Saturday, August 04, 2007

Going after the Catholic Church on Immigration

One of the major splits in the traditional "moral conservative" coalition is immigration, where a good number of Catholic churches put their desire to help the needy and reach sinners with their message above their desire to punish lawbreakers.

I'm not saying that any particular church is supporting illegal immigration, just that you can't count on the same level of unity on the immigration issue as you might on the gay marriage issue or the abortion issue.

Anyway, the local Catholic church, All Saints, allowed an hispanic advocacy group to hold an event. Some anti-illegal immigrant advocates consider this group in a very bad light. The alternate poster at BVBL has decided to make an issue out of the tax-exempt status of the Church, because one speaker at the event was a school board candidate. From Mexicanos Sin Fronteras at All Saints:
Greg reported below on a speech given by Manes Pierre, candidate for PWC School Board, at All Saints Church in Manassas. The text of the speech may have been disturbing, but not nearly as disturbing as the fact that the speech was allowed to take place at all.

To have non-profit status, religious organizations must refrain from involving themselves in elections.
The poster continued, citing what he felt was the terrible wrong done by the church, as I excerpt here (see original for full text):
the IRS states that a religious organization places their non-profit status in jeopardy if they, “participate in, or intervene in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.”

If one candidate is invited to speak at a given event, all must be. If one candidate, or group, is allowed to hold a political event at a church, all must be allowed to have access to the church.

It doesn’t matter that the church wasn’t hosting the meeting, nor that the church had nothing to do with Mexicanos Sin Fronteras.

It would appear that All Saints no longer has the option of making itself off-limits to political groups and candidates, at least for this election cycle.

Moreover, if any candidates have been prevented from holding an event at the church recently, they could file a complaint with the IRS, which could result in the church (All Saints, not the whole Catholic Church) losing its non-profit status.
The poster calls for action:
This is not an idle threat. As I mentioned, the IRS has been cracking down on churches that step over the line for the past couple of years and some churches have lost their non-profit status. When this happens, it usually means the church must shut down. All Saints is a big, healthy institution, but I doubt it could survive if it had to start paying taxes on Sunday collections, at least not without help from the diocese.

Father Cilinski (All Saint’s Pastor) has, in the past, been very careful about protecting his Church from this type of misuse, as he should be. I agree with his position that a church is not the right place for political activities. But it looks like he trusted the wrong folks. Whether he likes it or not, All Saints must now allow political activities on its property. I hope he is talking with a church lawyer to limit the damage.
I am relatively certain the poster overstates the problem. The IRS is cracking down on churches who are advocating in elections. A candidate in a non-partisan election speaking at a non-church meeting about an issue wouldn't likely be any concern, even if he mentions he is running for office.

If it was otherwise, no group could meet in a church and invite any political leaders to address them if there was an election.

But that's really for the lawyers. I'd never advice anybody to take MY advice on the issue.

The interesting thing to me is, is HSM now going to take on the Catholic Church? They've shown no problem taking on any other groups, but the Catholic Church? Sure, they aren't quite the power they were even a few years ago, but they are still the Catholic Church. I don't think you really want to be making enemies out of the Catholic Church.

We'll see if any of the more "activist" HSM folks try to sic the IRS onto All Saints. But I'll say this -- if the congregation of All Saints decides that a politician is associated with a group that is trying to hurt their tax-exempt status, it will be VERY BAD for that politician.

This just reinforces my position that elected officials should avoid being associated with advocacy groups of ANY kind. Advocacy is for those of us who have no power, to influence our public officials. Public officials just put themselves at risk by joining or even associating their names with groups they can't control.

If HSM starts to be seen as anti-immigrant, anti-hispanic, and anti-Catholic, those politicians who thought it was a great idea to join the group won't be able to run far enough fast enough to escape the disaster that will overtake them.

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