Bachmann In Overdrive: Minnesota House Member Favors Church Electioneering

March 10th, 2010
By Sandhya Bathija
Church Politicking

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann said on “Hot Tea” radio yesterday that she is sick of “radical leftist organizations” that “intimidate Christians” from speaking about politics from the pulpit.

Bachmann called for Congress to repeal the federal law that prevents all 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations, including houses of worship, from endorsing or opposing candidates.

“We need to repeal that,” she said, “and give Christians back their First Amendment rights to free speech in the church.”

We couldn’t disagree more. Federal law prevents the use of tax-exempt resource to electioneer; it isn’t about silencing or “intimidating” churches or church members. Clergy retain their free speech rights to talk about social and moral issues of the day. And if they want to take that a step further and use their church to campaign for a candidate, they can – they just have to forgo the benefit of a tax exemption. But they can’t have it both ways.

Americans United has been very vocal over the years explaining why our churches should not be used as political machines. It’s a necessary outgrowth, we believe, of the Constitution’s promise to keep church and state separate.

“Most Americans who go to church expect to hear about salvation, morality and scripture. They don’t anticipate hardball political endorsements,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn in an article he wrote for U.S. News and World Report in November 2008. (The essay was in response to the Alliance Defense Fund’s “Pulpit Freedom Sunday,” which urged pastors to break the law and endorse candidates from the pulpit.)

Entangling politics with religion – as Bachmann thinks we should do – only ends up exploiting our houses of worship.

We have a perfect example of this in New Mexico this week, where Drew Degner, campaign manager of Farmington city council candidate Bob Moon, designed a scorecard that surveyed all the candidates on their religious and social values, including church attendance.

Degner said he wanted to distribute the scorecard in his church, so congregants could assess the candidates’ “values.”

“People want to vote for a person that mimics their values,” said Degner. “I did it as part of church as a Christian.”

Though Degner claimed his scorecard tactic wasn’t an attempt to “advertise” for Moon, it certainly seems that way. One could even argue that he wanted to convince his fellow congregants whom to vote for so he could turn the church into a campaign headquarters of sorts.

If Bachmann has her way, I’m sure she would like to see that happen in all churches in the country – at least those churches that think the way she does.

“Right-wing activists are determined to forge a church-based political machine,” AU’s Lynn wrote for The Huffington Post. “Under their vision, it will register voters, transport them to the polls on election day and instruct them on how to vote.”

Fortunately, what Bachmann wants isn’t what most Americans want. Eighty-seven percent of Americans agreed that pastors shouldn’t endorse candidates during worship services, according to a survey by LifeWay Research.

That’s because most Americans recognize that to preserve church-state separation, no law should be based solely on any particular religious belief, and no candidate should be chosen for his or her beliefs, either.

It’s time Bachmann and her allies get on board with majority of Americans and stop claiming federal tax law is hurting our houses of worship. In fact, it’s doing just the opposite.

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