Context is everything. And it's amazing how a political debate can be used in some unique ways to frame the views of the candidates. Such was the case during the Republican presidential debate on Tuesday when contender Mike Huckabee was pressed about his views on the IRS monitoring worship messages in Mosques.
The former Arkansas governor was all for letting the IRS monitor what Muslim leaders say in their Mosques. Huckabee insists that it's not a violation of anyone's First Amendment rights for the IRS to listen in on what's happening in worship services. Given recent events, he seems to think that this might be a good idea. His basic argument is that, "If Islam is as wonderful and peaceful as its adherents say, shouldn't they be begging us to all come in and listen to these peaceful sermons? Shouldn't they be begging us all to come and listen and bring the FBI so we can all convert to Islam? When people say that we can't go to the mosque, we can't listen, that is utter nonsense. Of course, we can. If we can't and if there is something so secretive going on in there that somebody isn't allowed to go and hear it, maybe we need to for sure send somebody in there and gather the intelligence. That's all I am saying. I think it stands to be true."
Some are saying that this is a shift from where he was a few years back, when he called it "outrageous" that the sermons of five pastors had been subpoenaed by Huston attorneys in connection to the subject of homosexuality and the city's openly lesbian mayor, Annise Parker.
About two years ago, Huckabee encouraged churhes to consider dropping their tax-exempt status because of, "The recent revelations that the Internal Revenue Service has been targeting people of faith -- people who are conservative, people who are pro-Israel -- and have been picking out the parts of belief and speech and faith that government seems to approve and that which it doesn't approve has brought up a very important reality that I think, sooner or later, as believers, we need to confront."
Huckabee added that, "I think we need to recognize that it may be time to quit worrying so much about the tax code and start thinking more about the truth of the living God, and if it means that we give up tax-exempt status and tax deductions for charitable contributions, I choose freedom more than I choose a deduction that the government gives me permission to say what God wants me to say."
It was just last year when the Freedom From Religion Foundation ( FFRF) was hot and heavy in the face of the IRS about monitoring what is said in Christian churches to make certain that pastors weren't getting too political in the pulpit. FFRF was out to strip Christian Churches of their 501(c)(3) in an effort to discourage donations and levy financial damage to churches due to lack of financial support.
A lawsuit was actually filed in 2012 by FFRC in response to Pulpit Freedom Sunday. The suit claimed that the IRS didn't have an effective policy in place to investigate the political activities of tax-exempt churches and religious organizations. After the case was settled, the IRS also created procedures intended to review and evaluate what would necessitate launching an investigation against a church.
The ACLJ contends that the monitoring of churches is a violation of the Constitution, and that the Establishment and Free Exercise clause is designed to prevent such blatant government involvement and control of church services. So the real problem seems to be where a lack of context leads. Giving the IRS blanket permission to spy on worship services without any specific preconditions for the spying has great potential to lead to Americans losing more of their own freedoms -- right down to the potential for pastors to be silenced about pro-life issues and same-sex marriage.