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 "Thanks, But No Thanks" – UM Pastor Blasts Liberal Org's Intimidation Of Churches

Rev. Raymond J. Rooney's Reply to Barry Lynn: 

Thanks But No Thanks

Dear Rev. Lynn,

I recently received your letter to "Religious Leaders" on your official letterhead touting "Americans United for Separation of Church and State" concerning your views and opinions on what my rights are as a pastor pertaining to the up-coming national election. I found your letter to be arrogant, misguided, and offensive. It was arrogant because you apparently assumed I needed your expertise in deciphering and applying the First Amendment to the Constitution. You claim that I and all other religious leaders need your help "to guide you through this legally daunting terrain" regarding what pastors can say and do about voter guides and endorsing candidates. It is clear that the Christian Coalition has rattled you and your leftist organization. Who anointed you to be America’s guardian of civil rights? You are quick to point out in your letter the relationship that exists between a non-profit organization and the IRS tax code. I understand that relationship. Obviously, you think I do not. The IRS is already empowered to take appropriate legal action should an infraction of the law occur. Therefore, since Americans are already protected concerning this issue, your reasons for writing this letter become pretty clear. You and your liberal organization are making a blatant political statement to America’s pastors. I do not know what the response has been from others but here is one pastor who says to you "Thanks, but no thanks" for your help and advice. I do very well interpreting and applying my rights as a pastor without your help.

Secondly, your letter and web-site are sadly misguided. I accepted your invitation to visit your web-site and was thoroughly disgusted by what I found. You are hostile to the prayer at football games issue, and in an article about it you quote the majority decision. I found it interesting and disingenuous that you omitted the Chief Justice’s dissenting opinion which stated that the Court’s decision bristled with hostility concerning all things religious in public life. No, that did not make your commentary. Nor did I see anywhere in your letter that you are a former lawyer for the ACLU. Might that be because you know the vast majority of religious leaders would dump your mail in the garbage the moment they saw a letter from an ACLU attorney? I got the feeling when I read your letter that you are very nervous about the direction this country may go should a particular candidate win the presidential election. Your letter explicitly named "Pat Robertson" "the Christian Coalition" and "George Bush." It is interesting that certain pastors who have publicly endorsed Hillary Clinton for Senator or Al Gore for President got no mention. I wonder if they were on your mailing list? Your letter and organization are misguided because they interpret the Constitution and apparently the Holy Bible with a secular and humanist eye. Thanks but no thanks, I can do without your misguided interpretations of religion and history.

Thirdly, your letter was offensive because of the "warning" tone it is intended to convey. Oh yes, it is a warning. Your top story on the "Church and Politics" page of your web site even says, "Americans United Launches Campaign to Warn Churches About Christian Coalition Voter Guides." Do you work for the IRS? No? Then why the warning? Is it because you care about me and my churches? Or is it because you are afraid of what might happen should intelligent Christians actually go en masse to the voting booths on election day? I think we both know what the answer to that is. Your letter and organization are offensive because of your twisting of the Constitution and the historical record of our Founding Fathers. If you are going to flaunt your education by notifying your letter recipients of your degrees in law and religion then my question to you is, did you not pay attention in history class? The phrase "Separation of Church and State" is not found in either the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. Thomas Jefferson was not even in the country when the Constitution was forged. He was in France. It was not until 13 years after the Constitutional Convention that Jefferson coined the phrase in a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association assuring them of their religious liberty. Your interpretation of that phrase is just and only that: a personal interpretation. Just as it was for Jefferson. Your letter was offensive because it is nothing more than another scare tactic from a liberal organization afraid of what might happen if responsible Christians act upon the truth. Thanks but no thanks for your ominous warnings.

Your letter will not help your cause Rev. Lynn. I do not need to endorse a candidate from the pulpit in order for my parishioners to know who I will be voting for on election day. I have addressed issues in my sermons that make it very clear who I will be voting for. Until you can silence me about abortion, homosexuality, personal responsibility and accountability, and TRUTHFULNESS your attempts to bully, intimidate, and silence me are in vain. Relax, Rev. Lynn. I promise not to endorse a candidate from the pulpit. But I do not promise you an uninformed and disinterested Christian voter. And that does not bode well for the future of your organization.

Raymond J. Rooney, Pastor
Verona United Methodist Church
P.O. Box 370
Verona, MS 38879
Phone: 662-566-8839
URL: www.veronaumc.org
Email: rjrooney@afo.net

To subscribe to Rev. Rooney's free email newsletter clicking on the link or e-mail veronaumc-join@lyris.afo.net  to automatically be subscribed.


Barry Lynn's Letter To Religious Leaders:

October 2000

Dear Religious Leader,

Another election year is upon us, and questions about the appropriate role of houses of worship in the political process have arisen.

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects the right of pastors and church leaders to speak out on religious, moral and political issues. However, houses of worship, as non-profit entities under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Service Tax Code, are barred from endorsing or opposing candidates for any public office and may not intervene directly or indirectly in partisan campaigns.

This situation has been complicated by the fact that the Christian Coalition, a political organization founded by religious broadcaster Pat Robertson, is urging churches to distribute "voter guides" that are really little more than campaign literature that attacks certain candidates while promoting others.

Last year the Christian Coalition won a case that had been filed against it by the Federal Election Commission (FEC). As a result, the group is telling church leaders that its guides have been approved for in-church distribution by a federal court. This is not true. In fact, the federal court ruled on matters relating to federal election law, which is notoriously weak and full of loopholes, not federal tax law, which is much stricter.

In its ruling in the FEC case, the court specifically noted that the Coalition's voter guides clearly favor certain candidates over others. If that is so, houses of worship may not distribute them. Federal tax law, which governs the activities of houses of worship, prohibits churches from engaging in partisan politics on behalf of or in opposition to candidates. The IRS has already revoked the tax-exempt status of one church that violated this provision by announcing its opposition to a presidential candidate. The federal courts have upheld the revocation.

I recommend extreme caution in this area. It's important to note that the Christian Coalition does not have the same tax-exempt status as churches, and ample objective evidence indicates that its guides are partisan in nature. You might be interested to learn that earlier this year Robertson effectively conceded on CNN that Coalition voter guides are designed to help elect George W. Bush. Given that production of the guides has an obvious partisan goal, houses of worship that distribute them could face loss of their tax exemption or fines.

As a minister and an attorney, I know that this area of the law can be confusing and difficult to interpret. To help guide you through this legally daunting terrain, Americans United for Separation of Church and State is making available several important documents.

"Churches And Politics: A Guide For Religious Leaders" is a pamphlet that explains in layman's terms the do's and don'ts of political involvement by houses of worship and their leaders.

Two other documents deal specifically with the issue of voter guides:

* "Urgent Memorandum For Churches Concerning Distribution Of 'Voter Guides' In 2000 Presidential And Congressional Elections" was prepared by two Washington, D.C., attorneys who are experts in tax law and discusses the legality of church-based voter guide distribution.

* "Legal Requirements for Voter Guides To Qualify As Permissible Voter Education" is a more detailed discussion of the voter guide issue, giving additional information about this important matter.

I urge you to visit Americans United's website at www.au.org and read these documents. (To access them, click on the section headlined "Churches & Politics.") Please feel free to download all of the documents and copy them to share with your colleagues or with your church's attorney.

Americans United is distributing these documents because some religious leaders are understandably confused about what they can and cannot do concerning politics in the pulpit. This information is designed to help you understand federal tax law as it relates to groups like the Christian Coalition and ultimately your own congregation. The purpose of this mailing is educational; it is not meant to be a substitute for advice from your own legal counsel. Many church leaders have asked for clarifying information because they have been approached by Christian Coalition officials and told--incorrectly, we believe-- that the group's voter guides have been approved by a federal court and that distributing them in church presents no problems. These religious leaders have found our information useful, and we hope you do too.

For 53 years Americans United has worked to educate all Americans about the Constitution and its guarantees of religious freedom and church-state separation. We especially value our long-standing and close relationship with the nation's religious community. Thank you for taking the time to read this letter.


The Rev. Barry W. Lynn
Americans United for the Separation of Church and State
Phone: 202-466-3234
URL: www.au.org
Email: americansunited@au.org


Guidelines for Political Action for Churches and Pastors

James Bopp Legal Counsel for National Right to Life October 20, 2000

As the 2000 elections approach, the need for clear guidelines on the permissible political activities of churches and pastors becomes great.

These guidelines are recommended to insure that churches and pastors conform with the law. While the law may allow variations from these guidelines, experience has shown that the safest and best course for these organizations and individuals is to act in conformance with these recommendations.

One caution: state laws may be more restrictive than these guidelines and, therefore, in applying them to specific situations, particularly state elections, you should consult your own local counsel.

Almost all churches are exempt under Section 501 (c) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code on the basis that they are "operated exclusively for religious, charitable...or educational purposes." As a 501 (c) (3) exempt organization, a church:

(1) is exempt from paying corporate income taxes and donations to it are tax deductible on federal tax returns, and

(2) may expend funds for religious, charitable, and educational purposes and an insubstantial amount on lobbying and to promote legislation.

A 501 (c) (3) exempt organization, however, may not "participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or disturbing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office." Thus, a church may not participate in a political campaign by expenditure of its funds. Not all political activity, which would influence a political campaign, falls under this prohibition.

Political activities referred to here are activities which influence the election of candidates for political office most of which are referred to as electioneering. Activities which can influence the election of a political candidate are quite broad and range from contributions to a political candidate to activities such as publishing the voting records of incumbents running for reelection. Only some of these activities are considered active electioneering which cannot be done by a church - - some of this activity can be done by a 501 (c) (3) organization; it depends on the type of activity.

Active electioneering cannot be done by a church. Active electioneering involves actions such as endorsement of candidates and expenditures of funds to expressly advocate the election or defeat of a candidate for political office. Active electioneering is of three types: (1)a direct contribution which is a monetary contribution given to a candidate; (2)in- kind contributions which include giving things of value to a candidate (such as a church mailing list) and paying for a communication which expressly advocates the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate made in consultation with or with the knowledge of the candidate; and (3) independent expenditures which are expenditures expressly advocating the election or defeat of a political candidate made without the knowledge of or consultation with any candidate.

Individuals, however, such as pastors, may participate in political campaigns, as long as they do so as individuals, not in the name of the church. Any individual, including a pastor, may wear different hats at different times and, therefore, be involved in political activity, as long as he is wearing the right hat.

The following is a list of activities that may be considered political activities in the broad sense and that a church or pastor, in his individual capacity and using his own funds, may wish to do. A "yes" response means the activity is permissible, a " no" means it is not.

Is it alright to. . . Church Pastor
Discuss the positions of candidates on public issues? Yes Yes
Endorse political candidates? No Yes
Make contributions to political candidates? No Yes
Allow in-kind expenditures in favor of or against political candidates? No Yes
Make contributions to PACs? No Yes
Pay expenses for attendance at caucus of state/national convention? No Yes
Allow the appearance of political candidate at church meeting or service? Yes N/A
Distribute candidate surveys? Yes Yes
Distribute voting records? Yes Yes
Distribute candidates political record? Yes Yes
Allow distribution by others of candidate political statements in church parking lot? Yes N/A
Rent church list (at market value)? Yes N/A
Conduct non-partisan voter education and registration? Yes Yes
Run political ads in church bulletins or newsletter at regular advertising rate? Yes N/A
Run political ads in church bulletin or newsletter at less than regular rate? Yes N/A
Print news stories in church bulletin or newletter? Yes N/A
Print editorials in church bulletin or newsletter? No N/A


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