As part of their deeply held paranoia, the constantly aggrieved Christian right believe that the evil, godless government is trying to take away their free speech. Particularly galling to them is the law which threatens their tax exemptions if clergy publicly endorses political candidates. Some right wing clergy started "Pulpit Freedom Sunday," an effort to challenge this "government censorship." Recently, their fear of government intrusion was exacerbated by a letter, sent by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which encouraged the churches to "familiarize themselves" with the law governing elections and non-profits. No big deal, right? Not so for Fox's media mouthpiece for the Christian right, Fr. Jonathan Morris who, this morning, joined his fellow conservative Christian mouth pieces to talk about this awful "scare campaign" against God's real chosen people.
Clayton Morris began by reporting that many pastors have received an "ominous" letter ahead of the election. He didn't mention that the letter was sent to religious leaders across the spectrum of denominations. Tucker Carlson read the scary part which simply stated that if the evil IRS determines that a church has "intervened in an election," the tax exempt status could be revoked and that the IRS could levy fines on an offending congregation or its leaders." Continuing the fear factor message of the piece, Anna Kooiman asked "why the scare tactics."
Official Fox priest in residence, Fr. Jonathan Morris provided us with his take on this scary letter. He joked about putting the letter in the spam box. In keeping with the scripted Fox message he described the letter as "a scare tactic." He did his patented "qualifying" statement in saying that while he felt that AU "have an important point, the lesson for pastors to not endorse candidates...the church should not be kept out of being a voice for moral reason within a political process, even an election." He encouraged pastors to "speak out about issues" even if they don't endorse candidates.
The chyron reinforced the agitprop, "Church Conduct Threat," as Carlson asked about how the congregation could be held responsible. Fr. Morris obviously didn't know the answer because all he could up with was "it's a scare tactic." He added that IRS has "pretty vague" language (*not really) about getting involved in a political campaign which "we're all involved in directly or indirectly in political campaigns if we're speaking out for what we believe."
In attacking AU, he claimed that "they have shown their true colors" because "what they want is not a proper relationship between church and state...but what they want is a silent church...." As he blithered about how AU wants churches to "talk about those parts of the Bible that have nothing to do with the public square," (wrong padre, they want churches that violate IRS rules to lose their exemption) the chyron reinforced the agitprop: "Strong Arm Tactic, AU: Letter Clarifies IRS Politicking Rules." He encouraged all churches and individuals to speak up for "American values." (Of course, liberal UCC values are very different from Morris' RC/GOP values!)
Although nobody is telling pastors to shut up, Fr. Morris said that nothing prohibits pastors from forming groups and saying "I have a right to speak out... and get involved in politics if I want to." But in backing off a bit, he asserted that although "it is legal...churches are not the best places for endorsing candidates."
Right, Americans United For Separation of Church and State sent a totally benign letter, to a whole spectrum of clergy, reminding them of IRS rules vis-a-vis political activity and Fr. Morris claims it's part of a scare tactic to shut pastors up. (If only!) Agenda anybody?
*"Organizations that are exempt from income tax under section 501(a) of the Internal Revenue Code as organizations described in section 501(c)(3) may not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office."