Polluting Piety With Politics

By Gus Tyler

Published July 02, 2004, issue of July 02, 2004.
  • Print
  • Share Share

An article on the front-page of the June 3 New York Times was scary. It notes that the Bush campaign is reaching out to thousands of churches around the country to involve them in distributing campaign fliers and registering voters on behalf of the president’s November run. The move makes history. It seems that at no time in the nation’s experience has a candidate for president made an open appeal to churches to start acting like political clubs.

In 1928, when New York Governor Alfred Smith, the first serious Roman Catholic candidate, ran for the presidency, he did have the backing of many Catholics. But he did not call upon the Catholic churches to distribute his campaign literature or to get out the vote on his behalf.

There are sound reasons that he — and others — did not. Churches are tax-exempt organizations. Any organization — church or nonchurch — that participates actively in a political campaign automatically loses its tax exemption. What’s more, the cardinal American principle of separation of church and state makes the active recruitment of churches to back a candidate something much less than “separation.”

While Bush seems to be unaware of these problems, many church leaders are not. Some of them, including conservative-minded clerics, already have warned their associates not to pollute piety with politics.

However, the Bush administration has, so far, stuck by its guns. In the New York Times article, Steve Schmidt, a spokesman for the Bush campaign, explains: “People of faith have as much right to participate in the political as any other community.” He also notes that the use of e-mail to carry the message for this drive is “building the most sophisticated grass-roots presidential campaign in the country’s history.”

While the Bush push is under attack by both liberals and some conservatives, inside and outside the American churches, there is another aspect of the question that makes the Bush move doubly dangerous. As is well known, the Bush administration has been contributing government funds to “faith-based” charities. Does that mean that any church — no matter how tiny, no matter its denomination — would be entitled automatically to federal funding? Obviously not. If they were, then thousands of churches, launched by who knows whom, would crowd the gravy train. Someone in the government has to decide which faith-based organizations are deserving and which are not. Would a church that refuses to back Bush get the same favorable treatment as a church that signs up to back him?

Now let’s put the pieces together. The U.S. Department of the Treasury, under Bush’s prompting, donates money to a church. That church uses the money to campaign for Bush. So, in effect, Bush is using government money to campaign for Bush, and he does so through a church whose job it is to “launder” the dirty money.






Find us on Facebook!
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • "I feel great sorrow about the fact that you decided to return the honor and recognition that you so greatly deserve." Rivka Ben-Pazi, who got Dutchman Henk Zanoli recognized as a "Righteous Gentile," has written him an open letter.
  • Is there a right way to criticize Israel?
  • From The Daily Show to Lizzy Caplan, here's your Who's Jew guide to the 2014 #Emmys. Who are you rooting for?
  • “People at archives like Yad Vashem used to consider genealogists old ladies in tennis shoes. But they have been impressed with our work on indexing documents. Now they are lining up to work with us." This year's Jewish Genealogical Societies conference took place in Utah. We got a behind-the-scenes look:
  • What would Maimonides say about Warby Parker's buy-one, give-one charity model?
  • For 22 years, Seeds of Peace has fostered dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian teens in an idyllic camp. But with Israel at war in Gaza, this summer was different. http://jd.fo/p57AB
  • J.J. Goldberg doesn't usually respond to his critics. But this time, he just had to make an exception.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.