Endorsements from the pulpit — or not

This Sunday, a few dozen pastors across the country plan to talk politics, endorse candidates and attack other candidates.

They say they will exercise their First Amendment rights. But they will also ignore a federal ban on campaigning by non-profit groups — putting their tax-exempt status at risk.

pulpit.jpg“Pulpit Freedom Sunday” is a project of the Alliance Defense Fund, a group that wants to shrink the wall between church and state.

ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley explains it like this: “Pastors have a right to speak about Biblical truths from the pulpit without fear of punishment. No one should be able to use the government to intimidate pastors into giving up their constitutional rights. If you have a concern about pastors speaking about electoral candidates from the pulpit, ask yourself this: should the church decide that question, or should the IRS?”

The Rev. Wiley S. Drake of First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park, Calif., tells the LA Times: “I’m going to talk about the un-biblical stands that Barack Obama takes. Nobody who follows the Bible can vote for him. We may not be politically correct, but we are going to be biblically correct. We are going to vote for those who follow the Bible.”

Obama probably won’t fare too well in any of the churches taking part in this initiative.

Other groups, such as the Interfaith Alliance and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, think this is a really bad idea. Over 150 clergy have signed an Interfaith Alliance pledge to refrain from endorsing candidates.

The Rev. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, said: “I cannot stress strongly enough my objections to turning houses of worship into pseudo-precinct nominating conventions.”

Gary Stern

Gary Stern covered education in the Lower Hudson Valley for several years during the early 1990s. Now's he back on the beat. He believes that schools are one of the main reasons that people live around here and that educational issues -- from curriculum to financing -- are among the most challenging things that journalists can write about. He continues to be amazed by the complexity of educational jargon. Gary got his B.A. at SUNY Buffalo and his M.A. from the University of Missouri Journalism School (where his master's thesis was about the best ways to cover education). He lives in White Plains with his wife and two sons, who attend public schools.