The national Freedom From Religion Foundation, which has a chapter in Colorado Springs, is exposing an election abuse reported today by a member of the public from Franktown, Colo.
In a recorded robocall message, a priest, identifying himself as a pastor with a Colorado Springs parish and working with a 501(c)4 lobbying group, Informed Catholic Citizens, basically exhorts citizens to vote for John McCain:
"This is Father Bill Carmody, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Colorado Springs. I'm calling on behalf of Informed Catholic Citizens, about the importance of your vote in the election. Regardless of the spinning that some politicians have done, the Catholic Church's opposition to the evil of abortion has always been the same and is crystal clear. Why is it important in the election? John McCain has a record of supporting life. But in the words of Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput, Barack Obama is the most committed abortion rights presidential candidate of either major party in 35 years. And the Democratic Party platform adopted in Denver is clearly antilife. There are many important issues to consider. But as Archbishop Chaput says, Every other human right depends on the right to life. If you have not already voted, I pray you will search your conscience carefully and consider all the information you deem important and then vote like life depended on it. Because it does. This message is paid for by Informed Catholic Citizens."
"There are two problems," said Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor. She said one abuse, priest politicking, breaks IRS law over 501(c)3 groups (such as churches). The other involves impermissible political statements by a lobbying group.
"First, it's shady for a priest to use his pastorship as identification in a (c)4 ad with no disclaimer, making no attempt to say, 'but I am not speaking for the Holy Family Parish.' IRS regulations do allow ministers latitude, but this appears to cross the line, and at the very least, is unethical.
"It also draws into a (c)4 ad the name, words and authority of the Archbishop, and it also appears to be speaking for the Catholic Church. Carmody says: 'the Catholic Church's opposition to the evil of abortion has always been the same.' "
The IRS, in clarifying its regulations for 501(c)4 lobbying groups, distinguishes political from lobbying activity. In determining whether lobbying activity turns into impermissible political activity, it looks at whether the group's statement compares two candidates, whether the statement identifies one or more candidates, expresses approval or disapproval for one or more candidates, makes reference to voting and an election, as well as its closeness to an election.
"The message by Informed Catholic Citizens violates all of the above," said Foundation co-president Dan Barker, a former fundamentalist minister and author of Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists.
"Informing voters that the Roman Catholic Church considers the Democratic candidate's position to be 'evil,' and that 'John McCain has a record of supporting life,' all in the context of how to vote in the election, simply crosses the line into endorsement," Barker added.
Such overt, bald-faced abuse of IRS regulations this close to an election should result in loss of tax exemption for the guilty parties, the Foundation added. They are reporting the abuse to the IRS.
"Colorado citizens should demand that these unprincipled calls connected to the Roman Catholic Church be stopped immediately, as it is essentially public subsidy of politicking," Gaylor added.
The Foundation is receiving many concerned calls and e-mails from citizens around the nation over church politicking and religious endorsements of hot-topic referendum."