The Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in the historic Old Town neighborhood of San Diego may have put its tax-exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service at risk after recent church bulletins contained fliers with strong political statements.
The San Diego Union Tribune newspaper reports one church bulletin in early October suggested parishioners would go to hell if they voted for Democrats because the party supports abortion, same-sex marriage, euthanasia, human cloning and embryonic stem cell research.
“It is a mortal sin to vote Democrat … immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell,” the flier reportedly states.
Another flier published two weeks later suggested the devil was working his evil ways through Hillary Clinton.
“The devil does this through tactics outlined by Saul Alinsky with the outcome as Hillary Clinton stated ‘And deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed,’ to draw us away from God’s teachings regarding the sanctity of life to those of the world and its prince,” the flier stated.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego is already pushing back against the fliers, telling the newspaper the fliers were not appropriate and not authorized by the parish.
“It’s not a mortal sin to vote for Democrats, number one. And number two, the church doesn’t take positions on this, and we’re not going to,” diocese spokesman Kevin Eckery said. “The pastor said it was not something he had reviewed or approved.”
These fliers may now also get the church in trouble with the IRS.
Religious institutions that meet 501(c)(3) requirements are automatically granted tax-exempt status by the IRS, but federal law prohibits them from getting involved in the campaigns of political candidates. This prohibition includes advocating on behalf of or in opposition to political candidates.
Richard Schmalbeck, a law professor at Duke University, told the newspaper he believed the fliers were “a blatant violation on the ban on campaign activity . . . when you’re threatening eternal damnation, there really aren’t bigger guns than that.”
Kansas law professor Bruce Hopkins agreed with Schmalbeck’s assessment that the flier referencing Clinton was likely a violation of IRS regulations because it was “an obvious criticism of her in the context of the campaign.” However, he was not as sure about the flier because it only referenced the Democratic Party, not an individual candidate.
Nonetheless, both experts seem to agree that it is unlikely the IRS will actually act to enforce its regulations, especially this close to the election.
“It doesn’t have the resources, and its been criticized so much on (Capitol) Hill and elsewhere that it’s kind of skittish about moving in certain areas, and this is one of them,” Hopkins explained.
[image via K2 images / Shutterstock]