Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Why Do Republicans Hate the Church?

The Houses of Worship Political Speech Protection Act is back, reintroduced by Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC).

HOWPSPA, if you will recall, was first floated by Jones last year, and aims at legalizing political activities by churches, including candidate endorsements and fund-raising pitches. The 2005 version is apparently somewhat more narrow:
H.R. 235...limits the type of activities permitted, but it is more expansive in that there is no ceiling on the number of activities that could be permitted. Under H.R. 235, the permitted campaign-related activities would have to occur in the "content, preparation, or presentation of any homily, sermon, teaching, dialectic, or other presentation made during religious service or gatherings," but any amount of these activities could be conducted provided they were part of the presentation at a religious gathering. However, religious organizations would be precluded from making campaign contributions or paying for advertisements in newspapers.

So: pastors could endorse candidates from the pulpit, or an adult forum could discuss moral values and talk about putting those values into action by helping out candidates or groups.

At the moment, the threat from this bill is somewhat limited: it has no cosponsors, which isn't a good sign for its long-term success. Still, it bears watching.

My friends over at the Daily Kos are worried about churches meddling in political affairs. I'm concerned with just the opposite.

If, as I've argued before, the Faith-Based Initiatives campaign is nothing more than a patronage program, HOWSPA is a recipe for making churches political subsidiaries of whatever party controls the Executive Branch. Talk about moral values in a way that benefits the right candidates, get your church programs funded by the FBI susidies. Criticize the wrong pol, get cut off from the gravy train. It's that simple.

Not to mention how divisive this would be within the church. How many congregations do you know that could accomodate easily a pastoral endorsement of one candidate or another? Most pastors I know would get thrown out on their arse by the second or third time. How many congregations are even united politically? Not many, even on the extremes. Allowing political speech within church activities would be corrupting and corrosive.

Let's review: the government subsidizes programs at a local church, which in turn officially supports the politician what brought home the bacon in the name of their particular brand of moral values. Who wins?

Not the people served by the initiative: it's far from proven that "faith-based" programs work any better than government programs.

Not the church members: their attention has been diverted from growth in the faith to political activism, and if they happen to disagree with the political agenda, they risk either disrupting their congregation or being forced out of it.

Not the pastors: instead of carrying out their ministry, they're focused on continuing the money flow and making sure they pay off the political debts they've run up.

Not the taxpayers: their money is being spent with little to no supervision (even Jim Towey, the director of the FBIs Office, admits he doesn't really know how much money gets spent this way).

Not the voters: they get cheated of a free and open debate on the issues.

So who does that leave? Hmm. The politicians.

(thanks to troutfishing and dianeL for links & the heads-up)

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