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Churches told to clam up

Posted By Julie Foster On 03/03/2000 @ 1:00 am In Front Page | Comments Disabled

Several churches on California’s central coast have been told by
their county tax assessor’s office they are breaking the law by
displaying pro-Proposition 22 signs on church property, prompting a
press conference yesterday during which attorneys pointed to tax laws
specifically permitting the practice.

To be voted on this Tuesday, Proposition 22, also known as the
“Defense of Marriage Act” consists of 14 words: “Only marriage between a
man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” The initiative
has received nationwide attention and has already been adopted in 31
states.

New Life Community Church of the Nazarene in Pismo Beach contacted
the San Luis Obispo County Tax Assessor’s Office after members of the community
complained about the sign promoting California’s marriage initiative.
An employee of the assessor’s office said the sign legally must come
down, but not to worry since the county would look the other way.

Other churches were given similar information as well, including
Grace Bible Church in Arroyo Grande.

“We all feel like a school teacher who can’t talk about God,” said
Joe Bubar, pastor of Grace Bible Church.

Roy Fruits, the church’s pastor of discipleship and family
ministries, told WorldNetDaily several signs in favor of Proposition 22
have been stolen in Arroyo Grande — one was taken from his front lawn.

Fruits added the church is aware it may not endorse individual
candidates or political parties, but it may publicize ballot
initiatives, especially those dealing with moral issues.

Critics of the measure say it is discriminatory against homosexuals.

“Prop. 22 could make it impossible for lesbian and gay couples who
have been together for years to visit their sick or injured companion in
the hospital, or get basic health insurance or inheritance rights.
THAT’S WRONG,” says a
website devoted to defeating the initiative. “Same-sex marriage is already banned in
California. This measure is not about marriage; it is about legalizing
discrimination.”

After receiving numerous calls from concerned churches who were told
their signs must be taken down, Pacific Justice Institute’s President Brad Dacus and Capitol Resource
Institute
President Mark Washburn decided
“it’s time churches know their rights.”

“The intimidation has gone too far,” said Dacus. “Pacific Justice
Institute wants to send a decisive message that churches are entitled to
support Proposition 22, and we at Pacific Justice Institute will
continue to support churches, without charge, who are being harassed by
local government.”

According to Dacus, “The Internal Revenue Code states that churches
are not forbidden to participate in propositions, provided that less
than five percent of their total financial and labor resources go into
the process.”

Anticipating government disapproval of churches’ efforts to promote
Proposition 22, the sponsoring organization of the initiative obtained a
legal opinion from the Bagatelos and Fadem law firm in San Francisco.

The firm cited Internal Revenue Code Section 501( c)(3) which limits,
but does not prohibit, an organization so that no “substantial part” of
its activities include political activism.

Though the IRS looks at each organization’s activities and
expenditures on a case-by-case basis, the term “substantial part” has
been widely interpreted by tax law practitioners and government
officials as amounting to no more than five percent of an organization’s
resources.

WorldNetDaily contacted the assessor’s office asking for verification
that churches, which are classified as 501( c)(3) charitable
organizations, may not display signs related to ballot initiatives.

LeeAnne Meinhold provided a quick response unrelated to the question:
“Political organizations are not allowed to meet on church property.”

When asked again whether or not signs are permitted, Meinhold said it
is “common knowledge” that ballot initiative signs are not allowed in
accordance with the Board of Equalization.

When confronted with the Internal Revenue Code as quoted by Dacus in
the press conference, Meinhold replied, “Well, if he’s quoting the law
… look, we’re not going to be auditing churches.”

Meinhold became indignant when WorldNetDaily related the churches’
concerns over being given false information restricting their rights,
and directed WND to Peter Gaffney of the Board of Equalization.

Gaffney confirmed churches’ right to post signs related to ballot
initiatives and the “substantial part” law, noting the county office may
have been confused.

WND relayed Gaffney’s confirmation to the assessor’s office.


Previous stories:

Gay activists target Knight initiative

Homosexuals win marriage benefits in Vermont


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