LITTLE ROCK — The Christian conservative Family Council says it hopes to bring hundreds of pastors to the state Capitol to pray for legislators and offer them counsel during the upcoming legislative session.
In a recent newsletter, Family Council President Jerry Cox said the group will invite pastors to visit the Capitol on Jan. 15, the second day of the session, to pray for lawmakers.
"In addition, we’re helping pastors learn how to individually provide wise council, prayer support and discipleship to lawmakers throughout the session," Cox said in the newsletter. "Imagine hundreds of pastors helping the lawmaking process — and those involved in it — honor and glorify God. We’re expecting hundreds of pastors to be at the Capitol during the January-through-March session of the Arkansas Legislature."
Cox said in an interview Friday that pastors generally feel comfortable ministering to people in places such as hospitals, nursing homes and funeral homes, "but somehow many pastors, I believe, feel very uncomfortable going to the state Capitol, which is just another building where people are and where there’s a lot going on. So my goal is to help those pastors feel comfortable in that political world."
The newsletter also outlines the Family Council’s agenda for the session, which includes putting new restrictions on abortion, denying state funds to Planned Parenthood, requiring a photo ID to vote and increasing access to college scholarships for home-schooled students. The group also will oppose any attempt to legalize medical marijuana, expand early childhood programs or allow cities to create entertainment districts where drinks could be sold and consumed outside businesses.
Cox said the Family Council will not ask pastors to push its agenda at the Capitol.
"I know some people may say, ‘Well, are these pastors just going to be lobbying? Are they coming there to lobby?’" he said. "I’ve made it very, very clear to every pastor that I’ve talked to that it is not my goal to try to turn pastors into lobbyists. It’s my goal to see whatever ministry they would do in another setting, to see that occur in the halls of our government, of our Capitol. It will be up to them how to do that."
But Cox also said, "I’m certainly not going to tell the pastors that you can’t talk about legislation, because they’re ministering to lawmakers and so I think it would be only natural that at times the lawmaking process would come up."
Under Arkansas law, a person must register as a lobbyist and file lobbying reports if he or she is paid or spends $400 or more in a calendar quarter. Cox said the pastors will not be paid or provided funds to use to for lobbying purposes.
"The most we might do is buy breakfast for some of the pastors," he said. "I don’t know of anything that the pastors would be doing that would in any way trigger any kind of lobbying laws."
Cox said only a few pastors have committed to the project so far, but over the next month the Family Council will reach out to many more. He said the group will invite pastors from a variety of denominations to which members of the Legislature belong, with Baptists likely predominating.
Rita Sklar, executive director of the Arkansas Civil Liberties Union, which has opposed the Family Council on a number of issues in the past, said Friday the project did not sound like something to which the ACLU would object.
"If they’re lobbying as representing their religious institutions, that would violate the tax code their activities are regulated by, but if they are lobbying for themselves, they’re Americans, they’re the people. They have the right to talk to legislators," Sklar said.