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Fr Frank Pavone: Welcome To 'National Get Thrown Out of the Church Parking Lot Sunday'
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Don't be surprised if you come out of church this weekend and find a campaign brochure on your car's windshield. And if you do, don't be annoyed. As you lift your windshield wiper to grab the pamphlet, realize that you've been blessed. That brochure may have been placed there by someone who has heard the call of the Church to be involved in transforming society! That person has understood what the Second Vatican Council meant by the apostolate of the laity - the special call to be in the world as a witness to Christ. He or she has learned what the Church teaches; that the tragic separation of faith and life leads many to worship in a corner, leaving the world unchanged.
STATEN ISLAND, NY (Catholic Online) - Don't be surprised if you come out of church this weekend and find a campaign brochure on your car's windshield. And if you do, don't be annoyed. As you lift your windshield wiper to grab the pamphlet, realize that you've been blessed.
That brochure may have been placed there by someone who has heard the call of the Church to be involved in transforming society! That person has understood what the Second Vatican Council meant by the "apostolate of the laity" - the special call to be in the world as a witness to Christ. He or she has learned what the Church teaches; that the tragic separation of faith and life leads many to worship in a corner, leaving the world unchanged.
And fortunately, your pastor was wise enough not to throw that person off church property!
What many in the Church, even those ordained to lead their flocks, do not realize is that it is perfectly fine under the law for people to distribute campaign literature in church parking lots. Unfortunately and all too often, the very pastors who tell their congregants to exercise their gifts to help change the world then turn around and punish those who try to live out that message by handing out voter education materials.
Clergy do this because they are mistakenly afraid that the Internal Revenue Service will punish them for allowing political material to be distributed on church property. Maybe someone has even told them that it's illegal for churches to permit the placing of campaign literature on cars in their parking lots.
This notion could not be more wrong.
Leading constitutional lawyers James Bopp, Jr. and Barry Bostrom are acknowledged experts on tax law and what churches may and may not do regarding elections. They have advised the group I lead, Priests for Life, for years and they have written to us on the very subject at hand.
Mr. Bopp and Mr. Bostrom state unequivocally, "[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.."
So, while pastors and churches may not hand out partisan election materials in churches, it's perfectly legal for others to do so in church parking lots. Bopp and Bostrom point out that "in most states there are state court decisions holding that such activity is protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and/or the State Constitution, and therefore, the church will suffer no adverse consequences as a result of this activity."
What's more, add the attorneys, "churches not only may permit campaign statements to be distributed in their public parking lots, they cannot prohibit such distributions because the parking lots are open to the public."
If, then, someone (maybe you?) feels led to inform his fellow believers regarding next week's ballot choices, there is no more logical or legal place to do it than in his church parking lot. If he believes that a candidate or a ballot proposition aligns more clearly with Church teaching, what better place in which to tell his brothers and sisters?
That brochure on your windshield, then, is a blessing because it's a reminder that we are blessed to be Americans. It combines two of our most cherished rights - the free exercise of religion and the freedom to speak. And let's not worry when someone takes action to advance Church teaching on, for instance, the cause of life. What we should worry about instead is when people do nothing about it -- or worse, when leaders in the church, as we battle for our religious freedom against government mandates, impose mandates of their own to restrict that freedom.
Fr Frank Pavone is the National Director of Priests for Life.
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