The US House of Representatives rejected a bill yesterday that would have allowed churches and other religious groups to endorse political candidates while retaining their tax-exempt status. Despite backing from prominent Republican members of the House and the lobbying efforts of the religious right, the so-called “Houses of Worship Political Speech Protection Act” was defeated on a 239-178 vote. Introduced by Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC), the bill would have drastically altered 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.
In other related news, Pat Robertson received $500,000 for his group “Operation Blessing International” in the first wave of grants to be distributed under President Bush’s faith-based initiative, which allows religious organizations to receive taxpayer funds. Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition and a well-known religious right extremist, has voiced considerable opposition to the initiative – claiming that government money will taint religious organizations. He did not comment on the fact that he is now receiving a grant, according to the Washington Post.
Although Congress has never authorized such a faith-based initiative program, five Cabinet agencies began implementing regulations last month that will allow them to sidestep Congress and launch Bush’s project. These agencies include the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which intends to rewrite grant regulations to include organizations that discriminate on the basis of religious beliefs; the Education Department, which will allow after-school programs to use religious beliefs as a basis in personnel decisions; and the Health and Human Services Department, which is poised to distribute $30 million allocated by Congress last year to teach religious groups how to apply for government funding.