Topeka Atty. Gen. Phill Kline's "church efforts" memo has in part prompted a national religious organization Wednesday to tell candidates to stop using churches for campaign purposes.
The Interfaith Alliance warned Republican and Democratic party leaders that candidates luring religious organizations into their campaigns was "dangerous legal territory."
"Congregations look to their religious leaders for guidance - spiritual, moral and otherwise - not manipulation on behalf of political organizations with a partisan agenda," said C. Welton Gaddy, alliance president and a pastor at Northminster (Baptist) Church in Monroe, La.
Kline's campaign said he has done nothing wrong.
"When the attorney general has gone to churches, he doesn't talk politics," said Sherriene Jones, Kline's spokeswoman.
Kline faces Democrat Paul Morrison, the Johnson County district attorney, in the Nov. 7 election.
The Interfaith Alliance letter was sent to national Republican Party Chairman Ken Mehlman and Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean.
More on the Kline campaign
- Kline's 'church effort' continues (09-18-06)
- Kline defends leaked memo during debate (09-15-06)
- Kline's memo blurs lines (09-14-06)
- Leaked memo details strategy (09-12-06)
- Kline's memo on church efforts (.pdf)
- Upcoming chat with Phill Kline (submit a question early)
- Campaign Briefing blog
- More in Election 2006
The Interfaith Alliance said it issued the warning because of two incidents. One was Kline's campaign memo in which he targeted pastors to raise campaign funds. The other was a campaign commercial that was filmed in a church for U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr., a Democrat from Tennessee who is running for Senate.
The Washington, D.C.-based Interfaith Alliance has more than 185,000 members representing 75 faith-based groups. It is a bipartisan group whose goal is "challenging those who manipulate religion to promote a narrow, divisive agenda."
Politics and pulpits
The group said candidates should refrain from speaking in churches, using houses of worship for campaign backdrops and stop organizing congregants inside a church to distribute campaign material.
In an Aug. 8 memo, Kline wrote about speaking at churches and getting pastors to line up "money people" for campaign contributions. He also directed his campaign staff to organize volunteers in churches.
"Goal is to walk away with contact information, money and volunteers and a committee in each church," he wrote.
But his spokeswoman, Jones, said Kline has done nothing unethical.
"He makes sure that pastors who do want to get involved understand what the law allows them to do," she said.
IRS laws say that in order for religious organizations to maintain their tax-free status they should stay away from endorsing candidates or raising money for them.
The Interfaith Alliance said religious leaders should encourage worshippers to cast informed votes, but added "when candidates and their supporters use the language of faith to advance partisan interests, or when they seek to emphasize their beliefs as the only truth, Americans and our houses of worship become deeply divided."