The Freedom From Religion Foundation is taking the Internal Revenue Service to court over its failure to enforce electioneering restrictions against churches and religious organizations, calling it a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and of FFRF’s equal protection rights. FFRF filed the lawsuit today in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. (View the lawsuit here.) [...]
Compounding this problem is that the IRS has not bothered to audit churches that violate this rule for the last three years now (since 2009). Why this hasn’t been done is unclear. If it can be demonstrated that religious organizations have been getting involved in political campaigns by telling their parish how to vote through the use of emotional and spiritual blackmail, they run the very real risk of losing their tax exempt 501(c)(3) status that protect charitable donations to (and by, I believe) the church.
Numerous complaints have come in during recent years, but here are some form this past election cycle (I’ve attached links to the original letters):
• Green Bay Bishop David L. Ricken, who wrote an article on diocesan letterhead inserted in all parish bulletins about voting and choosing the president and other offices. Ricken warned that if Catholics vote for a party or candidate who supports abortion rights or marriage equality, “you could be morally ‘complicit’ with these choices which are intrinsically evil. This could put your own soul in jeopardy.” (Read full FFRF letter to IRS.)
• Peoria Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, who, in an April homily, sharply criticized President Obama, referencing the 2012 presidential election, saying Obama was “following a similar path” as Hitler and Stalin. Jenky said “every practicing Catholic must vote, and must vote their Catholic consciences. . .” (Read full FFRF letter to IRS.) Audio below:
• Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, Wis., who wrote a Nov. 1 article, “Official guidelines for forming a Catholic conscience in the Diocese of Madison,” published in the Catholic Herald, spelling out “non-negotiable” political areas. “No Catholic may, in good conscience, vote for ‘pro-choice’ candidates [or] . . . for candidates who promote ‘same-sex marriage.’ ” (Read full FFRF letter to IRS.)
As far as I understand, the church is forbidden from making any explicit political endorsement, but they are still allowed to comment on relevant social issues of the time. The problem with that they’ve been doing recently is that while they may not be explicit in telling people how to vote, the timing of the messages is at the point in the election process where there are only two choices, and their views make it crystal clear who they endorse, even if there is no actual name being used for who that is.
It’s my hope that the IRS will follow through with these investigations and penalize them accordingly. Churches have – and always will – tell their congregation about life, the afterlife, and the role of morality and sin in the path from one to the other. However, as soon as they cross that line into politics, they should pay their dues just like everyone else. Hell, we just might solve our deficit problem altogether if enough of them pull this crap.