NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Southern Baptist Convention, a conservative denomination closely aligned with President Bush, said it was offended by the Bush-Cheney campaign’s effort to use church rosters for campaign purposes.
”I’m appalled that the Bush-Cheney campaign would intrude on a local congregation in this way,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
”The bottom line is, when a church does it, it’s nonpartisan and appropriate. When a campaign does it, it’s partisan and inappropriate,” he said. ”I suspect that this will rub a lot of pastors’ fur the wrong way.”
The Bush campaign defended a memo in which it sought to mobilize church members by providing church directories to the campaign, arranging for pastors to hold voter-registration drives, and talking to various religious groups about the campaign.
Other religious organizations also criticized the document as inappropriate, suggesting that it could jeopardize churches’ tax-exempt status by involving them in partisan politics.
Campaign spokesman Scott Stanzel said the document, distributed to campaign staff, was well within the law.
”People of faith have a right to take part in the political process, and we’re reaching out to every supporter of President Bush to become involved in the campaign,” Stanzel said.
One section of the document lists 22 ”coalition coordinator” duties and lays out a timeline for various activities targeting religious voters.
By July 31, for example, the coordinator is to:
• Send church directory to state Bush-Cheney ’04 headquarters or give it to a campaign field representative.
• Identify another conservative church in the community that can be organized for Bush.
• Recruit five people in the church to help with the voter registration project.
• Talk to the pastor about holding a citizenship Sunday and voter registration drive.