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May 26, 2006
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Volume 34
Issue 21
 
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State law allows churches to support or oppose ballot measures, despite use of public facilities
State law allows churches to support or oppose ballot measures, despite use of public facilities
The controversy, however, continues

by Robert Raketty - SGN Staff Writer

Questions were raised about the actions of Antioch Bible Church earlier this week after photographs surfaced online showing church members huddled around a large folding table signing Referendum 65 petitions. The church rents Lake Washington High School in Kirkland for Sunday services.

The signature gathering was held in conjunction with "Referendum Sunday," an effort by a network of conservative churches who are seeking to put Referendum 65 on the ballot. The Tim Eyman backed referendum threatens to overturn our states new law barring discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Many of the churches belong to the group Sound the Alarm, which had sent out petitions and a six-minute DVD. According to a report on KING 5 Television, the DVD includes a scene in which a woman talks about the "dangers" of the new non-discrimination law. "Your child could have a cross-dresser for a teacher and there's nothing you can do about it," she says.

The Lake Washington School District had sent a letter on Tuesday to Antioch Bible Church and seven other churches who rent facilities from the district outlining the public agency's concerns regarding political activity on school district property.

On May 24, 2006, Deputy Superintendent Janene Fogard wrote: "Our attorneys have advised us that collection of signatures on any proposed ballot initiative on school property is a violation of [state] law, as campaigning for any candidate for elected office would be. Therefore, we cannot allow your organization or another organization at your invitation to come onto district property for any efforts that would assist a political campaign of any kind."

Kathryn Reith, director of communications for the district, explained. "The letter was sent on the advice of several attorneys who feared potential liability for the district from the state Public Disclosure Commission if this was a prohibited activity," said Reith during an interview with the Seattle Gay News on Thursday morning. "It turns out this may be much more complex than originally thought. What is a campaign? What are the definitions in the laws that might be broken?"

However, the district retracted its letter by Thursday afternoon after additional legal research found that Antioch Bible Church had not run afoul with the law. "Since we wrote to you, we have contacted the Public Disclosure Commission, the state agency charged with enforcing the guidelines governing the use of school facilities in campaigns," said Deputy Superintendent Janene Fogard in a second letter to the churches. "The prohibitions we described in the letter apply to the district's use of school facilities, but according to the PDC, the guidelines do not restrict the ability of third parties to promote or oppose ballot measures in that part of a school governed by a rental agreement during the time of the rental."

Although the law allows churches, including those using public facilities, the ability to support or oppose ballot measures, the controversy surround the issue is likely to linger. On its website, the Northwest Progressive Institute said it was an "outrage that government facilities are being used in a campaign to legalize discrimination against large groups of American citizens."

Further fueling the debate is the history behind Antioch Bible Church and its anti-Gay pastor, Rev. Ken Hutcherson. The pastor has strongly opposed the new anti-discrimination law and even threatened to boycott Microsoft for its past support for the measure. Antioch Bible Church also offers ex-Gay therapy to its parishioners, despite widespread scorn of such techniques from the mainstream medical and psychological communities.

Washington Won't Discriminate, the campaign seeking to retain the new law, has said little about the controversy since it began. "When dealing with signature gathering for ballot measures it's vital that all parties strictly abide by the law," Campaign Manager John Vezina told the SGN on Thursday. "Washington Won't Discriminate is following all state laws and we expect those collecting signatures to do the same.

"The terrific commitment to equality our supporters are showing by monitoring efforts like this are great and we hope they'll bring that same energy to the campaign by volunteering, endorsing, and talking to their friends about the importance of this law."

Eyman needs 112,440 valid signatures by June 6 to qualify for the ballot this fall.

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