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Let’s me return to the Pew poll one more time. It is a rich document for the statistically inclined. I just wanted to reiterate that two thirds of the public does not like pastors, priests and other leaders using their religious venues for partisan political activities–as in endorsing or opposing candidates for public office.
Since I often report to the IRS flagrant breaches of the tax law which prohibits just such activity, and have read all the IRS regs and other materials on this matter, I’d say that your hypothetical “pro-life” sermon does not cross the line of forbidden activity.(I find it hard for anyone to be “pro life” about fetuses, but not
oppose genocide, the death penalty, and a health care system which is
stacked against the lives of the poor, but we’ll tackle that some other
time.) However, here are what some churches do after the sermon which should lead to a penalty, up to and including a revocation of tax exemption if I ran the IRS. Some churches have inserted campaign literature for the candidates they want to win in church bulletins, or pass out literature on the way out of church, or even allow political operatives to put the campaign literature under car windshield wipers in the church parking lot. All these activities coupled with the sermon do constitute a tax law violation.
I know you want to make reviewing sermons sound Big Brother-esque, but how else does law enforcement know people are violating laws if they don’t review the evidence? A district attorney doesn’t know whether to bust a book store for obscenity unless he looks at the pictures. You can’t catch a tax cheat if you don’t review his tax return and the underlying documents from which it was created. Guilt or innocence is based on concrete evidence. I realize that we used to try to see if people were witches by dropping them in a lake and seeing if they floated up (obviously with the devil’s help) or drowned (a sign, albeit useless, of innocence). But, Jay, you don’t want to go to those days.
Churches and every other non-profit can speak about issues–they cannot endorse or oppose candidates. It is a distinction you don’t like, but I maintain that it is a relatively easy line to draw. Indeed, drawing lines is pretty much what the law is all about.