The Freedom From Religion Foundation is demanding that the IRS immediately investigate a Wisconsin church engaging in politicking.
The St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Cottage Grove, Wis., has recently been involved in blatant electioneering, contends the national state/church watchdog. Pastor Brian Dulli used the church bulletin to advise parishioners not to vote for an unnamed “her” in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race next Tuesday, April 4. As the election is between Janet Protasiewicz, a woman, and Daniel Kelly, a man, the bulletin is clearly referencing Protasiewicz. The message reads:
On one side of this race, one candidate has tried to make this race entirely an effort to legalize abortion in the state of Wisconsin. Abortion is the intentional taking of a human life. It is murder. Our Catholic faith is clear that this is grave sin. … As a Catholic, I urge you, for the salvation of your soul; do not vote for her in the Supreme Court race on April 4.
Such partisan campaigning is a flagrant violation of IRS rules that govern an organization’s tax-exempt designation, FFRF points out. The violation even caught the attention of Cottage Grove's U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, who initially retweeted the message, criticizing the church.
“The Internal Revenue Code states that to retain their 501(c)(3) status, an organization cannot ‘participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office,’” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line writes to the IRS. “In this instance, St. Patrick’s Catholic Church has breached the responsibilities of its tax-exempt status by openly opposing a candidate for elected office.”
FFRF is calling for the IRS to immediately investigate St. Patrick’s Catholic Church to ensure that it no longer receives 501(c)(3) benefits and that donations made to the church are no longer treated as tax deductible. The public essentially subsidizes the work of 501(c)(3) entities, so if this prohibition is unethically violated, it creates an unfair political advantage. Tax-deductible donations may not be used for political speech or donations.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a registered 501(c)(3) and it takes this designation, along with the accompanying benefits and responsibilities, very seriously. By posting a message that discourages parishioners from voting for a candidate currently running for office, Dulli and the St. Patrick’s Catholic Church have made it clear that the church is not deserving of its tax exemption.
“St. Patrick’s Catholic Church is not only gleefully abusing its tax-exempt status,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor, "but its pastor is engaging in spiritual blackmail of his congregation. If Pastor Dulli wishes to engage in such politicking, then he and his church should no longer be receiving 501(c)(3) benefits.”
The Madison-headquartered Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with almost 40,000 members across the country, including over 1,600 members in Wisconsin. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.