David Barton Puts Churches at Risk

David Barton, head of the Texas-based organization WallBuilders, argues that the Constitution doesn’t protect separation of church and state. That constitutional principle is just a myth, Barton says. And now he’s suggesting that pastors can promote partisan candidates in their churches.

Quoted by OneNewNow, a website (“Your Latest News from a Christian perspective”) operated by the far-right American Family Association, Barton says the Internal Revenue Service apparently has decided not to take action in the cases of pastors who have taken the deliberate step of endorsing partisan candidates from the pulpit. From the OneNewsNow article (which describes Barton as a “constitutional expert” even though his only college degree is in religious education):

Current law prohibits pastors from speaking on politics or endorsing a political candidate, but David Barton of WallBuilders says the IRS’s intimidation of removing a church’s tax exemption status is unconstitutional. Even though some pastors have intentionally crossed the line, Barton does not think the IRS wants to take them to court because it may lose.

“The IRS doesn’t have any interest in doing this because if they do, I believe they know they are going to lose. And if they lose, you have 370,000 pastors in America who suddenly find out that there’s no restriction on them,” Barton suggests.

Barton claims that the Constitution already protects churches from losing their tax exemption. The IRS and federal courts have said otherwise. The IRS addressed the issue in a letter in 2004. From that letter:

“[U]nder Federal law tax-exempt charitable organizations are prohibited from
endorsing any candidates, making donations to their campaigns, engaging in
fund-raising, distributing statements, or becoming involved in any other activities that may be beneficial or detrimental to any candidate. Even activities that encourage
people to vote for or against a particular candidate on the basis of nonpartisan criteria violate the political campaign prohibition of section 501(c)(3).

The federal courts have upheld this prohibition on political campaign activity, most
recently in Branch Ministries v. Rossotti, 211 F.3d 137 (D.C. Cir. 2000). The courts
have held that it is not unconstitutional for the tax law to impose conditions, such as the political campaign prohibition, upon exemption from federal income tax.”

As the letter notes, the law doesn’t bar religious leaders from addressing issues of public policy or, speaking for themselves, from endorsing candidates. Such rights are guaranteed to all Americans by the Constitution.

But that’s not good enough for people like Barton and right-wing pressure groups like the American Family Association. They are determined to drag churches and their congregations into partisan political campaigns. Apparently, they think pastors should risk their congregations’ donations in expensive court battles over partisan politics rather than use those funds to minister in their communities. The real mission of churches, Barton seems to believe, is politics!

Religious-right leaders and politicians hail Barton as an “expert” in the Constitution and even history. Yet the reality is that this former vice chairman of the Texas Republican Party is a smooth-talking propaganda artist whose foolish advice is putting churches at risk.

7 thoughts on “David Barton Puts Churches at Risk

  1. This is perhaps a bit uncharacteristic for me. However, from Barton’s perspective, this is a very smart thing to do to achieve his goals. He may not be right or righteous in doing it, but he is correct to accomplish his goals. Here is why.

    Anyone here know anything about nuclear fission? All you have to do is knock just a few Uranium-235 neutrons loose from their atoms. Just a precious few. In turn, they knock neutrons out of other atoms. In a split second, it balloons exponentially to a self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction that cannot be stopped outside of controlled circumstances.

    All Barton has to do is convince just enough pastors to preach about voting for a particular candidate or party to get a sustained nationwide chain reaction going. If there are 1,000,000 churches in the United States and he can get just 150 to quickly balloon to 200,000 churches, the following will happen:

    1) The IRS will be overwhelmed and unable to stop it. Oh sure, they might snag a few churches just for show, but they would soon back off and quit enforcing the law at all. I know that. He knows that. Then 500,000 more churches would join in, and it would be all over. For example, almost every small and large town in the United States has a city ordinance against private individuals shooting off fireworks on July 4th. Has that stopped anyone? Barton is counting on the same principle with politics and conservative churches. He just needs his spark to flame up a little to get the atomic conflagration going.

    2) The IRS knows that serious enforcement of this law would look jack-booted and totalitarian, and there would be no fighting it really. Enough people hate the IRS already, and they would not want their image further tarnished by looking like modern-day SS troops working to “Kristallnacht” the will of the government regime in its pogrom against a particular religious group. What? Little ole us? Look what they are doing to little ole us? The IRS is persecuting the Christians just like Nero did. I can hear it now, and you can too.

    What is the answer. I do not know. However, I think the answer to fighting the Religious Right is to activate brave Christians who are willing to stand up and fight these people with scripture and common sense in the public square. On both counts, they are doggone near defenseless.

  2. It’s time to review the history of prewar Germany. It is so similar to what’s going on now.

    We have to keep true history alive.

    True science will move forward, even if the masses are sold on creationist hooey.

    It all comes back to education, doesn’t it?

    Legitimate, honest Christians must be supported and facilitated, even by the agnostics among us.

  3. The October 14, 2010, post on the correct Reverend Dr. Bruce Prescott’s blog speaks to the spiritual corruption and disintegration that underpins the activities of people like Mr. Barton. It is worth the read because it is historically accurate and true to the core:


  4. If you really want to “keep true history alive,” then accurately understand and use the Constitution and its words. The words “church and state” are a distortion and not in the Constitution. The Constitution’s religion commandments, Art. 6., Sec. 3., and the First Amendment are about the whole subject of “religion,” which includes every “church” and religion organization or activity in the USA. So, stop using revisionist “church and state” terminology when discussing the place of “religion” in the United States of America. It is a “religious” test which shall not be required at any level of American government policy, and it is “religion” which shall not be established at any level of American government function. The Founding Fathers and the First Congress got the all inclusive wording correct from the beginning: “Strongly guarded … is the separation between Religion and Government in the Constitution of the United States,” James Madison, c. 1817, W&MQ 3:555.

    If you really want to take constitutional action in respect to its principle of separation, then write President Obama and tell him to eliminate his Office of Faith-based Partnerships. President Obama is wrong, and any constitutional law professor should know better.

  5. I just noticed on Huffington Post that a group of 700 prominent scientists are planning an organized push-back against climate denialism.
    I was wondering when this would happen.
    This is a tremendous opportunity for some “synergy” in the broader opposition to Theo-fascism.
    Gene, I’m sure you realize that President Obama has to make political calculations in a number of areas where he’d probably prefer to make policy decisions. Possibly a lawsuit could be brought which would make it to the Supreme Court and succeed. But it would be met with extreme resistance among the evangelical theo-fascists.
    For one thing, with the dismantling of the social safety net for poor innercity black folks, etc. these faith-based groups are some of the only social support these communities are getting. Long before the “outsourcing” of jobs started eviscerating the middle class, the deprivation of jobs in the inner city, esp. in the rust belt, was devastating these communities.
    In order to change that dynamic, the cities need jobs.
    The other aspect of this is that the teaparty ie the theofascists have Pres. Obama squarely in their sights, especially after the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court.
    In order to change this political dynamic we are going to have to push back on all fronts. I think this move against climate denialism is an important opportunity we can’t afford to waste.
    Yes, Gene, I agree that we need to sever any unconstitutional connections between “religion” and “state.

  6. The Constitution separates “Religion and Government,” James Madison, W&MQ 3:555, at every level. President Obama has a responsibility to uphold the Constitution, regardless of whatever else for which he is responsible . The Office of Faith-based Ministries is unconstitutional and should be eliminated. It is a responsibility of government to care for the public, just as it does for highways, schools, sewer lines, etc. We all pay taxes for such services to the public. What churches do, within the laws of the land, is their business, but their tax exempt status is granted because charitable nonprofit (?) organizations are supposed to also be aiding the poor and thereby the public. Read Praise the Lord for Tax Exemption written by my late friend, Dr. Martin A. Larson.

    Nonetheless, whether or not churches succeed or fail is not the business of government. In the USA, religion is to rise or fall on its own. It is way past time for churches and religion organizations to get their hands out of the taxpayer’s pocketbook, and it is way past time for government to quit subsidizing or promoting religion in any way whatsoever.

    Read The Religion Commandments in the Constitution.