Pastors seek free speech subsidy

Yesterday, at the urging of the conservative Allied Defense Fund, some 33 pastors endorsed a presidential candidate (John McCain, presumably, and ironically, given his history with right wing religious leaders) in an effort to provoke a legal showdown with the Internal Revenue Service.

The Atlanta Journal and Constitution’s story is representative.

The Rev. Jody Hice fired a verbal volley Sunday in a battle that he believes will return the United States to its American Revolutionary roots.

From his pulpit at Bethlehem First Baptist Church outside of Atlanta, he urged his congregation to vote for Sen. John McCain and to not vote for Sen. Barack Obama.

He based his recommendations on McCain’s opposition to abortion and gay marriage and Obama’s support of those issues, Hice told the Barrow County church packed with about 400 listeners.

“These are not political issues,” Hice said. “There are moral issues.”

They may be moral issues, but Internal Revenue Service regulations say clergy cannot make public political endorsements to their congregations without risking the tax-exempt status of their house of worship.

Perhaps the most revealing quote comes for a story from The Los Angeles Times via The Baltimore Sun:

“I am angry because the government and the IRS and some Christians have taken away the rights of pastors,” (Southern Baptist minister Wiley S.) Drake said to about 45 people at his service. “I have a right to endorse anybody I doggone well please. And if they don’t like that, too bad.”

The Rev. Drake does have the right to endorse anybody he chooses–but not from his pulpit. This isn’t because the IRS has taken away his right to free speech, it is because they don’t think taxpayers should subsidize his right to free speech. If his church wants to pay taxes on its income, it can endorse whomever it wants as publicly as it pleases.

The Rev. Drake and his allies don’t want the same rights as everyone else, they want special rights for religious leaders.

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