Americans United Blasts Back-door Congressional Scheme To Recruit Churches Into Partisan Politics

Proposed Change In Federal Tax Law Comes At Same Time As Bush-Cheney Campaign's Outreach To 'Friendly Congregations'

Republican members of the House of Representatives are attempting to clear the way for partisan politicking by houses of worship by slipping an important change to the nation's tax laws into a job-creation bill, Americans United for Separation of Church and State revealed today.

Two sections of H.R. 4520, the "American Jobs Creation Act of 2004," deal not with jobs but with partisan politicking by churches. The so-called "Safe Harbor for Churches" provisions would essentially gut current law, which forbids churches from endorsing candidates for public office, and replace it with watered-down language giving wide latitude to such activity.

The bill, introduced by U.S. Rep. William M. Thomas (R-Calif.), contains provisions that would allow church leaders to "unintentionally" endorse or oppose candidates up to three times per year. It also greatly reduces the tax penalty for church electioneering.

"This is a blatant attempt to recruit churches into partisan politics," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "Even worse, this measure tries to make sweeping changes in tax law through the back door and out of public view. I don't think it's a coincidence that this bill will help the Bush campaign's outreach to churches."

Lynn noted that the bill was introduced just days after it was revealed that President George W. Bush's campaign has plans to recruit "friendly congregations" into its election efforts.  Americans United criticized that plan, which was widely publicized in the media.

The bill's 20 cosponsors are all Republicans, and the bill has apparently been put on a fast track in the House by Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Despite its controversial nature, the church-politicking provision was buried in a lengthy bill that deals mainly with economic matters.

The bill was slated for a floor vote the week of June 14, although the death of former President Ronald Reagan may alter that schedule.

"Some members of Congress apparently want to open the floodgates for partisan politicking by houses of worship in time for the November elections," Lynn charged. "Their attempt to turn churches into political machines must be blocked."

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.