Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

LWSD warns Hutcherson, Antioch after participation in "Referendum Sunday"

[NOTE: I have updated this post for better clarification.]

On Sunday, I posted a report here on the Official Blog, complete with pictures, showing Ken Hutcherson's Antioch Bible Church participating in Tim Eyman's "Referendum Sunday", collecting signatures for the ballot measure which asks voters to overturn the recently passed civil rights legislation banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

In that post, I wrote:
It is unclear whether Antioch [which is registered as a 501(c)(3) charity] violated any rules or regulations by facilitating the collection of signatures for Referendum 65 on public school property (specifically, the Lake Washington School District's property).
According to the district, apparently Hutcherson and Antioch did run afoul of the law by collecting signatures for a referendum on school district property.

The Lake Washington School District (where I received my elementary, junior high, and high school education) has sent a letter to Hutcherson and several other churches which rent space for their services, warning them about signature gathering. Here's the letter they sent:
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.


Janene Fogard
Deputy Superintendent
Eli Sanders, who originally posted this letter over at SLOG, raises some interesting questions about this issue and the validity of the signatures collected:
Kathryn Reith, the district’s spokeswoman, tells me seven other churches that rent space from the district were sent the same letter today. She says it’s too soon to tell what action might be taken against them or against Hutcherson’s Antioch Bible Church if it can be proved that they were collecting signatures on public school property during Referendum Sunday — a state-wide, church-based effort to help Eyman gather the 112,440 signatures he needs by June 6 in order to get R-65 on the November ballot.

“We didn’t know whether any of them did [collect signatures],” Reith told me. “But we thought it was important that we clarify through our attorneys whether [collecting signatures] would be legal.” (She added however, that she had not yet seen these pictures, which allegedly show R-65 signatures being gathered outside Hutcherson’s Sunday service at Lake Washington High School’s gym.)

The letter to the chuches, which cites this state law regulating the use of public facilities in political campaigns, also raises broader questions:

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?
Well, we do in fact have proof that Ken Hutcherson's Antioch Bible Church was indeed collecting signatures on school property - just outside the Lake Washington High School gym. We would be willing to assist in any effort to take action, legal or otherwise, against Hutcherson and Antioch for breaking state law - if, in fact, they actually did break state law. This is a grey area and certainly open to interpretation.

As for Eli's question about whether R-65 opponents can go to court, it's certainly a possibility - but probably unlikely. A new state law (which recently took effect this year) requires petitioners who circulate petitions to sign a declaration affirming that they circulated the petition. So it would theoretically be easier to track down which petitions were circulated on school property.

Nevertheless, it would definitely not be a slam dunk case. But it's good to see that Hutcherson and his cronies have been caught in the act.

People need to know about their outrageous campaign to legalize discrimination.

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