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Canadian tax authority warned churches to be silent on politics

It has just been revealed that state revenue officials in Canada told the Catholic Church and the Evangelical Fellowship that they would risk losing their tax-exempt status if they become involved in "partisan" political activity during the then-forthcoming 2004 federal election.

Catholic World News quotes a report that legal counsel for the churches were asked to be present at a meeting with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) in early March.

According to the federal agency, to avoid being "partisan" means not addressing issues on which the competing political parties have opposing views.

Dawna Lynn Labonte, a media relations officer for the federal Minister of National Revenue, said that not only would churches be penalised for telling their faithful to vote for a certain party or candidate, they would also be penalised for coming out strongly on an issue on which the parties were opposed, such as abortion or same-sex "marriage".

All moral issues including even poverty seem to be covered by the election time gag-order on religions. Giving an example, Labonte said, "Taking out a full-page ad before Christmas on homelessness might not be considered political, but doing the same thing the week of an election might be considered political."

Evangelical Fellowship legal counsel Janet Buckingham said that at the meeting the authority asked them to spread the word on the restrictions. Buckingham said that the guidelines have been in place at least since last September when CRA issued an update.

However Deacon William Kokesch, Director of the Communications Service for the Catholic Bishops, said he had not heard about the meeting. Catholic legal counsel Jennifer Leddy was out of the office and thus not available for comment.

Canadian tax authority warns churches to be silent (Catholic World News 12/8/04)

13 Aug 2004