May 2023 Church & State Magazine - May 2023

Priest Tells Wisc. Voters Not To Support Pro-Choice Judge In Election


A priest at a Catholic church in Cottage Grove, Wisc., came under fire in late March after he issued a church bulletin that advised people not to support a pro-choice candidate running for the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

On April 4, Janet Protasiewicz ran against Dan Kelly for a slot on the state’s high court. Although the races are technically non-partisan, it was widely acknowledged that Protasiewicz was running as a progressive while Kelly ran as a conservative. During the race, Protasiewicz highlighted her support for abortion rights. The procedure is illegal in most cases in Wisconsin due to a 19th-century law that took effect after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year.  

Days before the election, the Rev. Brian Dulli placed a notice in the bulletin of St. Patrick Church that said it is a “mortal sin to render aid to the cause of abortion. As a Catholic, I urge you, for the salvation of your soul; do not vote for her in the Supreme Court race on April 4.”

Wisconsin Supreme Court: Target of church-based politicking (Royalbroil/Wikimedia Commons)

A federal law known as the Johnson Amendment states that houses of worship and other nonprofits holding 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status may not intervene in elections by endorsing or opposing candidates.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), which is based in Madison, Wisc., sent a letter to the Internal Revenue Service asking for an investigation into the matter.

“We write to respectfully request that the IRS immediately investigate St. Patrick’s Catholic Church and ensure that it no longer receives the benefits of 501(c)(3) status and that donations made to the church are no longer treated as tax deductible,” FFRF’s letter stated.

Andrew L. Seidel, vice president of strategic communications for Americans United, agreed that the church had violated the law.

“I’m not surprised to see it, especially in a divided, gerrymandered state like Wisconsin, but it is something that we see every single election cycle,” Seidel told Wisconsin Public Radio.

Protasiewicz won the election by about 10 points. Her victory means that progressives now hold a 4-3 edge on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. 

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