Texas clergy organize to protect religious space

Response to "patriot pastors'" political use of houses of worship

by JewsOnFirst.org, July 5, 2006

Over one hundred Texas clergy launched a campaign last week to push back against the partisan use of houses of worship by religious right groups.

They call their campaign Respect Our Faith. It follows the establishment of the Texas Restoration Project, which recruits conservative evangelical "patriot pastors" to mobilize their congregations for right-wing causes.

The Respect Our Faith campaign, which includes representatives of many different religions, is also recruiting fellow clergy -- to sign pledges to protect worship space from partisan political use.

Protection does not mean shunning political involvement, though.

"It's appropriate to use faith communities and places of worship for issue advocacy," Rabbi Neal Katz of Congregation Beth El in Tyler, told JewsOnFirst. Katz was one of four clergy who announced the Respect Our Faith campaign in Austin on June 29th. Candidate forums are also appropriate, he said, if all the candidates are represented.

The campaign's website states that

In Texas pressure groups such as the Texas Restoration Project have recruited pastors in an effort to make churches into partisan political machines backing favored candidates, issues and viewpoints to the exclusion of all others.

Respect Our Faith says that the Texas Restoration Project "is using hundreds of thousands of dollars from secret sources to organize pastors to support selected Republican candidates."

The campaign also notes that the Internal Revenue Service has announced a sharp increase in religious organizations' engaging in political activity that violates the conditions of their tax-exempt status.

Respect Our Faith is sponsored by the Texas Faith Network, a project of the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund. The latter organization produces prodigious research on the religious right in Texas. (Links at the end of this report.)

Layperson's pledge
Respect Our Faith's pledge commits signers to help their congregants become informed on candidates and issues, encourage them to vote, "and inspiring the members of [their congregations] to let their faith convictions inform and infuse all of their actions in the public sphere."

In addition to the clergy pledge, Respect Our Faith is circulating a layperson's pledge that calls on politicians to neither solicit nor accept "the endorsement or direct political support of houses of worship" and to refuse "to associate with organizations that exploit faith for political gain."

Rabbi Katz said he will distribute those pledges to members of his congregation. (An online version of the layperson's pledge is available on the Respect Our Faith website.)

"Our campaign is a line in the sand," the Rev. Timothy Tutt, pastor of United Christian Church in Austin, said at the campaign's June 29th launch. "We are putting politicians on notice that 'enough is enough' – keep partisan politics out of our houses of worship and respect the faith of all Texans."

TOPIC: Church-State Separation