Saturday, May 26, 2012

Maine churches plan to illegally campaign against gay marriage

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Separation of church and state

It appears that U.S. churches have become a little too comfortable with the preferential tax-exempt status the federal government already (undeservedly and unconstitutionally) affords them, as hundreds of Maine parishes are preparing to launch a fundraising campaign with the explicit goal of shooting down a same-sex marriage ballot proposal in November:

Scores of Maine churches will pass the collection plate a second time at Sunday services on Father's Day to kick off a fundraising campaign for the lead opposition group to November's ballot question asking voters to legalize same-sex "marriages."

Between 150 and 200 churches are expected to raise money for the Protect Marriage Maine political action committee, said Carroll Conley Jr., executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine evangelical organization and a member of the PAC. Conley is also trying to drum up support for the Maine campaign from religious leaders from around the country.

It's unusual, but not unheard of, for churches to take up collections for political causes. Maine's Catholic diocese says it raised about $80,000 with a designated collection in 2009 in its effort to overturn Maine's same-sex marriage law, which was passed by the Legislature that year and later rejected by voters. The Catholic Church isn't actively campaigning this time, instead focusing on teaching parishioners about the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman.

How in the hell can they possibly convince themselves that this isn’t the most blatant kind of violation of separation of church and state imaginable? I admit, I’m not as well-read on the laws regarding U.S. churches’ tax-exempt status as I should be, but from what I could find, the rules appear to be that churches can preach all they want about social and political issues as long as they take no part in advocating for or against specific candidates or legislation. So while they can demonize gays and urge their congregants to fight against marriage equality to their hearts’ content, I’m struggling to figure out how it’s supposedly acceptable to use church services to raise money with the overt and specific goal of funding an anti-gay political group in order to block a legislative proposal on the ballot.

In an ideal world, lawmakers who know anything about the Establishment Clause would only laugh at the idea of privileging religious institutions with tax exemptions. There have been countless cases so far where parishes around the U.S. have violated the law by actively campaigning in political issues without any sign of having their tax-exempt status penalized. But this is by far the most obvious and egregious transgression I’ve heard of yet. That these Christians think they can go ahead with this plan without any fear of repercussion – and that they’re probably right – is truly sobering.

If no-one in the government either notices this rampant abuse of privilege or even cares about it, it’ll be one sad day for the supposed wall between religion and politics, such as it is.

(via Joe. My. God.)