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7/03/2004

The Bush-Cheney Onslaught on the Separation of Church and State Continues; Signs of Blowback

In early June it was reported that the Pennsylvania Bush-Cheney '04 office sent an email to Pennsylvania churches:

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."
A week later, Tom Davis (R-CA) introduced legislation that "would essentially gut current law, which forbids churches from endorsing candidates for public office, and replace it with watered-down language giving wide latitude to such activity." Novak wrote an op-ed claiming that this presaged a "Republican civil war" because Davis' legislation didn't go far enough:
Such censorship alarmed Walter Jones, a Republican businessman and devout Catholic from Farmville, N.C., when he was elected to Congress in 1994. Correcting unintended consequences of LBJ's 1954 legislation became Jones' top priority. He introduced his bill in 2001.
Thomas as chairman blocked an easy path to the floor for Jones' bill. It reached the floor Oct. 1, 2002, under the procedure requiring two-thirds approval. Despite support for it from their party's leadership, 46 Republicans -- Thomas included -- voted no and prevented even a simple majority. They represent a bloc of Republicans, from the corporate boardroom to the country club, who despise the religious right.

This year, the indefatigable Jones managed to get his religious free speech proposal imbedded in tax legislation that has to be passed to stop trade retaliation by the European Union. Everybody was on board: Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Majority Whip Roy Blunt, Republican National Chairman Ed Gillespie -- everybody, that is, except Thomas.

Thomas practiced his sorcery. The straightforward Jones language was transmuted into a maze of words that lawyers for conservative organizations say would keep the muzzle on preachers. Jones, with the backing of Hastert, added 28 words to the Thomas language to restore his original meaning. Thomas pulled the 28 words out of the final version. That killed the whole issue. Thomas did not seem unhappy about it, but the speaker was furious.

Thomas is a secularist who in the past jousted with senior Republican Rep. Henry Hyde of Illinois, a prominent Catholic layman, over federal aid to Catholic hospitals. A former college professor, Thomas is entitled to his own views, but today's GOP relies on support not from secular Americans but from churchgoers. Jones, not intimidated by Thomas, told me: ''Discretionary enforcement, primarily against conservative churches, of an unenforceable law is wrong and should not stand.'' That is a battle cry for the coming Republican civil war.
The next week, in mid-June, it was reported in the National Catholic Reporter that Bush beseeched the Vatican Secretary of State for assistance with cultural issues. Josh Marshall provides a typically cogent analysis of the situation.

Then Ralph Reed, former head of the Christian Coalition and current Southeastern coordinator for Bush-Cheney 04, helped turn the Southern Baptist Convention into a GOP rally.

Just last week, the Washington Post acquired a Bush-Cheney 04 memo requesting that friendly congregations help the campaign, by forwarding their membership directories to the campaign, among other clearly partisan activities.

This no longer counts as a trend – the politicization is simply a fact. Contrary to conservative assertions, though, it runs a serious risk of backfiring. Groups that support the separation of church and state have stated the reasons:

Americans United
"Injecting partisan politics into our nation's sanctuaries is a desecration of sacred space," Lynn continued. "Politicizing churches is morally wrong and legally dubious. The Bush campaign should repent of this reckless scheme."

Lynn noted that the Internal Revenue Service issued an unprecedented warning to the nation's political parties June 10, reminding them that churches and other 501(c)(3) organizations may not be involved in partisan politics.
Interfaith Alliance
"I'm frankly concerned that an administration that has talked so eloquently about the importance of houses of worship would be willing to intrude on the sanctity of houses of worships and compromise them in some ways by seeking to turn them into political organizations," Gaddy said. "We are alarmed that this initiative by the Bush-Cheney campaign could lure religious organizations and religious leaders into dangerous territory where they risk losing their tax-exempt status and could be violating the law. But even worse, they are leading religious leaders into the temptation of forfeiting the prophetic voice of religion."
This isn't just a liberal argument, though. Richard Land, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (the same group whose convention is referenced above), has joined the choir:
"I'm appalled that the Bush-Cheney campaign would intrude on a local congregation in this way," said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

"The bottom line is, when a church does it, it's nonpartisan and appropriate. When a campaign does it, it's partisan and inappropriate," he said. "I suspect that this will rub a lot of pastors' fur the wrong way." ***
On Friday, Land said: "It's one thing for a church member motivated by exhortations to exercise his Christian citizenship to go out and decide to work on the Bush campaign or the Kerry campaign. It's another and totally inappropriate thing for a political campaign to ask workers who may be church members to provide church member information through the use of directories to solicit partisan support."
See the Southern Baptist's Press Release. Republicans are trying to solidify the perception of a GOP monopoly on religiosity. This obviously slanders the Democrats, but more importantly, it demeans religion, reducing it to support for a political platform. It's nice to see the Southern Baptists acknowledging this.

Note also two articles in the British Guardian. One is on "mega-churches," where people say things like this with a straight face: "'I don't think that with this administration we'll be concerning ourselves with a Monica Lewinsky situation,' said Pastor Bob, as he is universally known. 'He has restored honour to the White House, and that morality is something I will always be proud to carry the banner for.'" The second is horrid advice from Philip James, "a former senior Democratic party strategist," who apparently doesn't understand that Catholics are Christian. In parts of Kentucky, that's still a common belief.
He needs to remember that while 46% of Americans now call themselves evangelicals, the majority still do not, and he must galvanise voter turn out among that group. He should also recognise that the evangelical community is not monolithic. Some are as turned off by George Bush's reckless presidency as the rest of us. Kerry doesn't need to dress up as a Christian to get their votes.
Crucially he should also be aware that there are an indeterminate number of evangelicals who are disillusioned with Bush because his foreign adventures have distracted him from pressing ahead sufficiently with a conservative domestic agenda of their liking. These people could never bring themselves to vote for Kerry, but if Kerry cannot appeal to them, the next best thing to wish for is that they stay home.

Atrios has also commented on this sort of "advice," though Digby deserves the last word.

 

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