GOP bill would let churches endorse political candidates


Associated Press

WASHINGTON

Churches should have the right to endorse political candidates and still keep their tax-free status, say House Republicans targeting a law that prohibits such outright politicking from the pulpit.

Republicans repeatedly have failed to scrap the law preventing churches and other nonprofits from backing candidates, so now they are trying to starve it. With little fanfare, a House Appropriations subcommittee added a provision that would deny money to the IRS to enforce the 63-year-old law to a bill to fund the Treasury Department, Securities and Exchange Commission and other agencies.

The subcommittee passed the bill Thursday.

Republicans say the law is enforced unevenly, leaving religious leaders uncertain about what they are allowed to say and do.

“I believe that churches have a right of free speech and an opportunity to talk about positions and issues that are relevant to their faith,” said Rep. Jim Renacci, R-Ohio.

Some Democrats say the measure comes too close to mixing church and state. They say religious leaders already have First Amendment rights, just like anyone else. But if they want to get political, they don’t have a constitutional right not to pay taxes.

Some also worry that the measure could upend the system of campaign financing by allowing churches to use their tax-free status to funnel money to political candidates.

Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., recalled a speech that former President John F. Kennedy gave to religious leaders when he was running for president.

“He said the pope wouldn’t tell him what to do, and the people in that audience shouldn’t be telling people on Sunday morning who to vote for,” Neal said. “I don’t think churches should be endorsing.”

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