2011-06-24 "Virginia Attorney General Tells Pastors to Get More Involved in Politics" by Amelia T.
Virginia’s attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, has made quite a name for himself in the past few years with his loose interpretations of his job’s purview (for example, one of his legal opinions could cause almost all of Virginia’s abortion clinics to close [http://www.care2.com/causes/virginia-state-governmen-threatens-abortion-clinics.html]). And now, he’s coaching Christian pastors in how to get more involved in politics without jeopardizing their tax-exempt status. He held a training for Christian conservatives last week on this very subject, part of a longer-standing commitment to encouraging “godly” government.
At the training, according to Julie Ingersoll of Religion Dispatches [http://www.religiondispatches.org/dispatches/julieingersoll/4770/virginia_attorney_general_tells_pastors_to_get_more_involved_in_politics/], Cuccinelli “told pastors that they could personally endorse candidates, hand out voter guides, and speak to any political issue they choose.” He then issued an imperative for them to get more politically involved, saying that if they didn’t, “the other side wins.”
Critics, including Rob Boston of Americans United for the Separation of Church, accused Cuccinelli of “polluting the pulpit.” But as Ingersoll points out, it doesn’t seem that these organizations need much more encouragement for getting involved in politics, particularly with regard to abortion and gay marriage.
Cuccinelli outlined several of the issues that he’d like for church leaders to address [http://www.wtvr.com/news/wtvr-cuccinelli-attorney-general-pastors-politics-church-state,0,4874127.story], saying that same-sex marriage and abortion aren’t the only problems. He urged pastors to push for more heterosexual marriages overall, saying, “We have an out-of-wedlock problem. I mean, real men actually get married.”
It’s true that religious leaders are allowed to engage in advocacy [http://www.christianpost.com/news/virginia-ag-clarifies-legal-limits-responsibilities-of-pastors-in-politics-51296/], as long as they don’t endorse candidates running for office – something which Cuccinelli was careful to emphasize. But it’s telling that the only religious leaders that Cuccinelli wanted to get involved in politics were extremely conservative. It’s unclear when the line between unconstitutional mixing of church and state is crossed, but Cuccinelli certainly seems comfortable with dancing on the edge. After all, he’s not just encouraging churches to become more active agents in the political scene – he’s telling them exactly which issues he wants them to address. The question is: is there a legal difference between coaching religious leaders in political advocacy and telling them to get more involved?