Priests for Life is proud to have assisted the process by which Americans from coast to coast organized rallies for religious freedom on Friday, June 8. These rallies, along with our lawsuit (and 22 others) against the HHS mandate, will bring about a change.
In making that change, we have to be clear that our religious freedom must be comprehensive, rather than selective. It applies across the board. The US bishops have written in their recent statement on religious liberty,
"Religious liberty is not only about our ability to go to Mass on Sunday or pray the Rosary at home. It is about whether we can make our contribution to the common good of all Americans. Can we do the good works our faith calls us to do, without having to compromise that very same faith?"
When I read this, one of the things I think about are the spiritual works of mercy, among which is to "instruct the uninformed." We share information that will help our brothers and sisters carry out their God-given mission in life.
And one of the ways we do that in an election year is to share information about the candidates and where they stand on the issues.
That is why this year, once again, Priests for Life has produced a voters' guide for the Presidential race, and we are organizing teams of people nationwide to distribute these guides everywhere: on the street corners of their communities, in their organizational meetings, at the workplace, through social networking, and more. (You can sign up at www.PoliticalResponsibility.com).
The bishops have also said in their document, "We need, therefore, to speak frankly with each other when our freedoms are threatened."
Let me, then, speak frankly right here and now, and say that when citizens are intimidated from sharing voter guides with their fellow citizens, that is an infringement of their religious liberty. After all, spreading this information should not be understood only as a partisan activity. It is also an activity motivated by faith, by the awareness that we have a responsibility to the common good to share information that will help others fulfill what the bishops have identified as a moral and spiritual responsibility, namely, " to see beyond party politics, to analyze campaign rhetoric critically, and to choose their political leaders according to principle, not party affiliation or mere self-interest" (US Bishops, Living the Gospel of Life, n. 34)
We cannot do that unless we know where the candidates stand on the issues, and there is no moral or legal reason not to spread that information.
Among the attorneys who advise us at Priests for Life are James Bopp, Jr. and Barry Bostrom, who are among the nation's leading experts on tax law and on what Churches are allowed to do regarding elections. In a letter (full text at www.priestsforlife.org/elections/parkinglots.pdf), they advised us as follows:
"…[T]he distribution of campaign material by others in the church parking lot will not jeopardize the church's tax exempt status. The mere permission of distribution of campaign materials by others in the church parking lot is not regulated by the Internal Revenue Code. The Code and its regulations are designed to limit only the activities and expenditures of non-profit organizations. Distribution of campaign materials by others outdoors, in a public parking lot, is not an activity or expenditure of the church…
Let us, indeed, defend our religious freedom, first and foremost by exercising it, by speaking freely and boldly, and by making a difference in this year's elections!