Church and state, together again

by on June 10th, 2004

As the Center for American Progress prepares to launch a “new project on faith and progressive policy” to overcome the “gap” that separates the Democratic Party from potential voters among regular church-goers, differently minded liberals and Democrats are working to prevent House Republicans from easing penalties on tax exempt religious organizations that wish to come out of the political closet from time to time to organize for a party or candidate.

It is certainly no coincidence that the legislation appeared on the fast-track just days after the Bush campaign revealed that it was seeking the help of “friendly congregations” to get the good word out for the president. Nor is it surprising. It’s one more example of law being revised to suit the transgressive practices of a favored minority, like media deregulation.

But it seems likely that not all conservative Christians desire to open their church doors to manipulation by political parties in order to maintain “access” to politicians who are willing to tell them what they want to hear. Some are even wise enought to recognize that it’s a Faustian bargain.

The threat to the Democrats is that church-goers tend to vote Republican by margins that are far from insignificant. But if restrictions are loosened and taboos erased, there’s nothing to stop Democrats, or anyone else for that matter, from taking advantage of the new situation. In any case, is there any doubt that many religious organizations already engage in activities that should threaten their tax exempt status?

On the other hand, what about the taxpayer funded practice and enforcement of religion in the Congress and elsewhere? This issue was raised recently in a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing entitled “Beyond the Pledge of Allegiance: Hostility to Religious Experssion [sic] in the Public Square.” Predictably, the story has yet to gain traction in the mainstream media, whether liberal or conservative, overshadowed as it was by eulogies to Ronald Reagan and Ashcroft’s appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee proper on the same day, where he was grilled by Democrats, who nonetheless failed to elicit a comment on the administration’s defense of torture, and apparent belief that it is above the law.

Though the subcommittee hearing was slated for exploitation by conservative judicial activists (Judge Roy Moore was a featured witness), due to testimony like that of Steven Rosenauer, it remains clear that the prosecutors of the jihad against the judiciary “either misunderstand or intentionally distort the difference between protecting individuals’ freedom of religious expression and using the coercive power of government to proselytize or impose one religious viewpoint over others,” as the providers of Rosenauer’s counsel put it in a press release.

Perhaps the conservative right believes they will doubly benefit from the weakening of the separation between church and state. They use government to impose their religion, and religion to impose their politics. Or are they just devil’s advocates?

Charles Sanson