Mormonism and politics/California Proposition 8/Questions and myths

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    California Proposition 8: Questions and Myths

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Questions

Were Church members who were opposed to Proposition 8 disciplined?

The Church did not ask members how they would vote on the proposition. California ballots are cast by "secret ballot" in a manner that they can vote free from intimidation. As such, votes cast by Church members remain private unless they themselves chose to disclose this information. The Church does not apply discipline based upon a member’s voting record and has a long standing respect for the separation of civic responsibility and church participation.

The Church may apply discipline based upon other behavior by individual members. Such discipline, if any, is left to local leaders (bishops and stake presidents) who are more intimately acquainted with the behavior that may be in question. it is conceivable that strong feelings on the Church's position compelled certain members to individually take public stands against the Church or its leadership. Depending on the nature of behavior of the individual, some persons may have received admonition or other actions relative to their membership that would be considered "disciplinary" in nature. However, such actions would only be in reaction to the behavior of the individual and not in reaction to their personal feelings or their voting record. Elder L. Whitney Clayton was asked if "Latter-day Saints who publicly opposed Prop. 8 would be subject to some kind of church discipline," to which he responded, "those judgments are left up to local bishops and stake presidents and the particular circumstances involved." [1]

Did Church Leaders use temple recommend interviews to "Bully" members into supporting Proposition 8?

Bishops and Stake Presidents and their counselors who conduct temple recommend interviews are instructed to use specific questions to determine temple worthiness of church members and their ability to receive a temple recommend, a document used to gain access to the temple and which is required to participate in temple ordinances. Leaders conducting these interviews are instructed to not add to nor modify the prescribed questions. These questions are generally focused on acceptance of certain core beliefs regarding Jesus Christ and the restoration of the Gospel, including recognizing the priesthood authority of Church leadership, as well as questions regarding specific moral conduct. Responses are up to the member to provide, based on their own conscience. Leaders who unilaterally questioned a member regarding their support of Proposition 8 during the temple recommend interview may be acting contrary to those instructions if they do so without some specific knowledge that there is questionable conduct on the part of the member. However, one question in particular specifically asks about a member's affiliation with individuals or organizations whose teachings or practices are contrary to or oppose the teachings of the Church. Members who feel that their public position on Proposition 8 may qualify as support or affiliation with such groups and indicate such to the interviewing leader may be further questioned to better understand the individual's qualification for a temple recommend. The temple recommend interview itself was not endorsed as a platform by Church leadership through which local leaders were expected to encourage support for Proposition 8.

Did the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints contribute money to the "Yes on 8" campaign?

The Church as an institution made no direct monetary contributions to the "Yes on 8" campaign. All monetary donations came from individual Church members, who decided if and how much they would contribute.

The Church did, however, make several in-kind donations, as reported by the California Secretary of State's website (last accessed January 31, 2009). There are a number of donations by the Church in the report, all non-monetary:

The following information was taken from the Church Newsroom press release Media Reports on Proposition 8 Filing Uninformed:

Date Amount Report form How report was filed Additional information
30 July 2008 $19,831.40 (in-kind) 461 Filed by mail (This report covers the time period from 1 January 2008 to 30 June 2008.)
25 October 2008 $2,078.97 (in-kind) 497 Filed by fax
30 October 2008 $333.00 (in-kind) 497 Filed by fax
1 November 2008 (See additional information) 497 Filed by fax (Amendment to 30 October filing; did not represent any additional contribution)
1 November 2008 $2,531.20 (in-kind) 497 Filed by fax
15 January 2009 $30,354.85 (in-kind) 497 Filed by fax
Sub Total: $55,129.42
30 January 2009 $134,774.16 (in-kind) Plus the $55,129.42 sub total 461 Filed electronically (This report covers the time period from 1 July 2008 to 31 December 2008.)
Grand Total: $189,903.58 (in-kind)

Contributions may be verified in the California Secretary of State California Filings Searchable Database, although the Church has pointed out that not all contributions have yet been entered in the database by the State of California.

The term "in-kind" represents donations that are made to the Church in some form other than cash (For example, the payment of tithing using stock constitutes an in-kind donation). In this case, the in-kind donations were to cover out-of-pocket expenses. The Church declared these donations, as required by law, and they are part of the public record.

Some news outlets reported on January 30 the Church's final contribution report as $180,000 [2] or $190,000. [3] Speculation regarding the reason for this last filing prompted the Church to issue a press release:

On Friday, 30 January, the Church filed the final report of its contributions (all of which were non-monetary) to the ProtectMarriage.com coalition. The report, submitted in advance of the 31 January deadline, details in-kind donations totaling $189,903.58.
The value of the Church’s in-kind (non-monetary) contribution is less than one half of one percent of the total funds (approximately $40 million) raised for the “Yes on 8” campaign. The Church did not make any cash contribution.

The press release goes on to respond to specific accusations made by the media regarding this final report. For the full press release, see Church Clarifies Proposition 8 Filing, Corrects Erroneous News Reports, Feb. 2, 2009.

Related articles


Did the Church use its facilities or donation processing system to collect money destined for the "Yes on 8" campaign?

No. Members wishing to donate were told explicitly that if they chose to donate, the donations had to be made directly to the "ProtectMarriage" organization.

Donations could be made through the online "protectmarriage.com" web site, and members were required to state their name and employer as required by California law. Members were also told that donations should not go to the Church. In other words, all member donations went directly from the member to the campaign and did not go through any Church processing. In addition, it was made clear to members that donations to the Prop 8 campaign were not tax deductible.


Did the Church violate its tax-exempt status by participating in the "Yes on 8" campaign?

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From the Internal Revenue Service:

Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office…Political campaign intervention includes any and all activities that favor or oppose one or more candidates for public office.

The church did not participate in or intervene in any of the political campaigns for any of the candidates running in the 2008 election. The IRS does, however, permit a Church to take positions on issues:

Under federal tax law, section 501(c)(3) organizations may take positions on public policy issues, including issues that divide candidates in an election for public office. [4]

According to Barry Lynn, executive director of "Americans United for the Separation of Church and State" (and who, for the record, was "outraged by the Prop. 8 victory"):

"They almost certainly have not violated their tax exemption...While the tax code has a zero tolerance for endorsements of candidates, the tax code gives wide latitude for churches to engage in discussions of policy matters and moral questions, including when posed as initiatives." [5]

Nonprofit 501c(3) organizations are prohibited from spending more than 20 percent of their budgets on political activities. "The 20 percent threshold means that the Catholic or Mormon churches, whose organizations span the globe, would have had to spend hundreds of millions of dollars—if not billions—to violate their tax-exempt status." [6]


But what about the companies that the Church owns?

Some companies that are owned by the Church, such as Bonneville Communications, are in business to make profit. These businesses pay their taxes just like any other business: They are not part of the tax-exempt portion of the Church.

There is no evidence that any Church owned for-profit companies made contributions to the Yes on 8 campaign or any supporting organization.


Were the contributions made by Church members tax deductible?

California members who chose to donate to the Prop 8 campaign were explicitly told that their donations would not be tax deductible. None of the funds donated to the campaign are allowed as deductions.


Were Church members told how much to contribute to the effort?

Church headquarters did not pass down individual contribution goals to members. In some cases local Church leaders may have asked members to contribute a specific amount. Some goals were suggested to the general membership by their Stake President, such as “one dollar per day.” Some Stakes provided wards with goals that they were expected to meet.


Did the Church invest more money in Proposition 8 than in all of its combined humanitarian efforts?

The question is not relevant, since the Church as an organization did not donate any money to “Yes on 8.”

Members contribute to humanitarian efforts sponsored by the church based on their specific abilities. For example, fast offerings are donations to a fund for assisting local and other members who are financially struggling. These funds represent a generous offering of the value of 2 meals abstained from on the first Sunday of each month. The combination of personal sacrifice (fasting) and financial sacrifice make such contributions particularly meaningful for both the donor and the recipient.

The Church also manages a significant humanitarian effort known as "LDS Humanitarian Services". This organization provides relief and assistance for disasters and other urgent humanitarian needs. The amount contributed by the Church to humanitarian causes far outweighs anything that individual members contributed toward the effort to pass Prop 8. According to a 2007 report from the Presiding Bishopric of the Church, external humanitarian efforts exceeded $1 billion in cash and material contributions from 1985 until 2007. This does not include contributions of many millions more as part of the Church Welfare program.

Other humanitarian efforts include:

Many Latter-day Saints make significant contributions to humanitarian efforts outside of LDS sponsored channels. For example, in 2007, high profile Latter-day Saints John and Karen Huntsman donated more than $672 million for charitable causes not associated with the LDS Church. Utah in general was ranked #2 of all 50 states in charitable contributions in 2007.


Wouldn't the money that Church members contributed to the cause have been better spent on humanitarian needs?

Church members have always been encouraged to contribute to humanitarian causes. Since all contributions came from individual members, those that donated made the choice to support the “Yes on 8” campaign.

It should be noted that the Latter-day saints believe that family is central to the plan of God for the eternal destiny of His children and has been instituted by divine design for the betterment of society. The First Presidency and Quorum of the 12 Apostles warned "that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets" (see the Proclamation). For these reasons, many Latter-day Saints and their leaders believe that Proposition 8, whose original title was "The California Marriage Protection Act" was a cause of great significance and worthy of their most noble efforts.


How does the Church reconcile its opposition to same-sex marriage when it once supported plural marriage?

6 wives vs. 1 husband?

The same type of question was asked when, after supporting polygamy for years, the Church ceased its practice. The Church no longer practices polygamy, and should not be confused with splinter groups who continue the practice. Prop 8 protesters, however, do like to raise the issue of polygamy, and make no distinction between the LDS Church and splinter groups.

It is important to realize that 19th century Mormons who practiced plural marriage did not seek federal recognition of their marriages. They would have been pleased to simply be left alone, instead of being subject to spy networks, home invasion by federal marshals, loss of the right to vote simply for being members of the Church even if they were not polygamists, jail time, and threats of military occupation by the Congress.

Homosexuals in California with access to domestic partnership laws have far more legal protection and benefits for their cohabitation relationships than 19th century Mormons ever had. Homosexuals who choose to simply cohabitate are likewise unmolested by the state, unlike LDS polygamists of the 19th century.

LDS opposition to the use of the term "marriage" for same-sex unions derives, however, from a belief that homosexual behavior is wrong, contrary to the commandments of God, and something which believers should not support. Homosexuals are free to make their own choices about behavior, but Church members cannot in good conscience encourage that behavior by lending their voice to efforts which socially sanction it.

Myths

Critics of the Church have taken advantage of the Proposition 8 backlash to promote their agenda. The following section addresses some of these claims.

MYTH: Large numbers of people are resigning from the Church because of its support of Prop 8

No evidence has been offered for this expansive claim. Throughout the history of the Church, some left the Church over new doctrines in Kirtland or Nauvoo, over strife in Missouri, over the initiation of polygamy, over the move West, over the repeal of polygamy, over the priesthood ban, over the repeal of the priesthood ban, over the Church's position on the ERA, and now over Proposition 8. The Church continues to survive and thrive.

Those that do seem to receive media attention for leaving the Church over this issue typically appear to be inactive members who left the Church "in spirit" long ago, but used this as an occasion to formalize their exit:

  • Massachusetts. A "37-year-old" member "who had been inactive in the church since he left Utah at age 20, but who formally asked the church to remove his name from its rolls because of its support of Proposition 8." [7]
  • Massachusetts. A gay 32-year-old Boston resident who "also resigned after years as an inactive Mormon." [8]

According to Church spokesman Michael Otterson, "All the reports we have received indicate that the vast majority of members solidly support the church position. A few may not, and that's their choice. But you could never describe it as a movement. You can only describe it as a ripple." [9]


MYTH: Mormons were motivated to do this merely as a vehicle to be considered more mainstream Christian

Latter-day Saints object when others attempt to classify us as non-Christian, however, this does not mean that Latter-day Saints are attempting to become "mainstream" Christians. We appreciate being invited to participate in the coalition by our Christian brothers, and did so willingly because we share many of the same family values, even if our theologies differ. Likewise, we welcomed the opportunity to cooperate with Muslims, Jews, and others who share our values and concerns for society.


MYTH: The church sent thousands of missionaries door to door in CA handing out fliers

NO missionaries were asked to participate in the distribution of flyers. Missionaries do not participate in political activities while on their mission.


MYTH: The Church sent large numbers of out-of-state people in to assist with the "Yes-on-8" campaign

Support from the campaign was generated from within congregations in California under direction of the Protect Marriage coalition.[10] There were no "busloads" of out-of-state people brought in.

MYTH: The Church was later found guilty of 'election fraud' and fined as a result.

This section was adapted from an article on Mormon Voices, "Legal Issues Surrounding the Church and Proposition 8," (8 March 2012).

Several news publications have reprinted claims that the Church was, in connection with the campaign for California’s Proposition 8, “convicted” of “13 counts of election fraud.” This claim is false. Responsible news outlets and commentators should stop repeating it.

It is well known that the LDS church supported the passage of Proposition 8 by asking members to contribute time and funds to the Yes on 8 campaign organization. The church’s only direct contribution as an institution was the time of a few church employees and the use of a few church media facilities. California law requires any party making such in-kind contributions to disclose them via reports to the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC).

Compliance with election regulations can be complicated, usually requiring the advice of lawyers expert in the applicable regulations. The church received the necessary legal advice and sincerely endeavored to comply with all requirements. Toward the end of the campaign, the church failed to file daily forms regarding $37,000 worth of in-kind contributions, in violation of section 84203 of the CA Political Reform Act. (The entire Act, available here with the relevant section found on page 35, shows that compliance is not a simple matter.)

Those making the accusation use the terms “guilty” and “election fraud” either ignorantly or deceptively. “Guilty” implies a criminal charge, or at least a loss at trial on a civil matter. “Election fraud” is a specific act which must include intent to defraud and deliberate misleading of authorities. The California Fair Political Practices Commission, which handled the LDS church’s non-compliance, specifically states that a violation of the Political Reform Act cannot be election fraud. The FPPC never called the church’s actions “fraud” or anything close to it. Actual election fraud would have been handled in a completely different manner, including criminal charges and a trial or guilty plea in the courts.

To repeat the “election fraud” charge is to perpetuate a libelous falsehood. The California FPPC handled the church’s omitted forms in exactly the same way it does other such errors–through a “fast-track” regulatory compliance process which confirmed the mistake, provided for the church to file the omitted form and pay a fine, and closed the matter. Even a group with obviously good motives called “Californians for Clean Elections” was tripped up by the regulations and fined by the FPPC. Clearly one cannot assume that all violators must have acted knowingly and maliciously.

The full document showing the resolution of the church’s case is here. The church released an explanatory statement, including an invitation to seek further clarification from the church’s counsel, which can be found here. Background information on the process is discussed here. No responsible and credible news source should reprint these false charges. All of the resources needed to understand the circumstances are easily available.

Notes


  1. Carrie A. Moore, LDS official lauds work for California's Prop. 8, Deseret News (Nov. 16, 2008)
  2. Jessica Garrison, Mormon church reports spending $180,000 on Proposition 8, Los Angeles Times (Jan. 30, 2009).
  3. John Wildermuth, Mormon church reports $190,000 Prop. 8 expenses, San Francisco Chronicle (Jan. 31, 2009).
  4. Election Year Activities and the Prohibition on Political Campaign Intervention for Section 501(c)(3) Organizations, Internal Revenue Service
  5. Matthai Kuruvila, Tax-exempt benefit disputed in Prop. 8 campaign, SFGate (Nov. 28, 2008)
  6. Matthai Kuruvila, Tax-exempt benefit disputed in Prop. 8 campaign, SFGate (Nov. 28, 2008)
  7. Michael Paulson, Gay-marriage debate roils, unites Mormons, Boston Globe (Nov. 24, 2008)
  8. Michael Paulson, Gay-marriage debate roils, unites Mormons, Boston Globe (Nov. 24, 2008)
  9. Michael Paulson, Gay-marriage debate roils, unites Mormons, Boston Globe (Nov. 24, 2008)
  10. Protectmarriage.com.

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