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Civil Liberties of Nonprofits at Risk?

April 27, 2004

Senator Michele Bachmann has spoken about the massive impact on education if same-sex marriage becomes the law of the land. The following article addresses the impact of same-sex marriage on non-profit groups. EdWatch is a non-profit, tax exempt educational organization, as are thousands of other such organizations."the 501(c)(3) tax exempt status, given to thousands of churches, nursing homes, schools, ministries, universities and radio stations may be at risk..."

For immediate release
Senator Michele Bachmann

How Same-Sex Marriage Threatens our Civil and Religious Liberties

We are engaged in the hottest political debate of our time; that is, whether marriage should be redefined to include same-sex couples or other alternatives.

Everything from morality, legal benefits, the impact on children, public schools, government and private businesses have been discussed in the media. Incredibly, almost no attention has been focused on the very real threats to our civil and religious liberties.

Specifically, the 501(c)(3) tax exempt status, given to thousands of churches, nursing homes, schools, ministries, universities and radio stations may be at risk if an organization "discriminates" against a legally protected status, such as same-sex marriage.

What does this mean? If gay marriage is legalized, then any church or religious organization that doesn't agree with same-sex marriage will likely come under intense pressure to either change their views or go silent. Tax-exempt status for faith-based organizations that fail to agree with same-sex marriage will be at risk.

That is already happening in Canada. Recently, judges imposed same- sex marriage in 3 Canadian Provinces. Today, the Canadian Parliament is discussing a bill (C-250) that Canadians claim could be used to outlaw parts of the Bible as hate speech, and could criminalize individuals in organizations who teach that same-sex contact is immoral. Same-sex marriage is a serious threat to our civil and religious liberties and could lead to wide-spread discrimination against people who disagree.

John Leo, columnist for US News and World Report wrote on April 19, 2004 "The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission ruled that a newspaper ad listing biblical passages that oppose homosexuality was a human rights offense. The commission ordered the paper and Hugh Owens, the man who placed the ad, to pay $1,500 each to three gay men who objected to it."

"In another case, a British Columbia court upheld the one-month suspension, without pay, of a high school teacher who wrote letters to a local paper arguing that homosexuality is not a fixed orientation but a condition that can and should be treated. The teacher, Chris Kempling, was not accused of discrimination, merely of expressing thoughts that the state defines as improper."

Persecution isn't confined to Canada. Leo went on to write, "In Sweden, sermons are explicitly covered by an anti-hate-speech law passed to protect homosexuals. The Swedish chancellor of justice said any reference to the Bible's stating that homosexuality is sinful might be a criminal offense, and a Pentecostal minister is already facing charges."

"In Britain, police investigated Anglican Bishop Peter Forster of Chester after he told a local paper: 'Some people who are primarily homosexual can reorientate themselves. I would encourage them to consider that as an option.' Police sent a copy of his remarks to prosecutors, but the case was dropped."

"In Ireland last August, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties warned that clergy who circulated a Vatican statement opposing gay marriage could face prosecution under incitement-to-hatred legislation."

"In the United States, the dominance of anti-bias laws and rules limiting free speech and free exercise of religion is clear on campuses, not so clear in the real world. Still, First Amendment arguments are losing ground to antidiscrimination laws in many areas." (John Leo, "Stomping on Free Speech")

A court in England ruled in January 2004 that a preacher who held up a sign in a town square calling for an end to homosexuality, lesbianism and immorality was "properly convicted" of a criminal offence.

The newly elected socialist prime minister of Spain said, "We are going to present a bill to set gay unions on the same footing as marriage . it will have the same legal effect [as marriage]."

Canada. Sweden. Ireland. England. Spain. Now, the United States.

What is incredible is the speed at which our culture has moved on this issue. Only one year ago no major political figure, from either party, would have publicly embraced same-sex marriage that was viewed as political suicide. Neither the media nor the mainstream press was pushing gay marriage. So, what happened?

June 2003, the US Supreme Court released Lawrence v. Texas which held that states could not outlaw sodomy. Justice Scalia in his dissent wrote, almost prophetically, that Lawrence could lead to gay marriage. The Court's majority dismissed Scalia's concerns as overreaching scare tactics. Five months later, Scalia, to his dismay, was proven right when the Goodridge decision ordered the Massachusetts Legislature to legalize gay marriage by May 17, 2004.

Six legal scholars wrote of Massachusetts' effort to equate civil unions with man/woman marriage, "churches and other religious organizations that fail to embrace civil unions as indistinct from marriage may be forced to retreat from their practices, or else face enormous legal pressure to change their views. Precedent from our own history and that of other nations suggests that religious institutions could even be at risk of losing tax-exempt status, academic accreditation, and media licenses, and could face charges of violating human rights codes or hate speech laws." (Institute for Marriage and Public Policy)

How could this happen? A 1982 US Supreme Court decision said "An institution seeking tax exempt status must serve a public purpose and not be contrary to established public policy. To warrant exemption under 501(c)(3), an institution must fall within a category specified in that section and must demonstrably serve and be in harmony with the public interest." (Bob Jones University v. United States, 461 US 574 (1982))

If courts buy the argument (opposed today by many African-Americans) that the plight of gays is equal to that of oppressed racial minorities, then the courts may find a "public interest." That finding could lead to a denial of tax-exempt status to organizations that oppose same-sex marriage.

We have a window of opportunity here in Minnesota to act before May 17th. On that day, the Minnesota Constitution requires that the Legislature adjourn its business, ironically the same day that same- sex marriage will be legalized in Massachusetts, for the first time in the history of our nation.

I am the Senate author of SF 2715, the Constitutional Amendment allowing the people to vote on marriage. This bill, authored by Representative Mary Liz Holberg, passed overwhelmingly 88-42 in the Minnesota House of Representatives on a bi-partisan vote. Governor Pawlenty supports this bill. Now the challenge is in the Minnesota State Senate. All we need is to impact the Senators of our state and ask them to pass SF 2715, unamended, so that millions of Minnesotans, rather than one judge or 201 legislators, can decide the definition of marriage at the ballot box in November.

With the experience of other nations as a guide, we have our civil liberties to lose and little to gain by doing nothing. Our counterparts in Sweden, England and Canada are giving us a glimpse into our future if we fail to act.

The Senators need to hear from you today. Call 651-296-0504 to find out who your Senator is. Phone them, write them, ask them to speak in your community in a public forum. Write a letter to the editor calling on your Senator to let the people vote. Nothing less than our civil and religious liberties are at stake!

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