In 2004, Beliefnet reported
that he was hired by the Republican National Commitee to campaign for Bush.
The Republican National Committee is employing the services of a Texas-based activist who believes the United States is a "Christian nation" and the separation of church and state is "a myth."
David Barton, the founder of an organization called Wallbuilders, was hired by the RNC as a political consultant and has been traveling the country for a year--speaking at about 300 RNC-sponsored lunches for local evangelical pastors. During the lunches, he presents a slide show of American monuments, discusses his view of America's Christian heritage -- and tells pastors that they are allowed to endorse political candidates from the pulpit.
Barton, who is also the vice-chairman of the Texas GOP, told Beliefnet this week that the pastors' meetings have been kept "below the radar.... We work our tails off to stay out of the news." But at this point, he says, with voter registration ended in most states and early voting already under way, staying quiet about the activity "doesn't matter."
Barton's main contention is that the separation of church and state was never intended by the nation's founders; he says it was created by the Supreme Court in the 20th Century. The back cover of his 1989 book, "The Myth of Separation," proclaims: "This book proves that separation of church and state is a myth." Barton is also on the board of advisers of the Providence Foundation, a Christian Reconstructionist group that advocates America as a Christian nation.
Barton's contention about the IRS rules were, like his claims about American history, wrong, and if churches follow his interpratation, they may put their tax status in jeapardy. Earlier this year, the IRS launched a major effort to put claims like Barton's to rest, and promised to engage in a vigorous education and enforcement effort this year. At the time of the agency's announcement, I wrote about how for a generation part of the religious right's strategy has been to bend and break the quite clear guidelines governing the priviledge of tax exemption under the IRS code against partisan politicking. The basic principle has always been this:
"...all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office."
The IRS offers some further clarification:
What is Political Campaign Intervention?
Political campaign intervention includes any and all activities that favor or oppose one or more candidates for public office. The prohibition extends beyond candidate endorsements. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made by or on behalf of an organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition on political campaign intervention. Distributing statements prepared by others that favor or oppose any candidate for public office will also violate the prohibition. Allowing a candidate to use an organization's assets or facilities will also violate the prohibition if other candidates are not given an equivalent opportunity. Although section 501(c)(3) organizations may engage in some activities to promote voter registration, encourage voter participation, and provide voter education, they will violate the prohibition on political campaign intervention if they engage in an activity that favors or opposes any candidate for public office.
Barton recently described his work in this, his fourth election season employment with the RNC, in an interview with a Mormon oriented religious right blog:
David Barton: The activities I do for the RNC are not a lot different from what I do in any other setting. The audience is slightly different, but the message I deliver remains largely the same. What I did for the RNC was particularly talk to the constituency that included people of faith and social conservatives (there's a lot of overlap between the two). I would essentially show the historical and Biblical reasons for people of faith to be involved politically. We also did a number of pastors' conferences giving that same information but also distributing a four page letter from the IRS laying out exactly what churches can and cannot do as 501(c)(3) organizations. I try to clarify a lot of the confusion in this area, because there are several groups on the left that aggressively attempt to intimidate and silence pastors. However, unbeknownst to most of them, there is much that pastors legally can do and still be within the law, since those activities are related to civic engagement. They cannot endorse candidates; they cannot endorse parties; but they can endorse the concept of parishioners being active citizens.
Has Barton changed his ways? Maybe. Yes, pastors can certainly encourage people to be active citizens without crossing the line. But the devil is in the details. And given Barton's record of pushing pastors to violate the clear letter as well as the spirit of the law, they should beware of Barton's details.
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