Under pressure from the Religious Right, the leadership of the US House of Representatives will bring a controversial bill, which gives churches and other religious organizations the right to engage in electioneering, to the House floor by sidestepping the traditional committee process.
HR 2357 or the Houses of Worship Political Speech Protection Act, introduced by Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC), would drastically alter the tax code for religious nonprofit organizations by allowing them (while still barring other nonprofits) to endorse political candidates, lobby for legislation, create political action committees and funnel political donations to candidates and partisan causes. The bill, which currently has 128 sponsors including six Democrats, needs two-thirds approval in order to pass the House and is expected to be brought to the floor in the immediate future. A companion bill was also introduced in the Senate just before the August recess by Sen. Bob Smith (R-NH), although its likelihood of passing the Democrat-controlled Senate is unlikely.
Mainstream religious groups are against the bill. According to a 2001 Gallup poll, 77 percent of clergy believe houses of worship should not be involved with politics, Salon.com reported. By making it into a “free speech” issue, the bill is being used by the Christian Right as a political tool in the upcoming elections to force the religion issue on candidates who choose to vote against it. “No politician wants to be known as an opponent of free speech for churches,” wrote Michelle Goldberg in Salon.com.