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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Where Religion and Politics Should Not Cross




While religious organizations and associated 501(c) 3 charitable organizations are not prohibited from having political positions and being on the side of one issue or another, the IRS has restrictions on their supporting one candidate or opposing one actively. But some preachers are scoffing at this and risking their churches all for the sake of a ridiculous idea that church needs to be this involved with politics as opposed to the more imminent issues, like saving souls or spreading the gospel. Not that I believe in souls or the value of the so called “good news”, but I think I’ve made that apparent enough. Bottom line, there are a number of reasons churches don’t need to push this envelope, notwithstanding the IRS effectively ignoring them so as not to give them any real publicity beyond what they already have. Supposedly the standards of audits are complicated and the potential legal implications are what may be primarily hindering any enforcement. The only other solution is to enact sweeping changes and enforce them more stringently. If the IRS doesn’t do something about this, it’s going to encourage this emerging movement of borderline theocrats thinking that we need to run this country by religious morals and standards instead of using reason and secular standards that everyone can abide by without infringing upon individual rights to believe nonsense. The law protects your right to practice religion even if it also says that the right itself is not absolute. This sort of practice needs to be nipped in the bud or it will just spiral into something worse than a remotely harmless resurgence of religiosity, but actual political confrontations by people both tightly and loosely affiliated with these antiquated traditions motivated by mob rule and peer pressure to try to ask for special treatment. No one wants to limit religion more than necessary, but you can’t ignore the law when it’s convenient to you and this is no different than politicians trying to get lesser sentences because of their previous contributions to society. Religion may have benefits, but it doesn’t get tax breaks and also make political statements that directly involve it with secular and civil election processes. Keep your theology out of the government and we’ll make sure the government stays out of your theology.

This practice of taking on the IRS and its threat of removing tax exempt status for churches has been going on for nearly 4 years and nothing seems to have been done. If anything, it behooves them to start focusing on this issue because the taxes that could be gained from those churches would be a benefit to deficit issues in this country. Outright removing the tax exempt status for all churches might be too extreme, but enforcing the law about political involvement as regards candidate approval and disapproval with these churches could aid in lowering the U.S.’s crippling deficit that looms over us according to many conservatives. Freedom of religion is not so absolute as to allow those in positions of authority as spiritual leaders to flaunt the law in the spirit of what can be a reasonable practice of associating political decisions with personal faith and convictions, and taking it too far in directly campaigning from the pulpit against or for a particular candidate. Of course, one might argue that churches which don’t get involved in politics in any sense might be justified in at least getting some tax breaks, even if it was made mandatory for all churches to pay some portion of taxes. Those that are especially political might not get those cuts, but that would be a choice they’d make from the start. It shouldn’t be such a big deal for mega-churches to keep preaching politics or even advocating for candidates as long as they keep getting money. And wouldn’t it be a good thing for Christians to support the U.S. with money from their churches, especially if they’re all about the U.S. being a “Christian nation”?

The Catholic groups railing against the contraception mandate in the healthcare plan put forward by President Obama are another group that is pushing their protections under the law. When they say Obama is anti Catholic in his positions and then urge their congregations to vote their “conscience”, it’s not as explicit, but it’s certainly able to be interpreted as preaching party politics. I wonder what they expect Catholics to vote for instead. If Mormonism is a cult and/or false Christianity, then can Catholics truly vote for Romney either, unless voting one’s conscience means ignoring dogma that explicitly states the church in question is against the true church’s teachings? This concern with insurance plans covering birth control and such creating a conflict of religious ethics and secular law seems to be blown out of proportion, especially with evidence pointing towards the majority of Catholics actually using birth control anyway. Of course they don’t get abortions, but if you don’t want to cover abortions, one might be justified in saying you have a right to refuse coverage for it under the plan. But birth control has other benefits besides the prevention of a particular stage of reproduction, namely fertilization (implantation prevention is a whole other treatment), such as preventing STDs and in terms of hormonal birth control, evening out one’s menstrual cycles and aiding with other issues such as painful menstruation or inconsistent menstruation. I’ve noted this before in “Catholics,Contraception and Conscience,”; birth control can be justified in terms of an overall healthcare plan as it has medical benefits aside from what the church has a person moral objection to. It isn’t compromising their religious freedom overall and will not necessarily escalate to anything further in simply saying you have to provide what is considered basic medical care even if you personally object to it. And wouldn’t it be better off to prevent unwanted pregnancies than to cause undue suffering to children you feel morally obligated to bear and then are unable to provide adequately for them?

Is it really clashing between freedom of religious exercise/expression and separation of church and state when you enforce what is a fairly simple rule of not endorsing or attacking political candidates from the pulpit? You can speak politics in general, but not be partisan about it, which is partly what the IRS is worried it will appear when it cracks down on the offenders. But you’re just being fair in applying the law to those who break it. You shouldn’t play favorites merely because the offenders in question are in a special position by cultural perspective. Religion does not deserve favors because it supposedly helps people be more moral or any such thing: in fact, since it does such things, it shouldn’t ask for more in the government’s treatment of it. Stay within your limits and no one will rock the boat of your sensibilities about politics and faith. Until next time, Namaste and aloha

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