Rick Cohen in a recent Nonprofit Quarterly piece, suggested that allowing pastors to endorse political candidates or speak out on political issues is somehow bad for the nonprofit sector and that churches that engaged in political speech were somehow at odds with the constitution. I respectfully disagree.
Every nonprofit lobbies for their party (usually Democrat) in some way. Whether they call it "educating the public" or "informing our representatives", it's obvious which political camp any given nonprofit 501(c)3 is sitting in.
Churches are not strictly in the same category as the mainstream 501(c)3. Churches are, in fact, a unique segment of the nonprofit sector, protected four ways in the Bill of Rights - freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion and freedom of the press (should they have one). Historically, churches have always been a factor in political activity in America. During the Civil War, it was largely church folk that pressured Lincoln to make the war about ending slavery. Powerful speakers rose in pulpits across the land (even a few brave souls in the South did) to call for the end to the pernicious institution. The Revolutionary War was practically organized in church houses across the country. If the IRS had taken this attitude during the 50s and 60s, Dr. Martin Luther King would have had some difficulty fighting for Civil Rights. Remember, Dr. King was a preacher. And it was church people that forced the Congress to take up the issue of Civil Rights - both black and white church people exercising their rights of free speech and assembly. Churches were burned and bombed, but they stood firm..
Freedom of Religion is not Freedom From Religion. As unions, political parties and advocacy groups speak for workers, population groups and people of various political persuasions, so churches speak for the members of their congregations. To muzzle pastors is absolutely unconscionable. It is to silence people because of their creed and we would certainly not condone silencing people because of their race or color.
Churches are in no way profit-making enterprises. When naughty pastors misuse church funds they should be arrested and thrown in jail and taxed. I know of few Christians who would object to that. When churches profiteer off their members, they should be investigated and taxed like all git-out! BUT to muzzle this country's clergy for instructing their congregations regarding things political is unconscionable and deprives the political process of a key element of decision-making - a conscience.
This attack on churches through taxation is little more than an attack on religion itself. Like the so-called gay marriage initiatives, the quashing of religious political speech is little more than a thinly veiled attack on the Christian faith itself. It is all about mis-using the "fairness" argument to make the case for forcing institutions of faith out of the public square and back behind the church's closed doors.
From there it is but a short step to forcing the church underground and out of the public eye altogether, as though it were some sort of perversion rather than an expression of faith and belief.
Perhaps we should change the designation of churches to separate them from nonprofits that accept federal and state grants. If churches accept government money, then fine, they need to shut up about politics. BUT so long as a church operates as a religious institution and is in fact, not for profit, operates ethically and accepts no support from the government, then by all that's holy let them speak up and say what they will.
Labor Unions are tax exempt, although donations or payments to a union are not tax exempt. But then that makes since. Unions are designed specifically to enrich their members by brokering deals with employers for better pay and benefits. While church donations are exempt from taxation, their purpose is not to enrich their members. Church members don't strike against God for better pay, for instance.
Unions are essentially profit-making entities. They earn raises and benefits for their members. It is their chief purpose. That's a whole different story from churches.
Churches, just like unions serve as a critical voice for their people. Throughout US history churches have traditionally been the conscience of our nation. Perhaps you don't like churches, hate pastors and have nightmares about the Sunday School teacher who used to wag her boney finger at you and tell you that you were going straight to hell because your hair was too long or your skirt too short. Well too bad. Sorry for your trauma, but that gives you no excuse to silence people of faith, just because you have a problem with religion and have chosen to remove yourself from their company.
Churches have a perfect right to exist and if unions can do the political organizing that they do, then so can churches. I listened in on an SEIU meeting a few weeks ago. It was little more than a rally for Democrat candidates. The leaders manipulated the truth throughout in an attempt to frighten members into voting for Democrats.
Turning the IRS loose on churches that speak their mind, is hypocritical, especially when it's Democrats pressing for churches to be punished for political speech. In the past month, I've watched a parade of liberal pastors appearing on commercials in support of an initiative here in Washington State to legalize gay marriage. Someone should talk to their Congressman about calling for the same level of IRS scrutiny for the churches that employ those liberal pastors that the IRS applies to scrutinizing conservative pastors who endorsed candidates during the recent "Pulpit Freedom Sunday".
What's sauce for the goose and all that.....
I'm just sayin'