ST. PAUL -- The Interfaith Alliance, a national religious group, on Wednesday criticized conservative churches for handing out voter guides to their congregants, saying the practice manipulates religion for political gain.
The Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, executive director of the Interfaith Alliance, said the pamphlets are part of what he considers the religious right's improper "influence on Minnesota state politics."
"The religious right and aligned organizations are continuing to manipulate religion for particular partisan gain and attempting to use the offices of government to establish their sectarian biases as the laws of the land," he said.
"As the November elections approach, the influence of the religious right in state and federal politics has increased," Gaddy said during a news conference at the state Capitol.
The Interfaith Alliance recently sent letters to more than 4,700 churches, synagogues, mosques and other houses of worship in Minnesota, requesting that they not distribute voter's guides before the election.
Gaddy said the guides are often partisan and misleading. The group does not object to a church taking a particular political stance on an issue, he said, but the guides can imply a "divine endorsement of one candidate over another."
Wednesday was the first in a series of news conferences across the country. Gaddy said the group kicked off in Minnesota because of its high-profile gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races.
The Minnesota Family Council, a conservative group that distributes voter's guides, denounced the letter-writing campaign, saying the voter pamphlets are merely educational tools.
"This is a scare tactic by the religious left to intimidate conservative churches from educating their members on candidates' positions regarding the important issues of the day," Family Council President Tom Prichard said.
Corwin Smidt, director of the Henry Institute of Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., which studies the relationship between Christianity and politics, said the Interfaith Alliance's position has merit, but might be overstated.
"It is true, scorecards frequently are constructed to make a particular candidate look better than perhaps what they are," Smidt said. "I think there is a legitimate question to be raised whether such types of literature should be placed in houses of worship."
But Smidt said he doubts the guides have as strong an impact on voting patterns as the Interfaith Alliance suggests. "Frequently, it's not even passed out, which means some people pick it up, some don't," he said.
As for the IRS, Gaddy admits the "violations" are up for debate. Brian Rusche, a registered lobbyist with the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition, said it's a complex law that can be interpreted in different ways.
"Their intimation of legal problems is a distortion and misrepresentation of the law," Prichard said.
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