FFRF contests bishops’ electioneering

In letters to the Internal Revenue Service, the Freedom From Religion Foundation has reported possible illegal political campaign intervention by Catholic bishops in Green Bay and Madison, Wis.

In a Nov. 1 letter to the IRS office in Dallas which oversees “exempt organizations classification,” FFRF Senior Staff Attorney told the IRS that Diocese of Green Bay Bishop David L. Ricken wrote an article Oct. 24 titled “An Important Moment” to be inserted in all parish bulletins.

Ricken begins, “It is almost time to vote and to make our choices for president and other political offices…” Ricken lists a “set of non-negotiables” for parishioners “to keep in mind as you approach the voting booth to complete your ballot.” These issues include “abortion” and “homosexual ‘marriage’.”

He further states, “These are areas that are ‘intrinsically evil’ and cannot be supported by anyone who is a believer in God…A well-informed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program that contradicts fundamental contents of faith and morals.”

His letter, which was printed on the diocese letterhead, continues, “But what does this have to do with the election? Some candidates and one party have even chosen some of these as their party’s or their personal political platform,” and to vote for such a candidate or party “means that you could be morally ‘complicit’ with these choices which are intrinsically evil. This could put your own soul in jeopardy.”

Ricken also warns his diocese to “keep in mind” the “aggressive moves by the government to impose the HHS mandate, especially the move to redefine religion so that religion is confined more and more to the four walls of the Church…”
IRS regulations specify that 501(c)(3) organizations, which include churches and other religious organizations, are prohibited from “[participating in or intervening in]…any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.”

The issues identified by the bishop in the Oct. 24 article as “intrinsically evil” are generally what distinguish Republican and Democratic social platforms. In Wisconsin, these issues differentiate candidates for federal and state offices, i.e., one candidate for U.S. Senate was anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage, and the other candidate was a lesbian who supports marriage equality and abortion rights.

Ricken’s article, published and distributed just two weeks before Election Day, is clearly urging people not to vote for the “one party” that embraces these “evil” positions.

Likewise, a warning that the current HHS mandate is a “dangerous precedent” is a clear reference to the policy of the incumbent candidate for president, Barack Obama. He distinctly refers to the imminent presidential election. Though he does not explicitly state, “Vote for Romney” or any other specific candidate, it is clear to the reader that Ricken is urging members of his diocese to vote against Democratic candidates.

Markert’s Nov. 6 letter to the Dallas IRS makes similar points about an article Nov. 1 by Madison Bishop Robert Morlino. Titled “Official guidelines for forming a Catholic conscience in the Diocese of Madison,” it was published in the diocesan newspaper.

FFRF urges the IRS to investigate circumstances that led to the churchmen’s efforts to influence political races.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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