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Iowa Atheists And Christians Protest Pulpit Freedom Sunday

This story was written by James Pusey, Iowa State Daily

Atheists and Christians joined forces Friday to protest a movement that could change the interpretation of separation of church and state.

Pulpit Freedom Sunday, sponsored by the Alliance Defense Fund, encouraged pastors to deliver sermons on Sept. 28 about the moral qualifications of presidential candidates, according to an ADF news release.

The Alliance Defense Fund is a legal alliance that works to protect religious freedoms and endorse traditional Christian values, according to the groups Web site. The Pulpit Freedom Sunday is part of a program called The Pulpit Initiative, which protests restrictions on church officials endorsing political candidates.

Members of the Iowa State University Atheists and Agnostics Society and representatives of Collegiate United Methodist Church & Wesley Foundation set up booths outside the Parks Library on Friday to voice their disapproval of Pulpit Freedom Sunday.

Anastasia Bodnar, graduate student in agronomy, said she was glad the Atheists and Agnostic Society could work with the Wesley Foundation to speak out against Pulpit Freedom Sunday. She said it is clearly in opposition to laws concerning the separation of church and state, and if tolerated, would be harmful to both institutions.

Thats not what churches are for, Bodnar said. Theyre for spirituality and for helping people find their way in life, and charity, and all of these really good things. To take that and dirty it with our current political system, its really blasphemous.

Pastor Jim Shirbroun, associate director of the Wesley Foundation and campus minister of Collegiate United Methodist, said churches that participated on Sunday are in danger of losing their tax exempt status.

If they receive tax exemption, they shouldnt spend money on supporting political candidates or political parties, Shirbroun said. Its for charitable things, so they can help people not to become politically involved.

Pastor David Staff of First Evangelical Free Church, said he hadnt heard about Pulpit Freedom Sunday, and even if he had, he wouldnt have delivered a political sermon on Sunday.

I dont know of any pastor that is doing this. In fact, weve made it pretty clear to our congregation that we dont want to endorse any candidate or political party, Staff said.

Bodnar said pastors are allowed to speak about political issues, but endorsing candidates or donating money to a political campaign puts them in danger of losing their tax exemption.

The Alliance Defense Fund argues that it is a pastors constitutional right to preach political sermons and to recommend candidates to their congregation.

They argue that their freedom of speech is being denied, Bodnar said. Thats a really sketchy argument because preachers are allowed to say anything about the issues. The only thing theyre not allowed to do is endorse a political candidate or donate to a campaign.

Bodnar said the Alliance Defense Fund reported having only 36 pastors across the country on board with Pulpit Freedom Sunday, at last count. The Alliance Defense Fund said they would release the names of all participating pastors via news release after Sept. 28.

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