LegalWorks Apostolate - Counsel for a Culture of Life

Bullying Churches Into Silence This Election Year

By Matthew Milhon

It is common knowledge that religious organizations are not allowed to endorse a particular political candidate or party lest they endanger their 501(c)3 status. However Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU), the gold standard in self-described "nonpartisan educational organizations dedicated to preserving the constitutional principle of church-state separation", have taken it upon themselves to send a letter entitled Election Season 2012 to over 60,000 religious leaders nationwide notifying them that they could be in violation of the IRS's "no politicking" rule if they engage in any activity "designed to influence the outcome of a partisan election." AU cautions their readers to be conscious of the seriousness of their claims because violations could result in danger of retroactive tax payments, audits, and even revocation of their tax exempt status.

The nonpartisan organization, in a press release that announced the publication of the aforementioned letter, aimed at the religious right(see AU's press release linked below), goes on to urge religious leaders to be particularly wary of so called "voter guides" as they are merely "thinly veiled partisan materials," and that "it may be the house of worship, and not the organization that produced the guide, which is penalized," for the distribution of such a guide. For Catholics parishes that are distributing Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship it would be hard to see how AU would not consider them in violation of so called "politicking."

AU is not, however, concerned with curbing religious politicking as such; they are concerned with silencing those organizations that oppose their secular agenda. Two glaring examples of their bias stand out. First is the campaign efforts of Cecil Richards and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America; a 501(c)3 organization. Richards, the president of PPFA, gave a rousing defense of President Obama at the DNC and the PPFA routinely lobby for the election of Pro-Choice candidates. Now strictly speaking Planned Parenthood is not a religious organization, so AU can argue that the PPFA falls outside of the purview of their particular agenda; Mrs. Obama giving a stirring speech at the African Methodist Episcopal Church's General Conference, however, does not. On June 30th 2012, the First Lady thanked members of the AME Church for "putting her husband in the White House." Could such a nod of gratitude be given to a conservative Christian organization, at their places of worship, by conservative politicians? The First Lady and the AME Church know that they are not endangering anybodies tax exempt status (Mrs. Obama's remarks can be found on the White House blog) because they do not contradict the AU and their agenda which is hostile to traditional religion.
The AU is at least bold in their efforts, they not only claim that they work to stop "church-based electioneering," because it "divides congregations and communities [and] violates federal tax law..." they go on to assert that their efforts are aimed at the Religious Right because it "diverts attention from the true mission of religious communities," which they undoubtedly see as glorified social work and not the worship of God.

1.Americans United Advises Houses Of Worship To Refrain From Partisan Electioneering

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