Americans United for Separation of Church and State has filed a complaint with the IRS concerning a Catholic bishop who sparked outrage by comparing President Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin.
Bishop Daniel R. Jenky of the Catholic Diocese of Peoria said the President was “intent on following a similar path” of the two mass-murderers and that his “radical, pro-abortion and extreme secularist agenda” threatened the First Amendment rights of Catholics. He added that “every practicing Catholic must vote, and must vote their Catholic consciences.”
“Bishop Jenky’s intervention in the election wasn’t just extreme and mean-spirited, it also seems to be a clear violation of federal law,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. “Churches are tax-exempt institutions, and they aren’t allowed to intervene in partisan politics.”
Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code prohibits charities and churches from intervening in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate.
Even though the bishop never explicitly said not to vote for Obama in 2012, Americans United said his controversial remarks still ran afoul of the law.
“Bishop Jenky compared Obama to Hitler and Stalin and accused him of pursuing policies that will close Catholic institutions,” Lynn added. “Moments later, he exhorted members of his flock not to vote for candidates who fail to uphold Catholic values. It is impossible to interpret this as anything but a command to vote against Obama.”
However, given historical precedent, it seems unlikely that the IRS will take action. Very few Christian churches have ever lost their tax-exempt status for violating Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.
[Ed. note: Updated after publication. A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that no church had ever lost its tax-exempt status. The Church at Pierce Creek in Binghamton, New York lost its tax-exempt status after placing full-page ads in USA Today and the Washington Times in 1992 opposing Bill Clinton’s candidacy.]