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Who’s Better on Uranium Mining in Virginia? Print E-mail
By Austin Ruse   
Friday, 01 November 2013
 

Every year on one particular Sunday, almost 2,000 Evangelical pastors get up in their pulpits and denounce and sometimes even endorse candidates for federal office. Isn’t this illegal? Doesn’t this violate the law that prohibits non-profit organizations from saying anything positive or negative about candidates for federal office? The pastors don’t think so, and they are waving the bloody flag right in the IRS’s face. Come and get us, if you dare.

Some pastors actually tape their sermons and send them to the IRS. The Reverend Barry Lynn, head of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, a group founded by anti-Catholic Protestants, has lodged formal complaints with the IRS. But after several years, the IRS still hasn’t moved. None have lost their tax-exempt status. None. And this has been going on since 2008.

“Pulpit Freedom Sunday” was the idea of Alliance Defending Freedom, the $30-million-a-year non-profit law firm that specializes in life, faith, and family issues. They are 37-0 before the Supreme Court. They are salivating over the prospect of the IRS going after one of these Evangelical churches. They believe they can bust down the façade whereby the IRS has bullied clergy into silence.

The IRS is explicit. Nonprofits who are tax exempt “are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. The prohibition applies to all campaigns, including campaigns at the federal, state, and local level.” It is pretty clear this applies to many non-profits such as The Catholic Thing. But does it apply to pastors in their pulpits?

Lyndon Johnson got this restriction in the tax code in 1954 when, according to Alliance Defending Freedom, he needed to “keep two nonprofit organizations in Texas from supporting his political opponent, but the amendment had the effect of restricting the right of pastors to speak freely from the pulpit.”

Keep this in mind this Sunday when your Catholic pastor will likely offer up anodyne comments about the importance of voting and not much else. At least in my own parish, the pastor last week said the life issues were the most important ones. But most people are not that lucky. And even this excellent pastor said a voter guide on the non-negotiable life issues could not be distributed in the church parking lot.

Those who fight for life and family issues are rightly frustrated during election season by the lack of real engagement by the clergy. The official guidelines from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops – which are duplicated in many, perhaps all, state Catholic conferences  do not even allow leafleting in church parking lots by outside groups.

The Catholic Association, a 501 (c) (4) nonprofit that is allowed to politic, has been eager to distribute voter guides related to the Virginia gubernatorial campaign pitting pro-life Catholic Ken Cuccinelli against pro-choice Catholic Terry McAuliffe. But they’ve been frustrated so far. Catholic parishes in Virginia just won’t allow it for several reasons.


First, the guide clearly favors Cuccinelli on the hot-button social issues. Second, they say, the issue range on the guide is too narrow. Voter guides must demonstrate the wide-range of interests of the Church. Do you know what this wide range includes for the state Catholic Conference of Virginia? Uranium mining.

Uranium mining may be an important issue to a small number of people in some part of Virginia. But uranium mining simply cannot rise to the level of the fight for the unborn, traditional marriage, and religious freedom. What’s more, wouldn’t uranium mining come under a category where Catholics are legitimately free to make prudential choices? Does the Catholic Church of Virginia really have expertise on uranium mining? Should it even try to suggest as much?

Some years ago, when dissident Catholic John Kerry ran against George Bush many Catholics rose up against him. He lost not only the faithful Catholic vote but the generic Catholic vote as well – those people who have not darkened a church door in fifty years, but dutifully tell pollsters they are Catholic. Kerry even lost these folks.

At the time I wrote to the readers of a newsletter published by the Culture of Life Foundation in which I called Kerry a bad Catholic. We were reported to the IRS by Catholics for a Free Choice, and the IRS dutifully grabbed us by the neck, shook us, then let us go with a promise that we would never ever call a candidate for federal office a bad Catholic or any other negative thing.

Prior to that election, the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was about to release its quadrennial voter guide, in which issues such as the minimum wage were given equal moral status with the killing of unborn babies. After years of fighting, pro-life Catholics finally raised such a stink that the USCCB voter guide was scrapped altogether.

Which brings us to the upcoming election and beyond. Wouldn’t it be something if the Catholic Church, certainly more powerful than 1,000 individual unaffiliated Evangelical churches, let its pastors off the leash and let them talk about candidates?

If the IRS won’t go after tiny Evangelical Churches, does anyone think they would go after the Catholic Church? And so what if the Church lost its tax exemption? Pew sitters would still give. And the only taxable income would be from Church businesses and not from gifts deposited in the collection plate.

By banning the distribution of outside voter guides that demonstrate one candidate is better on Catholic teaching than the other, and not letting Catholic priests preach on these issues, the bishops are handing a victory to candidates who work to harm the Church.

I say let the people know that Terry McAuliffe might be better on uranium mining than Ken Cuccinelli. How could that hurt?

 
Austin Ruse is the President of the New York and Washington, D.C.-based Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), a research institute that focuses exclusively on international social policy. The opinions expressed here are Mr. Ruse’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of C-FAM.
 
 
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

 

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Comments (17)Add Comment
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written by Manfred, November 01, 2013
Mr. Ruse: You should point out that Alliance Defending Freedom is a largely Evangelical firm with a Catholic president and there is the difference. While the Catholic leadership is often homosexual or effeminate, the Evangelicals I know are MANLY and in the trenches, i.e., they are married and raising families and therefore know full well the perils their children and grandchildren are facing. They have "skin in the game'. The Catholic leadership is fawning and obsequious (think of Cdl Dolan inviting Abortionist in Chief Obama to the 2012 Al Smith Dinner) who refuse to deny Holy Communion to pro-abortion, pro-sodomite marriage "catholics", much less excommunicate them. Modern Catholicism is a parody of itself. I financially support Alliance Defending Freedom as I am more comfortable supporting WINNERS.
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written by Jack,CT, November 01, 2013
Mr Ruse,
Fantastic article full of
common sense,ty!
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written by Titus, November 01, 2013
Mr. Ruse's gloss on tax law is a bit misleading. Gifts do not result in taxable income to the recipient: so money in the collection basket (who uses a plate?) would not be taxable in the hands of a not-tax-exempt parish. But earned income, regardless of the nature of the activity, is taxable. So school tuition in the hands of a parish would be taxable. And on top of the taxes themselves there are the costs of complying with the law in the form of preparing and filing returns.

It would be great to unshackle the Church from the odious speech restrictions of the tax code. But we shouldn't delude ourselves into thinking that depriving Catholic entities of their tax-exempt status would be free of consequences, or that the present administration wouldn't do it if they thought it would promote their agenda.
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written by ROB, November 01, 2013
Would the IRS go after the Catholic Church? Are you kidding? They would in a heartbeat, cheered on by ...need I draw you a picture.
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written by Austin Ruse, November 01, 2013
Titus...that's what I said!

Jack...just for you..."homosexuals, homosexuals, gay marriage!":0)
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written by Tony, November 01, 2013
Go for it. Let it be part of a massive campaign of the affirmation of civil rights. For every one cross that the secularists manage to take down, erect fifty more. Shout from the rooftops. There aren't enough jails to hold everyone -- unless we allow the whole nation to become a jail.
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written by Sue, November 01, 2013
"...the bishops are handing a victory to candidates who work to harm the Church..."

Who is this curious but powerful new cleric known as "The Bishops"? He seems to be invoked as an authority everywhere but nowhere in Church teaching is there support for the power the Rev. "The Bishops" seems to wield.
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written by Austin Ruse, November 01, 2013
Sue,

I think I speak for everyone when i say, "huh?"

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written by Chris in Maryland, November 01, 2013
The "establishment" of the US Church (the leadership and people of most diocesan offices, of the USCCB, and of most "Catholic" colleges) are financially yoked to BIG BROTHER (city, state and federal govt) - so they always want a "McCauliffe" to win, not a "Cuccinelli."
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written by Jack,CT, November 01, 2013
@Austin Ruse: That is a strange way to
respond to a genuine
compliment?,I have no
idea what your trying
to say,perhaps you
can elaborate or not
either way great article
as i said-
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written by Ernest Miller, November 01, 2013
Chris,

Oh, Chris...I hope you are wrong.

But, the odds are in your favor. Sad.
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written by Austin Ruse, November 01, 2013
Jack, forgive me. It was an attempt at levity.
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written by Walter, November 01, 2013
Jack, I was puzzled by Mr. Ruse's comment too.

"Obsession, obsession, Austin Ruse."
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written by Jack,CT, November 02, 2013
Austin..no problem and GBU!
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written by Jack,CT, November 02, 2013
@Walter,,,ty glad I was not the only one..
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written by Noah Vaile, November 02, 2013
I don't think that Jesus said cowardice in the face of authority was a virtue. (Thinking you are) Protecting your tax exemption by forsaking your beliefs isn't Christian.

Those who give up their freedom for safety find they end up with neither. Jesus told us to go out and proclaim the "Good News." An essential part of that is to support candidates/leaders who believe in 'good news.' It is for our Catholic leaders, our shepherds, to guide us sheep about who those candidates are.

If they actually know who those candidates are.

In too many cases I am afraid our leaders are as bad as the politicians.

And they keep protecting that money-line... their tax exemption. I law that has never been challenged, just used as a threat. Perfect for Halloween. BOO- we'll take away your treat!
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written by Sue, November 02, 2013
I meant that part of our problem is allowing the USCCB to take authority away from each INDIVIDUAL bishop. Cardinal Ratzinger knew that bishops' conferences would be weaker and less effective than the sum of the individual bishops - so should we.

As for comparing our American Church to a pack of principled Protestants, vis-a-vis our government: look at how "we" (USCCB) dropped the ball on something they *could* have done better than individual bishops - ie, developed a Catholic health sharing ministry, like Good Sam or Medi-share (or the Amish) - that would have taken the whole conscience issue off the table (and brought down medical costs as well).

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