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North Carolina GOP request for church directories spurs complaints
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — The North Carolina Republican Party asked its members this week to send their church directories to the party, drawing protests from local and national religious leaders.
"Such a request is completely beyond the pale of what is acceptable," said the Rev. Richard Land, head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.
During the 2004 presidential race, the Bush-Cheney campaign sent a similar request to Republican activists across the country. It asked churchgoers to furnish church directories to the campaign and to use their churches as a base for political organizing.
The tactic was condemned by religious leaders across the political spectrum. Ten professors of ethics at major seminaries and universities wrote to President Bush in August 2004 asking him to "repudiate the actions of your re-election campaign" and calling on both parties to "respect the integrity of all houses of worship."
Officials of the Republican National Committee said the tactic did not violate federal tax laws that prohibit churches from endorsing or opposing candidates for office, and they never formally renounced it.
On Friday, the Greensboro, N.C., News & Record reported that the state Republican Party was collecting church directories, and it quoted two local pastors objecting. The Rev. Richard Byrd Jr. of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Greensboro said anyone who sent in a directory "would be betraying the trust of the membership," and the Rev. Ken Massey of the city's First Baptist Church said the request was "encroaching on sacred territory."
Chris Mears, state party political director, made the request in a Feb. 15 memo titled "The pew and the ballot box" sent by e-mail to "Registered Republicans in North Carolina."
Mears said the "Republican National Committee has completed a study on grassroots activity that reveals that people who regularly attend church usually vote Republican ... it is imperative that we register, educate and get these potential voters from the pew to the ballot box."
William Peaslee, the party's chief of staff, told the Greensboro newspaper that Republicans also gather lists of gun owners and military families. "In doing voter registration, you always go to where your base is," he said.
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