The National Catholic Review

With election season now in full swing, Catholics are again immersing themselves into the political dialogue. Though dialogue and voter education is encouraged, the US Bishops have issued guidelines as to what kinds of political activities Catholic parishes, dioceses, and nonprofits may and may not do in order to keep their tax-exempt status. Among the political activities that Catholics can and should do: sharing Catholic social teaching, encouraging voting, educate voters, and always remain non-partisan. Endorsing or opposing candidates or parties is prohibited, as is promoting partisan materials or inviting only certain candidates to address congregations.

In the state of Washington, election officials are also reminding religious and other nonprofit groups about certain boundaries they must respect in order not to jeopardize their tax status, especially in light of the gay marriage ballot referendum. From Religion News Services:

Churches in Washington state are being reminded that collecting money for a political cause is not OK — including a high-stakes ballot battle over gay marriage.

The state’s Public Disclosure Commission recently learned that Roman Catholic Bishop Joseph Tyson of Yakima sent a letter to pastors in 41 parishes asking them to take up a special collection for Preserve Marriage Washington, the group that is trying to overturn the state’s same-sex marriage law.

A formal complaint, however, was not filed. Lori Anderson, communication and training officer for the state commission, said the reminder was merely precautionary.

“There’s been no formal action. There’s no story here. Preserve Marriage Washington and our partners have done everything within full compliance of the law,” said PMW Deputy Campaign Director Chris Plante.

Anderson explained that any organization — religious or not — cannot serve as an intermediary for a contribution, though it can freely promote a campaign.

“Churches can distribute the envelopes and encourage parishioners to use them, but they can’t be the middleman,” she said, adding that individual contributors have to send the donations in themselves, or someone from the campaign has to be on hand to collect the money.

Plante said the Catholic dioceses of Yakima and Spokane will distribute pre-addressed remittance envelopes in September, which will then be collected by PMW volunteers. A date for the collection has not yet been determined.

“The Catholic Church, during the month of September, plans to up its teachings on marriage and on our understanding that marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman based on natural law, the Scriptures and our traditions,” said Monsignor Robert Siler, chief of staff and chancellor for Yakima diocese.

 

The Catholic Church in Minnesota is also vocal about gay marriage in that state, where a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage is on the ballot, dividing the Catholic community there.

Michael J. O’Loughlin

Comments

Amy Ho-Ohn | 9/3/2012 - 7:52am
"when has anyone ever heard of any government authority in the United States doing any kind of enforcement on a Church that deprived the Church of its tax exemption?"

This is only tautologically true; when the government refuses a "religion" tax exempt status, it does so by calling it "not a religion."

For example, the Church of Jesus Christ-Christian (the church of the Aryan Nations movement) is not recognized as a religion and is not tax exempt. They do have a right to publicly express their odious political point of view, but they are not exempt from paying taxes.

If the real Catholic Church ever devolved into the preposterous, ahistorical, malevolent caricature of Catholicism portrayed, for example, on EWTN, it could be very hard to justify its tax exemption.
Tom Maher | 9/3/2012 - 10:24am
Amy Ho-Ohn # 5


You do know about First Amendment Constitutional rights such as freedon of religion, speech, press and assembly?   These are real legal principles that have full legal enforcement.  And there are a very elaborate set of well-established legal principles behind the First Amendand. 

Only last January the Supreme Court in a 9 - 0 decision formally recognized yet another religious exemption - the "ministirial exemption" which exempts religions form labor laws in hiring and firing decisions of who will be a religions "ministers".   Who will or who will not be a "minister" is completely up to the religion and the government has no involvement because of the power of the First Amensues protection of religion. 

Please be aware that the Church does not have to in your words "justify its tax exemption".  Courts in  America go out of their way to encourage the "free exercise of religion", free speech, press and assembly and keep the goverement of the business of influencing, regulating or controlling religion, speech or the press or assembly.  This is what we meant by freedom in America. The Constistution prohibits the government from becoming involved with religion in any way that demisnishes these  First Amendment rfreedoms.   The Church has nothing to justify to governement for it to be free to determine its own policies and politcal and public views.   The  U.S. Constistution the goverenemnt has no role in determining what a religion may do or say or or be.   The tax code may not be used as a tool for the goverenment to limit or censor, define or punish religion. 
Carlos Orozco | 9/3/2012 - 4:18pm
Thanks, Tom. I disavow my initial opinion.
Tom Maher | 9/3/2012 - 12:05am
Jim McCrea # 3

Now Jim when has anyone ever heard of any government authority in the United States doing any kind of enforcement on a Church that deprived the Church of its tax exemption?   It just does not happen.  Nor can a Church legally lose a tax exemption for having a poltical point of view and expressing it publically.  This is empty threat that partisans invent to intimidate gullible people  from publically promoting an oppossing political point of view they would rather see suppressed by phony threat.  But the Churtch does have a Consistution right to have and express publically a point of view on all issues as a matter of freedom of speech and freedom of religiion especially in a poltical context.   That is basic First Amendment freedoms which are quite real and legally enforceable rights the Church or anyone always has.  Also th eFirst Amemdment prohibits the government form being involved with censorship.  Government authorities are not allowed and do not ever suppress information. This article gives the false  impression that the Church does not have politcal free speeeh rights or that the Church is one the thinmn edge of being supressed for publically expressingor promoting  poltical point of views.   But we live in a land of freedom not of government censorship and absolute control.  The First Amendment exists and fully applies. 
JIM MCCREA | 9/2/2012 - 8:54pm
"Tax codes may not be used to censor speech from religious organizations or prevent the "free exercise" of religion."

I think the courts might not agree with you.  Tax codes obviously CAN be used to penalize egregious violations by churches of the terms of agreement for 501(c)3 status. 

There is NO 100% freedom of speech, religion or assembly, as anyone who takes the time will find out.
Tom Maher | 9/2/2012 - 7:16pm
This is an example of  cloistered Catholic understanding of the law.  Look at the obvious mistake which is repeated all the time in Catholic circles. The understatnding of the law begins and ends witht the tax law not the higher controlling law - the U.S. Consistution.  Big mistake in understanding tthe law.  

When will Catholics learn that the U.S. Consttution and its freedoms of religion, speech. petitition and expression of political thought applies to them individually. as a group and as a religiion?   To undersatnd the law you must first understand the broad solid protection of the U.S. Consistution.

Does and don't is can not ever take away freedom of religion, speech especailly politcal speech of the Church.  The Church is free to fully patricipate in public debate on political issues and does.  Tax codes may not be used to censor ispeech from religious organizations or prevent the "free exercise" of religion.   Making war on U.S. Constitution by attacking religion via the tax code or other subordinate laws is a very weak idea heard only is left wing cirlcles that do not understand the legal and political power of U.S. Constitution. 
Carlos Orozco | 9/2/2012 - 10:16am
On the ballot issue of gay "marriage" in Washington state, there seems to be reasonable space for the exercise of free speech and for a healthy separation of Church and State, which is rather strange in this post-Constitutional America.