May Church leaders endorse candidates?

According to a story in todays Washington Post, the Alliance Defense Fund, described by the paper as "socially conservative" andas "a legal consortium that considers itself the antithesis of the American Civil Liberties Union," is recruiting pastors who on Sept. 28th would all endorse from the pulpits specific candidates for public office, in violation of a 1954 amendment to the Internal Revenue Code that says nonprofit, tax-exempt entities may not "participate in, or intervene in...any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office." The idea is to trigger an IRS investigation that the ADF would then challenge in federal court in the hope that the amendment will eventually be declared unconstitutional.According to the story, "an opposing collection of Christian and Jewish clergy will petition the IRS today to stop the protest before it starts, calling the ADFs Pulpit Initiative an assault on the rule of law and the separation of church and state." The Post quotes from this second groups claim: "As religious leaders, we have grave concerns about the ethical implications of soliciting and organizing churches to violate core principles of our society." Joe Conn, spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, offered this distinction: "The federal tax law is clear. Churches are charitable institutions that exist to do charitable things. That does not include politics. Political groups do politics."We've discussed this point before. Apart from this particular group's plans in the near future, it seems to me that the issue does deserve judicial determination or clarification.

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.

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