Barabbas, the IRS and church-state law

Cardin and SteeleAs we like to note around this here blog, there are issues in church-state law that almost always produce unity among the experts, even among experts on opposite sites of those familiar cultural divides. It would appear that the legal status of those remarkable Bible lessons delivered the other day by the Rev. Delman L. Coates at Mount Emmon Baptist Church in Clinton, Md., may be an example of this fact.

Click here to see my previous post on this subject. The Washington Times reported that, with the Democratic candidate sitting in the front row, Coates hit the African American Republican candidate Michael S. Steele with this rather biting interpretation of Holy Scripture:

Mr. Coates implied that black people who vote for Mr. Steele would be deceived just like the crowd that shouted to crucify Jesus. He said people who supported Barabbas could be called "Barablicans," and people who were for Jesus could be called "Jesuscrats."

"Can't you just see the commercials that were designed to endear Barabbas to the crowd?" he said. "I can just see [Barablicans] well dressed, well groomed [and] holding a puppy."

Maryland voters would, of course, recognize that the puppy remark mocked one of Steele's campaign commericals.

Anyway, the author of that Times piece, reporter Jon Ward, dropped GetReligion a note to let us know that Americans United for the Separation of Church and State has, in fact, called for an IRS investigation of the Mount Emmon Baptist endorsement. Click here to read the entire press release, which stated, in part:

Americans United said that most houses of worship appear to be following the law, but a few seem unwilling to do so. The four complaints to the IRS two involving Democrats and two involving Republicans come just one day before the national mid-term elections.

"Unfortunately, some churches allow candidate endorsements from the pulpit, distribute biased voter guides and host partisan rallies," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "Such blatant electioneering by tax-exempt churches flouts federal law and threatens the integrity of religion."

Americans United didn't get into the details of the Barabbas story, but simply noted:

Mount Emmon Baptist Church, Clinton, Md.: The church's pastor attacked Republican senatorial candidate Michael Steele from the pulpit Nov. 5 while Steele's opponent, Benjamin Cardin, sat in the front row.

As always, other cases centered on voter guides and whether a church can invite a candidate to speak in a gathering that does not involve the other candidate. In other words, when does a forum or speech turn into an illegal rally?

Anyway, it is good to see these issues debated. It is even better when journalists cover both sides of these controversial stories.

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