As I demonstrated in a post last week, Americans United for Separation of Church and State is seeking to use the power of the Internal Revenue Service to silence debate and dissent by opponents of AU’s political agenda. This week, the miscreant is the Catholic Bishop of Paterson, New Jersey, the Rt. Rev. Arthur Serratelli, who has had the audacity to write about one of the most abhorrent pieces of legislation to come down the pike in a long time, the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), and one of its most prominent supporters, who happens to be running for president.

In a press release posted on their Web site yesterday, AU called on the IRS to stop this danger to democracy in his tracks:

Americans United for Separation of Church and State has called on the Internal Revenue Service to investigate the Roman Catholic Diocese of Paterson, N.J., after its bishop published a letter advising congregants not to vote for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

In the letter, titled “A Politician’s Promise: No Right to Life! No Freedom!,” Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli compared Obama to Herod Antipas, the New Testament ruler who is notorious for ordering the beheading of John the Baptist.

Serratelli criticized Obama for telling a pro-choice group that he would sign legislation protecting abortion rights. Referring to Obama as “the present democratic candidate,” Serratelli attacked his voting record on abortion and asserted, “Today we live in a democracy. 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!”

Although tax-exempt religious organizations are free to take stands on issues, they are not, under federal tax law, allowed to intervene in elections by tying them to specific candidates and their campaigns.

Here’s what Bishop Serratelli said that so offended AU’s delicate sensibilities:

In 2002, as an Illinois legislator, the present democratic candidate voted against the Induced Infant Liability Act. This law was meant to protect a baby that survived a late-term abortion. When the same legislation came up in the Judiciary Committee on which he served, he held to his opposition. First, he voted “present.” Next, he voted “no.”
Along with 108 members of Congress, the present democratic candidate for President continues his strong support for the Freedom of Choice Act. In a speech before the Planned Parenthood Action Fund last year, 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!
At the time when Herod murdered John the Baptist because of his promise, Rome practiced the principle “one man, one vote.” Whoever the emperor in Rome placed in authority over a subject people, ruled. Today we live in a democracy. 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!
Please note a couple of things: 1) Everything the bishop says about Barack Obama is true. You can love it or hate it, but it’s all true. 2) He does not ever say that Catholics may not vote for Obama, or should vote for McCain. He gives his readers accurate information, and then tells them that they are free to choose their leaders on the basis of that information. 3) He doesn’t say that, if they vote for Obama, they will incure any sort of penalty from the Church. 4) He endorses no one. 5) He does not say any of this from the pulpit, but posts it in a letter on the diocese’s Web site. Though Catholic bishops may, at any time, order priests to read from the pulpit letters to their congregations from the bishop, there is no indication that Bishop Serratelli has done this.
None of this matters to AU. For this supposed church-state watchdog, what matters is that you don’t cross the line into even hinting at opposition to its preferred candidate. The best evidence of that is this: to date, near as I can tell from its Web site, AU has yet to complain to the IRS about any religious figure or organization that has made clear its preference for the Democratic nominee.