Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Church-politicking bill reintroduced, would allow candidate endorsements

(Story courtesy of Associated Baptist Press)

By Robert Marus

WASHINGTON (ABP) -- The church-politicking bill is back, and its supporters are as eager as ever to pass it.

The measure died in the past two sessions of Congress. Nonetheless Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) again introduced a version of the "Houses of Worship Free Speech Restoration Act," which would allow churches and other houses of worship to endorse political candidates and parties without losing their tax-exempt status.

Since the 1950s, the federal tax codes have prohibited churches -- and other non-profit groups organized under section 501(c)(3) of the code -- from getting involved in partisan politics.

Jones announced at a March 2 press conference that he again will push for the bill and likely will try to attach the proposal to a more popular piece of legislation in order to get it passed.

Jones forced a House floor vote on the bill in 2002, but it failed 178-239. His second attempt died in the House Ways and Means Committee last year.

However, the bill enjoys strong support from Religious Right groups and several powerful members of Congress, such as House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and Senate Finance Committee chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).

The Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission has said it supports the bill, although the agency's head said he would nonetheless discourage churches from endorsing parties or candidates.

Meanwhile, many other religious and civil-rights groups, including the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and virtually every other major Protestant denomination, strongly oppose the bill. They argue it would cause polarization and politicization of churches, and violate the spirit of the First Amendment.

The bill is House Resolution 235.

End of Story.

I would encourage everyone to contact their congressman and ask them to vote against this bill.

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