A prominent Chicago-based law firm has offered to provide free legal services to the Most Rev. Daniel Jenky, C.S.C. of the Diocese of Peoria, Illinois, after he was reported to the Internal Revenue Service for encouraging the faithful to remember the policies of the current president regarding religious liberty when voting in the upcoming election.
“The Internal Revenue Service has no legal right to investigate, let alone threaten or penalize, the Catholic Diocese of Peoria for illegal ‘electioneering’ after Bishop Daniel Jenky, C.S.C. referred to policies of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin while delivering a robust, wholly legitimate critique of current federal efforts to quash and curtail religious liberties,” says Tom Brejcha, President of the Thomas More Society, a public interest Chicago-based law firm.
“References to egregious, historic mistakes on the part of political leaders of the past in messages to congregations, even during an election year, are fully protected by the First Amendment, whether those messages are delivered from pulpits or on soapboxes in the public square.”
Brejcha was responding to reports of a complaint just filed with the IRS by Americans United for Separation of Church and State over Bishop Jenky’s comments at a recent mens’ march.
“We think the law is very clear,” said Brejcha. “Well-settled Federal law does not prohibit churches and other tax-exempt non-profits from speaking out against government policies at odds with the common good or — as in this case — constitutionally obnoxious,” said Brejcha. “Where would the Civil Rights movement have been were it not for the courage of those of our religious leaders who spoke truth to power on behalf of the disenfranchised?” Brejcha added.
“When Bishop Jenky said, ‘…every practicing Catholic must vote, and must vote their Catholic consciences…,’ he’s simply telling people that their religious convictions and values matter outside the church walls,” said Tom Brejcha.
TMS has successfully faced down the IRS twice recently, first when the Service delayed approval of the Coalition for Life of Iowa’s request for tax-exempt status while IRS was also pressing its pro-life members to refrain from conducting picketing or prayer vigils outside a Planned Parenthood abortion facility in Iowa City. After TMS challenged the IRS’s legal position, the Service’s demands to stop the picketing were suddenly dropped and the Coalition promptly received an official IRS “Determination Letter” granting the requested tax exempt status.
In a second case, where the IRS made highly improper demands for information about prayer vigils conducted by the Christian Voices for Life, and was challenged by TMS, the IRS again backed down.
Brejcha has promised to provide free legal counsel and what it believes is a winning defense to any and all religious leaders whose free speech rights are assailed whether by the US government, or at the behest of any partisan political or private group.