From the Boston Globe to the Los Angeles Times, newspapers across the country are reporting the startling news that the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign sent a detailed memo to religious volunteers, urging them to turn over church directories to the campaign, distribute voter guides to fellow church members and enlist pastors in voter registration drives.

For the second time in as many months, the campaign advanced a re-election scheme that targets churches to win votes. This activity is an abuse of religion and raises serious questions concerning federal tax law. "Politicizing churches is morally wrong and legally dubious. The Bush campaign should repent of this reckless scheme," said the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United.

Criticism of this controversial move also came from unexpected quarters. Richard J. Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, one of the largest evangelical Protestant seminaries, said: "Theologically speaking, churches are really in a position to speak truth to power. But this smacks of too close an alliance of church and Caesar," according to The New York Times.

Even Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention said he was "appalled" by Bush's scheme.

"First of all, I would not want my church directories being used that way," he told Reuters. The conservative Protestant denomination, whose leadership strongly backed Bush in 2000, is encouraging church-goers to "vote their values," Land said. "But it's one thing for us to do that. It's a totally different thing for a partisan campaign to come in and try to organize a church. A lot of pastors are going to say: 'Wait a minute, bub,' " he added.

Defending the move, campaign spokesman Scott Stanzel told the Associated Press that the campaign is "reaching out to every supporter of President Bush to become involved in the campaign." That response fails to explain away the controversy. The effort remains "a shameless attempt to misuse and abuse churches for partisan political ends," responded Rev. Lynn.

The Bush-Cheney campaign has now been exposed twice in attempts to recruit support from churches. These efforts put houses of worship in legally precarious situations by asking them to join a political machine and risk their tax-exempt status. Critics across the ideological spectrum say such a short-sighted view reflects very little concern for the well-being and strength of the religious voice in American life. How much longer must churches be solicited as pawns in a political game?

Primary Source: Bush-Cheney campaign plan sent to volunteers (PDF)