Defiant priests think their freedoms are being curtailed
Religions have it pretty sweet in America. Not only do they enjoy a special status in society; they also get to benefit from generous tax exemptions. This privileged status comes at a price however; churches are not allowed by law to interfere with the political process. It’s a rule that’s never been strongly enforced in my opinion, with plenty of instances where religious institutions have openly or secretly participated in the political process (like the Mormon church paying millions of dollars to get Prop 8 passed, or preachers telling their congregation they had to vote for Bush). Still, it hasn’t stopped a bunch of pastors from feeling as though their right to free speech is being unfairly censored.
The pastors, along with the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based nonprofit Alliance Defense Fund, are reacting to a law stating that churches are not allowed to support politicians from the pulpit…”We believe that a pastor has a right to speak whatever he believes without fearing the government will somehow censor what he says or threaten to take away his tax exemption,” ADF spokesman Erik Stanley said.
But are their rights really being infringed? A pastor has every right to express his political opinion in public; it’s merely the rules of the game state that he is expressly forbidden to do so from his pulpit. In other words, a church leader isn’t allowed to use his considerable priestly power to influence the political choice of his “flock”. This is precisely why the separation of church and state exists; religions exert so much control and influence they can interfere with the way a government works. We all recognize the dangers of sectarianism in subverting democracy, and we shouldn’t be too surprised when religious leaders try and usurp power to further their own ends. In this case, these pastors who evidently wish to endorse conservative candidates cannot continue to be allowed special privileges if they refuse to play by the rules.
If they want to preach from their pulpit, they should submit to the same duties all citizens share: the need to pay taxes. I’d have no problem with them pressuring their own already conservative sheep into voting Republican if it meant state coffers were being filled with millions of dollars of tax revenue. Of course because they’ve been enjoying their tax exempt status for so long, it’s doubtful any of them would accept this compromise, so they’ll continue to have their cake and eat it too so long as we’re too chicken-shit to do anything about it.