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April 26, 2005

Houses of Worship Free Speech Restoration Act gutted

The Baptist Press is reporting that the latest version of the Houses of Worship Free Speech Restoration Act (H.R. 235) sponsored by Rep. Walter Jones, R.-N.C., is seriously flawed.

As in versions Jones introduced in the last two Congresses, the latest Houses of Worship bill would amend the Internal Revenue Code to prevent the tax-exempt status of churches and other religious organizations from being affected by the “content, preparation or presentation” of sermons or other addresses during religious services or meetings. Under a 1954 congressional measure, churches and other tax-exempt organizations are prohibited from participation in an election campaign or intervention on behalf of any candidate.

With one qualification, the ERLC [The Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission] endorsed the bills Jones sponsored before this session. The entity supported the legislation to prevent the government from defining the church’s mission, but it remained committed to encouraging Baptist churches to refrain from endorsing candidates, Land said.

The latest version’s provisions limiting dissemination of viewpoints and requiring mailings not exceed an “incremental cost” were added to gain the support of Sen. John McCain, R.-Ariz., according to the ERLC.

That would be John “squishy” McCain.

ERLC President Richard Land described the latest version as a “grotesquely bad idea.”

“We supported the original Jones bill because, while we believe that churches shouldn’t endorse candidates, we also believe that it should be a church decision, not a government decision. Under the new bill, the government would permit churches to endorse a candidate but then would allow government investigators to come in and determine when the church has exceeded the government’s narrow parameters of permission,” he said. “It gives the government foxes a hunting license to enter the churches’ hen houses, and we all know what happens when foxes get into hen houses — hens get killed, and foxes get fat.”

I've never understood how the First Amendment could be interpreted in such a way as to allow the government to forbid churches from making political comments. That's the exact opposite of what the Founding Fathers intended. The government shouldn't be allowed to tell churches what to do, and the churches (synagogues, mosques, etc.) should be free to comment on the government.

Posted by Danny Carlton at April 26, 2005 10:39 AM

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