Circleville Herald, November 11, 2007

Dear Editor,

I had heard  before Mr. Beaver's concerns that "Speaker Pelosi threatens Church Freedoms"; Herald  Op-ed page 6 February. I had walked into a Wednesday night Bible study overhearing that the Congress was going to takeaway the Church's right to speak to issues. As a very publicly active member of the Circleville Friends (Quakers), a faith which has for centuries felt very strongly led to address peace and justice concerns, I was curious that Wednesday night about this threat to my rights, that curiosity was re-kindled after reading Mr. Beaver's column.

Googling "Lobbying Reform Act" revealed and interesting article published in the Associated Baptist Press 19 January 2007: "Update: Conservative, libertarian groups force amendment to lobbying-reform bill". Certainly this Baptist journal would be free of what some would call "liberal media bias". I learned that the offending portion of Senate Bill 1 "Legislative
Transparency and Accountability Act" of 2007 was removed by Senate vote 18 January. The House version does not contain a grass roots lobbying provision.

Referring again to the Associated Baptist Press article, the requirement had been that grass roots lobbying efforts that spoke to more than 500 persons, spent more than $25,000 quarterly would be required to disclose it's expenditures. The bill was crafted not to curtail religious speech, as Mr. Beavers fears, but to curtail unethical diversion of large corporate cash into non-profit advocacy groups. Specifically the convicted felon Jack Abramoff, quoting from the article, "channeled millions of dollars in fees from Indian-casino clients through non-profit groups run by former Christian Coalition head Ralph Reed. The groups existed, ostensibly, to fight theexpansion of gambling. But Indian tribes with rival gambling interests funded them through Abramoff and Reed to stop potential competition." Suzii Paynter, director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas Christian Life Commission conceded that such disclosure may be "inconvenient" but that "sometimes the things that are the most ethical are inconvenient."

As a very interesting twist,  that most American of American organizations, the American Civil Liberties Union, joined with Christian right groups in urging removal of this portion of the bill.  America is about free speech. I have had difficulties myself sending my membership dues to the ACLU, considering the folks they stand up for. But then, that is the point, the
ACLU stands on principle, stands for everyone. I disagree with much of the Christian right, but then they have a right to speak, within the confines of IRS regulations for churches. The Christian right,  nor any government, does not have a right, I and the ACLU argue, to deny equal rights to homosexual persons, nor to insist that Christian displays  be allowed on public lands,
nor to give federal tax dollars to faith based groups that discriminate whom they will employ and serve. Neither does our government have the right to hold detainees without due process, torture them, nor to keep under surveillance such groups as Veterans for Peace, or the Quakers.

German Theologian Martin Niemoller, imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps for his opposition to Nazi state control of the churches, may be the most "American" of all in his poem "When They Came for the Jews":

When they came for the Jews
I remained silent;
I was not a Jew

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist

When they locked up the social democrats,
I did not speak out;
I was not a social democrat

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for me,
And there was no one left
To speak for me

I agree with Mr. Beavers, fear leads to restriction of rights. I am not so sure the Congress meant to deny Church rights so much as to curtail unethical flows of corporate cash. Certainly though, all of us, Conservative or Liberal Christian, Republican or Democrat, must see that all are equally protected under the law, especially those with whom we disagree most.

Brad Cotton
Member, ACLU