A few weeks before last November’s election, a yard sign popped up in front of First Baptist Church of West Harwich, Massachusetts, not far from my Cape Cod home. “Scott Brown He’s For Us,” it read, giving a thumbs up to the incumbent Republican senator in his race with Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren (who eventually won). Closer to my home, the Roman Catholic parish Corpus Christi in Sandwich, Massachusetts, displayed a yard sign opposing Massachusetts Question 2, which would have allowed terminally ill patients to be given lethal drugs by their doctors.
The IRS prohibits tax-exempt organizations from endorsing candidates, so the Scott Brown yard sign clearly ran afoul of federal law. And to his credit, when the Rev. Jonathan Cobb of First Baptist learned this, he agreed to take it down. The Corpus Christi sign was perfectly proper, however, since the IRS interprets nonprofits working for or against ballot initiatives to be “lobbying” rather than “political” activity.
But enough with legalities. How far should religious groups go when it comes to politics? Are U.S. religious leaders now crossing the line?
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