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Southern Baptists pull support from houses of worship free speech bill


(RNS) - The Southern Baptist Convention's public policy commission has withdrawn support for a bill that would allow religious institutions to endorse candidates without threatening their tax-exempt status.

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, once a vocal supporter of the bill, decided it could not affirm the latest version of the Houses of Worship Free Speech Restoration Act, the denomination announced.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., failed a full House vote in 2002 and nearly passed as part of a larger bill last year before the controversial provision was gutted.

The most recent version sponsored by Jones does not permit political views expressed by religious leaders or congregation members to be distributed beyond those attending the service in which they are made.

The agency thinks the changes leave churches open to the possibility of government intrusion, and its leader calls the latest version a "grotesquely bad idea," reported Baptist Press.