November 14, 2012 — Watchdog and secular groups are calling on the Internal Revenue Service to investigate comments by Catholic bishops and a Christian evangelical group about how followers should vote, Reuters reports.
Although churches have the constitutional right to discuss any topic, promoting or opposing a particular candidate for political office violates IRS regulations and puts churches at risk of losing tax breaks.
In a complaint to the IRS, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, D.C. -- a political watchdog group -- cited reports of certain bishops "abusing their positions to advocate against the election of President Barack Obama." Melanie Sloan, the group's executive director, said some bishops intimidated parishioners by saying that a vote for Democrats would mean going to hell.
In a separate complaint, the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation alleged illegal political campaign posturing by local bishops and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. BGEA said it ran ads advocating votes for candidates who support "biblical values," such as "the sanctity of life," a reference to the group's opposition to abortion rights. BGEA denied endorsing a specific candidate or party.
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops spokesperson Sister Mary Ann Walsh said the group would not comment on what a bishop says in his diocese. The conference spearheaded a campaign this year against the federal contraceptive coverage rules (Wisniewski, Reuters, 11/12).
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