The fallout from the controversy about whether a Florida synagogue should have invited Democratic National Committee Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz to give a speech at a Sabbath service continues to simmer. But while partisans are taking predictable stands on the issue, it’s distressing to see the way some officials at supposedly non-partisan Jewish organizations are advocating letting politicians use the sanctuary to promote political positions and are seemingly supporting the Democratic talking point that those who protested Wasserman Schultz’s appearance are “bullies.” As the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports, Mark Pelavin of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and Marc Stern of the American Jewish Committee both take the position that there is nothing wrong with a synagogue letting a politician take over the bima during a service.
They have a point when they argue that the question of a religious institution’s tax-exempt status isn’t the issue. But while any organization with a 501©(3) status needs to be careful about partisanship, the issue here isn’t just taxes, it is fairness. Any synagogue, church, mosque or temple of any sort that gives a politician the moral authority that a speech from the pulpit during a worship service affords is taking sides in the election unless there is equal time provided to the other side. Just as troubling is the hypocrisy of Jewish groups seeking to support the effort by the Democrats to portray their critics as suppressing speech when they may have failed to speak up in the past to defend Republicans who played the same game as Wasserman Schultz.