By Dave Tombers
While a group that opposes expressions of Christianity in public forums wants the IRS to use its formidable power to crack down on what pastors say, one legal foundation says, “Bring it on,” promising a “legal war” if churches are attacked on such issues.
Americans United for the Separation of Church and State Executive Director Barry Lynn recently wrote a letter to the IRS demanding help in quashing the speech of a leader in the Roman Catholic Diocese in Peoria, Ill.
The April 19 letter calls a recent homily given by Bishop Daniel Jenky a violation of IRS regulations relating to the tax-exempt status of the church, because Jenky cited atrocities of past governments, specifically naming Hitler and Stalin, and then cited the failings of the Obama administration.
The homily was also reprinted in the Catholic Post, and urged Catholics to stand by their religious convictions, even outside the walls of the church.
“Hitler and Stalin, at their better moments, would just barely tolerate some churches remaining open, but would not tolerate any competition with the state in education, social services, and health care,” he said.
“In clear violation of our First Amendment rights, Barack Obama – with his radical, pro-abortion and extreme secularist agenda, now seems intent on following a similar path,” the homily says.
The homily included the plea, “Now things have come to such a pass in America that this is a battle that we could lose, but before the awesome judgment seat of Almighty God this is not a war where any believing Catholic may remain neutral.”
Jenky even included a dire prediction for the nation if Catholics don’t stand by their convictions.
“This fall, every practicing Catholic must vote, and must vote their Catholic consciences, or by the following fall our Catholic schools, our Catholic hospitals, our Catholic Newman centers, all of our public ministries – only excepting our church buildings – could easily be shut down.
“Because no Catholic institution, under any circumstance, can ever cooperate with the intrinsic evil of killing innocent human life in the womb,” he said.
He was opposing the Obamacare mandate that employers, including schools, hospitals and others, pay for abortions for employees.
American’s United tells the IRS that this homily puts the Catholic bishop afoul of the law, and demands that an investigation of the priest be undertaken.
In the letter to the IRS, AU says in part, “Bishop Jenky compared Obama to Hitler and Stalin and accused him of pursuing policies that will close Catholic institutions.
“Moments later he exhorted members of his flock not to vote for candidates who fail to uphold Catholic values.
“It is impossible to interpret this as anything but a command to vote against Obama,” Lynn said.
The Thomas More Society says that the law and the Bill of Rights is on the bishop’s side, and promises a “free and aggressive legal defense to any religious leaders targeted or victimized for the robust exercise of their free speech rights.”
“The Internal Revenue Service has no legal right to investigate, let alone threaten or penalize the Catholic Diocese of Peoria for illegal ‘electioneering’ after Bishop Daniel Jenky, C.S.C., referred to policies of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin while delivering a robust, wholly legitimate critique of current federal efforts to quash and curtail religious liberties,” says Thomas Brejcha, president of the Thomas More Society.
“References to egregious, historical mistakes on the part of political leaders of the past in messages to congregations, even in an election year, are fully protected by the First Amendment, whether those messages are delivered from the pulpit or on soap boxes in the public square,” he continued.
“We think the law is very clear,” said Brejcha.
“Well-settled federal law does not prohibit churches and other tax-exempt non-profits from speaking out against government policies at odds with the common good or – as in this case – constitutionally obnoxious.”
“Where would the civil rights movement have been were it not for the courage of those of our religious leaders who spoke truth to power on behalf of the disenfranchised?” Brejcha added.
“When Bishop Jenky said, ‘…every practicing Catholic must vote, and must vote their Catholic consciences…,’ he’s simply telling people that their religious convictions and values matter outside the church walls,” said Brejcha.
Twice recently the Thomas More Society has faced down the IRS on behalf of religious groups. The society said one case was when the IRS was holding up approval of the Coalition for Life of Iowa’s request for tax-exempt status, while simultaneously pressing its pro-life members to stop conducting prayer vigils outside a Planned Parenthood abortion facility in Iowa City.
“After TMS challenged the IRS’s legal position, the service’s demands to stop the picketing were suddenly dropped and the Coalition promptly received IRS approval for tax-exempt status,” the organization reported.
In another case the group challenged the IRS for “highly improper demands” made by the agency about prayer vigils conducted by the Christian Voices for Life.
Upon being challenged, the agency backed down