From Wayne Beebe in Pullman:
Your recent editorial about the fourth branch of government (Our View, Feb. 9) makes a glaring mistake. The Constitution states: “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ” However, it does not restrict a religious organization from making its views known concerning any political or social matter.
Religious organizations have the obligation to speak up for the marginalized. They have the right to speak truth to power. They have the responsibility to stand for the oppressed. The civil rights laws of the ’60s would not have been passed if it weren’t for the black churches, synagogues and, eventually, mainline denominations taking a stand against the status quo of the day. Likewise today, churches, mosques, synagogues and other religious entities need to speak for the refugee, the undocumented resident and homeless of today, to affirm the rights of all people.
That said, if a Muslim woman chooses to wear a hajib, she cannot expect her neighbors to wear one, too. If a Hasidic Jew wants to wear a titzit as an expression of his faith, he cannot expect others not of the faith to follow his dictates. Likewise conservative Christians cannot impose blue laws on others to protect their Sabbath.
The only restriction religious entities have comes from the 1954 Johnson amendment to the Internal Revenue Code. It discourages any not-for-profit 501(c)(3) entity from endorsing a political candidate, but that also includes service organizations, even state universities. They can, but they could lose their tax-exempt status. Few have lost it, though.
The government is fenced in from imposing its will on religious institutions, but there is really no constitutional prohibition from religious bodies addressing societal concerns through the government.