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Group Defends Passing Out Fliers at Churches

By Olivier Uyttebrouck
Journal Staff Writer
          A New Mexico anti-abortion group contends free-speech protections allow it to distribute fliers outside Roman Catholic churches endorsing political candidates despite church rules prohibiting the practice.
        The Catholic Coalition of New Mexico, a Belen-based nonprofit, has distributed fliers recommending 50 Republican and six Democratic candidates on the Nov. 2 general election ballot. The flier is posted on the group's website at catholicsvotecatholic.com.
        Marcella Melendez, president of the Catholic Coalition of New Mexico, said the group has not sought permission from church authorities to distribute the fliers.
        "As Americans, we have a right to free speech," Melendez said. The group has no formal ties to the Catholic Church, she said.
        "We are a group of Catholics, and we are a group of Americans, and we have the same rights as other Americans," Melendez said. The endorsements are based on voting records and an e-mail survey of candidates, she said.
        The Catholic Coalition has not received any correspondence from church officials directing them to stop distributing fliers, she said.
        Allen Sánchez, executive director of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, said all three New Mexico dioceses prohibit pastors from allowing groups to distribute fliers on church property.
        "Some parishes have ushers that patrol the parking lots," Sánchez said. Federal tax laws prohibit tax-exempt church groups from participating in political campaign activities.
        Sánchez acknowledged that he had not contacted the Catholic Coalition. The group is one of several that have distributed fliers at some churches, he said. "They know they're not supposed to be doing that," he said.
        The Archdiocese of Santa Fe website offers a link to "political responsibility guidelines" published by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops warning pastors not to make church facilities available for partisan political purposes.
        "In no way does the Archbishop (Michael Sheehan) want to be endorsing any candidates," Sánchez said.

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