Paul L. Caron

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Pastors for ObamaCare?

Wall Street Journal op-ed, Pastors For ObamaCare?, by Jim Towey (Director, White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (2002-06):
If the White House office of faith-based initiatives is going to be used as propaganda unit, it might as well be shut down.

I was George W. Bush's director of faith-based initiatives. Imagine what would have happened had I proposed that he use that office to urge thousands of religious leaders to become "validators" of the Iraq War?

I can tell you two things that would have happened immediately. First, President Bush would have fired me—and rightly so—for trying to politicize his faith-based office. Second, the American media would have chased me into the foxhole Saddam Hussein had vacated.

Yet on Tuesday President Obama and his director of faith-based initiatives convened exactly such a meeting to try to control political damage from the unpopular health-care law. "Get out there and spread the word," reported the president as saying on a conference call with leaders of faith-based and community groups. "I think all of you can be really important validators and trusted resources for friends and neighbors, to help explain what's now available to them." Since then, there's been nary a peep from the press.

Politico, Barack Obama Seeks Divine Intervention on Health Care Reform:

With nothing else working, President Barack Obama is asking religious leaders to help him sell the public on health care reform.

POLITICO listened in to an Oval Office conference call Tuesday, where Obama and top administration officials, beseeched thousands of faith-based and community organizations to preach the gospel on new insurance reforms, chiefly the Patients’ Bill of Rights. ...

Get out there and spread the word,” Obama told leaders from across the religious spectrum on the conference call. ... Obama instructed faith leaders to treat the new law as settled fact and use their perches of power to convey that message to congregants and friends. “The debate in Washington is over, the Affordable Care Act is now law ... I think all of you can be really important validators and trusted resources for friends and neighbors, to help explain what’s now available to them,” he said. ... 

The White House sees the faith-based community as a key partner in spreading information on health reform issues. "We believe community-based and faith-based can spread the word," an administration official told POLITICO. "They are reaching people every day in churches, synagogues, mosques and secular organizations. They can spread the word about these things."

IRS resources on political activities by charities and churches:

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It is important to be careful about the how "political activity" is being used when discussing section 501(c)(3) limits and prohibitions. No section 501(c)(3) organization, including a church, can "participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distibuting of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office." "No substantial part" of its activities may consist of "carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting to influence legislation" - what we commonly refer to as lobbying. (Section 501(c)(3) organizations other than churches and certain organizations related to churches can elect under section 501(h) to be subject to a precise dollar limits, according to a sliding scale, for its lobbying expenses.) While no one knows just what constitutes "no substantial part," the IRS has indicated under various authorities that "attempting to influence legislation" includes direct contacts with legislators and their staffs to propose, support or oppose legislation as well as efforts to urge the general public to contact legislators or their staffs to propose, support or oppose legislation. Neither policy discussion nor education is lobbying. Describing the provisions of a law that has already passed is not lobbying and would not count toward the amount of lobbying a church is allowed to do. It would constitute education or policy discussion, which churches, like other 501(c)(3) organizations can do without limit.

Posted by: Ellen Aprill | Sep 26, 2010 4:55:18 PM

To be clear, this post perpetuates an argument that it is illegal for pastors to comment on law? So, could a pastor state "the First Amendment gives us the right to free speech, and that's a good thing", or would that break the church's 501(c)(3) status?

I'd like to see a better understanding of 501(c)(3) from the writers linked here before I accept this as intelligent analysis.

Posted by: K | Sep 26, 2010 3:20:35 PM

I'm with Mark. I'll leave the fine legal points to others.

This is unseemly and further lowers the presidency and the government from the already low level they were at when Obama took office, and which he has done nothing but drive even lower ever since.

Utterly disgusting. Just because something may arguably be legal doesn't make it moral or right or the right thing to do.

Posted by: Marty | Sep 26, 2010 1:52:49 PM

Visiting the injured, Bob? I seem to remember several Scriptures where Jesus commands that specifically. And I don't recall Him making any exceptions for "soldiers injured in a war that Copperheads like Bob didn't like."

Posted by: SDN | Sep 26, 2010 6:49:25 AM

Regardless of the legality of using churches to "spread the word" on Obamacare, I don't need it explained to me any more. I get it. And I DO NOT WANT IT. And will vote accordingly.

Newsflash to the administration: It's not unpopular because we don't understand it, or haven't heard about it. It is unpopular because we don't want it.

Posted by: Mark | Sep 26, 2010 6:25:57 AM

Didn't the Obama White House use a conference call to enlist artists to provide propaganda for them? Now they are trying to use religious leaders the same way? The problem here seems to be that the president has surrounded himself with campaign people who are in perpetual campaign mode. He is still trying to gain control of hearts and minds by clandestine methods. If there is no law that prohibits pastors from preaching politics from the pulpit, there should be one. Sitting in a congregation being told how to vote is analagous to going to many movies and concerts where you pay for a ticket and the performers are more interested in propaganda. It is not what was advertised and is not the forum for rebuttal. People are just going to have to start getting up and leaving.

Posted by: JaneD | Sep 26, 2010 6:15:15 AM

"Well, let's see what President Bush's FBI (Faith Based Initiatives) office did to validate the Iraq war."

Sure, you go ahead and call caring for the war wounded propaganda, and see how far you get. Just don't pass the line Fred Phelps is in, you fit right in.

Posted by: Tom Perkins | Sep 26, 2010 6:07:33 AM

"Apparently validation of the wounded was not tantamount to validation of the conflict in which they fought."

You are correct, it wasn't. But thanks for the info on rehab programs and the Bush administration's commitment and involvement.

Bush: Using the office to help wouned service members overcome their injuries.

Obama: Using the office to flog dead policy horses.

Nice contrast. Thanks for pointing it out.

Posted by: John W. | Sep 26, 2010 6:03:04 AM

Well, section 501(c)(3) says that "no substantial part of the activities of which is carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting, to influence legislation," subject to the rather narrow exceptions contained in section 501(h). So yes, there is a limited exception, but the basic rule applies. Surely it is inconsistent with the spirit of the exemption to employ such organizations in a coordinated political campaign directed by the President and his associates.

Posted by: mike livingston | Sep 25, 2010 7:59:24 PM

Isn't there a rule about 501(c)(3)s not being involved in politics, or have I failed to update my casebook adequately?

You might want to read Publication 1828 and then get right on that case book update thing. I'll alert the students at Rutgers not to take your course until you've finished. Glad I could help.

Posted by: Ugh | Sep 25, 2010 6:16:07 PM

Isn't there a rule about 501(c)(3)s not being involved in politics, or have I failed to update my casebook adequately?

Posted by: mike livingston | Sep 25, 2010 12:15:02 PM

Well, let's see what President Bush's FBI (Faith Based Initiatives) office did to validate the Iraq war. Apparently validation of the wounded was not tantamount to validation of the conflict in which they fought. From its final report in 2008:

Veterans Returning Home from Afghanistan and Iraq

VA liaisons work to engage FBCOs in partnerships that complement VA services provided to veterans returning from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. For example, under the VA Chaplain Service, local VA chaplains conduct halfday training events throughout the country to provide education and resources to clergy members on physical, mental, and spiritual health issues experienced by some returning veterans and their families. In 2007, VA chaplains conducted 23 training events attended by 1,330

Hospitalized Veterans

In 2007, VA admitted approximately 589,000 veterans to VA hospitals. The Department of Veterans Affairs Voluntary Service (VAVS) was founded in 1946 to provide for veterans while they are cared for by VA health care facilities. Specifically, 65 major veterans and civic organizations and more than 350 State and local FBCOs are actively involved in providing services to hospitalized veterans in their local communities. In 2008, 80,827 active VAVS volunteers contributed a total of more than 11.4 million hours of service.

Posted by: Bob | Sep 25, 2010 11:43:34 AM