The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

(202) 466-3234

Joe Conn

Rob Boston

Sandhya Bathija

IRS Should Investigate NJ Catholic Diocese for Campaign Intervention, Says Americans United

Church-State Watchdog Group Asks Tax Agency to Examine Political Activity by Bishop Of Paterson


Americans United for Separation of Church and State has called on
the Internal Revenue Service to investigate the Roman Catholic Diocese
of Paterson, N.J., after its bishop published a letter advising congregants not to vote for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

In the letter, titled "A Politician's Promise: No Right to Life! No
Freedom!," Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli compared Obama to Herod Antipas,
the New Testament ruler who is notorious for ordering the beheading of
John the Baptist.

Serratelli criticized Obama for telling a pro-choice group that he
would sign legislation protecting abortion rights. Referring to Obama
as "the present democratic candidate," Serratelli attacked his voting
record on abortion and asserted, "Today we live in a democracy. We
choose our leaders who make our laws. Every vote counts. Today, either
we choose to respect and protect life, especially the life of the child
in the womb of the mother or we sanction the loss of our most basic
freedoms. At this point, we are still free to choose!"

Although tax-exempt religious organizations are free to take stands
on issues, they are not, under federal tax law, allowed to intervene in
elections by tying them to specific candidates and their campaigns.

"Bishop Serratelli is essentially telling congregants that they have
to vote against Obama or they'll lose basic freedoms," said the Rev.
Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "He went right
up to the line and then leaped over it. The IRS should act."

In a letter to the IRS sent today, Lynn noted that federal tax law
tells tax-exempt groups to "avoid any issue advocacy that functions as
political campaign intervention."

AU asserts that Serratelli's letter, which was posted on the
diocese's Web site and published in the diocesan newspaper, clearly
sends a message that opposes Obama's candidacy.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.