The House of Representatives has defeated a bill that would have allowed churches and other houses of worship to endorse political candidates without imperiling their tax-exempt status.

The Houses of Worship Political Speech Protection Act failed in a 239-178 vote on October 2. Forty-six Republicans voted against the bill.

The bill's chief sponsor, Rep. Walter Jones, R-North Carolina, promised to resurrect it in January.

The legislation would have removed a 48-year ban on churches and other tax-exempt groups engaging in partisan politics.

Under current law, clergy are free to speak out on moral issues and to conduct voter registration drives. They may not, however, endorse candidates.

The American Center for Law and Justice, founded by religious broadcaster Pat Robertson, said Congress "missed an opportunity to protect the free speech rights of religious leaders."

Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, disagreed. Lewis said the bill would allow "a minister, a priest, a rabbi … in the pulpit [to say] … 'God told me [to] vote against so and so.' "

But Rep. Wally Herger, R-California, said the bill was an attempt to rein in the Internal Revenue Service. Herger said the Internal Revenue Service had narrowed its sights on "conservative groups while leaving unscathed liberal churches that actively promote a candidate or political party."

Related Elsewhere

Transcripts of House floor discussion about the Houses of Worship Political Speech Protection Act and a roll call of how Representatives voted are available online.

New coverage includes:

Rep. Jones Promises to Bring Back Houses of Worship Political Speech Protection ActChristianity Today (October 3, 2002)
House rejects worship-politics bill—Associated Press (Oct. 2, 2002)
Bill Allowing Church Speech on Political Candidates Likely to Fail TomorrowChristianity Today (September 30, 2002)

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