Eli Sanders has got the scoop on Slog:
May 24, 2006
Dear Church Leader:
We saw in the news media last week that organizers of Referendum 65, a proposed ballot initiative, have focused on working with churches to get enough signatures to place it on the state ballot. As the leader of a church that holds services on school district property through a building use permit, it’s important that you understand the legal restrictions on activities that take place on public property in order to protect your organization.
In fact, under Washington state law, the facilities of a public agency, i.e., the Lake Washington School District, may not be used directly or indirectly for the purpose of assisting a campaign for election of any person to any office or for the promotion of or opposition to any ballot proposition (RCW 42.17.130). Our attorneys have advised us that collection of signatures on any proposed ballot initiative on school property is a violation of that 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.
While we have worked with political organizations that use our facilities to ensure their understanding of these restrictions, I recognize that we have we may not have made these requirements clear to other users groups. We will be adding this restriction to the building use guidelines so that it is clearly spelled out. Since we do not know if churches that use our schools may be participating in this event, we wanted to bring this concern to the attention of all churches using our facilities. I appreciate your cooperation on this issue, for the protection of both of our organizations. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me. Sincerely,
Lake Washington School District
Rev. Ken Hutcherson’s Antioch Bible Church was caught red handed last Sunday, canvassing for signatures on school property, which prompted the district to send the above letter to his and 7 other churches to which they rent space. Sanders wonders…
Could opponents of R-65, which would repeal Washington’s new gay civil rights law, go to court (or to state elections officials) and demand that all signatures collected on school grounds be invalidated? And if the Lake Washington School District alone has eight churches renting its facilities, exactly how many school districts state-wide have churches renting facilities from them, and how many of those churches collected R-65 signatures on public school property during Referendum Sunday?
I’ve been told the statute prohibiting political activity at tax exempt churches is “murky”, but the legal issues surrounding public schools are cut and dry. This is at very least a violation of the state’s public disclosure laws, subject to exactly the kind of complaint the Evergreen Freedom Foundation frequently files against teachers.
If these churches want to become so involved in enacting law, you’d think they’d at least have the decency to follow it.