Missouri’s Republican Senate candidate Josh Hawley is being criticized for plans to speak at a Christian college. Just last May, the media and Democrats praised Senator Claire McCaskill and a New Jersey senator for campaigning at a St. Louis church.
An Associated Press story reports that Hawley, the state’s attorney general, is scheduled to speak Wednesday during chapel at Hannibal-LaGrange University, a 900-student college in Hannibal, Mo. The story implies that Hawley is doing something unusual and has nefarious motives.
Hawley currently leads incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill in a race that could help determine control of the Senate.
At issue, according to McCaskill’s office and the media, is an Internal Revenue Service provision known as the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits churches and other religious organizations from candidate endorsements and activities. Doing so could cost them their tax-exempt status and a fine.
Problem is, the university is not endorsing Hawley – just allowing him to speak.
When New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker joined McCaskill at a Ferguson, Mo. church last May, the media covered it as business as usual. Booker even campaigned for McCaskill from the pulpit.
As McCaskill sat on the front row of Concord Fortress of Hope Church, Booker spoke about blacks and getting out the vote for the Senator.
“You know you have not just a friend in Claire McCaskill, I have a soul sister,” Booker told the primarily black congregation. “When she asks me to do something, I say, ‘Yes, my sister.’”
When it was McCaskill’s turn to speak, she turned to prayers.
“You know, politics is rough. It’s nasty,” the senator said as congregants nodded in agreement. “You know I’ve got a lot of haters out there. I’ve got a lot of haters.”
The congregation responded with “Amen.”
Hawley doesn’t begrudge McCaskill from talking to her core constituency. But he hasn’t gone as far as McCaskill in actually politicking from the pulpit.
Hawley favors repealing a federal provision that bars religious organizations from political activity.
He told conservative pastors in August that he hoped the IRS would “fine a pastor” to create a legal challenge.
During a campaign stop Thursday in St. Charles, Hawley said the amendment “punishes pastors and it punishes churches.” He said pastors have delivered some of the most important speeches in American history, citing Martin Luther King Jr. as an example.
“Thank goodness nobody silenced him from the pulpit,” Hawley said.
Earlier this week, HLGU president Anthony Allen told a Baptist publication he was not concerned that inviting one candidate and not the other would put the university at odds with IRS guidelines.
McCaskill is struggling to gain excitement in the black community for her campaign and has brought in high-profile black politicians to help her credibility and appear along-side her at African-American events.
–wire service background info used for this story