Bill Allowing Church Speech on Political Candidates Likely to Fail Tomorrow

Because it hasn't left committee, the Houses of Worship Political Speech Protection Act will need a two-thirds majority — and then there's the Senate

Houses of Worship Political Speech Protection Act will reportedly die tomorrow
Tomorrow the House of Representatives will vote on the Houses of Worship Political Speech Protection Act, a controversial bill that would allow churches to endorse and oppose political candidates and donate to campaigns, says the conservative weekly newspaper Human Events.

Editorials, opinion pieces, and news articles on the bill have been running for months and continue this week. Charles Haynes, senior scholar at the Freedom Forum's First Amendment Center, acknowledges that the current law banning such political speech and contributions from churches has a troubling history (Lyndon Johnson proposed it in 1954 to silence nonprofit groups that opposed him in Texas), but he says that's beside the point.

"Whatever the motives of Lyndon Johnson, this regulation is a good idea," Haynes says. "Remove the current IRS restriction on electioneering, and churches become hotbeds of partisan conflict where people can funnel money to political campaigns (and get a tax deduction at the same time). Why should taxpayers subsidize partisan political activity by houses of worship?"

Haynes points out that churches are free to engage in electoral politics by setting up a separate (though not tax-free) political action committee. He says supporters of the new bill are exaggerating the government's "muzzling" of churches.

But the bill's sponsor, Walter Jones (R-N.C.), says it's the principle of the bill that matters. "The principle behind this legislation is to restore First Amendment rights to our nation's religious leaders," his spokeswoman tells The Tennessean. "The government should not be allowed to place a gag order over pastors, priests, rabbis or ministers."

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