Bush campaign attempting to recruit churches
"The Bush-Cheney '04 national headquarters in Virginia has asked us to identify 1,600 'Friendly Congregations' in Pennsylvania where voters friendly to President Bush might gather on a regular basis," a senior Bush election official in Pennsylvania wrote to clergy members and others on Tuesday.

That message, and debate over whether the plan would put participating churches in tax jeopardy, is on the front page of today's New York Times and the subject of an Associated Press story.

Luke Bernstein, coalitions coordinator for the Bush campaign in Pennsylvania, said in his e-mail message that in each "place of worship … we'd like to identify a volunteer who can help distribute general information to other supporters. … We plan to undertake activities such as distributing general information/updates or voter registration materials in a place accessible to the congregation."

If congregations take the Bush campaign up on the request, they could lose their tax-exempt status, say some critics.

"If the church is doing it, it is a legal problem for the church," Former Federal Election Commission chairman Trevor Potter, told the Times. "In the past, the I.R.S. has sought to revoke and has succeeded in revoking the tax-exempt status of churches for political activity."

But not very often, it should be noted. In the 27 years that IRS regulations have banned churches from engaging in electoral politics, only two churches and five religious organizations have lost their tax-exempt status for such a violation. And to date, no church has actually had trouble with "distributing general information" about campaigns or registering voters "in a place accessible to the congregation."

Even less troubling, ...

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Ted Olsen
Ted Olsen is Christianity Today's editorial director. He wrote the magazine's Weblog—a collection of news and opinion articles from mainstream news sources around the world—from 1999 to 2006. In 2004, the magazine launched Weblog in Print, which looks for unexpected connections and trends in articles appearing in the mainstream press. The column was later renamed "Tidings" and ran until 2007.
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