Politics from the pulpit

Traditionally, Sundays are a quiet day on the political calendar, but for
proponents of Proposition 85, the day of the Lord is often the busiest of
the week.

Backers of the November parental-notification initiative are mobilizing
California’s vast network of Catholic and protestant churches to
get-out-the-vote among pro-life Christian voters. Less than a year after
voters narrowly rejected a near-identical measure, proponents are praying
that an influx of religious voters will help tip the electoral scales in
their favor.

“We are doing some things that have never been done before in the United
States,” says Rob Pennington, an evangelical minister in Fresno, who is
working full-time for the Proposition 85 campaign, courting the support of
protestant churches.

Without the money to air television-advertising statewide, the campaign has
redoubled its efforts to woo Christian voters through churches, from playing
DVDs touting the anti-abortion measure during Sunday services to inserting
pro-Proposition 85 leaflets in parish bulletins.

The campaign pursued religious voters last year, but this year’s effort is
much more extensive. In 2006, parental-notification boosters have even
persuaded entire religious denominations to officially endorse the measure,
which backers believe is a first in California political history. At least
four denominations, including the Southern California Assemblies of God and
its 120,000 members, now back the initiative, which requires that doctors
notify the parents of minors seeking an abortion at least 48 hours before
the procedure.

The outreach operation includes mailing out two-minute DVDs to 7,000
churches–including 4,000 copies containing a cover letter from the leader of
the church denomination, including the head of the California Southern
Baptist Convention, which has 450,000 members–asking the local pastor to
show the campaign video during Sunday services in October.
The powerful clip, which features five teenage girls recounting their
unwanted abortions, ends with them looking into the camera and pleading,
“Protect me.”

“We have been very involved in the parental-notification battle,” says Jim
Franklin, the pastor in Fresno’s Cornerstone mega-church. Cornerstone is an
Assemblies of God church, a denomination that now officially supports
Proposition 85.

Franklin says he not only will show the video to his 3,000-strong
congregation, but also will highlight its contents on a local radio program
he hosts and a television show he contributes to.

If such campaigning from the church pulpit sounds illegal, it’s not. While
federal law forbids the endorsement of political candidates, advocacy for
ballot measures is allowed.

“We’ve been very careful about the legal aspect,” says campaign spokesman
Albin Rhomberg. “This is an initiative which is basically a piece of
legislation, so it is perfectly appropriate.”

The Catholic Church, which says it has more than 10 million adherents in
California, has been a top target of the Proposition 85 mobilization
effort–with much success.

In mid-August, the California Conference of Bishops issued a statement in
support of the measure, calling it “public policy that is both sensible and

Last week, Cardinal Robert Mahony of Los Angeles, the highest-ranking
Catholic official in the state, addressed parishioners in a recorded message
praising Proposition 85, which was sent off to every parish in Los Angeles,
the biggest diocese in the state.

“Parental-notification laws are desperately needed to protect young girls,”
said Mahony, in the pre-recorded message. “I hope you will join with me in
praying daily, from now until the November elections, that voters will
strongly support Proposition 85.”

In a June meeting with campaign leaders, Mahony agreed to insert
pro-Proposition 85 flyers into parish bulletins in every L.A. archdiocese
church in October, according to a report in a Catholic newsletter published
by James Holman, who is the primary financier of Proposition 85.

Holman, a Catholic, has contributed more than $2 million to the campaign on
top of the almost $1.3 million he gave to last year’s failed effort,
Proposition 73. He also publishes three Catholic newsletters in San Diego,
San Francisco and Los Angeles, which he has used as de facto mouthpieces
touting the progress of the campaign.

For instance, the most recent edition of Holman’s San Diego News Notes
features a front-page story titled “Help Pass Prop. 85.”

Another Catholic group, the Knights of Columbus, which has 64,000 members in
California, already are phone-banking for parental notification. According
to the Knights’ state deputy, Emilio Moure, the organization is planning on
sending direct mail and electronic mail, and making thousands of calls, by

“As we get closer to election time, we are going to step up to a more
aggressive communications plan,” says Moure.

Some bishops have been particularly active in backing the measure. Bishop
Tod Brown of Orange and Bishop Allen Vigneron of Oakland each have sent
letters to their diocese encouraging parishioners to support Proposition 85.

“As disciple of the Lord Jesus, we should not hesitate to listen to the
voice of the Good Shepherd and use our faith for the decisions presented to
us on this year’s ballot,” Bishop Brown wrote in September.

Opponents of the parental-notification measure, led by Planned Parenthood,
say that church involvement, particularly by the Catholic Church, only
proves that the initiative is about limiting abortion, not expanding
parents’ rights.

“It points out, once again, that this has nothing to do with parental
rights,” says No-on-85 spokesman Steve Smith. “What this is about is choice.
They want to dramatically reduce the number of abortion in California

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