Sep 25, 2006

A speaker at this past weekend’s “Values Voter Summit” in Washington, D.C., outlined a plan to organize churches on behalf of political candidates that relies heavily on deception and even outright lies.

Long-time far-right activist Connie Marshner ran a session titled “Getting Church Voters to the Polls.” She distributed an 18-page document that she said was originally prepared for U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum’s 2000 reelection effort but that can be used for others.

“The only value this plan promotes is the value of deceit,” said Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn. “This scheme negates the Religious Right’s claim to occupy the moral high ground in American politics.”

The plan calls on church members to use their church directories to find voters who favor a certain candidate. Those voters are then targeted for follow-up calls. On election day, only persons identified as supporting the “favored” candidate will be reminded to vote.

Marshner instructed the audience to give the directory to someone who does not attend the church and instruct them to call each person listed in it posing as a non-partisan pollster. According to a script in the manual, the caller should say, “Hello, I’m with ABC Polls. We’re calling in your area to find out the level of interest in the upcoming [U.S. Senate/House of Representatives/state assembly/town council/school board/etc.] election.”

“It’s very important that the person doing the calling is not known to the person being called,” Marshner told attendees. “Get someone from outside the church.”

Marshner cautioned callers not to admit they were using a church directory. When someone in the audience asked what to say if the caller were asked directly if he or she was using a church list, she replied, “I haven’t heard a perfect answer to that question. It’s a delicate answer.”

She also dissembled when asked what to say if someone asked the caller if he or she were representing a candidate, remarking, “Just say I’m collecting information about the candidates.”

Marshner also told attendees that this plan could be implemented without the knowledge of the pastor. “Even if you have a pastor like that who doesn’t want to do politics, you can use this plan,” she said.

When a few other members of the audience challenged the ethics of the plan, Marshner said it was time to move on.

Lynn, who attended the Values Voter Summit, said he was appalled by the Marshner plan.

“Religious Right groups love to lord their moral superiority over the rest of us,” said Lynn, “yet the devious approach they endorse shows that these groups suffer a deficit of values.”

 Continued Lynn, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, “It looks like the ‘value voters’ have embraced a ‘win-at-any-cost’ strategy that is far removed from the ethical principles taught by the religion they claim to cherish.”

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.