Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Theocracy in America

A lot of people are angry that Senate rules and Republican intransigence give Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson life-or-death power over the health care reform bill.  I am angry that the Catholic Church also has a near-veto:
Leadership aides say progressives are prepared to take it on the chin and will vote for a final bill without a public option. But they say pro-life Democrats will seek direction from the U.S. Conference of Bishops as to whether they can support an amendment weaker than Rep. Bart Stupak's, thus setting up what will likely be the most difficult negotiation before a final vote.
Catholic bishops have about as much credibility on matters of sexual and reproductive morality as Iranian mullahs have with respect to vote-counting.

Say what you like about Lieberman and Nelson, they were at least democratically elected. But then, to be fair, so were the 240 House reps (including 64 Democrats) who voted for the Stupak Amendment, banning any insurance plan participating in the health care exchanges from offering coverage for abortion.

I suppose that theocratic power in the U.S., such as it is, is democratically enabled, sigh.   But where does the Church get off maintaining tax-exempt status?  According to IRS code section 501(c)(3), a tax exempt organization "may not be an action organization, i.e., it may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates." And regarding lobbying:
An organization will be regarded as attempting to influence legislation if it contacts, or urges the public to contact, members or employees of a legislative body for the purpose of proposing, supporting, or opposing legislation, or if the organization advocates the adoption or rejection of legislation.
As Carol Marin, a Chicago Sun-Times columnist, wrote:
When bishops lobby legislators, they should be required to do what all tax-exempt 501(c)3 groups have to do. Create a parallel political organization and pay taxes on the contributions they receive. And fully disclose, like every other lobbying organization -- corporate or charitable -- what they take in and what they spend to advance positions they advocate.
Marin also wonders why Obama isn't laying down the law to the Church. I suppose he can't afford to right now if he wants health care to pass. And neither can any Democrat in a position to shape the legislation. Double sigh.

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