Our rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness
can only be secured by a state strictly separated from religion

03 October 2008

Freedom of Speech, Only for Pastors

By Diana Hsieh

The mission statement of the Coalition for Secular Government reads, in part:

We oppose any special exemptions or privileges based on religion by government, such as exemptions for churches from the tax law applicable to other non-profits.
What does that mean? It means that religious non-profits should be subject to the same laws as secular non-profits. They should not be granted any special exemptions just because they advocate faith in and obedience to a supernatural being. Some of those laws might be unjust -- like the campaign finance laws that restrict freedom of speech. Yet so long as such laws exist, they should apply to every non-profit, without regard to their particular ideas and activities. Secular groups should not be forced to suffer under them, while religious groups are exempted from them. That would be unjust discrimination.

Unfortunately, churches in America are seeking special exemptions for themselves rather than justice for all -- as explained in this NY Times article:
Defying a federal tax law they consider unjust, 33 ministers across the country will take to their pulpits this Sunday and publicly endorse a candidate for president.

They plan to then send copies of their sermons to the Internal Revenue Service, hoping to provoke a challenge to a law that bars religious organizations and other nonprofits that accept tax-deductible contributions from involvement in partisan political campaigns.

The protest, called Pulpit Freedom Sunday, was organized by the Alliance Defense Fund, a consortium of Christian lawyers that fights for conservative religious and social causes. When the fund first announced the protest this year, it said it planned to have 50 ministers taking part. As of Thursday it said it had hundreds of volunteers, but had selected only 33 who were fully aware of the risks and benefits.
...
The protest is challenging an amendment to the tax code passed by Congress in 1954 saying that charitable organizations known as 501(c)(3)'s, which accept tax-deductible contributions, cannot intervene in political campaigns. The legislation was intended to prevent nonprofit organizations from funneling money and resources to political candidates.
Here's what these churches -- and the Alliance Defense Fund -- ought to do: they ought to fight for the total repeal of these unjust campaign finance laws. They ought to join with secular groups in that cause. They ought to refuse to accept freedom of speech for religious non-profits while secular non-profits are bound and gagged. That's a cause that the Coalition for Secular Government would wholeheartedly support.

Instead, the Alliance Defense Fund seeks only to "protect the First Amendment rights of pastors in the pulpit." They aim to give religious groups a decided advantage in the public square -- via forcible government constraints on their opponents. That's wrong -- morally wrong. It should be opposed.

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