It sounds like such a clear legal arrangement: A major requirement for a church to avoid taxes is that it stay away from election endorsements. It's the flip side of that pesky Establishment Clause thing.

Believers might consider it a Faustian deal with the Devil, but that's how it works for organized religion: When it comes to election politics, where you pray, you can't play. If you do, there's Hell to pay.

It follows that those pastors who just couldn't contain themselves a couple weeks ago, the ones who announced their presidential preferences from the pulpit, have forfeited these tax breaks. They will have to answer to their congregations when the IRS comes calling.

This was not some spontaneous outpouring of faith. An organized group of these preachers decided it was time to force the issue, ultimately, before the Supreme Court, at least the secular one.

They want to convince the justices that these shackles violate their constitutional free speech protections. In other words, the First Amendment violates their First Amendment rights.

In no way is this is an argument that the faith community should be fenced off from the rest of the community. There are just so many ways to engage and influence, so many issues that require intervention, divine or otherwise. Endorsing candidates and fighting the inevitable legal battles that follow would seem to waste precious time and resources.

Here are some ideas for alternative ways to engage in civic life:

Feed and clothe the hungry and poor, and not just on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Find homes and love for all the abandoned and abused children, as well as those who languish in heartless foster care systems.

The needs of our society are obvious. So much good could be done by those who work every day of the week to set an example of the values they profess on the Sabbath.

Our society is torn asunder because most of us have abandoned the concepts of sharing and support that are the very principles claimed by the true believers.

We are hurting; we are scared. We have been frightened into becoming more and more heartless. You want to help? Lead by example. Show the rewards of compassion. To use the cliché, practice what you preach. And stay out of campaign politics for God's sake.

Visit Mr. Franken's website at