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Saturday, August 6, 2016

Government and Religious Advocacy: "The Good, the Bad, and the Dogmatic"

 

Do you ever feel people use religion too frequently to ridicule differing opinions? I believe today so often religious groups employ self-righteous doctrines of faith in an attempt to control important issues of government such as immigration, capital punishment, women's rights, and gender equality. Regardless of the safeguard of separation of church and state established by the founding fathers, these folks use religion in an effort to “beat down” their political opponents.

The religious lobby is growing and growing very quickly. A recent Pew Research Center study found ...

The number of organizations engaged in religious lobbying or religion-related advocacy in Washington, D.C., has increased roughly five-fold in the past four decades, from fewer than 40 in 1970 to more than 200 today. These groups collectively employ at least 1,000 people in the greater Washington area and spend at least $350 million a year on efforts to influence national public policy. As a whole, religious advocacy organizations work on about 300 policy issues. “

(“Lobbying for the Faithful.” Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life. May 15, 2012.)

Religious advocacy is broadly defined in this study to encompass a wide range of efforts to shape public policy on religion-related issues. It includes “lobbying as strictly defined by the Internal Revenue Service – attempts to influence, or urge the public to influence, specific legislation, whether the legislation is before a legislative body, such as the U.S. Congress or any state legislature, or before the public as a referendum, ballot initiative, constitutional amendment or similar measure.”

It also includes “other efforts to affect public policy, such as activities aimed at the White House and federal agencies, litigation designed to advance policy goals, and education or mobilization of religious constituencies on particular issues. The issues may range from inherently religious matters (such as promotion of religious freedom and support for parochial schools) to social and political issues on which religious groups seek to promote their perspectives (such as abortion, same-sex marriage, hunger and HIV-AIDS).”

Religious advocacy has always been present in American Politics. In fact, it may be enlightening to hear a voice from the past speaking of religious advocacy in the 1960s. These are the words of Barry Goldwater, American politician and five-term U.S. senator from Arizona (1953–65, 1969–87) and the Republican Party's nominee for President of the United States in the 1964 election. Goldwater stated ...

On religious issues there can be little or no compromise. There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being.

But like any powerful weapon, the use of God's name on one's behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position one hundred percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both.

I'm frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in A, B, C, and D. Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me?

And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of conservatism.”

These words come from a man credited for sparking the resurgence of the American conservative political movement in the 1960s. To think that the efforts to influence political thinking have increased five-fold is rather remarkable, especially when religious interests often bemoan the loss of Godliness in state institutions. 

“This is the true spirit of insolent dogmatism: We have proved to the satisfaction of every honest man, that we are right, and that you are wrong; and therefore, if you are not convinced, it must be owing to your own perversity. When a man's shot is exhausted, he will try to terrify his adversary by firing off powder.”

~Julius Charles Hare, The Mission of the Comforter and Other Sermons, With Notes, 1846

Who are the lobbyists?

Roman Catholic, Protestant and Jewish advocacy groups are the most numerous in the study (a total of 124 groups); together they make up 57% of the religious advocacy groups. About one-in-six of the advocacy groups in the study represent faiths with smaller numbers of adherents in the U.S., such as Baha’is, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, as well as other Christian and secular groups. The remaining quarter of the groups in the study (57) represent the views of multiple faiths or advocate on religion-related issues without representing a specific religious tradition, which is more than the number of groups representing any single faith.

(“Lobbying for the Faithful.” Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life. 
May 15, 2012.)

I am certainly not offended by religious groups defending their beliefs and positing views on religious matters. Also, I applaud their important roles in enhancing democratic participation and in increasing public policy deliberation such as efforts to help the poor, the sick, the persecuted and the helpless, often by means that include educating the public or raising awareness.

However, groups that take Bible-thumping, dogmatic stands on social and political issues often do inject particular judgment. The power of their large lobby effectively exerts control – conduct that stifles progressive movements. In an ever-changing America, the government must defend and respect all religions while catering to no particular special interests.  

 

Questionable Influences

In 1995, Congress passed the Lobbying Disclosure Act. It provided for a few exceptions, including lobbying communications made by a “church, its integrated auxiliary or a convention or association of churches that is exempt from filing a federal income tax return,” as well as a “religious order. 

The only instances in which a church must disclose their lobbying is if spends a “substantial” amount of money on lobbying, if more than 20 percent of its lobbyist’s income is from direct lobbying on behalf of the church or if it hires an outside lobbying firm. Then, the hired firm is required to disclose that it has lobbied on behalf of a religious institution. The “substantial” test is a murky one, with little enforcement of it, and as is the 20 percent rule, unless attention is drawn to the organization.

(Zachary Newkirk. “God’s Lobbyists: The Hidden Realm of Religious Influence.” opensecrets.org. July 13, 2011.)

Zachary Newkirk, editor for the Cornell Progressive, reports Frank Guliuzza, professor of government and dean of academic affairs at Patrick Henry College, a Christian institution, told OpenSecrets Blog “the law treats those who wish to lobby motivated by their religious beliefs the same way it treats those who wish to lobby motivated by their feminist beliefs, their socialist believes, their support for Tea Party ideas and the like. They can raise money to speak out; they can contact elected officials; they can contact heads of regulatory agencies; they can submit amicus curiae briefs — all of the many forms of lobbying — without registering as professional lobbyists.” 

However, if a church or religious organization sets up an outfit that will employ professional lobbyists, the lobbyists must register like other professionals,” he continued. “That distinction seems both reasonable and fair.”

So then some organizations that aren't themselves churches come on board. Newkirk reports that one such group that knows how to lobby is the National Association of Evangelicals. As an association of churches, it is also exempt from lobbying disclosure rules. An association publication, For the Health of the Nation, implicitly refers to lobbying ...

“Evangelical Christians in America face a historic opportunity,” the preamble begins. “We make up fully one quarter of all voters in the most powerful nation in history. Never before has God given American evangelicals such an awesome opportunity to shape public policy.”

“The First Amendment’s Establishment Clause is directed only at government and restrains its power,” it continues. “Thus, for example, the clause was never intended to shield individuals from exposure to the religious views of nongovernmental speakers. Exemptions from regulations or tax burdens do not violate the Establishment Clause, for government does not establish religion by leaving it alone.”

In other words, the National Association of Evangelicals believes that lobbying disclosure exemptions is not a violation of the First Amendment.

(Zachary Newkirk. “God’s Lobbyists: The Hidden Realm of Religious Influence.” opensecrets.org. July 13, 2011.)

“Man is a Religious Animal. He is the only Religious Animal. He is the only animal that has the True Religion — several of them. He is the only animal that loves his neighbor as himself and cuts his throat if his theology isn't straight. He has made a graveyard of the globe in trying his honest best to smooth his brother's path to happiness and heaven.”

~Mark Twain

Lobbying to guarantee religious freedom and lobbying to force particular religious agendas on social and political issues are two different things. Like Goldwater stated long ago, I believe that today “They (religious factions) are trying to force government leaders into following their position one hundred percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both.”

Religious lobbyists used to be like subsistence farmers, and now it’s like agribusiness,” said the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State

There is cause for concern in the increased activity of religious lobbyists when they insist on defining delicate, important issues in strict terms of “right” and “wrong.”

Zoe Robinson, Associate Professor of Law at DePaul University, if “the pursuit of religiously bound interests as a legislative end results in the religious interest being pursued as an end in and of itself, (it) consequently imposes significant costs on the values of religious liberty and democracy.” She claims ultimately, when considering the place of religion in the political process, “it is incumbent on scholars to consider both the institutional design question of how religious participation in politics is operationalized, as well as take into account both the costs and benefits of that involvement.”

It seems logical that any evaluation of religious involvement in political life should attempt to balance both what is gained and lost though the presence of religious interest groups in the legislative process. One must question such groups' religious claims of supporting constitutional goals because the complicated outcomes for their underlying values can compromise democracy.

Robinson argues that these mixed results mean that “rather than according unmitigated praise to religion in public life, it is essential to rethink the role of religious interest groups in politics in order to appropriately balance the competing outcomes for religious liberty and democracy.”
(Zoe Robinson. “Lobbying in the Shadows: Religious Interest Groups in the Legislative Process.” Emory Law Journal. December 17, 2015.)

“I like the silence of a church, before the service begins better than any preaching.”

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

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