Friday, September 25, 2009

Second Annual Pulpit Freedom Sunday

The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), a conservative Christian organization that promotes the expansion of certain privileges to religious groups, announced yesterday that its annual Pulpit Freedom Sunday will be this Sunday, September 27. What is this all about?

Current IRS tax law states that a church that endorses a political candidate will lose its tax-exempt status. (See this earlier post for more background information.) The ADF and others argue that this is an infringement on freedom of speech. The IRS says that churches that act like political organizations should be taxed like those other organizations. Groups with agendas opposite the ADF, like the Americans United for Separation of Church and State, take it upon themselves to report religious leaders who speak out about candidates.

To be clear, it is not illegal for a church to endorse a candidate; it just means that the church will have to pay a bunch of taxes if it does. Also, a church can endorse stances on political issues and retain its tax-exempt status; it is endorsing candidates that is the problem.

Which brings us to Pulpit Freedom Sunday. On Pulpit Freedom Sunday, religious leaders around the country will protest the current IRS policy by intentionally endorsing candidates from their pulpits during their sermons.

I think it is easy to understand where the ADF is coming from in disputing the rule. It is less obvious why a religious leader would favor the current restriction. One explanation is that those leaders who want to endorse candidates would be better able than other leaders to have influence over their respective church members. As we will discuss later in the quarter, stricter churches, which tend to be right-of-center, have denser social networks, and this may allow them to operate more effectively in collective efforts, including mobilizing before an election. Less-strict churches, which tend to be left-of-center, would then have more difficultly in fostering this type of collective action. Thus, we have an economic explanation for why those in favor of endorsing candidates would be the ones who would benefit more from a change in the regulation, while those who prefer the status quo benefit more as is.

Can you think of another reason why a religious leader would prefer the status quo? And what do you think of this policy? Should religious leaders be allowed to endorse political candidates? Why or why not?


  1. I think one of the main reasons why a religious leader would prefer the status quo is not necessarily for the economic and political value of the church specifically endorsing a candidate, but for the moral value. For a religious leader to endorse a candidate, they are using their position as a representative of the church to influence their constituents. When a leader endorses a candidate, it is supports THAT specific person and what THEY stand for, not the stance itself, in the name of the church. Whether or not the candidate's perspectives and the church's coincide, people are changeable, no matter what they may think (in my opinion..) and it's very difficult to stick to a specific viewpoint when circumstances can always change. And usually once an endorsement is out there, it's pretty difficult to retract..

    Personally, I don't think that religious leaders should be allowed to endorse political candidates. Whether or not a church takes a specific stance on an issue, there should still remain, although cliched, a separation of church and state. Not all members of a church may agree with the religious leader, and in effect, those leaders are usually "employed" by the members through donations and tithes. I don't think it is neither fair for them to make a public endorsement when the entirety of the church may not agree with them, though they ARE entitled to their own opinion (and can tell anyone they want who they support or would vote for), I don't think it is appropriate for them to use their religious position to advocate their personal choice.

    And as for the taxes that a church must pay for the endorsement of a candidate, I feel like it really does make sense.. For a non-profit organization to take a position and endorse a candidate, it personally doesn't seem right to me. I don't think the issue with churches endorsing candidates is necessarily nested in the economic fact or in the mobilization of the electorate, but can include the idea that it could be in some way, an abuse of their influence within a church.

    Sorry for the long response!

    Sara T.

  2. I think this can also be a good thing in a sense that it does make people aware of political issues especially the youth. Maybe people do not trust the media and how they portray the candidates and wants to hear from a source per say they can trust. Maybe that is why pastors choose to speak out in church. But it is up to the people to decide if they want to listen or not.

    But it should not be done in church but outside of it because everyone has different political views. It is only fair if the church acts like a political party endorsing candidates that they have to get taxed.

    Ruth L.

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  4. From an economic stand point, it is better for the churches to maintain the status quo, and to keep to the issues and not to the individual candidate. During this recession, church donations have been down due to less discretionary income, and would not want to be in a worse financial position by being taxed. I think a church has the ability to express their views on a topic well enough for the attendees of the church to make their own decision about which candidates represent those issues. I think we need to focus on economic principles and apply them to religion instead of focusing on religion and throw in a few economics buzz words.

    Summary: Discretionary consumer income is down, donations for religious groups are down. Churches, just like other businesses are dealing with how to cut costs, and by not endorsing a candidate, they can save by not having to pay federal taxes.

  5. Hou-SHeng Ko

    I think that religious leader should not be allowed to endorse political candidates becasue if he or she does so, the political candidate will gain a lot of support. Most of American are catholic. If you know a cathloic religious leader is support a certain candidate, you are most likely to give your support to him or her without knowing how will he or she perform becasue of the religious reason.

    I believe the church should be tax especially when they are dealing with money with someone else. And also if goverment only tax people other than church, then that is absolute unfair.

    Hou-Sheng Ko

  6. Thanks everyone for the comments.

    Sara, Your view that church leaders should not endorse candidates is what most Americans also think. I wonder, though, why it should be OK to endorse policies but not candidates. What is so different between endorsing a policy and endorsing a candidate because of the candidate's stance on a policy? Any ideas?

    By the way, the rule that churches are not to endorse politicians has not always been a rule. It came many years later in the 1970s under LBJ.

    Grant, It is certainly smart for church leaders to abide the rule as long as the rule is in place. I agree with you there. But do you think the rule be there?

    Hou-Sheng, I think the idea you expressed--that people would just vote for the candidate their church leaders tell them to vote for--is why many people like the current rule as it is. I guess the next question is whether that is a valid fear. I wonder how this could be shown with data...

  7. Ruth, I think you're right that church leaders want to avoid contention over politics in church meetings. I also think that talking about issues can generate just as much contention as talking about candidates. Maybe I'm wrong on this.

  8. Vance Piggott-

    I believe that churches should not take any particular stance on any political issues. Not only does it call into question the legitimacy of a churches altruism when that church is pushing political agendas upon its following, but it also blurs the lines of church and state.
    I think that the IRS' strategy of revoking tax exemption is effective but should also be applied to policy issues.
    That having been said, lets face it, the christian and catholic populations generally vote conservative whether this position is outright spoken or just an unspoken assumption.

  9. I think that religious leaders should be able to endorse certain policies or issues. In addition, I believe that if in an effort to endorse their political issue a church feels it necessary to endorse or recommend a candidate then under the First Amendment they should be allowed to do that. That being said, I personally do not believe that a church or religious leader should be endorsing any political stance in church because that is not really the time or place for that- I think church leaders can and should encourage their congregations to use their rights and vote in elections, but churches should not endorse a candidate or particular issue.

    The separation of church and state was meant to prevent "the Church" from becoming a political power like the Church of England, and since in America there really is no one "Church" the risk of this happening is minimal if not at all. Therefore, I think the original spirit of separation of church and state does not really apply to this situation. Thus, the First Amendment should be honored in its' full capacity.

  10. I think that a religious leader would prefer the status quo because of all of the possible negative outcomes and repercussions that might ensue. If a religious leader endorses one specific candidate, 1. they will start being taxed just as if they were a corporation (which seems completely fair) and 2. They will then be held accountable for that candidates character in the eyes of the religious leader's followers. Say a religious leader endorses a candidate who happens to get elected into office and then the politician, like so many have been recently, is destroyed in the media for some sort of scandal. This will cause a loss of faith in the religious leader's ability to judge good character in the eyes of his followers.

    on a different note, i meant to ask this in class but didnt get a chance to. So if this class is about studying religious institutes as economic entities, with suppliers and consumers, how would you go about explaining things like religious cults who perform mass suicides? are we suppose to just look at this like its a bad corporation like Enron??

  11. Let me state upfront for the sake of openness that I think that religious leaders should be free to endorse issues and candidates. That being said, it will not always wise to do so. Any religious leader would have to weigh the pros and cons.

    Vance, I can see where you are coming from, and many smart people agree with you. But now that you now know that I disagree, let me press you a little... Does learning that churches played vital roles in the ending of slavery, the extension of voting rights to women, and the civil rights movement change your mind? Don't worry, there is no penalty for disagreeing with me. :)

    Chris, Is there any circumstance when it would be wise for a religious leader to endorse an issue?

    Randy, Your point #2 is an interesting one. If the religious leader endorsed the candidate's character then perhaps your point will be valid. But if the religious leader endorsed the candidate's policy stances, then I think that candidate's bad behavior does not reflect on the religious leader.

    Regarding your second question... First, we will avoid using the word cult for some very good reasons. Second, you'll have a question on your second HW that will involve you learning about a group whose members committed suicide.

  12. Prof McBride, I think it is important to take into account the fact that churches may have played a role in some movements that have without a doubt improved the social conditions in America through supporting things such as civil rights movements. However, at the time of slavery coming to an end there were still churches which fought the anti slavery movement (especially in the south obviously). These churches sited passages in the bible supporting slavery.
    "And ye shall take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them for a possession; THEY SHALL BE YOUR BONDMEN FOR EVER; but over your brethren, the children of Israel, ye shall not rule one over another with rigor" (Lev. 25:40--46)

    This number of churches supporting slavery may have been was smaller indeed, however they should not be overlooked.

    Additionally, the fact that certain policies many churches endorsed led to the betterment of our nation does not justify the means which it was achieved.
    The christian churches had a growing black following and the church in an effort to avoid deterring a whole race from their religion they adopted views that would increase their following and thus give the church more political and social power.
    This logic can also be applied to the reasons behind the churches support of woman's right to vote. Showing acceptance to large portions of the populations is crucial to maintain a large following and continue to have a power in the social and political realms.

    In brief conclusion, the civil rights policies that were supported by the church may have an altruistic surface, there is a high probability that there are underlying, more self serving, motives for the church to support such ideals. After all, if we assume that the churches are acting rationally we must assume that the churches weighed all options and saw some sort higher expected net benefit from supporting these movements.

  13. Vance, You make a good point that churches, like, like Americans in general, are found on all sides of political issues--including the sides we might think are right and the sides we might think are wrong. I actually don't know if the number of churches supporting slavery was smaller than those opposed to it. In the deep south, I imagine the supporters of slavery outnumbered the opposers. The question in my mind is whether this is reason to forbid churches from getting involved politically. Perhaps we may just have to agree to disagree on that question.

  14. On this topic, i think that the church should be taxed accordingly like every other organization. A church is just like any other organization, so why should it be an exception? Especially if church leaders have a large power on their say over which candidate they would be supporting, their followers would do the same too, which will heavily increase the votes of the candidate. in addition, if the church does have say over which candidate should win or be supported, what is their motive for doing this? is it because the candidate belongs in this specific church/faith? or is it that the candidate is donating a large portion of their income into this church so the leaders can show support? since the motive of support for a candidate is vague, church leaders should just stay away from secular activities. as seen in previous european history, because church leaders had such close ties with the political leaders, the church became a very corrupt place. not only did the church support their political leaders, but they were also going AGAINST what was being taught to be "righteous" in order to gain support (financially) from the political leaders. well of course through history we did see some close ties of the two which did benefit the community. however, it is rare, and especially at times now where the economy is down, churches need donation, so if a church leader is supporting a certain candidate, there is most likely an internal motive. so if the church leaders do want their say in candidate/ poltical issues, they should be taxed like other organizations. they are no different than others because they are showing support and expressing their opinion.

    Diana Yeh Chhay

  15. I believe that in some way it is good that churches endorse political candidates because it does give the candidate more popularity if churches, like the media, start talking or endorsing political figures. It lets the youth that attend church view politics in a different way than the media show it. It is also bad in a way because like another student pointed out, political support for that candidate may increase because of religious beliefs. A Catholic may support another Catholic political candidate rather than supporting another political candidate that is not Catholic.

    As for the IRS making the churches pay a tax, I believe that is absolutely fair because if the other organizations that are similar to the churches have to pay a tax, the churches should also.

    Nimita Patel

  16. First of all, the IRS is just looking for more reasons to take our money. If they start taxing the churches and the religious leaders for endorsing the candidates, there will be more negative effects than positive because the money from the churches comes from the weekly church attendees. It is up to the church goers to support the candidates on their own terms and not have to pay the burden if the IRS taxes the church. Once the tax goes through, the church will have to ask for more money for their other projects, whatever that may be. Thus, I think that if the church decides to endorse candidates, let them do it on their own terms after bringing the issue up during sermon and getting a general consensus. The church should not be run like a business, and by taxing it will in effect contradict what the Constitution claimed to set out by seperating church and state. The church is not running for office, because if it were, then that would mix church with state. For the poorer churches, they won't be able to endorse too heavily the candidates of their choice, but if they do, then those going to church (if they don't support the candidate individually) will stop paying tithes and or stop going to church, thus diminishing church attendance. So to avoid church attendance drops, the church leader will make a wise economic decision to not support candidates financially and or speak out vocally if that goes against the morals of the church goers. In the end, things will balance out. Lastly, if the church happens to support a candidate and the church goers decide to support the churches decision, I say let them and let it be tax free. For a church is just one channel of support that can be given to the candidates. If I donate money to a candidate, I am supporting them in the same way as if my church ( to which I donate money) is supporting. Should I get taxed just because I personally and privately support a candidate, or I have public forums expressing my support? What if I was handing out fliers at school in support of the mayor, should I get taxed? NO, so a church doing that in their own terms, but the consensus of its people of course should let alone.


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