Reform Jewish Leader Outraged at Bush-Cheney Campaign's Continued Effort to Enlist Houses of Worship in Partisan Politics; Reissues Letter to Synagogues About Acceptable Election-Season Activities
Saperstein: Efforts aimed at transforming houses of worship into political campaign offices stink to high heaven.
WASHINGTON, July 1, 2004 - In response to a campaign "instruction sheet" sent out to religious volunteers by the Bush-Cheney reelection team containing a list of campaign activities to be performed in churches, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:
In this current initiative, the Bush-Cheney campaign is pursuing a strategy that risks politicizing religion for partisan gain by encouraging churchgoers to participate in campaign activities through their church networks. According to today's Washington Post, the President's reelection team has begun circulating an "instruction sheet" to religious volunteers across the country asking them to recruit campaign supporters amongst other churchgoers, to turn over church directories to the campaign, and to distribute issue guides in their churches. Without knowing more, it is unclear whether following any or all of the 22 campaign "duties" listed would affect the house of worship tax exemption. While technically legal, the effect of these efforts clearly violates the spirit of the IRS's rules aimed at keeping houses of worship out of partisan electoral activity. This renewed effort to politicize churches and synagogues encourages partisan activities to be conducted or undertaken at official church events or by church leaders acting as individuals at church events, bringing them close to the edge of permissible activity. Coming just weeks after an entreaty for campaign support among 1,600 "friendly congregations" in the battleground state of Pennsylvania, efforts aimed at transforming houses of worship into political campaign offices stink to high heaven.
As opposed to the statement of the Bush-Cheney campaign spokesperson in today's Post saying that they will provide no guidelines or legal limitations as they try to organize in churches, we urge both parties to join in efforts to educate America's houses of worship on those legal limitations. We urge the Bush-Cheney campaign to redirect its partisan activities and its voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts to ensure that churches do not become involved in activities that jeopardize their tax exemption. We also urge the Democratic presidential campaign to make clear that it will refrain from such activity aimed at politicizing churches and synagogues.
In response to these brazen attempts to enlist religious people to use resources from their houses of worship in partisan campaigning, we are recirculating a letter to Reform synagogues across the country outlining permissible and impermissible election-season activities. The letter is contained in "Get Out the Vote 2004," which is a joint, non-partisan publication of the Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative, and Orthodox Movements and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs that provides tools for congregations to plan a voter registration, education, and turnout campaign - without risking their tax-exempt status. The guide is available at http://www.rac.org/pubs/vote04.html.
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose more than 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis(CCAR) whose membership includes more than 1800 Reform rabbis.