Ohio ministers have it right

Published 4:25 pm Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A group of Ohio ministers is challenging a conservative group’s effort to encourage pastors to engage their congregations politically with endorsements of political candidates.

The Alliance Defense Fund is planning to challenge the Internal Revenue Service’s rules that indicate churches cannot engage in such practices to keep their non-profit status. The defense fund is welcoming a lawsuit from the IRS by giving political sermons Sept. 28 or what it calls “Pulpit Freedom Sunday.”

“Pastors have a right to speak about biblical truths from the pulpit without any fear of punishment,” Erik Stanley, senior legal consel for the alliance, told the Associated Press. “They shouldn’t be intimidated into giving up those constitutional rights.”

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However, religious leaders from Ohio, Indiana and Iowa have filed a complaint with the IRS to indicate such a change would violate the separation of church and state.

Those Ohio ministers are going to join most religious leaders in understanding the pulpit is no place for political endorsements. Places of worship are for the teachings and education about religion and to allow such a practice would cheapen the establishment of religion.

The defense fund argues that the law is a violation of religious groups’ freedom of speech because of the restrictions surrounding their non-profit status.

But it isn’t.

The government is not saying religious leaders cannot preach politics. It is saying that if they do preach politics, they become political extensions and cannot enjoy the benefits of non-profit status. Considering the influence religious leaders have in communities across America, the government is wise to make sure that power is not abused.

The Ohio ministers and their colleagues are wise to recognize that is a line that cannot be crossed.