U.S. Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-N.C.) says his proposed legislation to permit religious leaders to endorse candidates for public office is necessary to restore free speech in America's pulpits. He even calls his bill the "Houses of Worship Free Speech Restoration Act" (H.R. 235).
But now the truth has come out. As it turns out, the bill really isn't intended to promote free speech at all. Instead, Jones sees it as a vehicle to elect more conservatives to public office.
In a recent column, Religious Right warhorse Paul M. Weyrich wrote, "Jones is absolutely convinced that this can be accomplished in this Congress. He is equally convinced that the passage of his bill means the difference between victory and defeat for the president and many Senate candidates. One prime example is his colleague Rep. Richard Burr, who is running for the seat vacated by Sen. John Edwards, the Democratic vice-presidential nominee."
Weyrich's column confirms what many have suspected all along: The Jones bill has nothing to do with the lofty goal of "restoring" free speech. Rather, it's just another vehicle for the Religious Right to use to gets its favored candidates into office.
Americans United has steadfastly opposed all forms of church politicking, whether it is done on behalf of Republicans, Democrats or others. Hoping to educate the public about this important issue, Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn wrote a letter to Jones recently and offered to travel to eastern North Carolina to debate the matter.
But Jones refused. He did not have the courtesy to reply to Lynn's letter but did tell a local newspaper, "I wouldn't give him the time of day."
It could be that Jones lacks confidence in the merits of his arguments. Maybe he knows that his effort to portray himself as a champion of free speech simply doesn't hold water. The mask has been ripped off the "Houses of Worship Free Speech Restoration Act." What glares at us underneath it is an alarming effort to draft churches as cogs in a partisan political machine. Thankfully, the majority of America's religious leaders and citizens say no to that.