Thursday, June 28, 2012

8 Reasons Religion Will Help Define The Path To The White House
As sophisticated and postmodern as Americans believe themselves to be, a Gallop poll in 2011 revealed that 20 percent of Republicans and 27 per

Poster's note:  I'd say the USA is already a theocracy.


Finally, while the central issue in this election season is, in James Carville's immortal phrase, "the economy, stupid," some of the attending issues are faith-based in the eyes of many Americans. The obligations of the rich, society's responsibility to the poor, gay rights, health care, immigration, and, of course, the relationship between church and state -- all are religiously-charged for millions of voters. Mr. Obama has long framed these issues in terms of his faith-based social vision. Mr. Romney has not, but he and his advisors will realize that they cannot yield the religious high ground on these issues. This, too, will force religion onto center stage.

There are other matters that may drive religion to the forefront of the 2012 presidential election. We cannot be certain of all of them now. What Americans ought to know by this time in their history, though, is that religion is seldom far from their politics, seldom much removed from American culture as a whole. The 2012 campaign is likely to illustrate this as much as any presidential election in the nation's history.

It all may make the remaining months of summer, even with the heat, a welcome haven from the looming crusades.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Americans’ Access To Birth Control Must Be Protected

Americans’ Access To Birth Control Must Be Protected, Americans United Tells Obama Administration

Church-State Watchdog Says Religious Groups Should Not Be Allowed To Dictate National Policy On Contraceptives

Religious organizations have no right to meddle in Americans’ private lives by demanding the power to restrict access to birth control, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

In comments submitted to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Americans United told the agency that the creation of a new accommodation for religiously affiliated organizations is unnecessary.

“No religious organization’s rights are violated when an individual employee decides to use birth control,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “To be blunt, religious organizations should put an immediate stop to interfering with the intimate personal lives of others.”

The Roman Catholic hierarchy and its Religious Right allies are pressuring the Obama administration to allow religiously affiliated hospitals and colleges to deny birth control coverage to their employees even if the coverage is paid for by insurance companies. The bishops are also demanding that Catholic owners of secular businesses be allowed to deny their workers contraceptive coverage.

AU pointed out that two courts have upheld a religious exemption similar to the one already put in place by the Obama administration. The real threat to religious liberty, AU says, is in broadly expanding the exemption because that would result in Americans’ medical care being subject to sectarian oversight.

If a new accommodation is granted, AU said, it must be as narrow as possible. In addition, all for-profit businesses and any organizations that accept direct grants and contracts from the government should not be exempt from the birth control mandate.

In February, the Obama administration announced a final rule that would exempt certain religious employers from making birth control accessible directly to their employees through employer-provided health care plans. It now seeks to create a new accommodation for a broader category of religiously affiliated groups that would free them of the insurance mandate, but permit their employees to get free coverage from a third party.

Lynn, noting that houses of worship are exempt from the policy entirely, said the original rule was a good solution.  He noted that many Americans rely on birth control and many women use it for medical reasons.

In its June 19 comments, Americans United expressed support for reasonable accommodations for religious organizations so that no one’s beliefs are infringed. But, AU warns, such accommodations must not be applied too broadly so that individual privacy and medical needs are protected.

Giving religious groups too much power in this area could subject people to unwanted clerical interference in private matters, AU asserted.

“A worker should not be denied direct insurance coverage for contraceptives simply because the government grant funding her position is overseen by a religious organization opposed to contraceptives,” observed AU in its comments.

The comments were written by Americans United Legislative Director Maggie Garrett.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Useful Advice: IRS Officials Brief Pastors On Illegal Political Activity

Useful Advice: IRS Officials Brief Pastors On Illegal Political Activity

Jun 4, 2012 by Rob Boston in Wall of Separation

The IRS issues a warning about partisan political intervention by churches.

The Conference of National Black Churches and the Congressional Black Caucus recently held a joint event for religious leaders that included presentations by top officials from the Internal Revenue Service about churches and politics.

Several right-wing groups promptly went ballistic. They portrayed the May 30 event as an effort by President Barack Obama and his congressional allies to instruct pastors in black churches (many of whose members tend to vote Democratic) on how to get around a federal law that bars non-profit groups from intervening in partisan politics.

In fact, the presentation was nothing of the kind. IRS Commissioner Douglas H. Shulman made brief introductory remarks and then turned the podium over to Peter Lorenzetti, an IRS regional manager and a 39-year veteran of the agency.

Lorenzetti gave a purely factual presentation that reflected the current state of the law. He distributed a do’s and don’ts list for the pastors and reminded them that they may not use church resources to endorse or oppose candidates.

“There are a couple of activities that tend to jeopardize the exempt status,” Lorenzetti told the pastors. Among them, he said, is partisan political activity.

Lorenzetti warned the religious leaders that they must avoid “direct and indirect support for a candidate in an election” and told them that making contributions to candidates, holding biased forums that favor one candidate over another and “making public statements for or against a particular candidate” are not permitted.

“A church or religious organization exempt under 501(c)(3) can never say, ‘Vote for this candidate or don’t vote for this candidate,’” Lorenzetti observed. He went to note that even-handed election-related activities, such as objective voter guides and candidate forums that are open to all, are permissible.

Far from being a strategy session on how to get around the law, the session was an excellent primer on what pastors need to do to follow it. Lorenzetti’s talk is available on C-SPAN. I wish every pastor in America could see it. (Lorenzetti discussed some other issues as well. The material on politics comes up at around the 24:00 mark.)

Lorenzetti was followed at the podium by U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) who stressed many of the same points. Butterfield reminded pastors that if a politician visits their churches, they can recognize him/her, but he told them not to offer an endorsement.

Butterfield also advised caution about letting candidates address the congregation.

“It is unwise and probably unlawful for a candidate to stand in front of a congregation in a church and say ‘Vote for me and vote for the Democrats or vote for the Republicans in the next election,’” Butterfield said. (I might quibble with some of the other things Butterfield said, but overall he counseled caution and reminded pastors more than once that direct endorsements from the pulpit are not allowed.)

It’s ironic that the right wing raised such a fuss about the event – and it turned about to be a sober analysis of the law. After all, the groups trying to get around this law tend to be affiliated with the Religious Right.

Consider the Alliance Defense Fund, which every year prods pastors to openly violate the law by endorsing or opposing candidates from the pulpit.

I also recall an incident from the 2006 “Values Voter Summit” sponsored by the Family Research Council during which a speaker recommended a variety of deceitful tactics to drag houses of worship into partisan politics, including attempting to determine how people plan to vote by calling them up and posing as a pollster.

There is indeed a push under way to undermine or openly violate the federal laws that bar tax-exempt religious organizations from intervening in partisan elections. It was not in display at the Conference of National Black Churches/Congressional Black Caucus’ event. It is frequently on display, however, during gatherings of the Religious Right.

I hope the IRS steps up its efforts to combat the Religious Right’s campaign of misinformation.