Thursday, November 15, 2012

My Take on the Secession Talk

            One of the reactions from last week’s election is the growing buzz over states seceding from the Federal government of the United States.  What started with a handful of residents of individual states has now erupted into hundreds of thousands of people signing petitions calling for their state to secede.  To be clear, these petitions are not supported by the governors or legislators of the individual states, and they have no legal significance whatsoever.  They are aimed at forcing the Obama administration to issue a response to the frustrations of these Americans who believe the country took a wrong turn last week.  And they may actually accomplish that very thing, as the Administration had previously said it would respond to any filed petition that accumulated at least 25,000 signatures.  Alabama and several other states have already reached this mark, and I would expect some type of response from the Obama administration, although it will probably be as meaningless as the petitions themselves. 

            Legally speaking, it is unlikely that it is even possible for a state to secede from the United States.  The Civil War began, of course, in part, when several states actually declared their secession and the United States rejecting the legality of such.  Following the end of the Civil War, the United States Supreme Court, in Texas v. White briefly addressed this very issue, stating that “[w]hen, therefore, Texas became one of the United States, she entered into an indissoluble relation. All the obligations of perpetual union, and all the guaranties of republican government in the Union, attached at once to the State. The act which consummated her admission into the Union was something more than a compact; it was the incorporation of a new member into the political body. And it was final. The union between Texas and the other States was as complete, as perpetual, and as indissoluble as the union between the original States. There was no place for reconsideration or revocation, except through revolution or through consent of the States…. Considered therefore as transactions under the Constitution, the ordinance of secession, adopted by the convention and ratified by a majority of the citizens of Texas, and all the acts of her legislature intended to give effect to that ordinance, were absolutely null.”

            The republican governors and legislators of these states have called the petitions “silly” and “non-productive" and they're probably right.  But similar petitions have been started after previous elections of both democratic and republican presidents and we will see them again in 4 years.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Political Speech, the IRS, and Churches

            Most people are aware of the fact that churches (as not for profit entities) risk forfeiting their non-profit status if a pastor urges his congregation to vote in a particular way.  It’s why your pastor may have urged you to vote, maybe even in a manner reflecting the specific scripture or tenants of your faith, but stopped short of naming the candidate you should vote for.  Here is a link to an interesting read about the Internal Revenue Service’s enforcement (or lack thereof) of these rules prohibiting churches from endorsing specific candidates for political office. 

            The rules prohibiting churches or their leaders from political speech are controversial to many people, for both “religious integrity” and free-speech reasons.  However, according to this AP article, the IRS has avoided enforcement of these rules for a number of years.  Attorneys involved in these types of cases claim that they are unaware of any investigations into partisan statements by churches during this time.  In fact, hundreds of pastors have directly endorsed a candidate from the pulpit and sent a recording to the IRS, in an attempt to force the IRS’s hand (and as protest to the IRS rules).  So far, the IRS has never investigated, or even contacted one of these pastors.  Very interesting, especially given the intense campaign our country is emerging from.