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Our Founding Fathers were not perfect. When writing the Constitution, they stipulated that, in order to qualify for election to the House of Representatives, a person would have to be at least 25, a citizen of the United States, and an inhabitant of the state he or she was elected to represent. But they forgot one important thing: that members of Congress should also have half a brain.
Of course, had they done so, it would have been too bad for the people of North Carolina. Because, were there any entrance test for intelligence, Republican Congressman Walter Jones, representing North Carolina’s 3rd District, would never have been elected. As they say in the Tar Heel State, this guy’s dumber than a fencepost. Either that, or he doesn’t know his American history.
Jones has introduced legislation to allow what he grandly calls “Freedom of Speech for America’s Houses of Worship.” The Jones bill, which also has the support of House Majority Leader Tom Delay (Jones isn’t the only one to flunk the intelligence test!) would allow religious leaders to endorse political candidates from the pulpit.
This action is necessary, says Jones, to protect churches from the fear and anxiety that, if they get too political, the IRS might take away their tax-exempt status. Jones also admits that the not-so-hidden purpose behind his legislation is to build more support for President Bush’s constitutional amendment banning gay marriage – by having pastors endorse, and thereby help elect, more anti-gay politicians.
Didn’t I tell you? Dumb as a fencepost. Think about it. Surely, the last thing we need or want is for priests or preachers popping off on politics from the pulpit. It’s bad enough, their telling us how to dress, talk, pray and make love. Do we really want them to tell us how to vote?
But there’s also a good reason why the IRS cracks down on churches that become little more than field offices of the Republican or Democratic party. It’s called the Constitution. Jones may not know it, but the First Amendment not only guarantees freedom of speech. It also guarantees freedom of religion and establishes the separation of church and state.
Our Founding Fathers knew what had happened in Europe, where church and state were one and the same. They saw the abuses resulting from clergy in bed with politicians. They went out of their way to make America different: to keep politics out of religion and, equally important, to keep religion out of politics.
If Jones had ever read his history, he would know that the last thing the Framers wanted, for themselves or fellow Americans, was to go to church and hear preachers talk politics. Thomas Jefferson even considered it a fire-able offense. In an 1815 letter to P.H. Wendover, he wrote:
Whenever preachers, instead of a lesson in religion, put their congregation off with a discourse on the Copernican system, on chemical affinities, on the construction of government, or the character or conduct of those administering it, it is a breach of contract, depriving their audience of the kind of service for which they are salaried, and giving them, instead of it, what they did not want, or, if wanted, would rather seek from better sources in that particular art of science.
Some 45 years later, Abraham Lincoln, perhaps our most sincerely religious president, worshipped at Washington’s New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. He chose that church, Lincoln told a friend, because its pastor, Phineas Dinsmore Gurley, stuck to the Gospels. Said Lincoln: “I like Gurley. He don’t preach politics. I get enough of that through the week, and when I go to church, I like to hear the Gospel.”
Jones also lamely insists he’s just following the example of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Again, Jones is historically ignorant. King gave his life for a political cause, but he never endorsed candidates. He gave Democrats as much hell as Republicans.
Ironically, it wasn’t so long ago that Americans were incensed by attempts to insert religion into politics. Before the elections in Iraq, administration spokesmen condemned Shiite imams for using their mosques to take sides, endorse candidates and tell Iraqis how to vote. What’s bad for Iraq is bad for America.
Only a fool would want to introduce in this country a practice we so recently condemned in Iraq. Only a fool would try.