WDAY talker Jay Thomas posts this on his Facebook page promoting an upcoming interview with state Senator Tim Mathern who is upset about a political statement Catholics want read in all the state’s parishes.
Contrary to what many believe, organizations with non-profit status like churches can actually talk about politics as long as they stick to issues and refrain from endorsing any particular candidate or political party. I haven’t seen the statement in question yet as when I requested a copy of it I was told it was embargoed until after it is delivered this weekend, but the North Dakota Catholic Conference does maintain this political website which includes guidelines for how to handle politics in their parishes and makes it pretty clear that partisan politics is not their goal.
So assuming that the Catholics aren’t just telling their parishioners to vote the straight Republican ticket or something, what’s the problem?
This is one of the problems with the “non-profit” designation in the tax code. It amounts to the government essentially bribing influential organizations like churches into silence on politics. And many times politicians, like Senator Mathern, treat the prohibition on partisan politics as though it were far more inclusive of other types of political speech than it really is in the hopes of bullying these organizations into staying silent.
Really, though, Mathern’s gripes about the Catholics in North Dakota is just a manifestation of what has become a decidedly anti-free speech bent among North Dakota Democrats. Democrats have attacked Governor Jack Dalrymple, and Public Service Commissioners Brian Kalk and Kevin Cramer, for taking political contributions from those who they regulate (as if the regulated having a say in who regulates them were a bad thing). Democrats are also opposing a legal challenge to a law here in North Dakota that makes talking about politics on election day illegal.
It seems as though, as a party, North Dakota’s Democrats support some very chilling limitations on speech.
Update: The North Dakota Catholic Conference has responded to Senator Mathern’s criticisms. Their press release is below. Senator Mathern has also submitted a guest post to SAB explaining his position.