Destination 270

SMU Students Analyze the 2012 Presidential Election

A Campaign Collision Between Church and State

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The role of churches supporting candidates in a presidential campaign is a controversial one. The U.S. government is founded on the principle of separation of church and state, yet many voters choose candidates based on similar religious beliefs.

The law prohibits tax-exempt organizations like churches from endorsing presidential candidates. Congress passed this ban in 1954 to limit organizations like charities and churches from endorsing political candidates and the ban has grown over the years to encompass any activity which opposes candidates as well.

The law defines any such tax-exempt organization, or 501(c)(3) organization, as one “which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.”

The question becomes how far is too far for a religious group to show its support for a politician? It’s remarkable that even as precious as the American public hold the principles of freedom of speech and religion, that people still judge presidential candidates from a spiritual perspective. For example, the beloved religious leader Billy Graham virtually stated his support for Mitt Romney recently at a meeting in Montreat.

Elsewhere in North Carolina, churches have encouraged their congregations to exercise their political rights by voting—a harmless request.  However, the lines have gotten blurry at some Baptist churches.

At St. Paul’s Baptist, Pastor Greg Moss showed support of Barack Obama by wearing a t-shirt from the pulpit. Another church laid out pamphlets to churchgoers pointing to Romney as the wisest choice.

Without a doubt, religion is entangled with politics.  As much as U.S. law attempts to untangle these concepts, religion is a powerful force that guides many citizens’ ways of thinking and as a result, ways of voting. From the DNC’s platform issues with Israel and language discussing God to Romney’s Mormonism, religion is a life-or-death issue to the electorate, and has pervaded many aspects of the campaigns in 2012.

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