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Ken Cuccinelli delivers advice to church on how to do politics

You mean church and state isn't the same thing?

On Thursday morning, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli{}— the elected man at the top of the government's legal food chain{}— advised a group of pastors how to avoid violating the separation of church and state while preaching about politics.

For churches, politics is a mine field; the Internal Revenue Service has the authority to yank a church's tax-exempt status should it start getting political. That being said, it's not uncommon for churches to preach. They often get away with it, too (see: Focus on the Family).

In an ideal world, the church and state separation rests on an understanding that the government will not get involved with a church's action and will not tax the church on its revenue. In return, churches are expected to stay out of American politics.

Cuccinelli's office told the Washington Post that his lecture was not intended to be construed as legal advice, which he is not allowed to give to anyone other than Virginia government clients.{}

The "Christian Citizenship and Godly Government Breakfast" website details the AG's speech as "what churches and pastors can do in regards to politics, political candidates and lobbying; what is legal and what the limitations are."

Despite his insistance that it's not a legal lecture, Cuccinelli offered helpful tidbits to the church leaders, including "don't leave your First Amendment rights at the door," and this:{}

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Continue to be good shepherds to your congregations{}— and don’t be afraid when your shepherding includes giving guidance on issues that fall in the political world, because those are the same issues your congregants face each day in their world. Let your voice be heard. Speak out and guide your flock toward what is right and what is true.

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Cuccinelli's speech was followed by a bishop whose lecture was entitled "Restoring Family and Christian Citizenship," and promised to answer the question, "To what degree are [Christians] to influence government?" The final part of the program is{}an introduction to the{}"Hosea 4:6 initiative." (The Bible passage, on which the initiative is{}built, is intended to be a warning to societies which{}don't follow religion. In this interpretation, the passage is a call to arms for a wide Christian influence in government.) It specifically asks: "What happens when Christians don't influence government...{}How can we affect change for the future?"{}

Even if Cuccinelli isn't giving legal advice, his speech should raise eyebrows. At the very least, it sends the message that Virginia pastors are free to get political. By the very nature of speaking, he implies that he will look the other way, or, more troubling, stand up for any churches that violate the separation.

[via WaPo]

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