The campaign finance report for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, Maine shows that four Minnesota area Catholic Dioceses contributed $6250 to a campaign to reject a law legalizing gay marriage in Maine.
Yes, you read that right.
The Diocese of Crookston donated $5,000 to the effort. The Diocese of Winona and the Diocese of La Crosse, WI gave $500 each. New Ulm’s Bishop John Levoir gave $250.
They did this to change the laws in Maine. It’s almost 1,500 miles from St. Paul to Portland, Maine, slightly closer from Winona or La Crosse. Nobody from Minnesota needs to travel to Maine to get married. They can do what a couple of friends of mine did this summer and duck across the border into Iowa.
None of these dioceses’ parishioners are going to be making the trip to Maine to get married. None of their parishioners were in any position to be influenced from the pulpit on how to vote on this issue. No, this is strictly about imposing the churches’ will and their religion on others not otherwise under their jurisdiction by changing the law. There’s nothing about that that isn’t politics.
According to the IRS, the dioceses’ actions are currently legal.
For those wondering about tax violations, the IRS forbids tax exempt organizations from backing a political candidate but “can engage in a limited amount of lobbying (including ballot measures) and advocate for or against issues that are in the political arena. The IRS also has provided guidance regarding the difference between advocating for a candidate and advocating for legislation.”
This needs to change, to become more specific in response to a change in church tactics. What’s going on right now with churches interfering in questions about gay civil marriage isn’t limited in its scope. It isn’t pastors or priests guiding uncertain voters in the pews. It isn’t individual worshipers sending checks. It’s exercising the muscle of national organizations, putting their organizational and fundraising capabilities to use to change the broader American political landscape.
We recognize the influence of money on politics. We do it officially, limiting contributions and requiring that they be disclosed in such a way that the influence of larger entities, like corporations, is also limited. Churches are given exemptions to these and other laws because they are officially held separate from government. That means that government has limited oversight over religion, but that’s only true as long as religion doesn’t exercise undue influence over government.
Between the fight over this vote and the fight over California’s Proposition 8, I think the churches have crossed the line. Tax ’em.