Washington state: Bishop warned by state over defense of marriage campaign

A while back I posted: Are we witnessing the establishment of a “state religion”?

From the site of CNBC:

Washington state Catholic bishop warned over anti-gay marriage campaign

OLYMPIA, Washington (Reuters) – Washington state regulators have warned a Roman Catholic bishop that his diocese risks running afoul of state campaign finance laws if he follows through with a planned fund-raising effort opposing same-sex marriage on the November ballot.

State law prohibits organizations, including churches, from raising money from individuals to give to political campaigns, said Lori Anderson, a spokeswoman for the state’s Public Disclosure Commission.

“It’s not because it’s a church. It’s because it’s not a stand-alone individual,” Anderson said on Thursday. [Of course!]

The commission was calling into question a recent letter from Bishop Joseph Tyson to Yakima-area pastors urging them to distribute donation envelopes to parishioners during the weekend of September 8-9.

The money would go to Preserve Marriage Washington, the campaign to defeat legalization of same-sex marriage on the state’s November ballot.

The Democratic-controlled Washington Legislature voted this year to legalize same-sex marriage, and Governor Chris Gregoire, a Democrat and a Catholic, signed the measure into law during in February. [Canon 915]

But the law was blocked from taking effect as scheduled in June when opponents submitted a petition for a repeal referendum on the November ballot. Referendum 74, subsequently certified as having collected enough signatures to qualify, asks voters to approve or reject the gay marriage bill enacted in February.

Tyson’s letter instructs parish priests not to open the envelopes once they are turned back in, but to place them into a pre-addressed security envelope to be mailed directly to Preserve Marriage, according to local media reports.

“It’s not our envelope,” Tyson told local television station KIMA-TV. “We’re not collecting the money, and we’re not taking the money. Preserve Marriage Washington is doing that. We’re going to follow the state law.”

But Anderson said she was not swayed.

“That can’t happen under our state law,” she told Reuters. “It doesn’t matter if they haven’t looked at the contributions.”

The commission has not heard directly from the diocese, but it sent Tyson a letter Thursday outlining the relevant campaign finance rules, Anderson said.

LETTER OF THE LAW

Under state law, only individuals are allowed to collect donations and give them to a political campaign, and in doing so must take down each donor’s name, address, occupation and employer. If the donation is above $25, that information must then be made public by the campaign.

The diocese may pass out campaign donation envelopes to its parishioners, but it cannot collect them or act in any way as an intermediary, Anderson said. The church is free to create a political action committee to raise money, and could then transfer donations to other campaigns as it sees fit, she said.

Organizations found to have violated state campaign finance laws can be fined up to $10,000 for each transgression.

Several diocese officials reached by Reuters said they were not authorized to comment. Tyson did not immediately return telephone calls.

Wake Forest University divinity professor James Dunn said the diocese’s fund-raising plans could also threaten its federal tax-exempt status as a non-political religious organization.

Handing out donation envelopes for a political campaign in church “is in blatant violation of the spirit of the law,” Dunn said, adding that the Internal Revenue Service has not strictly enforced that law in recent years. [The "spirit" of the law. Is it a violation of the law? By the way, is the state also cracking down on voter fraud?]

[...]

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29 Responses to Washington state: Bishop warned by state over defense of marriage campaign

  1. Supertradmum says:

    Going into a dark ages for the Church…poverty or compromise. I choose poverty, and so would most good bishops. We just need to get smarter, cleverer than these laws.

  2. frjim4321 says:

    Hmmm, surprised by this. Have been reading conflicting things on this; thought it was fairly well resolved that the church could pass out the empty envelopes and encourage participation so long as it did not act as intermediary for the funds.

    I am sure we will seeing more on this.

  3. We haven’t seen anything yet. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. Tolerance had become a one way street. The government is giving the bishop the message that he should ‘stay out of our business’. The Devil never sleeps.

  4. jessicahoff says:

    Mammon is getting pretty imperialist here – constantly encroaching into what is God’s – let us hope and pray that a way through is found. Bless the Catholic Church for its stance here – at least one Church is standing up for God’s Holy Law.

  5. wmeyer says:

    Really? No money from corporations, clubs, PACs, foundations…. Really? Really???

    My BS detector just pinned the needle (for those old enough to know meters used to be analog.)

  6. The Masked Chicken says:

    “Under state law, only individuals are allowed to collect donations and give them to a political campaign, and in doing so must take down each donor’s name, address, occupation and employer.”

    Well, the Church is the body of Christ and he is an individual. Now, true, no one local Church is the body of Christ in toto, so, let’s just say this is Christ wiggling his left toe. I can see the donation register:

    Name: Jesus
    Address: Heaven
    Occupation: Supreme Diety
    Employer: Self-employed

    The Chicken

  7. Cantor says:

    Tempest in a teapot?

    The diocese may pass out campaign donation envelopes to its parishioners, but it cannot collect them or act in any way as an intermediary, Anderson said.

    There’s no particular reason that the churches must collect the envelopes and present them personally, other than to make what is clearly a political statement. So pass them out, have people spend that extra 45 cents for a stamp and send it themselves. Or, if they’ve forgotten how to send mail (like many of us!) I’ll bet there’s an online collection point.

  8. anilwang says:

    wmeyer,

    Actually, that would be a step up. If *all* donations to political campaigns had to be individual contributions involving no middle men (including providing a space where individuals can pick up envelops) and even advertising that such donations are possible by middle men was forbidden, nearly all lobbyists would go out of business and politicians might actually be forced to be accountable to their electorate rather than special interest groups.

    In the mean time, your examples highlight his blatant intimidation of religion that the Separation of Church and State was meant to prevent.

    As a side note, I think there needs to be a law against the phrase “the spirit of …”, especially by people who don’t believe in spirits or judgment. That phrase has done more harm to religion and society in general than any other.

  9. wmeyer says:

    anilwang: Yes and no. If the law did not view corporations as fictitious persons the discussion would be simpler. But it does, and they also have the right to make contributions.

    My point was that I do not believe that Washington truly makes use of no donations other than from individuals. And if there are monies from other sources, then the law is not properly applied, and used against the Church, is an abuse.

  10. robtbrown says:

    anilwang says:

    wmeyer,

    In the mean time, your examples highlight his blatant intimidation of religion that the Separation of Church and State was meant to prevent.

    Superb point. With all the exercise on the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment, it is too often forgotten that there is also the Free Exercise clause.

  11. robtbrown says:

    wmeyer says:

    anilwang: Yes and no. If the law did not view corporations as fictitious persons the discussion would be simpler.

    Without the concept of juridical person any organization would be immune from the law.

  12. wmeyer says:

    robtbrown, I understand, but that is the same concept which gives cause for the organization to have a voice. An alternative would be to exempt them from taxation, and bar them from the political process. But that won’t happen.

  13. Funny, I don’t hear of Democrat politicians warning Afro American Congregations when they have democrat politicians take over their services on Sunday morning. Rule of Law, yeah right!

  14. robtbrown says:

    wmeyer says:

    robtbrown, I understand, but that is the same concept which gives cause for the organization to have a voice. An alternative would be to exempt them from taxation, and bar them from the political process. But that won’t happen.

    It’s also the concept that allows unions to have a voice.

  15. wmeyer says:

    robtbrown: Yes, we get good and bad. That’s why the only alternative I can imagine is one I already mentioned. So long as organizations have juridical status, how do we keep them from being involved? And if we can and do, how then to manage it? I think the door must be open or closed, not open selectively, since were it selective, our politicians would likely open it for the groups with the deepest pockets.

  16. SKAY says:

    Great point H Gregory.

  17. Phil_NL says:

    “Under state law, only individuals are allowed to collect donations and give them to a political campaign, ” Didn’t SCOTUS sink a law to that effect as unconstitutional just a few months ago? (yup, found it: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/11pdf/11-1179h9j3.pdf ) The first amendment does carry over to the states as well, so to this non-expert it looks like a case well worth taking to court, should the state be so foolish to let it get that far.

  18. Phil_NL says:

    hmm, on second thought, there’s probably some wiggle room in the terms “political campaign” and “independent contribution”. Still, it’s a stretch, as the campaign for the ballot measure isn’t running for office (and couldn’t be corrupted, the usual argument to justify those bans). Guess I’d steered clear from the legal profession in part ebcause I like logic…

  19. wmeyer says:

    What passes for logic in law is quite foreign to any other application I know. And as the law schools in the U.S., in my view, teach truth as only an abstract concept, on the way to teaching how to argue either side of a case, many graduates seem to believe it’s all just a game.

  20. “Campaign finance reform” is and always has been a frontal assault on freedom of speech. Which of the Founding Fathers ever conceived of an America where a herd of bums pitching tents, defecating, copulating and doing drugs on public property would be considered “free speech,” while authentic political speech, four-square within the protections of the First Amendment, is muzzled?

    I hope Bishop Tyson faces down these bully-boy threats. He’s not a priest and successor of the Apostles for nothing!

  21. robtbrown says:

    wmeyer says:

    robtbrown: Yes, we get good and bad. That’s why the only alternative I can imagine is one I already mentioned. So long as organizations have juridical status, how do we keep them from being involved? And if we can and do, how then to manage it? I think the door must be open or closed, not open selectively, since were it selective, our politicians would likely open it for the groups with the deepest pockets.

    I have no problem with any organization–union, corporation, AARP, whatever–being involved in the political process. A corporation, like a union, seeks its own benefit, which might lower prices or increase the value of its stock (thus a 401K).

    I do think, however, that all contributions should be public knowledge.

  22. PostCatholic says:

    Don’t forget, folks: Liberals have churches too. This cuts both ways: presumably the Unitarian church down the street can’t have a similar program in place to funnel contributions to marriage equality organizations.

  23. PostCatholic says: Don’t forget, folks: Liberals have churches too. This cuts both ways: presumably the Unitarian church down the street can’t have a similar program in place to funnel contributions to marriage equality organizations.

    Don’t hold your breath that this will cut both ways. But even if it did, so what? This is an unconstitutional restriction on a guaranteed right.

  24. Kerry says:

    To the Democratic-controlled Washington Legislature, from Bishop Joseph Tyson and Yakima-area pastors, “Nuts!”

  25. RichR says:

    Catholics are soon going to face the reality that they will be the only taxed Church in America. So Catholics, are you ready to support your parish, diocese, and religious orders in this country without being able to write it off? I can’t think of better treasure stored up in Heaven than that.

  26. Johnno says:

    Maybe the Church really ought to move first and end its tax benefits so it doesn’t have to deal with this sort of thing? Then the Church can actually be more actively involvd in politics and the secularists will have nothing to say… In fact they might regret the day the Church ever gave it up. Best for the Church to make the first move, because sure enough they’re going to find a way to do it inevitably.

  27. BLB Oregon says:

    Could he announce the following:

    “Preserve Marriage Washington is doing a fund-raising campaign for their initiative to overturn the attempt of Washington legislators to invent gay marriage in the State of Washington. They are accepting donations at their website, and anyone who wants to contribute but doesn’t have internet access can contact Mr. _______. ”

    “Before someone catches me outside after mass, I’d also like to announce that the bishop was planning to save you a trip by allowing me to make the envelopes available here at church, but Lori Anderson at the Public Disclosure Commission told the diocese that the state would move to make us start paying taxes on all of your contributions to the church if we did that. Until that changes, we will all have to put our secular hats when we’re involved in politics, and then throw those in the closet with the baseball caps when we come here to Mass. I think we can do that.

    Just incidentally, the Public Disclosure Commission also has a means of accepting your comments at the their website. “

  28. Pingback: Israel Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto Bishop Joseph Tyson | Big Pulpit

  29. Rick DeLano says:

    The entire story was a hoax:

    http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/story-claiming-wash.-state-ruled-against-church-marriage-collections-mislea/

    The individual quoted denies the story, which is false from beginning to end.

    All that is necessary is that the person collecting the envelopes not be an official or employee of the Church.

    If you want to know whether a Reuters story on homosexuality is lying, simply determine whether it comes, in fact, from Reuters.