Bush Campaign Attempting To Forge Church-based Political Machine

Effort Jeopardizes Tax Exemption Of Houses Of Worship, Charges Americans United

A plan by the George W. Bush reelection campaign to enlist 1,600 "friendly" houses of worship in Pennsylvania is a misguided attempt to build a church-based political machine that should be dropped immediately, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
 
Americans United asserts that the plan jeopardizes the tax-exempt status of churches and could divide congregations with partisan politics.

"This is the most shocking example of politicizing churches I've ever seen," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "The last thing this country needs is a church-based political machine. The Bush campaign should abandon this plan immediately.

"By enrolling churches in an election scheme, the Bush campaign is endangering those churches' tax exemptions," Lynn continued. "That's bad enough, but the introduction of partisan politics into the pews will also divide congregations and entangle politics and religion in very unhealthy ways."

An e-mail from the Pennsylvania affiliate of the Bush Campaign says, "The Bush-Cheney '04 national headquarters in Virginia has asked us to identify 1600 'Friendly Congregations' in Pennsylvania where voters friendly to President Bush might gather on a regular basis."

The e-mail says the campaign would like to "identify a volunteer coordinator who can help distribute general information to other supporters." It goes on to say, "We plan to undertake activities such as distributing general information/updates or voter registration materials in a place accessible to the congregation."

In a telephone conversation with AU's Lynn, Luke Bernstein, the Pennsylvania Bush staffer who sent the e-mail, confirmed that the program is under way.

Lynn noted that the Internal Revenue Code strictly forbids churches, which are tax exempt, from endorsing or opposing candidates for public office or intervening in partisan campaigns directly or indirectly.

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.