A broad coalition of U.S. church groups has petitioned the Supreme Court to set aside a contempt citation against the Catholic Church for refusing to turn over church documents that might relate to its antiabortion activities in the political arena.

In a friend-of-the-court brief filed Oct. 26, the coalition, which includes groups as diverse as Mormons and evangelicals, argued that the group seeking the documents, Abortion Rights Mobilization Inc., had no legal standing to attack the tax-exempt status of the Catholic Church.

The abortion rights group contends the Catholic Church violated federal law governing tax-exempt organizations by encouraging its members to vote for antiabortion candidates and otherwise engage in political activity opposing abortion.

A federal judge last year found the Catholic Church in contempt for refusing to turn over masses of documents that the abortion rights group claimed would prove the church broke the law forbidding such political activities.

The church coalition, led by the National Council of Churches, asked the nation's high court to overrule the lower decisions because churches have a constitutionally protected right to address public issues without risking their tax exemption.

Joining the NCC in the brief were the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, Christian Legal Society, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and National Association of Evangelicals.

The friend-of-the-court brief asks the Supreme Court to review the proceedings in the case thus far "because the sensitive task of revocation of the tax-exempt status of religious organizations should not be entrusted to private third parties merely because they do not agree with the message of religious not-for-profit organizations engaged in public statements of moral positions on a variety of public policy issues."