The Alliance Defense Fund's much-ballyhooed "Pulpit Freedom Sunday" is coming up, and right now it looks like it's fixing to be a dud.
There have been several recent developments – none of them good for the ADF. For starters, the ADF appears to be running scared from allegations that its actions are ethically dubious. Three former Internal Revenue Service officials have sent a letter to the tax agency charging that the ADF's actions run afoul of professional standards for tax attorneys that are outlined in a document called "Circular 230."
Basically, the former IRS officials assert that the ADF is advising its clients to break the law. Not surprisingly, this is frowned upon. Tax attorneys are supposed to help their clients comply with the law, not violate it. At the recent "Values Voter Summit," I noticed that the ADF materials promoting Pulpit Freedom Sunday now come with a disclaimer in tiny type asserting that nothing in them is intended to run afoul of Circular 230.
Nice try, guys, but it's a little late for that. Plus, if you hand out a flier advising and instructing someone in detail how to stick up a bank, putting a line at the bottom that says, "This flier is not intended to encourage anyone to stick up a bank" isn't likely to cover you.
Second, more and more clergy are speaking out against this reckless ADF stunt. Dozens of clergy used their pulpits last Sunday to explain why partisan politicking has no place in America's houses of worship. The effort was organized by the Rev. Eric Williams of North Congregational United Church of Christ in Columbus, Ohio, and his allies. It's great to see these folks debunking ADF claims that clergy are just itching to start endorsing candidates.
In Miami, Archbishop John C. Favalora issued a powerful pastoral letter explaining why Catholic churches won't be taking part in the ADF gambit.
"Needless to say, none of our Catholic churches or priests will be participating in this initiative," Favalora wrote. "For one thing, we can do a lot for our communities with the money we save by being tax-exempt. That is why we accept that status and agree to abide by IRS rules that ban religious organizations from becoming involved in partisan politics."
The archbishop continued, "[T]he role of the church is not to be like the 'party boss' who goes around telling people how to vote. Our responsibility is to remind people to vote wisely; to reveal to them the wisdom of Scripture, the wisdom of the church's moral tradition, so that they can base their votes on solid moral ground."
Even Jonathan Falwell is leery of pulpit politicking. The son of the late Religious Right leader Jerry Falwell said recently, "I don't intend to endorse anyone. I don't think it's my role to be telling anyone who to vote for."
You know your right-wing political stunt is sinking badly when you can't even get Jerry Falwell's son to play along!
The ADF claims it has about 30 pastors still willing to go along with this business. The number is down from earlier projections, but it remains too many in my view. To those religious leaders who have signed up, I can only say this: The ADF is leading you to a dangerous place. It's not too late to back out.
P.S. Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn is currently engaged in a back-and-forth debate over this issue with ADF attorney Erik Stanley. Check it out at the Los Angeles Times here.