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Published by David French -- Harvard Law grad, former lecturer at Cornell Law School, author of books no one reads, master of the three point shot, constant critic of Duke Basketball, Playstation2 addict, owner of a cool new Sony DCRTRV25 MiniDV Digital Handycam, father of two and husband of one extremely hot wife


The Culture Curve
Wednesday, September 04, 2002  
A BAD BILL. reports today on a bill making its way through Congress that would allow pastors and churches to specifically endorse political candidates -- and even make campaign contributions -- without causing the churches to lose their tax-exempt status. The bill, which is misleadingly called the "Houses of Worship Political Speech Protection Act" would not extend the same speech privileges to secular nonprofit organizations.

This bill is yet another example of Christian America's political short-sightedness. We are charging into the public square with a political proposal that is i) overwhelmingly opposed by the majority of Americans; ii) extremely misleading and iii) violates the unifying principles of equality and neutrality that we've fought long and hard for before the Supreme Court and before Congress for more than a generation.

By sponsoring a bill that says that only religious nonprofits may endorse candidates, we have explicitly favored religion over non-religion and thus supported a bill that undoubtedly violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. Even putting aside the constitutional concerns, it is fundamentally unfair to ask Americans who work for non-religious nonprofit organizations to keep their mouths shut while their religious fellow-citizens enjoy a tremendous free speech advantage. At the very least, such a legal structure violates the Golden Rule. Imagine how loudly we'd scream if secular non-profits had speech privileges that Christians did not.

I'm ashamed that Christians are supporting a bill with such a misleading title -- and using misleading arguments in support of that bill. Christians are not silenced in the pulpit. Churches are free to address issues -- like abortion, euthanasia, the war on terror -- and still maintain their tax-exemption. Moreover, pastors are free to take the next step and endorse any candidate they want to endorse. Churches simply can't endorse or contribute to candidates and still maintain their tax-exempt status. This prohibition exists for all tax-exempt organizations, religious or secular.

Christian leaders know that if a church lost its tax-exempt status, contributions would dry up instantly. The sad reality is that our pastors' free speech has a price. Their convictions can be bought. Christian pastors: if you really feel that the Lord wants you to endorse political candidates, why are staying silent? Has the government bought your obedience? Do you not have faith that God can sustain a church that follows his will -- regardless of the requirements of the Internal Revenue Code?

8:10 AM

IT'S NOT JUST ISLAMIC FUNDAMENTALISM. Yesterday's Washington Post featured an interesting op-ed by Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International. His basic point was that Islamic fundamentalists -- the Islamists -- are actually losing ground in the Arab world. Compared to ten years ago, they have been politically or militarily defeated in virtually every major Arab state, and they have only a tenuous hold on an increasingly restive Iran. Zakaria's point is well-taken. Radical Islam as a viable political force does seem to be on the wane. However, Zakaria ignores a critical fact: Arab terror and militancy not only predate the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, they also have a completely independent -- and independently viable -- existence.

Two recent books, Six Days of War (a history of the 1967 Arab/Israeli war) and the Sword and the Olive (a history of the Israeli Defense Force) demonstrate that Arab terror had roots in Arab nationalism and Arab anti-semitism long before the modern advent of Islamic fundamentalism. Even now, Arafat's primary terrorist organization, the Al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigade, is traditionally known as a secular terrorist organization -- with Hamas being its Islamist counterpart. Saddam Hussein is a secularist (though he's made several recent moves -- including printing a Koran with ink made out of his own blood -- to make him appear more sympathetic to the Islamist cause), as are the thugs who run Syria. In fact, Syria crushed its own fundamentalist movement several years ago by launching an indiscriminate artillery barrage on a gathering of fundamentalist leaders.

Iraq and Syria -- though they certainly support fundamentalist terrorists -- hate Israel and hate the United States without regard to any form of religious extremism. The Arab world's violent campaign against Israel and against the United States will not end when Islamic fundamentalism is defeated. It will only end when the disease of anti-semitism is excised from the Arab heart. It will only end when Arab nationalists are taught -- once and for all -- that violence brings only defeat.

The current war against terror is daunting in part because we are not fighting any one ideology or any one nation. Islamic fundamentalism may be declining as a viable political force, but anti-semitism is not (Mein Kampf is a best-seller in the West Bank and Gaza Strip). The Palestinian terrorists who slaughtered Israeli athletes in Munich in '72, who killed Israeli children in the 1930s and forties and fifties and sixties and seventies and eighties and nineties, were -- by and large -- secular terrorists. Those secular terrorist continue to kill Israelis . . . and target Americans.

So, Fareed Zakaria may be correct, but his observation brings little comfort. The war will continue even if the mullahs are silenced.

7:14 AM

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