Tuesday, June 05, 2007

WWJVF (Whom Would Jesus Vote For)?

Paul Caron at TaxProf has a couple of interesting posts (here and here) on churches either permitting or directly participating in political activities that, under the IRS rules, pretty clearly violate their tax-exempt status. The first of these posts deals with a sermon by Minister Bill Keller. Here are the juiciest bits of the sermon:
If you vote for Mitt Romney, you are voting for satan! This message today is not about Mitt Romney. Romney is an unashamed and proud member of the Mormon cult founded by a murdering polygamist pedophile named Joseph Smith nearly 200 years ago. The teachings of the Mormon cult are doctrinally and theologically in complete opposition to the Absolute Truth of God's Word. There is no common ground. If Mormonism is true, then the Christian faith is a complete lie. There has never been any question from the moment Smith's cult began that it was a work of satan and those who follow their false teachings will die and spend eternity in hell. This message is about the top Christian leaders in our nation who are supporting this cult members quest to become the next President of the United States.
. . .
If Romney gets elected as the next President of the United States, the Mormon cult will finally have the mainstream acceptance they have been striving for these past 200 years. Romney winning the White House will lead millions of people into the Mormon cult. Those who follow the false teachings of this cult, believe in the false jesus of the Mormon cult and reject faith in the one true Jesus of the Bible, will die and spend eternity in hell. *ROMNEY GETTING ELECTED PRESIDENT WILL ULTIMATELY LEAD MILLIONS OF SOULS TO THE ETERNAL FLAMES OF HELL!!!
Meanwhile, if you follow the links on Caron's second post---in which a candidate for County DA in Mississippi explains to her church why they should support her---you need to watch it in IE. The video doesn't show up in Firefox.

It will be interesting to see how aggressively the Bush IRS goes after churches for engaging in political activities. In recent years the religious right has had great success in persuading the US Supreme Court that laws excluding religious organizations and viewpoints from public participation on equal terms with secular ones count as discrimination in violation of free speech and/or free exercise. The faith-based initiatives of both President Clinton and (to a greater degree) President Bush have traded on this notion.

There have also lately been some attempts to extend the argument to politicking. Here the argument goes that it's unfair to prevent churches from engaging in/with political ideas, given that religious teachings have a great deal to say about the morality of various policy proposals of politicians. As a legal matter, this is a weak argument. There really is something to the claim that permitting secular but not religious groups access to some public facility, such as a classroom outside of school hours or a student activity fund, discriminates against religion. But in the case of the IRS exemption, there is no discrimination. Secular no less than religious organizations that engage in political activity lose their exemption. That's why secular organizations like the NAACP spin off separate arms---funded by separate, non-tax-deductible contributions---for lobbying, litigating and other political work. If Minister Keller wants to warn his flock about the damage a Romney Presidency would do to their immortal souls, he can do so on an equal footing with secular organizations that support or oppose various candidates for other reasons.