I endorsed Scott Brown, the Republican, because his issues on life are within the teachings of the Orthodox Church of which I am a priest. He took issue because the church is not supposed to do this. Well when I write on this blog I no more represent my church then does anyone who blogs represent who they work for. Why are clergy not able to have opinions without people screaming church and state and want to remove our tax exempt status. Here is the quote from the blog:
Church blogs should remain politically neutral. Since a local priest has used his blog to endorse the Republican candidate for the open Massachusetts U. S. Senate seat, the church should forfeit its tax-free status. The blog not only contains the political views of the church’s spiritual leader, but it also contains sermons and Bible readings. If such pairings on the internet do not violate any church’s right to a tax-free status, then the law needs updating.
So I responded with this comment:
Great post as always and as the former morning host on WESO I agree that they have nothing to do with Webster or Southbridge anymore. As the name of the company the owns the station says Money Matters.I am also the local priest that endorsed a candiate on his blog and one correction needs to be made. My blog is just that mine. It is not a church no more than your blog belongs to any of the papers you write for. Yes I am a priest and yes I am a citizien and in a free society have a right to write about my thoughts and feelings, I wonder if I had endorsed the Democrate would I have made your list. I have not, nor would I ever, speak from the pulpit about a candidate but I will talk about my churches position on social issues and let the people make their own decision.Thanks for your blog I like your writings and I look forward to what you have to day. I don’t always agree but I like your thoughts and style. Keep up the good work.
A reader, someone who in anonymous. I find this interesting since in another place in the same post that he calls me out he rails against anonymous posts as not being courageous yet he allows them:
Father Peter, with all due respect, I’m not buying your ‘Blog is Mine” statement. Oh, I’ve not doubt that it is yours, but does everybody know that? You seemingly represent your church – even though you say you’d never endorse a candidate from the pulpit. Come on, let’s get real here. If you speak of and endorse certain “acceptable” social issues from your pulpit, then that’s basically the same thing as endorsing the candidates who agree with your positions. Quite frankly, you’re splitting hairs. I agree with Brent. If your church wants the luxury of a no-tax status, then you should be barred from doing this. I’d ask, why not just pay taxes like everyone else, and then you can speak about and endorse anything you please? Also, I’ve read most of Brent’s blogs, have you? If so, you’d realize that he certainly doesn’t endorse every Democrat that comes down the pike, nor every position they take, and I feel confident in saying that he’d feel exactly the same way no matter which side of the aisle you endorse. (I added the bold type)
So A Reader believes that I should not be able to teach from the pulpit what my church teaches on certain social issues. This is exactly the mindset that led the founding fathers to put the establishment clause in the Constitution to begin with. The clause was not protect the state from religion but the very opposite, to protect the church from the state!
Let me say at this point that I like the give and take this is what a free society is all about being able to air ones opinions on issues. I thank Mr. Abrahamson for posting this so we could have this discussion. I need to meet him one day and have coffee I think I would like him. But I digress…
So the comments continue:
Thanks for commenting. I do appreciate your position, but I believe one statement that you made suggests an underlying mindset:I wonder if I had endorsed the Democrate[sic] would I have made your list.My opinions on the proper separation of Church and State do not change depending on the candidate endorsed. That suggestion is both dismissive and, frankly, insulting.I fully support your right as an individual to express your thoughts and feelings. The inclusion of church teachings and dogma and your identification as a priest of the particular denomination certainly must be considered connected. When specific endorsement of a candidate is included among matters of spirituality and the personal viewpoints of a religious leader who does frequently make reference to his Denomination at large, I believe that violates at least the spirit of the rules regarding churches and a tax-exempt status.As for my blog or my column in a newspaper, it is clearly my opinion. I don’t claim to speak for any organization, so I don’t think the parallel you have tried to draw fits.In my opinion, when churches want to enter into partisan politics, they should reject any largesse from the State.Thanks again for your input.
To which I responded:
To A Reader,Thanks for your comments and I have a question. So I am not supposed to teach what my church teaches on social issues? How about people who advocate for homeless issues and run non profits should they loose their status as well or are churches the only ones that are not allowed to speak?Brent, I do not speak for any organization on my blog other than my own. I teach my my church teaches on the issues and I ask the same question are churches the only ones not allowed to speak on issues? Can Schools and teachers speak or do they run the risk of loosing their tax exempt status as well?
And he responded:
Well, Fr. Peter, you can keep making the straw man argument. Speaking out on issues and endorsing a specific candidate for public office are not the same thing. The schools and teachers analogy is hardly legitimate. Clergy can speak out all they want. If the church wants special consideration from the State, then there are restrictions.
And my follow up:
Okay, so let me ask the question in another way. If the Executive Director of the Southbridge Interfaith Hospitality Network talk about homeless issues or endorses a candidate because they are good on homeless issues should SIHN loose their tax status? Or if the head of the American Red Cross does, or a college president or any member or head of any tax exempt organization speak out should they loose their status or is it just churches that cannot speak?
If you wish to check the comments you can at the end of the article I did not edit them in anyway other than using the bold on the one statement above.
So I ask all of you who read this the same questions. Can other people who head not for profit organizations endorse candidates on their blogs? If so should they have their tax status revoked? When someone blogs do they represent the companies they work for or is this distinction just left to the clergy? Comments are open.