Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Media Ignores Legality of Liberal Church Involvement in Politics

Today is election day in my hometown Chicago.  A new mayor and other city officials will be elected although there will be a runoff in April if no mayoral candidate gets more than 50 percent.

Even though I now live in Phoenix, AZ, I can keep up with politics in Chicago through the Internet and on WGN-TV, which is just about on every cable service in the country.  That one of the great things about being born in Chicago.  WGN is everywhere.

Last Sunday, I noticed, as I have all my life, the stories about certain candidates visiting black churches throughout the city on the Sunday before an election to elicit black support.  The WGN-TV reporters conveyed the stories as if there was nothing wrong with this practice.  Unfortunately, they either don't know or don't want to deal with the possibility that this practice may be illegal under the regulations of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

Churches are granted non-profit status by the IRS, but that status can be revoked if the a church engages in partisan politics.  The regulations do, however, permit churches to engage in advocacy politics and become involved in legislative activism.  I worked for the Catholic Church for more 12 years and can relate that every state in the union has a Catholic Conference that serves as the legislative arm of the Church, lobbying for and against issues only.

During my tenure with the Catholic Church, the Church leadership was always cautious about allowing any political candidate to speak from the pulpit.  They were wary about liberal advocacy groups and the media challenging the church's tax exempt status if it gave voice to a candidate who was pro-life or against gay marriage.  The two diocese where I worked would regularly send out notices to parishes at election time warning them not to allow candidates to speak at their churches or to promote specific candidates from the pulpit.

The IRS would permit candidates to appear in a church if all candidates for a position were allowed to participate at the same time, something like a candidates' forum.  However, that's not what happens in Chicago every election cycle.  The media gleefully shows what amounts to black candidates and certain selected white candidates holding campaign rallies at what are clearly churches.  Most of these churches are predominantly black.

 In November of 2009, the Bishop of Brooklyn, New York, Bishop Nicolas A. DiMarzio, praised from the pulpit a Democratic legislator who helped push through a bill in the state assembly that was favorable to the Catholic Church.  He did this on a Sunday before an election, prompting an atheist group to call for an IRS investigation and engendering several stories in The New York Times and other media outlets questioning the Bishop's right to do what he did.

It appears that there are two different sets of IRS regulations, one for the churches the media likes, and the other for the churches that espouse positions the media doesn't like.   Once again the predominance of advocates in our news media prevents an honest examination of why IRS regulations aren't being equally enforced.  When the media and government regulators choose to ignore law breaking or are selective in pointing it out, it undermines respect for all laws.  Whether they choose to understand it or not, selective reporting of law breaking also undermines the public respect for the media.

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