Large Bipartisan Majority Defeats Religious Right-Led Effort to Convert Churches into Campaign Machinery

Today the U.S. House of Representatives resoundingly defeated a bill that would have created a special loophole to allow churches to spend tax-exempt contributions for partisan campaign activity. People For the American Way President Ralph G. Neas hailed the vote as “a victory for fairness and common sense and a defeat for the Religious Right and its political allies.”

As is the case with many non-profit organizations, churches, temples, synagogues, mosques and other houses of worship already have enormous freedoms of political speech. They are largely free to advocate or oppose legislation and speak out on the issues of the day. However, because they enjoy tax-exempt status, they cannot endorse candidates or participate in election campaigns on a candidate’s behalf; political action committees (PACs) and the political parties can spend money in this way.

The ‘Houses of Worship Political Speech Protection Act’ would have opened a huge loophole in the nation’s campaign finance laws by allowing churches and other houses of worship to use tax-exempt contributions to engage in partisan politics; other tax-exempt nonprofits would not benefit from this loophole. The bill was defeated on the House floor by a vote of 178 to 239.

“This bill was pushed to the floor in a cynical effort to give right-wing groups a campaign issue for the fall,” said Neas. “But today’s bipartisan defeat makes it clear that this bill was a bad idea for churches and for politics. People on both sides of the aisle understood the disastrous consequences of setting up a system that would allow campaign funds to be funneled through church collection plates.”

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