“If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude than the animated contest of freedom, go from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains sit lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen!” – Samuel Adams

Political Intimidation of American Churches Begins Again

Here we go again. Back in the 2006 election season, we saw plenty of people from the Left trying to scare and intimidate people of faith from being active politically and living out their values in the “real world.”

Now we see it again in front-page fear-mongering with an article in today’s Rapid City Journal by Kevin Woster entitled “Politics can hurt churches’ tax status.”

The article plays off another article yesterday on the Catholic churches in Rapid City circulating petitions in favor of South Dakota’s latest attempt to ban most abortions in the state.

The article points out this “political activity” by the churches, and hints that it could jeopardize the tax exempt status of churches. The article doesn’t make it clear that such threats to tax exempt status have nothing to do with the First Amendment, or any other part of the Constitution, but go back only to the 1950s when Lyndon B. Johnson, who was a senator at that time, pushed through a law restricting nonprofit organizations; he did so to muzzle nonprofit organizations who were speaking out against his liberal policies.

In the ninth paragraph of the article, on the second page of the article (with the heading “Politics: Cross line?“), we finally hear that churches can still engage in some political activities:

Supporting an issue on the ballot is acceptable, however, as long as those “lobbying” activities do not constitute a “substantial part of their total activities, measured by time, effort, expenditure and other relevant factors.”

Cases indicate that line exists somewhere between 5 percent and 15 percent of the organization’s total activities, the bishops council says.

Knowing that the average reader gleans their information from a “sound byte” mentality, the damage is already done by the “Politics can hurt churches’ tax status” headline and the ominous information on the first page. The myth that people of faith should keep their irrelevant rear-ends parked on the pew and leave the “real world” stuff to secularist liberals has been perpetuated.

If you read yesterday’s article, you might recognize the name of the only person mentioned in the article that seems to have a problem with the abortion petitions at church: Bernadette Gorszich-Usera.

From yesterday’s article:

Borszich-Usera worries about the petitions doing that. She also wonders why the issue is returning, since state voters rejected an abortion ban — one without the exceptions for health, rape and incest — in 2006.

“What part of ‘no’ don’t they understand?” she said.

“What part of ‘no’ don’t they understand?” Hmmm. Within the context of South Dakota’s abortion debate, I’ve never heard that uttered by anyone who wasn’t in favor of unrestricted abortion. So we have an obviously strongly biased interviewee in this article…but no context in which to place her objections. Nice work, RCJ.

In 2006, liberals were busy intimidating churches into believing they’d lose their tax exempt status if they spoke up for values in the public square. We heard it from ominous IRS press releases, from liberal groups, and from the Leftwing, er, “mainstream” press.

But that same year, Senior Vice President of the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), came to South Dakota at the invitation of the South Dakota Family Policy Council, speaking in Sioux Falls, Yankton, Brookings, Aberdeen, Watertown, Mitchell, and Rapid City to assure pastors of their right and the right of their churches to be involved in social policy.

Here is part of what McCaleb said to a gathering of pastors in Rapid City on July 20, 2006:

Today in Rapid City, McCaleb told a filled room of 60 Black Hills area pastors and church leaders, “What they are saying is that you can lose your tax exemption as a church if you speak out on the abortion ban, or the gambling issue if it comes up, or in favor of marriage. I’ve come up from Arizona…to tell you very directly that this is absolutely inaccurate, wrong, false information. If you speak out even directly from your pulpit and tell your people to vote in favor of the marriage amendment, or vote in favor of the abortion ban, that is not going to put your tax exemption at risk.”

McCaleb also said churches may use an “insubstantial portion of your ministry resources to directly lobby on legislative matters like these [marriage and abortion] laws.” He said this is at least 5% of the total ministry value (not just the church budget, but the value of volunteer labor, and all the things that go into the ministry) on direct lobbying; this can involve buying yard signs, advertising, holding public rallies and such to encourage others to support legislation. McCaleb said some courts have said it is permissible to go up to 15-20%, but he advised 5% as a completely safe figure. Churches can also financially support the work of groups like the South Dakota Family Policy Council, VoteYesForLife.com and others, as long as reporting procedures are followed.

McCaleb said, “If anybody tells you differently, find out what they are quoting and give me a call. I guarantee you they are wrong. They are spreading misinformation. They are trying to silence the church.”

McCaleb also said that if a church was acting within the requirements for tax exempt organizations, but had a complaint filed against them, the ADF would represent them against the complaint at no cost.

The primary prohibition for tax exempt organizations is against endorsing candidates, not issues. Pastors can support candidates within their private, personal capacity, but they cannot do so in their official capacity as pastors. Nor can churches favor one candidate over another; they can, however, allow candidates to speak as long as an opportunity for all candidates within that race is provided (i.e a forum).

We also saw this political intimidation from the Left just last month, as the presidential primaries got underway, when liberals tried to intimidate churches from encouraging their congregants to get out and vote (lest they support Mike Huckabee).

Jesus told his followers to be “salt and light” in a world of darkness. If they “hide their light under a bucket,” they cannot reveal the truth to a lost world. Any church and any Christian who is not speaking out in some way about the truth of God’s word in the public square is derelict in their Christian duty.

Public policy either blesses or oppresses people, and it usually either leads them in the direction of moral choices or leads them in the direction of immoral ones. A church that is not making a contribution in the direction of blessing the people and leading them toward moral acts is useless, and is the “salt that has lost it’s saltiness” that Christ said is good for nothing except to be trampled under foot by men.

Finally, while some people may question why fewer and fewer people trust the “mainstream” media, and why that media is hemorrhaging readers, the answer is right in front of them. With the advent of alternative sources of information, people are finding out that they are being lied to, having facts manipulated and misrepresented, and their perceptions about issues twisted by a media that, while claiming to be objective, has a very clear and aggressive bias–almost always toward liberalism.


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