It’s on between the Tea Party and the Catholic Church in New Hampshire.
Republican State Rep. and Tea Party leader Andrew Manuse (R-Derry) told the Catholic League he will be filing legislation in the New Hampshire House to strip the Roman Catholic Church of its tax exempt status because Bishop John McCormack spoke against proposed budget cuts at a recent State House rally, according to Bill Donohue, the President of the Catholic League.
“I am now considering a bill to remove the Church’s tax exempt status in New Hampshire, for you have clearly shown that you no longer want it,” Manuse says in the e-mail.
Sources at the State House have confirmed to NH Journal that Manuse indeed intends to file such legislation.
Last week, McCormack joined several thousand protesters to oppose Republican-sponsored budget cuts.
“Never in the nearly 18 years I have spent as president of the Catholic League have I seen more totally irresponsible statements issued by the lawmakers in any one state,” said Donohue in a statement. “Why doesn’t Manuse go right ahead with his bill to remove the Church’s tax-exempt status? We’d love to present his e-mail in court.”
Manuse gained notoriety earlier in the session for filing legislation he called the “don’t touch my junk” bill. The measure would have placed TSA screeners on the sexual predator registry.
Manuse’s threat could enflame serious constitutional controversies about the roles of church and state. It is highly probable that the punitive nature of Manuse’s bill would violate the state and federal constitutions – an irony because Manuse considers himself an expert on the constitution.
Senior Republicans are growing concerned that the caustic tone in Concord may harm the Granite State as it fights to keep its treasured first-in-the-nation status against larger states, especially Florida.
“We have always prided ourselves on being thoughtful, considerable voters who should be trusted with important responsibility of picking presidents. But the recent antics in Concord have cast a dark shadow over that assertion,” one longtime Republican strategist told NH Journal.
UPDATE: Manuse has responded to NH Journal below:
“Wow, this is article is so filled with misinformation, I couldn’t possibly let it stand without correction. There is already a federal provision that prohibits a church leader from engaging in the political process if the church has a tax-exempt status. What Bishop McCormack did was in effect breaking that law. If he wants to engage in the process, he can step down as Bishop or have his church pay taxes; those are his options, according to the federal provision. What made Bishop McCormack’s actions more reprehensible is that his job under Cardinal Law in Boston was to take care of the pedophile priest problem. It is well known that Bishop McCormack was in a position to oversee the movement of priests around to different church districts after they had been caught abusing children. His case was settled out of court, thus I would argue that true justice was not served. The controversy was intense when he was later named bishop in New Hampshire. So, when he said at the State House that our budget doesn’t take care of the “most vulnerable,” its very clear to me that he is being hypocritical, at best, for it doesn’t seem like he cared so much for the “most vulnerable” from where I’m sitting. My comment, “I am now considering a bill to remove the Church’s tax exempt status in New Hampshire, for you have clearly shown that you no longer want it” was a reflection of the federal law and of the principle that a person in high religious authority should not be engaging in the political process. The fact that it was this Bishop using hypocritical terms, made the situation even more irritating. It is important to note that the word “considering” does not mean that I intend to file such legislation, and I have told no sources at the State House of any such intent. In fact, I acted alone with my comments and they in no way are related to the Tea Party or any other state representative. The comments, again, a reflection on the federal provision, would consider a similar state provision that gives churches the choice to pay property taxes and engage, or to not pay property taxes and to not engage. Considering the federal provision, the bill is worth discussing. This is certainly not an attack on the Catholic Church or any religion, for I am Christian myself. It is a question as to whether someone should have a pulpit where they can promote their agenda as they wish and then take that agenda to the State House and become a political activist. Is that right? I don’t know. I think it is worth considering. However, this entire false controversy has made me quite angry. I would think that good Catholic and Christian people would be angrier at what the Bishop did, both in breaking the law and being hypocritical, than they would be at the Majority Leader for an off-color remark that was accurate in its sentiment. I would ask the good people of this state to consider the facts, and then reconsider the smear job that is the article above.”