Lara Jakes Jordan of the Associated Press has targeted the Bush Campaign's use of churches to organize support, saying that it should cause those churches to lose their tax-exempt status. The idea is to have someone from each church that tends to be more conservative to serve as an organizer for that congregation. This person will garner support within that group. The problem, according to Jordan, is that a tax-exempt status requires a non-profit organization to remain independent of any political candidates. No campaigning for or against any candidate is allowed by such an organization. The Bush Campaign coordinator for the state in question replied that this is a way to organize individuals, and the use of churches is simply a way of finding the people who will more likely support the president. No campaigning need go on in the church building, and none need be endorsed by the church.
Regardless of whether that answer is sufficient, other questions come to my mind. This reminds me of the targeting of pro-life groups for similar reasons while ignoring the environmentalist advocacy groups, pro-abortion (not pro-choice, since they rely on abortions to pay their salaries) groups like Planned Parenthood, and other not-for-profit groups with liberal political axes to grind.
There's no law against campaigns targeting churches. The law is against churches remaining not-for-profit if they endorse a candidate. I can't therefore legally fault all the Democratic candidates who wouldn't darken the door of a church (or at least one that believes anything) most of the year but then have to put in some time keeping black people in line by speaking in black churches in communities they'd never normally set foot in and have never bothered to try to understand. It's pandering and condescending (in the negative sense), and it led fellow Democrat Mickey Kaus to call John Kerry the Pandescenderer. It's morally obnoxious to engage in such insulting behavior, but there's nothing illegal about it, at least for the candidate. It can be construed as a church supporting a political candidate, though. Given that most of these candidates couldn't exegete a biblical passage to save their life, what qualification do they have to be giving a sermon except as a candidate for public office giving a political lecture at the invitation of the church?
I don't expect Lara Jakes Jordan to ask that question, though. It may simply be liberal bias, as with the pro-life case above. What other reason might explain the fact that something black churches have been doing for years is now a no-no when (predominantly) white churches do something not quite as clear but perhaps borderline.
I can think of one other potential explanation. You couldn't take tax-exempt status from a black church simply because they support a political candidate, at least when it's a Democrat, because the same standards don't apply. It's just natural for them to support Democrats, and there's nothing political about it. It's simply being black. To be black is to support Democrats. It's part of black identity. You can't hold black people, therefore, to a standard that would mean denying their very identity. We have separatist morality at work again.
Or maybe it's just liberal bias. That sounds less bad.