By Kathleen Gilbert

PATERSON, New Jersey, October 24, 2008 ( – Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AUSCS) pounced on a Catholic bishop’s statement condemning the extreme pro-abortion agenda espoused by Barack Obama, and have asked the IRS to investigate the bishop’s tax-exempt status for alleged partisanship.

The group alleges that Bishop Arthur Serratelli of Paterson, NJ, broke laws governing tax-exempt organizations, including the Catholic Church – laws that forbid official endorsement of a particular political party or candidate. 

In a column written for the diocesan newspaper two weeks ago, Serratelli condemned the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) and related that the Democratic presidential candidate, whom he left unnamed, promised to sign FOCA into law immediately upon entering office.

“There is truly a deep sensitivity to life in the soul of America,” wrote the bishop.  “The Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) would mortally wound this sensitivity. In effect, it would dismantle the freedom of choice to do all that is necessary to respect and protect human life at its most vulnerable stage.

“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!” (To read bishop Serratelli’s column in full:

AUSCS executive director Barry Lynn contests that a hidden agenda to sway votes is behind the bishop’s words.  “He’s suggesting the candidate is so reprehensible that he compared him to a Roman emperor who beheaded John the Baptist,” said Lynn.  “I think he knew exactly what he was doing. He intended to influence voters.”

The diocese responded that Serratelli’s column simply conveyed the facts about FOCA and Catholics’ duty to oppose the spread of abortion.

“His October 9 column was … totally focused on the Freedom of Choice Act and the harm it would do to the nation if it were to be signed into law,” said the statement. “It’s absolutely, positively misleading to say that the bishop urged Catholics not to vote for Sen. Obama. All the bishop did was to point out that in a speech before the Planned Parenthood Action Fund last year, Sen. Obama made the promise that the first thing he would do as President would be to sign the Freedom of Choice Act.”

The allegation against the Paterson bishop marks the latest attempt by AUSCS to silence several U.S. bishops across the country, whom they have also condemned for warning parishioners about their moral obligation not to support pro-abortion candidates. writer Deacon Keith Fournier calls Barry’s interpretation of the first amendment “simply wrong.”

“This clause was never intended by the American founders to prevent religious groups from full participation in the public square nor to censor out religious speech or the religious speaker from civic participation,” Fournier writes.  “It was never intended to stop Bishops from being Moral teachers.

“The I.R.S. prohibits churches and other nonprofit groups from endorsing or opposing specific political candidates. None of these bishops did that. Americans United simply does not like the content of the message and is trying to censor it by silencing the messengers.”

A D.C. Examiner opinion writer simply calls the accusation “a dim bulb.”

“Where is Lynn when preachers endorse Obama from the pulpit or allow their pulpits to be used by politicians endorsing Obama? And why shouldn’t Bishop Serratelli inform his parishioners about legislation Obama supports that the Catholic Church officially condemns?”

The cure? “Reread the First Amendment.”