From the Worldwide Faith News archives

'Safe Harbor for Churches' Is Slippery Slope, NCC Warns

From Worldwide Faith News <>
Date Sat, 12 Jun 2004 02:59:37 -0700

'Safe Harbor for Churches' Is Slippery Slope, NCC Warns
Tax Bill Would Let Congregations Endorse Candidates

       June 11, 2004, WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Despite overwhelming opposition 
from nearly two dozen religious denominations, U.S. House of 
Representatives Speaker Dennis Hastert and Majority Leader Tom Delay have 
ordered a version of Rep. Walter Jones' "Houses of Worship" Political 
Speech Restoration Act to be included on page 379 of a 398 page tax bill 
(H.R. 4520, American Jobs Creation Act of 2004).

       Entitled the "Safe Harbor for Churches" bill, the legislation would 
radically alter the nation's historic tradition of separation of church and 
state and "raise moral questions about the actions of religious leaders and 
their congregations and disrupt the political process itself," said the 
Rev. Dr. Robert W. Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of 
Churches USA (NCC), an association of 36 U.S. denominations with 45 million 
members and more than 100,000 local congregations in all 50 states.

       "This bill creates a slippery slope that endangers both the 
integrity of the electoral process and the historic American concept of a 
prophetic religious community that explores issues from a moral and 
spiritual perspective but carefully refrains from playing partisan 
politics," Dr. Edgar said.

      A statement from Dr.Welton Gaddy, President of the Interfaith 
Alliance, said: "The bill encourages willful ignorance of the law by houses 
of worship, amending the tax code to permit churches, and only churches, to 
engage in political campaigns while maintaining their status as tax-exempt 

       Under the legislation, Gaddy noted, houses of worship would be 
allowed to "accidentally" endorse political candidates up to three times in 
an election cycle without losing their coveted tax-exempt status. While the 
bill purports to draw a distinction between intentional and unintentional 
violations of political activity, it is silent on what constitutes an 
"unintentional" violation, leaving religious leaders and institutions free 
to claim ignorance of the law as reasoning for an "unintentional" breach.

       It is expected that the House Ways and Means Committee will vote on 
the Safe Harbor for Churches provision on Monday, June 14.

      The NCC is urging concerned citizens to call their Members of 
Congress and raise their concerns about the measure, and to urge 
legislators to vote for a Ways and Means amendment by Rep. John Lewis of 
Georgia, which would remove the proposed "Safe Harbor for Churches" 
provision (Section 692) from the tax bill.

      Phone calls, faxes and e-mails to Members of Congress are important, 
Dr. Edgar noted, because many of them will be caught off guard by the 
provision, as it was quietly inserted in the bill during a national week of 
mourning for former President Ronald Reagan.  NCC is suggesting that 
callers use the Congressional switchboard at 202-225-3121 to reach their 
legislator, or send an e-mail (see or fax (see to connect to your representativebs home page).


National Council of Churches
475 Riverside Dr, New York
New York 10115-0050
Media Contact: 212-870-2252

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