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The down-ballot issues people of faith were watching

More states than ever before will be mulling whether marijuana should be legalized and a diverse range of religious leaders have spoken out against it.

UPDATE: The measures below voters approved on Nov. 8 are indicated with “(PASSED)” and those that failed with “(FAILED).”

(RNS) The nation’s attention may be on the presidential election, but there are a number of down-ballot issues of interest to religious and nonreligious voters. Here’s a sampling of what’s being considered and how people of faith are weighing them:

Marijuana

Recreational: Arizona (FAILED), California (PASSED), Maine (PASSED), Massachusetts (PASSED), Nevada (PASSED)
Medicinal: Arkansas (PASSED), Florida (PASSED), Montana (PASSED), North Dakota (PASSED)
More states than ever before will be mulling whether marijuana should be legalized and a diverse range of religious leaders have spoken out against it.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

More states than ever before will be mulling whether marijuana should be legalized.

More states than ever will be mulling whether marijuana should be legalized, and many religious leaders have spoken out against it. More than 125 Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox leaders in Massachusetts signed a statement urging defeat of Question 4 in that state.

“As faith leaders, we believe that our efforts as a society should be focused toward improving life for our citizens,” they said. “A culture that encourages and promotes the use of drugs is failing its people.”

The Archdiocese of Boston donated $850,000 to oppose Question 4, and the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization, contributed another $150,000. Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian group, has created a guide on “The Allure of Legalizing Marijuana” that its supporters — and marijuana opponents — can use to advocate against passage of the initiatives.

But a group of clergy in Arizona has argued that the state’s marijuana laws, which prohibit the possession and sale of marijuana, are unjust. “Taxpayers spend millions of dollars annually to arrest, prosecute, cite and process thousands of people — disproportionately Latinos and African-Americans — for possessing small amounts of marijuana,” a letter to Arizona clergy states.

Gun control and ammunition initiatives

California (PASSED), Maine (FAILED), Nevada (PASSED), Washington (PASSED)
A police officer stands watch as people leave Friday prayers at the Dar Al Uloom Al Islamiyah-Amer mosque where shooting suspect Syed Rizwan Farook was seen two to three times a week at lunch time, in San Bernardino, California on December 4, 2015. Authorities are investigating the San Bernardino, California, shooting as an "act of terrorism", Federal Bureau of Investigation assistant director David Bowdich said at a news conference on Friday. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Mike Blake

A police officer stands watch on Dec. 4, 2015, as people leave Friday prayers at the Dar Al Uloom Al Islamiyah-Amer mosque in San Bernardino, Calif., where shooting suspect Syed Rizwan Farook was seen two to three times a week at lunchtime. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Mike Blake

The Golden State is still reeling after last year’s terror attack in San Bernardino, in which a heavily armed couple killed 14 and wounded 22 more. Polls now show two-thirds of Californians support the state’s Proposition 63, which would require background checks for the purchase of ammunition and would ban possession of ammunition magazines with more than 10 rounds.

Supporting the ban are a slew of religious organizations, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and a number of parachurch groups, such as Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice and Rabbis Against Gun Violence.

Pushing for a “no” vote is a Southern California-based group called Jews Can Shoot that frames its opposition in terms of preventing another Holocaust.

Minimum wage

Washington (PASSED), Arizona (PASSED), Maine (PASSED), Colorado (PASSED)
Fast food workers and their supporters marched along 8th Ave in New York City calling for an increase in the minimum wage on Sept. 4, 2014.

Photo courtesy of a katz via Shutterstock

Fast-food workers and their supporters march along Eighth Avenue in New York City, calling for an increase in the minimum wage, on Sept. 4, 2014.

A higher minimum wage — a “living wage” in some parlance — is on the to-do list of many religious groups, some of which frame it as an economic justice issue, a kind of “What would Jesus pay?” Initiatives across four states would raise the wage to between $12 and $13.50 over four years.

Maine’s religious communities have rallied behind their state’s Question 4, which would take the minimum wage to $12 by 2020, with endorsements from the Maine Council of Churches, which represents nine Christian denominations.

“For me, the minimum wage is an issue of faith,” Stephen T. Lane, the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maine, wrote in the Portland Press Herald. “Jesus told us to love our neighbors as ourselves, and that requires us to work for all of our fellow citizens.”

Repealing the death penalty

California (FAILED), Nebraska (PASSED), Oklahoma (PASSED)
An anti-death penalty button is worn by a demonstrator attending a protest against the scheduled execution of convicted murderer Richard Glossip, at the state capitol in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on September 15, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Nick Oxford

A demonstrator sports an anti-death penalty button during a protest Sept. 15, 2015,  in Oklahoma City against the scheduled execution of convicted murderer Richard Glossip. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Nick Oxford

Repealing — or maintaining a repeal of — the death penalty seems to have the most support of any ballot initiatives across the states. In California, almost 30 different religious groups support a death penalty repeal, while in Nebraska, celebrity Christian author Shane Claiborne has spoken in support of retaining a repeal of the death penalty at anti-death penalty events.

In Oklahoma, clergy want to see a “no” vote on Question 776, which would reverse the state’s current death penalty repeal, put in place after several botched executions.

“The death penalty is state-sponsored murder and it’s disgusting, and we’re telling the rest of the world that not only are we OK with it, but we’re making it a fundamental value and putting it in our constitution,” said the Rev. Adam Leathers, a spokesperson for Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. “This (measure) will truly make us look ignorant, brutish and all manner of negative attributes.”

Public money for religious purposes

Oklahoma (FAILED)
An Oklahoma commission voted Sept. 29, 2015 to remove a privately funded granite monument of the Ten Commandments from the state Capitol grounds, after a judge ordered its removal by Oct. 12. Religion News Service photo by Greg Horton

An Oklahoma commission voted Sept. 29, 2015, to remove a privately funded granite monument of the Ten Commandments from the state Capitol grounds after a judge ordered its removal. Religion News Service photo by Greg Horton

This ballot measure, fueled by the removal of a Ten Commandments monument from the state Capitol grounds, has divided religious leaders. Question 790 would repeal a section of the Oklahoma Constitution that prohibits religious organizations from using state money. In a statement supporting that repeal, Catholic Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City said approval of the measure would remove the “Blaine Amendment,” which aimed to exclude Catholics from public life in general and religious education in particular.

“If State Question 790 passes, Oklahomans would remove a current major threat to religious organizations — including Catholic social service agencies — who serve the poor, refugees, the disabled, the homeless, the hungry and many other needy people in our state,” said Coakley.

But Holly Hollman, general counsel for the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, criticized the measure as a “move toward blending the institutions of church and state.”

Assisted suicide or ‘death with dignity’

Colorado (PASSED)

Assisted suicide is a big issue for some religious Americans who oppose it vehemently. Nowhere is this more true than in Colorado, home to a large number of conservative Christians. The state is considering Proposition 106, which would allow terminally ill patients with under six months to live to self-administer aid-in-dying drugs.

But the measure may succeed this time — supporters of the proposition have out-raised opponents by 2-to-1. The chief opponent of the proposition is the Catholic Archdiocese of Denver, which has contributed $1.6 million to defeat it. Joining the opposition are Focus on the Family, Colorado Christian University and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“The moral aspects of this debate are very clear,” Catholic Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila said in a video condemning assisted suicide. “God has taught us not to kill and that includes killing ourselves.”

About the author

Kimberly Winston

Kimberly Winston is a freelance religion reporter based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

About the author

Adelle M. Banks

Adelle M. Banks, production editor and a national reporter, joined RNS in 1995. An award-winning journalist, she previously was the religion reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and a reporter at The Providence Journal and newspapers in the upstate New York communities of Syracuse and Binghamton.

44 Comments

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  • Only one of those is a genuine religious issue (misappropriation of public funds to further religious belief). The others are churches interjecting themselves into a debate where they are acting as partisan PACs.

  • “The Archdiocese of Boston donated $850,000 to oppose Question 4” – Catholic churches and schools are closing rapidly in the Boston Archdiocese. Their churches are falling apart and being demolished due to poor maintenance because of a “lack of financial means” (according to church leaders). The parishes are crying poverty, schools are closing and the archdiocese fights lawsuits for financial compensation to church abuse victims but they have hundreds of thousands to throw around on politics?

    And considering the social justice view the church is supposed to have I would think keeping poor folks and minorities out of prison for low level drug charges would be right in their wheelhouse. You know, “the least of these”? Who said that again?

  • “a kind of ‘What would Jesus pay?’ Initiatives across four states would raise the wage to between $12 and $13.50 over four years.”

    I think Jesus would be more in the habit of employing foreign persons, ACTUAL poor people, rather than boosting the wage of Americans, who are ALREADY part of the 1%. Americans on Welfare are even part of the 1%, the country is already so rich that it’s unemployed are part of the richest 1% on the planet. Why does the 1% need MORE money??

  • The Archdiocese of Boston donated $850,000 to oppose Question 4, and the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization, contributed another $150,000.

    $850,000 !!!

    IF churches are going to play politics they should be taxed like any other Political organization!

  • “IF churches are going to play politics they should be taxed like any other Political organization!”

    They are.

    Other political organizations aren’t taxed under US tax code. IRC Section 527.

    https://www.irs.gov/charities-non-profits/political-organizations/exemption-requirements-political-organizations

    So GOOD NEWS, your proposal has been accepted and is already in place!!

    Religious organizations pay the same amount of taxes as political organizations.

    Which is to say, none at all.

  • Political lobbies get an exemption as well. But only if they file as such. Not all of their activities are exempt. It is not like the blanket exemption that churches get.

    [From the the link]

    “A political organization subject to section 527 is a party, committee, association, fund, or other organization (whether or not incorporated) organized and operated primarily for the purpose of directly or indirectly accepting contributions or making expenditures, or both, for an exempt function. ”

    A political organization must be organized for the primary purpose of carrying on exempt function activities. A political organization’s primary activities must be exempt function activities. A political organization may engage in activities that are not exempt function activities, but these may not be its primary activities.

    To be exempt, a political organization must file a timely notice with the IRS that it is to be treated as a tax-exempt organization.”

  • “Blaine Amendment, which aimed to exclude Catholics from public life in general and religious education in particular.”

    I believe this is what you are referring to Spuddie. It caught my eye too, particularly the bishop’s mischaracterization above. RCC members can participate to their hearts’ content and their bodies’ exhaustion. The RCC, as a tax exempt religious organization, risks its favored tax status by playing politics. In addition, as previous commenters have stated, there are plenty of appropriate needs for that money.

  • I hope more states legalize marijuana and more citizens turn away from liquor to weed. The crimes of aggression linked to drinking would decrease and the roads would be much safer.

    Best of all? No hangovers!

  • Wrong.

    I have links to the IRS to back me up.

    So I’m sorry, I find the organization in charge of taxing people more credible than a random person on teh interwebz.

  • “Political lobbies get an exemption as well. But only if they file as such. Not all of their activities are exempt. It is not like the blanket exemption that churches get.”

    ACTUALLY…

    Religious organizations also only get an exemption if they file as such.

    Info on how one must file: https://www.irs.gov/charities-non-profits/churches-religious-organizations/filing-requirements

    And not all their activities are exempt either, they are covered under 501(c)(3),

    Which reads: “an organization must be organized and operated exclusively for exempt purposes set forth in section 501(c)(3)”

    Those exempt purposes that the organization is limited to being: “charitable, religious, educational, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering national or international amateur sports competition, and preventing cruelty to children or animals”

    And the tax code further requires “and none of its earnings may inure to any private shareholder or individual. In addition, it may not be an action organization, i.e., it may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates.”

    So less of a “blanket exemption” and more of a “very small subset of things they are actually allowed to do, and a handful of things they are explicitly forbidden from doing.”

    https://www.irs.gov/charities-non-profits/charitable-organizations/exemption-requirements-section-501-c-3-organizations

    I’d argue that it’s even more strict than that of political organizations. The Political Organization exemption mentions that they must be for “for the primary purpose of carrying on exempt function activities”, those being “influencing or attempting to influence the selection, nomination, election or appointment of an individual to a federal, state, or local public office or office in a political organization. The election of Presidential or Vice-Presidential electors is also part of the exempt function of a political organization. Activities that directly or indirectly relate to or support an exempt function are exempt function activities.”

    So TL;DR: A political organization can do anything exempt related to getting someone elected for something. And anything they do that is tangentially related to getting someone elected is also tax exempt. And they can also do non-tax exempt things as long as they are PRIMARILY associated with tax exempt activity.

    A RELIGIOUS exemption on the other hand only applies to organizations that EXCLUSIVELY perform only the exempt purposes of “charitable, religious, educational, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering national or international amateur sports competition, and preventing cruelty to children or animals”, and also cannot personally profit any single individual.

    The Political Groups aren’t limited to exclusively perform exempt functions and can be to profit single individuals, ergo, there is more leeway in the written code to Political Groups.

    I guess you COULD say that not everything a Political Group does is tax exempt, whereas everything a religion does is, but that’s only because religions, by tax code, aren’t ALLOWED to do anything not tax exempt, whereas political groups are allowed, as long as their “primary purpose” is exempt.

  • I think you and I would probably enjoy a beer together. I’m very interested in what makes you tick. In a good way. Btw…I know nothing about your comment: Ukraine/Crimea/Putin. It is so hard to get the real truth of anything these days. Gate keepers galore. Need to find people on the ground. Just your average people….find out the truth from their perspective. If you want to chat private — email me — [email protected]

  • ““As faith leaders, we believe that our efforts as a society should be focused toward improving life for our citizens,” they said. “A culture that encourages and promotes the use of drugs is failing its people.”

    But most have no problem with alcohol and legal drug abuse. And most have no problem with people getting jailed and fined and having their lives messed up for the horrible crime of possessing a joint.

    “The Archdiocese of Boston donated $850,000 to oppose Question 4, and the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization, contributed another $150,000.”

    so, they spent $1 Milliion– ONE MILLION SMACKERS– to tell grown ups that they shouldn’t use a natural substance that has no known bad effects, except for over-eating sugary snacks and a tendency to fall asleep.

    How many children could have been fed and educated for that $1 million? How many women, considering abortion because they could not afford to have another child, could have been persuaded to have that child after all. And where in the Bible can this commandment be found: THOUS SHALT NOT TOKE?

    Maybe it’s really all about control? Ya think someone might prefer a joint to church, a bag to tithes?

    Hypocrisy: THE NAME IS (RE)LEGION.

  • Wrong.
    As I tried to point out the church has no business in this sort of outrageous overreach.
    This is not the behavior of a charity! There is nothing “LIMITED” in a figure as high as $850,000 in cash funneling .

    “….churches and other 501(c)(3) organizations can engage in a limited amount of lobbying (including ballot measures) and advocate for or against issues that are in the political arena. The IRS also has provided guidance regarding the difference between advocating for a candidate and advocating for legislation.”

    https://www.irs.gov/uac/charities-churches-and-politics

  • I would like to see the 10 commandment displays removed. Regardless of separation issues, the commandments are un-American and blatantly unconstitutional based the very first one – you shall have no gods before me. That is against the 1st ammendment, which guarantees the right to worship any god one chooses.

  • Thou shall have no other Gods before me,
    Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image
    Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain

    These all violate the 1st Amendment free exercise of religion. They declare that no religion but Judeo/Christian/Islamic is allowed.

  • Too bad for you that out of context quotes by a political figures don’t constitute interpretation of the Constitution in any sense. Plus your source is deliberately misquoting Joseph Story. It is a common lie told by Dominionists. People with zero regard for the 1st Amendment.

    “While Story indeed stated that the original intent of the First Amendment was specifically directed against the threat of Christian sects accruing power or fighting amongst one another, Fischer has taken it out of context, claiming he was speaking to the effect that this intent was ultimately the sole purpose, to the exclusion of all others and justifying the disparagement of anything else. To this end, Fischer is lying by omission, because Story’s unabridged commentary reaches a conclusion that runs completely counter to that narrative:”
    http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Bryan_Fischer#Quote_mining_Joseph_Story

    If you are going to use a source for founder intent for the Constitution, you go to the Federalist Papers or go home. They are literally a digest of the legislative intent of the Constitution in a issue by issue basis.

    Its nice you provided a link to your quote for once. But it is obvious your source is pure dookie.

  • That is nonsense. In the Constitution there is no mention of god, jesus or the bible. There are prohibitions against religious tests for offices. Even the oaths and affirmations for public office required by the constitution do not mention “so help me god” or require one’s hand on the bible. Why is it? SECULAR. It isn’t anti-religion but just neutral. They worried about human nature and religion, given the early colonies were populated by extremes in religion. They were right. In many states, atheists were barred from holding office. Many colonies/states had sponsored religions for which all residents were taxed. They were wise considering all of the different religions (or lack thereof) that Americans embrace. Religious diversity will grow in America in the future.

  • A lot less harmful than alcohol. Alcohol’s record throughout history is heart- breaking. Not to mention tobacco. Yet they are legal. Anyway most people who are going to smoke pot are already doing so. The number is probably higher than you think.

  • It’s awfully late in the game for RNS to discuss these issues in the election cycle, these issues could have been addresses, at least as far as this forum is concerned, at a much earlier juncture in time. Then they could have been addressed more care fully and substantially.

  • Facts have already been presented to you, sir. (See, I changed your label there!)

    Now, please refute those FACTS, if you don’t mind!!

  • Have you read the 14th ammendment to the constitution? Please do. Because christians have been the majority and no one much cared, states and municipalities have gotten away with violations of the federal constitution. The war on christianity you cry over are just the courts setting things right when secularists and non-christians take these matters to the courts.

  • haha….I spoke with my pastor today to find out the proper service to link you to. He couldn’t remember and suggested I give you both….:)
    So, as promised:
    http://www.ebcwindsor.com/sermons/where-life-is-found/
    http://www.ebcwindsor.com/sermons/the-purpose-of-preaching-christ/

    It’s one of those two, I believe. I trust you will enjoy our pastor. He is a very godly man and I sincerely believe that he is led by the Lord. He teaches verse by verse which hubby and I find very interesting.
    Blessings to you and I hope this helps.

  • ” These all violate the 1st Amendment free exercise of religion…. ”

    Interesting viewpoint on those commandments.

  • The first amendment gives one free reign to worship any deity (or none) besides Yahweh/Jehovah. It protects a right to be polytheistic or atheistic and idolatry. Most of all it protects blasphemy.

    All of which are the worst offenses in abrahamic faiths.

    Two major world faiths are both polytheistic and idolatrous: Hindu and Buddhism. Nobody can argue with a straight face that either faith doesn’t have 1st amendment protection. Nobody can argue that such faiths are amenable to abrahamic faith exclusions.

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