Marijuana, Mormon Lobbying, and Tax Exemption

Scrolling through Twitter this morning, this tweet caught my eye:

Curious, I looked at the replies and, sure enough, the first three I read had some variation of, “Well, the Mormon church has to lose its tax exemption now, right?”[fn1] After replying to them, I decided that it would probably be easier to write an explainer than to reply to each one individually.

So: has the church risked its exemption by lobbying against the legalization of medical marijuana in Utah? Short answer: no.

Longer answer: still no.

Why not? The church is exempt from taxes under section 501(c)(3) of the Code. Section 501(c)(3) says that exempt organization include:

Corporations, and any community chest, fund, or foundation, organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literary, or educational purposes, or to foster national or international amateur sports competition (but only if no part of its activities involve the provision of athletic facilities or equipment), or for the prevention of cruelty to children or animals, no part of the net earnings of which inures to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual, no substantial part of the activities of which is carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting, to influence legislation (except as otherwise provided in subsection (h)), and which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.

There are two limitations in there. The second (which I’ve italicized) is the so-called Johnson Amendment, which I’ve written about here several times (my most recent brief mention being here). It’s an absolute prohibition on endorsing or opposing candidates for office.

But that’s not what the church did. The church lobbied politicians to oppose a ballot initiative. That kind of non-candidate lobbying is governed by the language I’ve bolded. Rather than an absolute prohibition, it’s a quantity prohibition. Section 501(c)(3) organizations—including the church—can lobby as long as the lobbying doesn’t represent a substantial part of their activities.

And how much lobbying still qualifies as “no substantial part”? Honestly, that’s a really good question, and one to which we don’t have a satisfying answer. There is some caselaw that hints at the contours of NSP, though. One case, from the 1970s, held that a tax-exempt organization that allocated somewhere between 16 and 20 percent of its annual expenditures to lobbying violated the NSP rule. Another, from the 1950s, held that where less than 5 percent of a tax-exempt organization’s activities involved lobbying, its lobbying activities were insubstantial.[fn2]

The Takeaway

Should the church be lobbying against the medical marijuana initiative? Honestly, I don’t know and don’t especially care.[fn3] I don’t live in Utah and haven’t followed the politics of it carefully. (And by “carefully,” I pretty much mean “at all.”) It’s not a question that interests me especially.

But on the question of whether the church can, consistent with its tax exemption, lobby against the initiative, the answer is an overwhelming yes. Sure, there are limitations on how much lobbying it can do. But even though those limitations are ambiguous at the margins, and even though I don’t know precisely how much lobbying the church has done on marijuana legalization, it doesn’t look to me, from the available public information, that the church’s lobbying even approaches a fraction of a substantial part, either of the church’s expenditures or its activities.


[fn1] Those replies were here, here, and here. (I also looked at the article’s comments, and, skimming the first comment or two, remembered that, whatever you think of the level of discourse on Twitter, it could be a million times worse, and left the comments section.) Also, bravo to Ben Winslow for jumping in on the side of accuracy.

[fn2] Note that the first case deals with expenditures, while the second with activities. Those are two different metrics, so, while the cases give us some sense of what is permissible and impermissible, they don’t delineate anything approaching a bright line.

[fn3] Full disclosure, though: I nearly always vote against ballot initiatives. They tend to be poorly drafted, are often inconsistent with existing law or other initiatives on the ballot, and frankly, I think that, more often than not, they represent an abdication by our elected officials of the job they’ve been elected to do.

Comments

  1. Thanks for the clarification.

  2. Thank you for the clarification.

  3. Jack Hughes says:

    I’m not really concerned with the tax exemption issue. I’m concerned about the Church using tithing funds at all for influencing Utah politics. I live in a state that legalized recreational cannabis years ago, so for me (and for most Latter-day Saints who live in my neck of the woods) that ship has sailed. Most of the Church membership is outside of Utah, and will be unaffected one way or the other by the results of this lobbying, but they are unknowingly paying for it anyway. I’m not OK with that.

    Whenever I hear of the Church sticking its nose into Utah politics nowadays, it smacks of Utah elitism and the us-against-the-world siege mentality. The GBH years seemed to be more about the Church spreading goodwill throughout the world, but lately it looks as though the Bretheren are instead in a defensive mode, trying to build up Utah as a moral redoubt against The World™.

  4. Deborah Christensen says:

    The first thing I noticed in the Tribune’s article is that they are not following the new style guide. They keep calling it the “LDS Church”. Is this intentional? (I’m in Seattle)

  5. A Utah politician retired recently and said “the church is incapable of finding the front door and walking through it.” It is profoundly frustrating and I really understand why people get so frustrated with the church in Utah despite the really good things it also does here.

  6. Jack Hughes,
    Sorry, but your concern actually gave me a good chuckle. Just how much money do you think the Church spends lobbying the Utah legislature? Hint: Most Utah legislators are high priests.

  7. Deborah, it’s completely irrelevant to the story, or the journalists’ knowledge or skills (and I’m certainly not a journalist), but I suspect that the Tribune, like most newspapers, has an internal style guide (I imagine AP with certain changes. It’s not obligated to follow the church’s request (and I suspect that few, if any, news organizations will), but even if it does, it’s not going to change its style guide in, what, four or five days?

  8. jaxjensen says:

    I, for one, don’t care about the church influencing politicians (inside or outside of Utah), but I do wish they wouldn’t fight against medical marijuana. There aren’t many issues where I don’t side with “the Brethren”, but I do on this one, vehemently.

  9. I’ve always wondered how the prophet and apostles can be “the watchmen on the tower” and warn us
    of a danger (like a demagogue political leader) if they have to be silent because of the tax exemption. What if one day another Hitler arises, a real anti-Christ who fools lots of people,
    they can’t speak out to warn us?? This is a problem.

  10. Sam you know that agree with you very close to 100%, and believe you do a service writing these pieces.
    But there’s always something . . .
    1. I don’t think it is exactly correct to say “exempt under 501(c)(3).” There are circumstances where it matters (and offhand I can’t remember your position in those cases). I prefer the IRS version, which is “[so long as] meet the requirements of section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code are automatically considered tax exempt.” For today’s discussion, however, it comes to the same thing.
    2. I think you are abdicating your responsibility to categorically vote “no” on ballot initiatives. *Because* they almost always represent a breakdown of the legislative body. Which is exactly when we (the people) need to get involved. (I do often vote no on substance, and sometimes on bad drafting.)

  11. Chris, which is why I said I nearly always vote against them. I mean, sometimes they’re worded craftily so that a no vote has substantive impact. So I don’t absolute entirely, but my default is to vote no unless there’s a compelling reason to vote yes.

    As for the technical wording, I’m fine either way. I do think churches are legislatively, not inherently, exempt (though the fact that they don’t have to apply for exemption cuts slightly against that). Either way, though, I basically meant that these are the times of 501(c)(3), not (c)(4) or (c)(6) or anything else.

  12. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    Sam, what’s your take on the exemption of churches from property taxes? It’s always bothered me from a nexus standpoint: if my ward building catches on fire, the local fire department–funded mostly through local property taxes–is going to respond to it.

    Clearly there’s value in church buildings, in addition to the value of the land sitting under them. I am not sure why institutions of any kind should be exempt from paying for the services that they require. As you’re probably aware, this has been a source of enormous tension between large private universities with multi-billion-dollar endowments (and annual income streams well into the nine figures resulting therefrom) and their host municipalities, which often are severely revenue-constrained.

    BTW, if you haven’t read Gomez-Ibañez and Altshuler’s Regulation for Revenue you ought to.

  13. Heptaparaparshinokh, that’s a really good question (and, living just a few miles south of Evanston and Northwestern, one that would resonate with me significantly if I lived just a little north). I actually have a book on my shelf about property tax exemptions that I still need to read; without that, my take is largely that it’s backed by inertia, but the inertia of a long history. FWIW, states often have slightly different rules for property tax exemptions than merely qualifying as exempt under 501(c)(3) (though that seems to be a baseline requirement almost everywhere).

  14. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    In big cities there seems to be a consensus on the need for community benefits agreements with big private universities–the days when a city redevelopment agency would hand land to an NYU or USC (including the LDS Institute, in the latter case!) are, thankfully, long over–but the relationships between smaller municipalities and large private universities are a lot more fraught these days.

    The Church has placed a lot of the land it owns in SLC under for-profit subsidiaries of the Corporation of the President of the Church, so it pays taxes, but that very much isn’t the case for the vast swaths of Provo it owns–and I’d imagine that there’s more than a bit of frustration about that in the Happiest City on Earth.

  15. Please forgive me for failing to provide a link or citation, but a few weeks ago I read a church-legal-department statement on the proposition, and found it generally lame (and especially archaic, striking all the old “Reefer Madness” notes, however much they tried to SOUND legalistic and medically informed). I do believe that the church should be able to lobby on political issues without penalty, but I wish–in this instance–that their argument didn’t sound exactly like the alcohol lobby’s argument.

    I live in Nevada, where we legalized recreational/medical marijuana a year or two ago. While I believe whole-heartedly in the Word of Wisdom and, personally, would never use pot recreationally, I’ve had insomnia issues my whole life (I’m 57) and CBD is one of the more effective and safe means that I’ve found for helping me sleep (though I usually just live with not sleeping unless I have an especially big day ahead of me, with an early start). I’m sure nearly everyone here understands that pot isn’t like alcohol: that there are strains of cannabis that don’t intoxicate. I’m not going to judge church members who use pot for the THC either, though: It helps my sister with her chronic migraines, and helped my niece during her year of chemo-and-radiation nausea. I’m grateful that people have the choice here in Nevada, and I feel bad that Utahns almost surely won’t get that choice.

  16. Setting aside the tax issue, when will the church realize that its a bad idea to try to impose its moral standards on an entire state? It blew up in the church’s face on Proposition 8 in CA, and I’m pretty sure the same thing is going to happen here in November.

  17. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    Porter: when the members start realizing this.

    I remember a discussion about this at Institute once when I was in grad school at USC. The director (a native Californian) asked, quite sincerely, if it was OK for the Church to use its political power to impose its standards and rules on nonmembers. The slight minority that said “yes” was entirely Utahns, mostly dental students and their wives.

    A lot of members of the Church simply have not internalized the fact that we are a minority religion everywhere but a single not-super-populous state in the American interior–and outside of the American West and a few Pacific islands, a small minority religion. Many of these members grow up to be senior leaders in the Church. Growing up in a 90% Catholic suburb of Chicago, on the other hand, I became quite acutely aware of this at a tender age.

  18. How many times haa church leaders net behind closed doors with our legislature? This is just one issue of many where the church sticks it’s nose!
    If they choose not to use medical marijuana then fine, but allow the rest of us to decide for ourselves. Look at all the prescription drugs we use that are far more dangerous than marijuana. If it is not marijuana, it is same sex marriage or numerous other issues!
    If this were Muslims sticking their religious beliefs into everything and controlling our lives, you can bet the author of this article would be singing a different tune! That is why we have courts and one day the church will push it too far! Why do you think blacks got the preusthood? Maybe, just maybe, they did not want to lose that tax exempt status!

  19. Hey Randy, you don’t come around here much, do you? I was tempted to ignore your comment, but there is so much wrong with it that I can’t let it pass.

    Of course, only one thing is relevant to the OP. On reflection, though, you’re right about one thing: if the Muslims were sticking their religious beliefs into everything, the author (you can call me Sam, btw) would be singing a different tune, because “the Muslims” isn’t a tax-exempt organization. If, on the other hand, the Utah Valley Islamic Center, an organization exempt from taxes pursuant to section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code (which, side note, isn’t required to file a Form 990 but does anyway), were doing the lobbying (and n.b.: I have no idea whether it cares about this or not), I would be singing exactly the same tune. Same if it were, say, the NRA Foundation (in fact, I did write about it!) or the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

    The other stuff: the church is, in fact, allowing the rest of us to decide for ourselves. (Well, not me, because I live in Illinois, but you get my point.) The church, afaik, hasn’t gotten the initiative off the ballot; rather, it’s recommended to membership in Utah to vote against it. (And note that the church’s recommendation doesn’t always stick—Utah, for instance, voted to end Prohibition against church leaders’ recommendations.) So if you’re in Utah and you want legalized medical marijuana, vote whenever the vote is! You totally have the ability to do it!

    Finally, re: the end of the temple and priesthood ban: there’s no evidence that it had anything to do with tax-exempt status. I’ve written about it here, but the short version is, the timing doesn’t really work, and there were plenty of other external pressure points on the question of the church and race.

    So thanks for playing, and feel free to try again later.

  20. It seems to me the vote on Proposition 2 will be a watershed moment in Utah with the consequences extending beyond the legalization of medical marijuana. This is also about the moral authority of the church and its influence on its home turf, a moral authority which seems to have slipped in recent years. If the proposition passes, my sense is that it will be a stunning moment of reality for the church and mark the time when it realized church members will vote according to their own reasoning and wishes, and not because of a directive from the church on how to vote. I’m not a historian of Utah politics, but I would imagine when it comes to issues on which the church has spoken, there hasn’t been a moment of defiance in the past. Perhaps I’m wrong.

  21. BigSky, it would be the first time that church members voted according to their own reasoning and wishes! Other than 1933, when Utah voted to end Prohibition! And virtually every time that Mormons have thought about what they’re voting on and voted!

    Seriously, enough with the block-voting-automatons stereotype. That’s a tired trope and one, I suspect, that has limited purchase in reality.(And also, it has absolutely nothing to do with the OP. And I mentioned the Prohibition thing in the prior comment.)

  22. Sam, maybe it is a tired ‘block-voting-automatons stereotype.’ This is as close to a controlled experiment as we will see in quite some time I would guess. The November outcome will shed light on the trope and its strength of purchase. We will have good polls to show us the pre and post-election intentions and behavior by voter segment.

    I bring this up because it seems to me it is rare for the church to appeal directly to its members. I’m not a native of Utah but have lived here long enough and these kinds of letters to members are rare. So when the church does appeal directly to members, I tend to think it may have a material impact on their behavior, but we’ll see.

    More directly to your OP, I hear rumors that the church has a heavy in-state lobbying arm. You mention thinking its lobbying on this issue is not at a level that represents a substantial part. Given how large church activities and expenditures are, it seems a safe assumption the church has not lobbied at a level that represents a substantial part, regardless of what information is publically available or not available.

    Here is what I find to be mind-blowing about what I have learned from your post. So if the church were much, much smaller than it is, would the amount of lobbying it has done start to weigh on the scale? This suggests if successful lobbying on an issue requires a fixed expenditure or level of activity to get the job done, whether or not this becomes a “substantial part” is not a function of the actual amount expended, but if the expenditure is too big as a ratio of the organization’s total expenditures. I’m no lawyer so I may be missing something obvious here, but the principle of “not substantial / substantial” being a ratio of total activities or expenditures seems [___haven’t thought of the best word here___] to me, particularly if you assume successful lobbying on any given issue requires a fixed expenditure or activity level to get the job done. Doesn’t it suggests a large institution can expend fixed amount x on lobbying and lobby in “no substantial part,” but if a much smaller institution spends fixed amount x on lobbying it could lobby in a “substantial part.” If we assume successful lobbying requires a minimum threshold of activities or expenditures for any particular issue, doesn’t this put smaller institutions at a disadvantage? And it would suggest no matter how much the church lobbies in the state, it probably never lobbies very much (concerning the legal question at hand) because of how large its denominator is when you do the math. Am I understanding this correctly? And if so do you see a problem with the dilemma it theoretically creates based on the size of the institution? If I were to guess at what underpins this thinking it would that a ratio does help to determine what kind of an organization I really am, religious or political. However, I’m still struggling a bit with the idea.

  23. BigSky, you are absolutely correct that an amount of lobbying that the Mormon church could do might be disqualifying for a smaller tax-exempt organization. It definitely is related to the scale of the entity. Why? I suspect it’s because 501(c)(3) isn’t a campaign finance provision. Its purpose is to ensure that tax-exempt organizations are primarily doing things that further their charitable missions, and that feels more like a percentage thing than an absolute thing. That is, if I run, say, a food bank, and I spend $100,000 providing food for the homeless, and $900,000 lobbying, it certainly doesn’t look like I’m being very charitable. But if I spend $900,000 lobbying and $100 million on food for the homeless, it looks like I’m using the bulk of my spending to further my charitable purpose.

    As for the direct email to members in Utah (which I heard about after your comment, btw, so sorry): I really don’t know how precedented that is. I remember in 2000 getting an email about Proposition 22 in CA. It’s been long enough that I don’t remember who it came from, though. I was a BYU student at the time, and it looked like it was sent to BYU students from CA, so I assume the sender got my information from BYU or the church, but maybe not. My understanding is that the church directly addressed Prop. 8 in CA, but by that time I lived in NYC. It has, however, talked directly to legislators for a long time. So I really don’t know how much of an inflection point this is, but it doesn’t strike me as too far out of the mainstream (though again, other than my time at BYU, I’ve never lived in Utah).

  24. BigSky,
    You are forgetting the repeal of Prohibition. Despite the efforts of Heber J. Grant and other church leaders, Utahns voted in 1933 for the repeal of prohibition. In the same election they even repealed the state’s strict liquor law. Utah was the thirty-sixth state to vote for repeal and that was the end of nation-wide prohibition.

    Also, I am chuckling at the hand-wringing some of you are engaging in regarding the lobbying efforts of the LDS Church with the Utah legislature. How much money do you think it takes for the Church to communicate with a bunch of high priests?

  25. I received a Statement on Proposition 2 yesterday evening by email. It is labeled an Official Church Announcement and signed by Elder Craig C. Christensen (President, Utah Area), so I take it as official but directed only to members and only in Utah. Reflecting on the fact (expectation) that some of us will take umbrage with being lobbied—or since it comes from the Church, with being ordered what to do (how the umbrage takers will style it), I read the statement against the IRS standards for grassroots lobbying and communication-with-members non-lobbying. (With zero insider information) I wouldn’t be surprised if the Church takes the position that this communication is communication with members and not lobbying at all. Whether ultimately correct or how correct that is, I wouldn’t venture without more work (and I wouldn’t offer in a public forum anyway).

  26. Jeremiah Stone says:

    I am a chronic pain patient living in Utah. I do care about this amendment. I was raised in Utah and have spent a majority of my life here. Unfortunately, I am currently having to raise money to move to another state because cannabis is the most effective, inexpensive, and safest medication I can use for my condition. I feel like I shouldn’t have to move to another state to get treatment.

    I think the tax-exemption question may be less important than the fact that there is now a strong case that the Church’s actions are in violation of the Utah Constitution, Article I, Section 4. https://le.utah.gov/xcode/ArticleI/Article_I,_Section_4.html

  27. D Christian Harrison says:

    A post I made this morning on my Facebook seems (more or less) apropos:

    Utah’s ballot, this November, will feature several (!) citizen initiatives. One—Proposition 2—legalizes medical marijuana.

    You can read the proposition here:

    https://ballotpedia.org/Utah_Proposition_2,_Medical_Marijuana_Initiative_(2018)

    And read about it, here:

    https://betterutah.org/voter-guide/proposition2/

    I’m generally not a fan of legislating by initiative. It’s an end-run around necessarily thoughtful and tedious process of making good law. But when lawmakers refuse to tackle an important issue, the citizen initiative can be a powerful remedy that forces the legislature to wrestle with the issue in full view of the public.

    If I saw the initiative process as a legislative process, I’d scrutinize every word of the initiative and likely come out against most initiatives. Instead, I see the initiative process as a blunt-force remedy to legislative intransigence, and so largely weigh initiatives on whether or not they get the issue right.

    I’m voting YES on Proposition 2.

    I believe in the huge potential of medical marihuana. I believe our war on drugs (like our war on terrorism) a huge and costly failure. I believe decriminalization, regulation, taxation, and education are a better policy approach than prohibition and bald force. I’ve never tried marijuana (hell, I’ve never had a drink of alcohol…) and yet I can clearly see the need to get to a second draft in how we engage the myriad issues surrounding drug use in this country.

    Once passed in November, I’d like the Utah legislature to convene in February to clean up the bill’s language and in the years to come, revisit the issue as our understanding of the newly-christened market improves.

    * * *

    Yesterday, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—you know, the Mormons; my church—sent an e-mail to its members in Utah urging members to vote NO on Proposition 2 (which would maintain the status quo).

    You can read the e-mail, here:

    http://view.email.ldschurch.org/?qs=42edc07389af29d677ed75691021086837da9aa28429ae69446f43573056a70cc6b1ea0708d8f21c65d2ddcffe7b00694eedcee65cca1e7a0366ac55934e6ee4daa0e2a5bd62461c

    Sadly, like so many political issues they’ve tackled recently, it’s a mess and they’ve somehow found themselves on the wrong side of the issue.

    1) They misunderstand or misrepresent the purpose of citizen initiatives. Being against the initiative is being for legislative intransigence. Most of the people in the “coalition” know this, if the Church doesn’t, maybe they should get out of the game.

    2) They throw a bone to medical marijuana proponents by waxing poetic about its possible and eventual value—but then cut proponents off at the knees for doggedly pursuing said benefits through one of the only political avenues left them—citizen initiative.

    3) They talk about more study being needed but foreswear the very mechanism that would make said study likely and possible.

    4) They in passing praise the pharma juggernaut that will be the most likely vehicle of their worst nightmare: insidiously seductive super strains of marijuana.

    In a tweet this morning, I shared a (shortened) version of the statement they had made:

    The statement I wanted: “D&C 89:(10)–11. Medical marijuana could be a blessing for so many in Utah. Like all medical products, it‘ll improve with thoughtful and thorough research. This citizen initiative will burst through decades of inertia. Improvements to the law should follow.”

    * * *

    In response to the statement, I’ve seen the usual call for the Church to lose its tax-exempt status.

    My friend (and tax scholar) Sam Brunson wrote up a thoughtful response to these comments in a post at By Common Consent:

    https://bycommonconsent.com/2018/08/22/marijuana-mormon-lobbying-and-tax-exemption/

    To which I would add:

    Why would we hold the Church legally accountable for a LEGAL act, when holding them politically accountable for a impolitic act seems more proportional?

    * * *

    Anyway. Those are some of my thoughts as I ride FrontRunner to Provo, this morning.

    Please forgive the typographical errors and leaps of logic common to my iPhone posts. Posts written with all ten of my fingers are usually more cogent and coherent. 😉

    * * *

    Additionally, it appears the Church has billions of dollars invested in 13 pharmaceutical companies. One of the companies in their portfolio is Abbott Laboratories, which founded AbbVie Inc. AbbVie produces a THC drug called Marino for treating cancer patients. A fact, if true, that further complicates the narrative. 😞

    I wish I had a more reliable source on this story:

    https://herb.co/marijuana/news/mormon-churchs-cannabis-illegal-utah/

  28. @old man, I understand what you are saying, but I think you are making an assumption that all matters that come before the legislature involving or impacting the church have an obvious doctrinal or church policy slant. (Even then some legislators have signal publically one cannot assume they will automatically vote in alignment with the church’s interest.) The church does, in fact, have a well-developed lobbying presence in the state of Utah. I’m sure the extent to which it lobbies varies greatly from legislative session to legislative session. Two examples come to mind from the most recent legislative period.

    The first is the work the church did behind the scenes to lobby lawmakers to pass legislation that would apply non-compete clauses in employment agreements to those employed in broadcast and print journalism. The church was seeking to encumber the ability of its journalists (i.e. on-camera talent) employed by KSL/DesNews from being recruited away to other outlets. The church feared the ability of talent to move to other employers making better offers would have a wage inflating impact on the church’s business’, increasing overhead costs. And the church wanted to prevent that from happening. The church’s lobbying efforts were not persuasive and the bill never materialized. (I have not take the time to google back and collect all of the facts so I may have a few details wrong.)

    A second example relates to the church’s lobbying efforts to have a bill drafted that would require two-party notification before recording conversations and phone calls, and instead of single-party notification, which is the law presently. The church’s interest here is rather obvious: The church would like single party notification recordings to be illegal in order to prevent individuals from recording a conversation with a bishop, or a fireside address delivered by a church official, or phone call to a church department, as examples. These kinds of single-party notification recordings can cause the church a lot of hassle (just think of the woman who is suing the church after recording the interview she had with the former MTC president she accuses of sexually assaulting her), and so the church’s interest here is clear. However, once the potential bill was publicized the pushback from constituents came in at volume (no pun intended). The bill never materialized.

    There are many issues that don’t strike at doctrinal or religious matters but may appeal to the interests of the institutional church, and maybe more than we realized. Some of these interests can come at odds of individual residents and so to lobby these matters requires a more sophisticated and professional approach.

  29. Sam, thanks for this.

    The idea that the church should be forbidden from speaking out on policy issues like this… I think that’s only a road you want to go down if you *also* don’t want the church issuing pro-refugee pronouncements and otherwise encouraging conservatives not to entirely lose their minds on immigration issues.

    The church may well be wrong in its approach to prop 2. From where I sit, God bless the progressive saints who see the value of marinjuana as medicine along with other plants to be used with judgment and skill.

    But as far as I can tell, every organization that claims moral authority or understands part of its mission being a moral one not only should be *able* to weigh in on political issues from time to time, it’s going to *need* to do so.

  30. There’s a curious line at the bottom of the “Statement on Proposition 2” that was forwarded over the signature of Elder Craig Christensen, President, Utah Area:
    “There are a significant number of Utah elected officials and others running for office this year, who have signed the statement. We have chosen not to include their names here.”

    This suggests the Church is a cats paw for Utah legislators who will not take a stand–one might see them as elected officials who won’t do “the job they’ve been elected to do” (OP fn3).

    Substituting for elected officials raises a different level of Utah and Federal entanglement issues, as well as interesting tax questions.

  31. Restoratu says:

    The church has very clearly said it’s not opposed to medical marijuana, if treated like any other significant drug requiring a prescription.

    Yes, that means the federal government would need to get its act together, or the state would need to act first and demonstrate the necessity of local government over central planning. Is that a bad thing?

    The courts would rule in Utah’s favor and the precedent is worth fighting for.

  32. Restoratu: Do you believe them? In a political arena support for an impossible to achieve alternative is a politically correct way to say “no.” When everybody knows the game it may not score as a lie, but hardly qualifies as a “very clearly said” either. One of the problems with the Church playing politics is that the Church’s credibility is subject to these questions and doubts.

  33. it's a series of tubes says:

    The church has very clearly said it’s not opposed to medical marijuana, if treated like any other significant drug requiring a prescription.

    Note that this is currently IMPOSSIBLE and does not happen, anywhere in the US, because marijuana is classified Schedule I (“no currently accepted medical use”). The statement from the Church is doublespeak.

    The courts would rule in Utah’s favor and the precedent is worth fighting for.

    No, they wouldn’t. The Supremacy Clause of the Constitution gives the feds the ability to call the shots on this issue. It’s called preemption.

  34. The Church has lobbied on many political issues,and as Sam points out, is legally allowed to do so without risking its tax exempt status. (The Church could, however, risk its tax exempt status were it to lobby for a particular candidate running for office).
    Three issues the Church lobbied against in recent history are Prop 22 and Prop 8 in CA, as well as the Equal Rights Amendment.

    (The issue of tax exempt status brings to mind the recent IRS scandal where the IRS was accused of selectively targeting conservative nonprofits. Laws are often written somewhat nebulous, leaving a lot of “wiggle” room—open to interpretation.)

  35. According to Exodus 30:23, Moses uses “Kaneh -Bosem” (CANNABIS) to make holy oil. Interesting read here:
    http://contextout.blogspot.com/p/moses-used.html

  36. Restoratu says:

    Tubes,
    Then voting for state run or endorsed dispensaries is no better!

    Its pretty clear that this issue will force the federal government’s hand at some point. Utah ought to be prudent instead of blindly following other states into introducing another marketable recreation drug that will plague our society like alcohol.

  37. The “issue” will not force federal action. What will force the federal government’s hand is action taken by individual states. Utah can choose to do its part in that process, or not.

    How you vote on this question depends on how urgent you think it is to give people a safer and often more effective alternative to the very dangerous pain medications that are currently plaguing us. The Utah legislature has had chances to do something, but it has declined–in step with the church’s lobby. So really the choice is either to vote for an arguably flawed vehicle of progress or to vote against any progress at all. It’s not an ideal choice, but it’s what we have.

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