Melinda Henneberger certainly thinks so. My friend and fellow Catholic wonders in her She the People post what it would take to get the IRS to strip the Catholic Church of its tax-exempt status for politicking in presidential elections, and sees the “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign in two weeks as a legitimate reason to do so (via Deacon Greg):
Surely if the church ran a massive PR campaign just ahead of a national election, calling for widespread civil disobedience and reading letters about it from pulpits across the nation, that would cross the line into campaigning?
Ixnay on that, too, because the “Fortnight for Freedom” set to run from June 21-July 4th, is just such an effort.
Just the other night on Twitter, the Archdiocese of Washington tweeted several messages that struck me as partisan: “Unconscionable #HHSMandate #Obamacare set to trample sanctity of human life,” said one of them, sent on June 5th.
In a press release, the bishops compared themselves to Martin Luther King writing his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” and a priest in San Francisco called this “our Rosa Parks moment.’’
But that was nothing; a frend in Pennsylvania told me he recently heard a homily drawing parallels between the Catholic Church in 2012 under Obama and the persecution of Catholics in Mexico under Plutarco Calles, who between 1926 and 1929 systematically razed churches and executed priests.
In response, I’d ask Melinda this question: Who picked this fight? It certainly wasn’t the Catholic bishops, who tried working with Barack Obama in crafting the scope of the religious exemption to the HHS contraception mandate. They didn’t pick the timing, either. It was Obama and Kathleen Sebelius who decided to promulgate a new rule in an election year that claimed the authority to define religious practice as restricted to only what happens inside a church.
Here’s another question: why would the USCCB want to unseat Obama at all, absent this attack on religious expression? Although the bishops ended up opposing ObamaCare because of insufficient bars on abortion, their policy positions align more with liberals than conservatives. Until the HHS mandate, the bishops wouldn’t have had anything to say at all about the federal government’s actions during Obama’s term.
And yet another question: Since when does tax-exempt status mean forfeiting First Amendment rights on issues? This ruling directly impacts the Catholic Church and other faith organizations and threatens their efforts to serve the community. The bishops have the right to speak out against government action, especially that which tramples on religious expression and arrogates to government the ability to define and curb it. While some of the debate has been hyperbolic, that doesn’t mean that religious leaders should be threatened with silence or told that protesting unconstitutional incursions on religious liberty is somehow subversive and unethical. This protest isn’t aimed at some unrelated, esoteric policy decision or candidacy, but an attempt to impose regulation that would force churches to violate their own doctrines or hide inside their churches.
If the churches don’t fight that kind of regulation, which even Henneberger calls “problematic,” who will?
Nancy Pelosi might define her religion as what she does inside a church on Sunday. That’s her right, even if I disagree. The government has no right or authority to impose that definition on the rest of us. If Barack Obama chose to make that attempt ten months before an election, that doesn’t mean that religious leaders of any faith have an obligation to be silent about it until December.