Separation of church and state
President Bush said yesterday that such separation was a Good Thing™ ("I think it is very important for people who are serving to make sure there is a separation of church and state"). But look at what the House Ways and Means Committee has been up to in section 692 ("Safe Harbor for Churches") of H.R. 4520 ("American Jobs Creation Act of 2004"). [Does anyone know how to link directly to a section of a bill?]
(q) SAFE HARBOR FOR CHURCHES —
(1) STATEMENTS BY RELIGIOUS LEADERS AS PRIVATE CITIZENS — [A church] shall not fail to be treated as organized and operated exclusively for a religious purpose, or be treated as having participated in, or intervened in any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office... by reason of a statement by a religious leader of such organization which is clearly identified as a statement made as a private citizen and not made on behalf of or in representation of such organization. A statement shall not be treated as clearly identified for purposes of this paragraph if such statement is made in an official publication of such organization, at an official function of such organization, or if such statement is paid for in whole or part by such organization.
(2) UNINTENTIONAL VIOLATIONS — [A church] shall not fail to be treated as organized and operated exclusively for a religious purpose, or be treated as having participated in, or intervened in any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office... unless such organization or any of its religious leaders so participates or intervenes on more than 3 separate occasions during any calendar year. This paragraph shall not apply with respect to any such participation or intervention which constitutes an intentional disregard by such organization or any of its religious leaders of the prohibition of such activity...
As I read it, (2) would mean a religious leader could intentionally break the law three times with political endorsements of or statements of opposition to particular candidates and still have his/her church remain tax-exempt. There's no limit to the number of times he or she could do so unintentionally.
Frankly I'd be surprised if (1) were not already the case under the First Admendment to the Consitution. Perhaps the real point of (1) is to clarify that if done in a church publication, at a church event or if paid for by a church, then it's not a statement by a private citizen.
Thanks to Nancy Johnson's (R-CT) leadership, this section was rejected last night, at least for the time being. Who knows if it will rear its ugly head again? [Thanks to Jules Siegel via NEWSROOM-L.]
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