In 2004, the Bush-Cheney campaign asked conservative activists to send them their church membership directories for political organizing purposes. Although most religious leaders condemned the tactic, some rightwing evangelicals jumped on board.
Clergy reportedly attended GOP-led sessions on how to talk about the election from the pulpit without violating laws regarding tax-exempt institutions. There were requests for church volunteer coordinators to distribute information and speak for the campaign. A group associated with Pat Robertson worked with more than 45,000 churches to help Bush-Cheney win. And churches set up "moral action teams" to get Christian right voters to the polls.
Now the North Carolina Republican Party has once again ripped this page from the Rove Playbook for the 2006 mid-term elections.
Last week, the state party sent out an email asking registered Republicans to furnish it with "as many church directories as you can…in an effort to fully register, educate, and energize North Carolina's congregations," according to Alan Cooperman of the Washington Post.
Party officials claim that they are only engaging in voter registration efforts. But as Rev. Welton Gaddy, President of The Interfaith Alliance, said, "No one bought that defense during the 2004 elections and we won't buy it in 2006 either."
Rev. Robert Prince III, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Waynesville, NC, stated in the Asheville Citizen-Times, "I find it disturbing. I don't think it's a good idea…because of church-state type issues." Two local pastors, according to the Greensboro News & Record, also objected to the state GOP's practice. Rev. Ken Massey of the city's First Baptist Church said the request was "encroaching on sacred territory."
Mainstream religious leaders and most Americans understand the vital role that separation of church and state plays in protecting our plurality and freedom of religion. But don't count on those like North Carolina's Republican Party to catch on any time soon. After all, it is increasingly clear that Rovean Republicans' commitment to the Constitution is little more than a matter of political expedience.