A New Jersey bishop’s newspaper column which criticized Sen. Barack Obama’s support for pro-abortion legislation has prompted the activist group Americans United for Separation of Church and State to request an Internal Revenue Service investigation. The group alleges that Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli violated regulations forbidding tax-exempt organizations from tying political issues to the candidates who support them.
In Bishop Serratelli’s October 23rd column, titled “A Politician’s Promise: No Right to Life! No Freedom!”, he examined the status of abortion law in America today, noting that most Americans now favor “some kind of a ban on abortion” and that the number of abortions is in decline.
“There is truly a deep sensitivity to life in the soul of America,” he continued, claiming the proposed Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) would “mortally wound this sensitivity.”
According to the bishop, the proposed federal FOCA bill would remove the rights of medical personnel and hospitals which have moral objections to performing abortions.
“Gone the freedom of conscience so essential for a civil society!” Bishop Serratelli predicted.
Further, health and safety regulations for abortion clinics would be removed, as would waiting periods and parental consent laws, Serratelli stated. Under FOCA, he said, taxpayers could be forced to fund abortions and babies who survive abortions could even be left to die.
The bishop then referred to Sen. Barack Obama’s support for FOCA. He did not mention Obama by name, instead calling him the “present democratic candidate.” The bishop compared Obama’s promise to support FOCA to King Herod’s promise to Herodias, which resulted in the execution of John the Baptist.
“In a speech before the Planned Parenthood Action Fund last year,” Bishop Serratelli wrote, “he made the promise that the first thing he would do as President would be to sign the Freedom of Choice Act. What a choice for a new President!”
“Today we live in a democracy,” the bishop continued. “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!”
Americans United for Separation of Church and State, speaking in a Wednesday press release, claimed that Bishop Serratelli’s column “clearly sends a message that opposes Obama’s candidacy.”
Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of the group, sent a letter to the IRS on Wednesday arguing that federal tax law requires tax-exempt groups to “avoid any issue advocacy that functions as political campaign intervention.”
“Bishop Serratelli is essentially telling congregants that they have to vote against Obama or they’ll lose basic freedoms,” said Lynn, according to the press release. “He went right up to the line and then leaped over it. The IRS should act.”
According to USA Today, Lynn also claimed it is “impossible to interpret this passage as anything but a command to vote against 'the present Democratic candidate' because of his promise to sign a certain piece of legislation disfavored by the Catholic Church's hierarchy.”
A spokesman for Americans United told USA Today that the group has filed about 90 similar claims with the IRS since 1996. Of these, four have previously accused Catholic bishops or dioceses of “electioneering.”
Earlier this year, the group asked the IRS to investigate Bishop of Providence Thomas Tobin for criticizing former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who was a Republican presidential candidate at the time.
The Diocese of Patterson issued a statement commenting that Bishop Serratelli’s column was focused on proposed abortion legislation, not the upcoming presidential election.
“It's absolutely, positively misleading to say that the bishop urged Catholics not to vote for Sen. Obama,” the diocese said.