Nel's New Day

November 18, 2012

Churches Challenged on Their Control

Good news for all the people who object to religious groups using the pulpit to get their favorite—frequently bigoted—candidates elected while still avoiding payment of taxes on their illegal acts. The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) is suing the Internal Revenue Service for not challenging the tax-exempt status of churches where pastors partisan politick in their preaching.

FFRF filed a lawsuit last Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Western Wisconsin alleging that up to 1,500 pastors participated in “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” in early October and endorsed at least one or more candidates in violation of IRS rules for non-profit organizations. Wisconsin. Although FFRF has members and chapters across the US, it filed the case from Madison (WI) because the main office is based there.

Most churches and other religious institutions are classified as 501 (c) (3) non-profits giving them tax-exempt status. In exchange, these organizations cannot participate or intervene in “any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any political candidate.” Although the regulation went into effect almost 60 years ago, a federal court ruled three years that the IRS lacked staff to investigate places of worship after the federal agency re-organized.

Religious leaders know that they can break the law with impunity because not one religious organization has been challenged for electioneering since that court ruling. According to Russel Renwicks from the IRS’s Tax-Exempt and Government Entities division, the IRS is “holding any potential church audits in abeyance” until rules on electioneering could be “finalized.” There is no timeline for this “finalization.”

This lawsuit follows 27 complaints with the IRS this year, including opposition to these actions:

— Roman Catholic Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay (WI) warned voters on diocesan letterhead inserted in parish bulletins that they could “put their own soul in jeopardy” if they voted for a party or candidate that supports same-sex marriage or abortion rights.

— Roman Catholic Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria (IL) criticized President Obama in a homily and then exhorted parishioners that “every practicing Catholic must vote, and must vote their Catholic consciences.”

— Roman Catholic Bishop Robert Morlino wrote in the local diocesan newspaper that “No Catholic may, in good conscience, vote for ‘pro-choice’ candidates (or) … for candidates who promote’ same-sex marriage.”

The Washington-based Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics has filed a similar complaint against the electioneering of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

While religious groups try to control the country, Congress is becoming slightly more diverse. For the first time, a Congressional member is claiming to be a “non-theist.” Unfortunately, the record does not show this: evidently the Congressional statistics does not have a “non-theist” category so Krysten Sinema is classified as “nonaffiliated”—a long way from her actual beliefs. This year ten others—all Democrats, oddly enough—described themselves as “unspecified” or refused to answer the question about religious preference.  Pew Research has created great visuals to show the variety of religions in each of the political parties within Congress.



My favorite lack of balance in the U.S. government is the Supreme Court with six Catholics, two Jews, and one Protestant.

It’s another apology! The Rev. Gary LaMoine of the Barnesville (MN) parish of Assumption Church has apologized for the actions of 17-year-old Lennon Cihak’s family. Their sin was to publicize the fact that LaMoine refused to deny Lennon religious sacrament because the adolescent supported marriage equality. LaMoine discovered that Lennon supported marriage equality when he saw this photo of the young man on his Facebook. In his letter to the parish, LaMoine referred to “a couple of candidates” who could not “enter into full communion” because they differed with the church.

The Cihaks wanted Lennon to be confirmed but not if he had to lie about his beliefs. Last year the diocese fired a teacher after she expressed concern about Bishop Michael Hoeppner preaching to children in support of the proposed amendment that would ban same-sex marriage. The diocese also donated $50,000 in an effort to pass the amendment.

The young people have the chance to change the United States. On Friday evening, Lennon tweeted: “No matter how much negative feedback I get, I will ALWAYS support the #LGBT community … Support what you believe in!” Thank you, Lennon.


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