ADL Urges House Committee Members to Reject Amendment Allowing Houses of Worship to Endorse Candidates
Update: The "safe harbor" provisions, which would have created significant loopholes to 501(c)(3) political campaign restrictions for houses of worship and their clergy, have been stripped from the proposed legislation. ADL is gratified that the House Ways & Means Committee heeded the concerns raised about this proposal.
New York, NY, June 9, 2004 … A measure under consideration in Congress that would enable churches, synagogues and other houses of worship to make political endorsements is "unconstitutional, unnecessary and bad public policy," the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said today in a letter to members of the House Ways & Means Committee.
ADL urged committee members to strip the "Safe Harbor for Churches" provision from the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004, saying the proposed amendment, which would create significant loopholes to 501(c) (3) political-campaign restrictions for houses of worship and their clergy, violates the Constitutional mandate of church-state separation.
"The proposed amendment is unsound as a matter of constitutional law and unwise as a matter of public policy," said Barbara B. Balser, ADL National Chair and Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director. "The Safe Harbor for Churches provision threatens the integrity of our nation's houses of worship and political process."
In a letter to members of the Ways & Means Committee, ADL pointed out that the legislation is similar to a previous bill defeated in the House in October 2002. The League's letter raised the following points about the latest proposal:
- The measure is unconstitutional. Current law prohibits all non-profit tax-exempt organizations from participating in or interfering with political campaigns. This measure would exempt only Houses of Worship from certain violations of 501(c)(3), as well as permit their clergy to make "private" endorsements of political candidates. We believe this legislation is unconstitutional because a cornerstone of the First Amendment is that the government cannot prefer religion over non-religion. Furthermore, it would entangle government with religion by forcing the IRS to determine whether a religious leader's endorsement is made in a private capacity. Moreover, given the amendment's dissimilar treatment of religious and secular groups, it also raises significant equal protection and viewpoint discrimination concerns.
- The measure is bad public policy. By authorizing houses of worship a discrete number of "unintentional" political endorsements without losing their tax-exempt status, the amendment could foster substantial and unregulated tax-deductible indirect political contributions. It also raises the unseemly specter of religious institutions bartering votes for the promise of federal funds – as well as the possible cancellation of social service grants to punish recipients that endorsed losing candidates.
- The measure is unnecessary. Supporters wrongly argue that, under current law, religious viewpoints are unduly muzzled in the public arena. Houses of worship, like other 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations, are currently permitted to speak out on the full scope of religious, political and legislative advocacy; and to actively support non-partisan voter participation and voter education initiatives. Houses of worship, like all tax-exempt non-profits, receive a substantial benefit from the government. As recipients of tax-deductible contributions, it is reasonable to require that all of these non-profits remain out of partisan politics.
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