Saperstein: “Encouraging clergy to engage in electioneering compromises the autonomy of houses of worship as it invites government regulation and monitoring of electoral activity in the church.”
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WASHINGTON, DC, September 26, 2008 — In anticipation of the Alliance Defense Fund’s so-called “Pulpit Initiative,” scheduled for Sunday September 28, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:
The Alliance Defense Fund’s (ADF) latest attempt to eviscerate the separation between church and state is above all else, a threat to religious liberty. The so-called “Pulpit Initiative” encourages clergy to serve as proxies for candidates and parties, rather than as voices for justice and righteousness. Encouraging clergy to engage in electioneering compromises the autonomy of houses of worship as it invites government regulation and monitoring of electoral activity in the church.
Religious leaders can and do speak from the pulpit now on the great ethical, and social issues of the day, serving as a moral voice holding all of our nation’s leaders accountable. Houses of worship advocate on public policy as a significant part of their prophetic mission. Further, as individuals, clergy, like all Americans, can publicly endorse or oppose candidates. Thus, all of the clergy affiliated with the ADF can right now endorse Sen. John McCain (as most are expected to do), just as last week saw the launch of Rabbis for Obama, involving more than 400 rabbis nationwide. The IRS’ limitation is on the churches, not the clergy, and in speaking individually, none of these clergy can use the resources or sanction of their houses of worship that, like all other non-profit organizations, are banned from electioneering if they wish to retain their tax exemption. (If they are willing to give up their tax exemption, they can right now, under the First Amendment, engage in electioneering.)
Furthermore, polls show most Americans and most clergy oppose such endorsements since partisan politicking embroils houses of worship in divisive battles, pitting congregant against congregant, and congregant against clergy.
The Reform Jewish Movement has long recognized that religion flourishes best when the wall between church and state holds strong. Partisan politics cannot be permitted to tear down this wall under the cloak of partisan political activity underwritten by a tax exemption. The ADF’s stunt this weekend is a disservice to Americans of all faith and of no faith.
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, whose membership includes more than 1,800 Reform rabbis.