN AMERICA!"
Call me cynical, but I tend to be quite dubious about political actions sponsored by evangelical groups. It is almost invariably something that gives me the screaming heebie-jeebies, but in the interest of fairness, I decided to do a little research. Here, gentle reader, is a brief synopsis of the back story on this piece of legislation as it appears on the HR 235 website.
A long time ago (1954) in a land far, far away (Texas), an evil man (then Senator Lyndon Johnson), introduced legislation stripping churches of their constitutional rights to speak on any issue the pastor so chose. Today, pastors are limited in their free speech rights and are afraid to speak out on the moral issues of our times for fear of losing their tax exempt status.
On the other side of the aisle, the story is, naturally, reversed. From Alternet.org (the second item to pop up on a yahoo search after the HR235 site), the restrictions placed on clergy are necessary to keep churches from becoming political machines. As the law stands now, clergy are not prohibited from speaking out on moral issues, only from endorsing specific candidates, ie, Republicans. Only one church has ever had its tax exempt status revoked, and that was a church that took out a full page ad bashing President Clinton's stance on abortion during the 1992 presidential election. The article also points out that the American Jewish Congress, the United Methodist, Seventh Day Adventist, Presbyterian and Episcopal churches oppose this legislation and posits fears that churches will be back-doors for soft money to unethically enter politics.
At this point in my research, I am almost ready to sign the petition and spend my considerable political capital in support of this bill. That ECUSA opposes is reason enough, but when a liberal organ like Alternet makes noises about back-doors for soft money in politics, I can only laugh at the hypocrisy - hellooooooooooo, moveon.org and the million other liberal 527's anyone? But then again, Bev LaHaye supports the bill so I'm back at square one.
Searches for HR 235 return only interested parties, so I don't trust that they are entirely accurate. If you do the search, you may find some legislation on the State of Pennsylvania's site - its on eggs, which have never been tax exempt as far as I know and, of course, have a history of rampant political corruption. I found the bill on the House of Representatives site, and the relevant section reads:
An organization described in section 508(c)(1)(A) (relating to churches) shall not fail to be treated as organized and operated exclusively for a religious purpose, or to have participated in, or intervened in any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office, for purposes of subsection (c)(3), or section 170(c)(2) (relating to charitable contributions), because of the content, preparation, or presentation of any homily, sermon, teaching, dialectic, or other presentation made during religious services or gatherings.'. (emphasis added)
I admit I'm a bit hazy this morning, but how can a church be organized exclusively for religious purposes endorse or oppose a candidate and yet still be considered not to have participated in an election? I realize this is for "tax purposes" but it still seems pretty contradictory to me. I agree that churches will and should have political views, including support for specific candidates, but its ludicrous to pretend making that endorsement public is not participating in an election. So now, based on the apparent contradiction inherent in the legislation, I'm leaning towards "no," though I haven't made up my mind yet.
So what do you think? Should I sign the petition?