--Dr. Venkman, Bill Murray's character in the film 'Ghostbusters.'
On September 28 2008, thirty-three ministers who are part of the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative Christian organization, decided to build a test case to challenge the Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) restrictions on churches engaging in political activity. At issue is the 1954 amendment to the tax code at 26 USC sec. 501(c)(3), introduced by then Texas Senator Lyndon Johnson, which does not allow a tax-exempt church to "participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office." Coordinated by Mr. Erik Stanley, a tax attorney, the ministers endorsed by name a candidate for the up-coming United States Presidential election, and then notified the IRS of their actions. If the IRS chooses to enforce the limitation on political activity by taking away the churches' tax exempt status, then Mr. Stanley will bring the IRS to federal court, asking a judge to strike down that limitation as a violation on the ministers' first amendment right to freedom of speech.
I know I said Bill Murray--but I just like Sigourney Weaver, Okay?
As you can well imagine, everyone is very excited about this, making bold and important sounding statements about my two least favorite legal clichés: 'freedom of speech' and 'separation of church and state.' I really hate that. At another time, for those of you who really care, I will give brief rundown on what 'freedom of speech' and 'separation of church and state' mean, and how they apply in this context (and if you don't care: no worries. Only I care. I know this).
Instead, I want to comment on a curious aspect of censorship: the dangers of Dumb People.
'Censorship' means an authority has restricted some information, because the authority believes communicating that information is dangerous. Narrowing further, censored information poses a threat, either because it is true--or because it is false.
The former, censorship of information that is true, is the less controversial. Rightly or wrongly, our political system has determined that some information cannot be expressed publicly, because knowing that information poses a threat to society. For example, I cannot post technical information about how to best separate the two main isotopes of uranium (uranium 235 and uranium 238) necessary for building an atomic bomb.
If everyone was 'smart' (meaning had the same judgment and values as the people advocating the censorship), there would be no need to restrict the information: all right thinking people would recognize the falsity, and dismiss it out of hand. But those who don't know better, they might believe the false information, to the detriment of the Smart People. Dumb People: they ruin it for everybody.
Take, for instance, a book that urges everyone to become gay, have a same-sex marriage, raise gay children, and live a gay life style. There is a portion of American society who would find that book offensive, and not want it placed in public libraries. But not because they are afraid that they might accidentally read the book, and become gay themselves. No--the worry is that Dumb People or impressionable children (i.e. Dumb Kids) will read the book, and become gay. Nevermind the fact that no one has ever chosen their sexual identity based on book learin', the Smart People still need to protect themselves from the Dumb People--you never know.
Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson. Would you buy a used car from this man? How about giving him $700 billion USD, no restrictions and no oversight?
I'll tell you right now: even if Jesus, Mohammed, Moses, the Gotama Buddha, Vishnu, and Bertrand Russell all gave a homily on how I needed to vote the McCain-Palin ticket--no soap, is all I have to say. On the other hand, even a below-average speaker could probably shame me in voting for either Mr. Nader or Ms. McKinney (if not both). Why? Because I am already favorably disposed towards the Greens, and have a tattoo of Ralph Nader across my chest.
My point is, I am skeptical of the value of endorsements: I think by and large, the people persuaded by hearing that God Is On Our Side, they were leaning that way already. Even the Dumb People.
Would truth, justice, and democracy have been better served if George Bush had been prevented from lying to the Dumb People? I would say no, and for two reason. First, I cannot imagine any effective way to screen the truthful sleazeball campaigns from the lying sleazeball campaigns. One of the early principles that arose from the US Supreme Court freedom of speech litigation is that the better remedy for 'bad' speech is to encourage more speech, as opposed to restricting the bad speech. For example, instead of some South Carolina Caliph issuing a wholly unenforceable order for Governor Bush to 'stop lying,' the McCain campaign and independent local media should have passed the dual message of Senator McCain's adoption and Governor Bush being a lying pig face sack of goose goo. Did that happen? Obviously, not enough.
MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! Wait--What? Oh, not again!
Why do I believe that? Because I'm a gullible, bleeding heart liberal. But then again......On September 29 2008, the US House of Representatives shocked President Bush, the Democratic and Republican Leadership, Senators McCain and Obama--and probably even god--when they voted down the brokered compromise 'rescue plan,' giving Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson $700 billion USD of mad money. Is there a fiscal crisis, demanding immediate action and an outpouring of princely sums? Probably. But I was delighted to hear several representatives saying that the last time President Bush was declaring a national emergency, and he needed immediate piles of money and authority, it was for the Iraq War. Given that the last time this White House was handed a blank check, it turned out not only to NOT be an emergency, but President Bush went on to make a pig's breakfast of the whole situation. So--no soap, President Bush--as they say where I come from. You say you need seven hundred large--I mean EXTRA large? Show us--do some of that 'advise and consent' stuff. Then we can talk. The formerly Dumb People have spoken.
In conclusion, do I disagree with the Johnson Amendment, and think ministers should be able to endorse political candidates from their pulpits, and keep their tax exempt status? Absolutely not. But not because I am worried about ministers unduly influencing the Dumb People. I object, because I am a cheapskate, and do not want to pay money to subsidize their political activity by paying for the infrastructure that provides their water, sewer, police and fire protection, and road maintenance.
You want to write childish things about Presidential candidates that no one cares about, then give up your tax breaks and get a blog like the rest of us losers---I mean zealots.