Houses Of Worship And Electioneering

An Abuse Of Faith

Many religious Americans see several benefits in attending a house of worship. It offers a chance to grow spiritually while enjoying the sense of community found in shared religious beliefs and rituals. For some believers, attendance at services is a requirement of their faith.

But few Americans go to a church, synagogue, mosque or temple to learn which candidates for public office they should support or oppose. Most Americans simply don\'t see meddling in partisan politics as the job of religious communities.

Nevertheless, some members of Congress seem determined to politicize houses of worship. In June, word got out that a large tax bill being fast-tracked through Congress contained provisions reducing the penalties for church politicking and inviting involvement in campaigns.

Those provisions were removed due to public outcry, but the controversy lives on. Many Religious Right organizations support a measure put forth by U.S. Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-N.C.) that would permit churches to endorse or oppose candidates for public office (H.R. 235).

Federal law currently bars all 501(c)(3) non-profit groups, religious and secular, from intervening in political campaigns. This provision makes sense. It provides a reasonable measure of oversight and ensures that those seeking public office do not anchor their campaigns in tax-exempt entities.

The provision also has the unintentional, but salutary, effect of keeping houses of worship focused on their core mission: religion, not politics. Tinkering with that formula carries significant risks. After all, modern-day political campaigns can be nasty. Character assassination, distortions of the truth and "dirty tricks" are standard operating procedures. It\'s bad enough that this state of affairs exists at all. Do we really want to make churches partners to it? Why would we want to convert sanctuaries into smoke-filled rooms?

This is an often-overlooked threat of the Jones bill and similar measures. They would divide our houses of worship along political lines and distract them from the job they are supposed to be doing: providing for the spiritual needs of members.

Most Americans realize this threat. That's why more than two-thirds of Americans oppose efforts to politicize churches. That\'s why the vast majority of American Catholics, according to a recent poll, said they oppose moves by some bishops to deny communion to Catholic politicians who support legal abortion.

Houses of worship are seen by many as sanctuaries from the pressures of daily life. For believers, a religious institution is a place to go to focus on matters beyond themselves. That\'s what makes them special to so many people.

One sure way to ruin that specialness is to convert churches into cogs in some giant partisan political machine. For the sake of religion – as well as our democracy – church politicking measures must be rejected.