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Land ‘appalled’ by Bush campaign strategy for churches

WASHINGTON (BP)–Southern Baptist church-state specialist Richard Land said he is “appalled” at an effort by President Bush’s re-election campaign that includes seeking possession of the membership directories of churches.

Bush-Cheney ’04 has provided coalition coordinators with a sheet asking them to give their church directories to the campaign, talk to church groups about the re-election effort and distribute “Voter Guides” in the churches. The instructions consist of 22 responsibilities and the deadlines by which they should be completed prior to the Nov. 2 election.

“I’m appalled that the Bush-Cheney campaign would intrude on a local congregation in this way,” said Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “It’s one thing for the church to have a voter registration drive, to seek to inform church members on public policy issues, to encourage church members to fulfill their Christian duty and vote, and to encourage them to vote their values, beliefs and convictions. It’s another thing entirely for a partisan campaign to ask church members to bring in church directories for use as contact lists by the campaign and to seek to come into the church and do a voter registration drive and distribute campaign literature.”

A leader in the National Association of Evangelicals had a similar take.

It sounds like “an overzealous campaign worker … stepped over the line of appropriate behavior,” said Richard Cizik, vice president of governmental affairs for the NAE. “[W]hen party officials, whether Republican or Democrat, do that, it’s simply the obligation of church members to determine what is appropriate, ethical and legal and to say, ‘No.’”

The Bush-Cheney campaign defended the effort.

“By no means are we calling on people to conduct political activity at their places of worship,” campaign spokesperson Sharon Castillo told Baptist Press. “Our approach is peer-to-peer contact.

“We believe that people of faith have the right do engage in the political process,” she said. It is the campaign’s job to identify those religious adherents who support Bush but did not vote in 2000 and turn them out for the election, she said, adding, “We are just trying to engage more of our fellow citizens in the political process.”

The instruction sheet, which was provided to BP by a source other than the Bush-Cheney campaign, includes the following:

— “Send your Church Directory to your State Bush-Cheney ’04 headquarters or give [it] to a BC04 Field Rep.

— “Identify another conservative church in your community who you can organize for Bush.

— “Talk to your Pastor about holding a Citizenship Sunday and Voter Registration Drive.

— “Begin to organize a voter registration drive at your church.

— “Talk to your Church’s seniors or 20-30 something group about Bush/Cheney ’04.

— “Finish calling all Pro-Bush members of your church and encourage them to vote.”

It also instructs coordinators to host on two occasions a “Party for the President” with church members and to distribute voter guides on the two Sundays before the election. It does not specify the source of the voter guides.

The request for church directories to be given to the campaign disturbed Land the most, he said. If he were a pastor, Land said, he would tell members from the pulpit that for them to give their directories to a campaign is a “violation of the trust of your fellow church members and of the body collectively, just as it would be inappropriate to share it with a marketing group.”

Land supports church involvement in voter registration and education. The ERLC is promoting its own effort and Internet site, iVoteValues.com, to encourage Christians to register and for churches to sponsor nonpartisan voter registration and education efforts.

“The bottom line is — when a church does it, it’s nonpartisan and appropriate. When a campaign does it, it’s partisan and inappropriate,” Land said.

“I suspect that [the Bush-Cheney effort] will rub a lot of pastors’ fur the wrong way,” he said. “Many pastors may consider this a totally inappropriate intrusion by a partisan campaign into the nonpartisan voter education and voter registration ministries of local churches. I am fearful that it may provoke a backlash in which pastors will tell their churches that because of this intrusion the church is not going to do any voter registration or voter education, and that would be tragic.”

Land said it is “one thing for a church member motivated by exhortations to exercise his Christian citizenship to go out and decide to work on the Bush campaign or the Kerry campaign. It’s another, and a totally inappropriate, thing for the Bush campaign or the Kerry campaign to use such workers who may be church members to go in and seek church member information through the use of directories to solicit partisan support.”

The NAE’s Cizik said his advice is for “everyone, especially pastors and church leaders … to determine where the bright line of the law is and take one step back. That way no one can accuse the church of engaging in partisan politics or, for that matter, party officials of inappropriately targeting churches.”

The Bush-Cheney effort “just fosters the impression that evangelical churches are in some kind of inappropriate collaboration with the Republican Party in the same way that African-American churches at times have appeared to have a close collaboration with the Democratic Party,” Cizik said. “Both strike a lot of Americans as smarmy.”

The effort marks another attempt by the Bush campaign to motivate evangelical Christians to vote for the president. Evangelicals are largely recognized as strong supporters of Bush, based on such actions as his signing of pro-life legislation and his endorsement of a constitutional amendment to protect marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

In early June, The Washington Post reported the Bush-Cheney campaign had sent an email seeking the identification of 1,600 “friendly congregations” in Pennsylvania.

A former Internal Revenue Service administrator over tax-exempt organizations said the campaign’s instructions to coordinators contain nothing “that on its face clearly would violate” the law, The Post reported July 1.

“But these activities, if conducted in concert with the church or church leadership, certainly could be construed by the IRS as the church engaging in partisan electioneering,” said tax specialist Milton Cerny, according to The Post. “The devil is in the details.”