By Lou Dobbs
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Editor's note: Lou Dobbs' commentary appears every Wednesday on CNN.com
NEW YORK (CNN) -- We're about 40 days away from November's critically important midterm elections, and the campaign volume is rising.
The political strategists, campaign managers, and the partisan savants will be working overtime to excite their conservative, liberal, Republican and Democratic bases, trying to get at least 50 percent of us who've registered to vote to actually go to the polls.
As in election years past, they're going to have a lot of help, and not just from PACs, labor unions and 527 groups like MoveOn and Progress for America. Oh no, we're going to be treated to something akin to, and as close as we should expect to get to, divine intervention. Evangelical Christians, Jews, Catholics, Muslims and Mormons are already getting rowdy, not only on their respective pulpits, but in the mail, on the air and certainly on the campaign trails.
Now I know you're thinking that this is America, what is religion doing in politics and what is politics doing in religion. As it turns out, just about everything. And the politically correct orthodoxy would prefer you and I not take notice.
The First Amendment of our Constitution declares that, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." But the devil's in the details, if you will, and the often demonized Internal Revenue Service has taken up the issue where other federal agencies and branches of government have feared to tread: This summer the IRS sent out a warning letter to more than 15,000 churches and tax-exempt nonprofit organizations throughout the nation. The letter is meant to serve notice that any sort of politicking could endanger their tax-exempt status.
The IRS discovered a disturbing amount of intervention by religious groups in national politics in 2004. It determined nearly five dozen churches and charities violated laws against political activities, and there are now 40 active investigations into the politicking of various churches.
The mixture of religion and politics is on public display throughout the country. The Mormon Church rolled out the red carpet for Mexican President Vicente Fox, embraces illegal immigrants in the state of Utah and helped pro-amnesty incumbent Congressman Chris Cannon with a get out the vote campaign.
Apparently nobody in the federal government is too concerned that the Catholic Church has repeatedly lobbied on behalf of millions of illegal aliens and their supporters for wholesale amnesty and open borders. Until the Supreme Court ordered him to, the head of the Los Angeles Archdiocese, Cardinal Roger Mahoney, didn't think he should cooperate with the law when it came to divulging information on priests accused of pedophilia, and he believes it is entirely correct to encourage his parishioners to civil disobedience in the case of legislation that secures our borders and punishes those who cross them illegally. The Cardinal disavows the will of the people in opposition to current law. Ironically he's now spearheading a drive to register a million new voters by 2008. Where he'll find them, only heaven knows.
The role of religion in politics and the role of politics in religion in this country has never deserved more attention and merited more intense examination than now. Religion is dominant in the lives of most Americans: The latest Gallup Poll reveals that nearly two-thirds of us are members of a church or synagogue and about one-third of us attend church or synagogue at least once a week.
Surveys show as many as 250 million Americans are Christian and 70 million of us describe ourselves as evangelicals. Clearly, Christian Americans could dominate our political system, and many argue that the outcome of the 2004 presidential election was determined by Catholic voters who shunned Catholic candidate Sen. John Kerry and bolstered born-again President George W. Bush, by a margin of 52 to 47.
What is the Constitutional and appropriate role of religion in our political lives. Rev. Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State says there are definite limits. "What houses of worship cannot do, under federal law, is to endorse or oppose candidates for public office. They may not use their resources to intervene in a partisan race. Houses of worship cannot become cogs in anyone's political machine."
But isn't that exactly what is happening today? Some churches and nonprofits have become extensions of both Democratic and Republican political message machines at the local and national level. The intrusion of religion into our political lives, in my opinion, should be rejected in the same fashion that we constitutionally guarantee government will not interfere with religion.
This issue is far too important to be left to the sole judgment of the Internal Revenue Service. And it is time for all of us to examine closely, both in our communities and in our Congress, just what separation of church and state really means to us and to the nation.
Lou Dobbs says religion has too much influence on the political process.
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