Is this a problem that lawyers can solve? I doubt it.
Can a church do this? The First Amendment answers that question: yes.
Can a church do this and not lose tax exempt status? The Internal Revenue Code (IRC) and IRS interpretation of the IRC make it quite clear that the answer is also yes. Tax exemption could be lost if the Church endorsed a candidate for election or insisted that parishioners support a candidate, but a tax exempt organization can take a position on a ballot initiative and insist that its members agree with that position as a condition to joining or remaining in the communion.
Some lawyers suggest changing the IRC to prohibit 501c3 organizations from endorsing a particular position on any matter submitted to voters. This approach, however, is fraught with constitutional problems and other difficulties because ballot initiatives are about laws, not candidates, and 501c3 organizations routinely take positions on pending legislation and regulations. It probably should not make a difference that voters rather than legislators make the decisions.
The tax law permits churches and other charitable groups to set their own standards for membership. That may include requiring a teenage boy who is not even eligible to vote to say that he disagrees with the majority of voters – and with a supermajority of young voters – who believe discrimination by the government is wrong. If the boy or his parents don’t like it, they can find another church.
And some people may do just that. Polls show that many, perhaps a majority, of Catholic voters agree with the views that cost these teenagers their first communion.
A free market in ideas – including ideas about faith and fairness – is what the First Amendment is all about. Many of us are outraged at what was done here, but we must recognize that people are free to associate for worship only with persons who agree with them or with church leaders on certain issues. Parishioners can vote with their feet (or by withholding contributions). This is a matter that lawyers – and the IRS -- should stay out of.