Thursday, November 8, 2018

Church Campaign Intervention

Grace of God Church political sign_1541537978648.jpg_102358689_ver1.0_640_480

I had the pleasure of speaking to a reporter this morning.  He wanted to know if the picture above, a sign posted on the front lawn of the Grace of God Church in New Port Richey, Florida on election day violated the 501(c)(3) prohibition against campaign intervention.  The Church, by the way, was also a polling place so the Pastor who placed the sign was careful that it was not within 100 feet of the church, proper.  Still, it was on the Church ground, posted on election day even, and the Pastor told the reporter that if he changed the mind of at least one voter, he would be satisfied.   The sign was also posted, and then removed after voter outcry, from the Church' Facebook page.  

The reporter and I spoke by phone as he told me where to look online for a picture of the sign.  As I pulled it up, I couldn't help howling in laughter.  We talked a bit about the Service's general reluctance to enforce the prohibition against houses of worship because of obvious First Amendment concerns but I concluded that this is probably the easiest case since Branch Ministries took out a full page advertisement in USA Today (I wish I had a picture of that advertisement) exhorting Christians not to vote for Bill Clinton.   I allowed that when Pastors preach about particular issues on any given Sunday (farther in time from election day the better) and perhaps even condemn politicians who support or oppose positions implicating spiritual teachings, they can probably count on some degree of protection from the First Amendment.  But the sign above is an easy case.  The Pastor seems to know this now because in the aftermath of election day he has tried to explain that the sign conveys a purely spiritual message, a verbal tap dance that evoked another round of laughter from me.  In a Tampa Bay Times article yesterday, the Pastor is quoted thusly:

 [Pastor] Carlisle said his sign isn’t meant to discourage voting for Democrats but to discourage doing so while claiming to be Christian.  “I’m not saying don’t (vote Democrat),” he said, taking specific issue with progressive support for abortion rights and of the LGBTQ community. “I’m saying don’t be a contradiction.”  He also criticized Democrats in favor of open borders, saying they oppose Christian values in the Bible, which he said explains that God established borders for the Garden of Eden. If people are offended by his sign, Carlisle said, they have a problem, not him. And their problem is with God.
 
The signs says "Don't vote for Democrats," but "I'm not saying don't vote Democrat."  Hmmmmm!   I suppose I am able to laugh about the whole thing because as much as I oppose "Agent Orange" (yes, this is my bias showing), the last policy initiative of his I worry about is the rhetoric concerning the repeal of what he calls "the Johnson Amendment."  I guess I am closer to a First Amendment purest than not and, and as a practical matter, I think the prohibition is hardly worth the trouble.  Church campaign intervention happens every election season from the Left and the Right.  Politicians love to visit congregations on Saturday or Sunday mornings right before elections and it is always pretty clear who the Church supports.  In any event, I concluded that the Church can probably expect a sternly worded "don't do that again!" from the Service, though the amount of national attention its getting seems akin to the attention drawn to Branch Ministries and that might trigger revocation proceedings if only because revocation would be so easy and would allow the Service to show that it actually enforces the law in the easy cases.
 
dkj
 

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/nonprofit/2018/11/church-campaign-intervention.html

Church and State, Federal – Executive, In the News | Permalink

Comments

Post a comment