Monday, February 13, 2017
Vote for Democrats and Go to Hell
It absolutely impossible completely to separate the dictates of organized religion from our political structures. Confirming government officials, witnesses in court proceedings swearing in with bibles and even military and legislative “chaplains” (of differing faiths) are part of our traditions and heritage. Thomas Jefferson, not a particularly religious man himself, made no secret of using Judeo-Christian religious precepts as well as wise philosophical teachings as a basis for his “documents of design” that formed the United States. A U.S. president without a religious commitment is a non-starter, and there we have only had Christians in that office… every serious candidate for that office has also always been a Christian.
Over the past few elections, several religious organizations, including the Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom, have enlisted legions of Christian pastors to defy a federal ban on their using their pulpit openly to support candidates who embrace issues that have often galvanized the Evangelical right against Democratic Party campaigns. “Pro-life,” “anti-gay,” climate-change-denial, school prayer and teaching creationism-in-lieu-of-evolution are key to this deeply fundamentalist constituency. Many of these Christian ministers have risked losing their tax-free status by stepping into the political limelight, some even telling their flock that to vote otherwise is an automatic invitation to hellfire.
So what is the law on this issue? Official political endorsements from the pulpit can have serious tax consequences under the so-called “Johnson Amendment” (named for then-Congressman Lyndon Johnson who proposed the bill in 1954, a statute that impacts all non-profits): “Under the 501 (c) (3) section of the Internal Revenue Service Code, it states that churches [and any subject non-profit] may engage in some ‘legislative activity’ and still qualify for favored tax status, as long as such activity is not more than an ‘insubstantial’ part of its overall activity in terms of time and money (e.g., worship service, Sunday school programs, etc.).
“In other words, the amount of permissible legislative activity is somewhat vague. Legislative activity that amounts to 5 percent of all church activity is generally considered ‘safe.” Legislative activity between 5 and 20 percent is less certain and, therefore, less safe. Activity over 20 percent has been found unacceptable by the Internal Revenue Service, although the rule has rarely been enforced.
“Under IRS guidelines, legislative activity is defined as any conduct intended to influence legislation, initiatives or referendums. However, the code places no limitations on the legislative activity of church members – including pastors who act as individuals, not as representatives of the church.
“David French, an attorney with the American Center for Law and Justice, founded by Jay Sekulow, says pastors have every right to personally endorse candidates…. ‘Pastors absolutely have the right to endorse candidates, French said in an email response to The Christian Post. ‘If they do so in their individual capacity, they have no fear of IRS sanction. If, however, they do it 'officially,' as part of their role and duties as pastor, they may endanger their church's tax exemption.’’’ christianpost.com/news/ (10/30/12)
The separation of church and state – the clear impact and intention of the First Amendment which reacted against state-sponsored religion that forced some Europeans to flee to the New World to escape persecution – is a cornerstone of our form of government. Notwithstanding the belief of too many Americans, the United States is not a “Christian nation,” and that the “freedom of religion provision” of the First Amendment was not designed to protect Christians against those of differing beliefs (a common misinterpretation across the Bible Belt). The above codification in the IRS statutes (which is not just directed at religious institutions) may be nothing more than a reflection of what already is, and given the other “free speech” element of the First Amendment, an outright ban on proselytizing from the pulpit would equally fail to pass constitutional muster.
But one of Donald Trump campaign pledges was to remove those IRS restrictions to allow pastors to take official political positions in their religious capacity without consequence. “Warning that religious freedom is ‘under threat,’ President Donald Trump vowed [on February 2nd] to repeal the Johnson Amendment… ‘I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution,’ Trump said during remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast, a high-profile event bringing together faith leaders, politicians and dignitaries.
“Trump made a similar pledge as a candidate but has not detailed how he plans to scrap the rule or how quickly he will proceed in doing do… Religious conservatives whose overwhelming support propelled Trump to the White House have been watching closely for him to deliver on promised protections for religious objectors to gay marriage and abortion. Kelly Shackelford, head of First Liberty Institute, a non-profit legal group that specializes in religious freedom cases, said no other presidential candidate was ‘more outspoken on their commitment to religious freedom’ than Trump.” Associated Press, February 2nd.
Fervent and passionate evangelicals, ignoring the proscriptions of the Johnson Amendment, have often drilled into their flocks the notion that voting for a candidate who opposes their view of “fundamental Christian values” is an offense to God Himself, one that will condemn the voter to hellfire. If Trump succeeds in removing those Johnson Amendment restrictions, a lot of Evangelical pastors have made it very clear what they will do. “God requires a Republican vote.” But then, is that the same impact for a jihadist Muslim cleric whipping up his flock into an angry frenzy?
I’m Peter Dekom, and pushing this nation back into an era when America was very different has way too many unintended consequences that will only serve further to polarize a nation that needs healing now, not more reasons to divide us right.