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Pulpits as Culprits? Pastors Preach Politics

This past Sunday over 1400 pastors across the country joined “Pulpit Freedom Sunday,” consciously and overtly challenging the separation of church and state. This was not a slip of the tongue or a clergy member accidentally overstepping the ethical line. Instead, this was a direct affront to the distinction outlined in the Constitution. The organizers of the event framed this as a challenge to IRS tax code, but it is actually a thinly veiled attempt at chipping away at America’s founding principles.

Our nation was founded by those who were committed to ensuring religious liberty. That commitment stemmed in large part from our Pilgrim forbearers, who fled religious persecution. As Jews (a religious minority), we must always be vigilant in the protection of religious liberty. Through history we have learned that freedom of religion comes hand-in-hand with its separation from the state. This has been America’s hallmark for over 200 years, and one that we cannot abandon now.

The United States currently is the most religiously diverse country in the world. That is, although the largest portions of our population identify as Protestant Christian, those that fall outside this category represent a huge array of faith traditions. Minority rights must be preserved or we risk losing the incredible cultural gems our different heritages provide.

The harm goes both ways. When the two spheres mix, it threatens not only the religious freedom of our state, but it also damages the religious sector itself. The pastors of last Sunday are not the only religious voice in the room. In fact, they are not even the loudest voice in the room. A recent Pew study shows that 70% of Americans believe that churches and other houses of worship should not come out in favor of one political candidate over another. On top of this, it is in the church’s best interest to maintain its integrity. Our clergy must have the freedom to be the prophetic voices of our communities, unfettered by government interference.

Have questions about your own pulpit’s role in politics and the upcoming election? Check out our “Dos and Don’ts Guide.”


Photo courtesy of Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

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Raechel Banks

About Raechel Banks

Raechel Banks is an Eisendrath Legislative Assistant. She grew up in Dallas, TX, as a member of Temple Emanu-El. She recently graduated from Brandeis University.

4 Responses to “Pulpits as Culprits? Pastors Preach Politics”

  1. Read more of the materials posted on their website. For example,
    makes it clear that the intention is not merely to discuss issues and initiatives, which is permitted, but to support or oppose specific candidates, which is illegal. To my knowledge, the RAC does not support or oppose specific candidates.

  2. I am confused…. I followed the link to “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” link and it said that pastors would take about legal issues and initiatives. This is listed as a “Do” in your own guide, and even the mail that sent me here from RAC is advocating a position on legislative initiatives, saying, “Following a year of great strides for the LGBT community, we must continue the momentum and get out the vote to legalize same-sex marriage! ” — so why is it OK for RAC to take political positions, but not for these pastors?

    • Raechel Banks

      EMK – You are right on about the intention of Pulpit Freedom Sunday. In addition, the RAC most definitely does not support or oppose specific candidates (both because of moral reasons, such as losing our prophetic voice and integrity, as well as legal issues, such as it being directly opposed to our 501c3 status).

      Seth – This is a nuanced difference, though a clear one, that I’m glad you pointed out. Congregations and clergy, along with other nonprofit charitable organizations, MAY participate in public policy advocacy (lobbying) to a limited degree. This can include supporting or opposing legislation, ballot initiatives and other governmental actions. However, temples and clergy acting in an official capacity may not endorse candidates; for clergy, that extends to messages from the pulpit and bulletin articles. There is a difference here between supporting policy issues and taking sides in a partisan way.

      For further clarification, I direct you to our “Dos and Don’ts Guide.” I really appreciate your comments, and as always, please feel free to reach out if you have more questions.


  1. “Values Voters” vs. Voting with Values :: Fresh Updates from RAC - November 8, 2012

    […] has an important part to play in politics, if and when used in a constitutional manner. Your morals should inform your political decisions. They should not, however, infringe on others. […]

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