THE SURPRISE IN the Federal Election Commission (FEC) lawsuit against the Christian Coalition for allegedly crossing the line dividing voter education from political partisanship is not the suit itself, but that it has taken so long.
Since religious conservatives became active in politics in the late 1970s, many liberal coalitions have been trying to intimidate them and invalidate their full participation in the political process.
The FEC objects to the "scorecards" the Christian coalition distributes, saying they "express advocacy" for certain candidates and should be reported as "in kind" contributions to those candidates or as independent expenditures.
The scorecards are statements by candidates on issues of importance to the Christian Coalition. They include not only predictable ones, such as abortion and gay rights, but also economic ones. Republicans and Democrats are questioned and their responses (or non-responses) are duly printed. None of the scorecards I've seen endorses or opposes any candidate.
Christian Coalition spokesman Mike Russell called the lawsuit "a legally threadbare attempt by a reckless federal agency to silence people of faith and deny them their First Amendment rights."
Not exactly. Only some people of faith. When the Rev. Jesse Jackson ran for president, he openly collected funds for his campaign in black Baptist and other churches in what appeared to be a flagrant violation of IRS and FEC rules. No action was taken against him.
At Foundry Methodist in Washington, D.C., which Bill and Hillary Clinton attend, literature opposing the Republican "Contract With America" was available inside the church, and Foundry's facilities have been used by gay rights and other groups as a platform for political activism.
Recently Mrs. Clinton spoke to 1,500 members of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and suggested that Jesus favors her health-care proposals. She quoted a Bible passage in which Jesus tells his disciples to "let the little children come unto me," which she interpreted to mean that people must think of every child as if "he had the face of Jesus stamped on his head." She added, "It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a church in that village to make sure the village does raise a child." She sees the "village" as the federal government.
The Interfaith Alliance, founded to combat the Christian right, is heavily subsidized by Democratic money. It's holding a "prayer vigil" the day before the Republican convention opens in San Diego. The alliance is advertised as "nonpartisan," the same billing used by the Christian Coalition.
The Christian Coalition has invited Democrats, such as former Pennsylvania Gov. Bob Casey, to speak at its events. Some have accepted; most have declined. It cares about issues with which mainly Republicans identify. Is that the fault of the Coalition?
The lawsuit by the Federal Election Commission should be rejected on First Amendment grounds, or the FEC should be required to go after every liberal group that enjoys special tax privileges as an "educational" organization but dabbles in politics.
Because this is a thinly veiled attempt to undermine the organizational strength of religious conservatives, don't look for that to happen. And because so many liberals are involved in such activities, they had better hope this case is thrown out of court or the next lawsuit might be directed against one of their own.
The FEC case against the Christian Coalition is destined for the Supreme Court. That's another reason why the coming election BTC -- with the likelihood the next president will get two, possibly three, appointments to the high court -- is critically important.
Cal Thomas is a syndicated columnist.
Pub Date: 8/05/96