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Published: Wednesday, 10/19/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Clergy weigh in on Issue 2

Some call act a moral concern; another says it helps save jobs

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR

Rev. Martin Donnelly, former pastor of Blessed Sacrament, speaks against issue no. 2 in while standing in front of a small group of supporters during a press conference on Tuesday.
Rev. Martin Donnelly, former pastor of Blessed Sacrament, speaks against issue no. 2 in while standing in front of a small group of supporters during a press conference on Tuesday.
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Two Catholic priests and a prominent theologian spoke out Tuesday against Issue 2, saying the ballot measure that would enact restrictions on collective bargaining for public employees goes against the church’s teachings that have long supported the rights of workers.

Clergy from a number of different local religious groups Tuesday echoed the priests’ assertions that it is a moral imperative to provide fair wages and protect employee rights. But one pastor, the Rev. Joe Keblesh of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, said the measure that would implement Senate Bill 5 would result in painful but necessary budget cuts that ultimately would save jobs.

“If we can work hard to keep the states solvent, especially in these economically difficult times, it’s going to protect more jobs than it would hurt,” Father Keblesh said. “Something’s got to give and it seems to me that jobs are going to be more threatened if there’s no room for the government to make adjustments as necessary.”

The Rev. Martin Donnelly, a recently retired Toledo diocesan priest, said it is a matter of justice that ­laborers have a chance to earn decent wages so they can contribute to the good of society.

The Rev. Thomas Landgraff, a retired priest and educator who is a member of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales religious order, said that for more than 120 years, the church’s “highest teaching authority … has taught that men and women have the right to form unions and they have a right to collectively bargain.”

Vincent Miller, an author, theologian, and professor at the University of Dayton said his father was a public service employee and his uncles were in law enforcement. “Nobody got rich but they had at least a decent standard of living with benefits and a decent retirement,” he said.

He called Issue 2 “a profound moral issue for all of us because we the citizens are their employers” who must decide “not just what we’ll permit in our society but how we’ll treat the people who every day go out and risk their lives for us, keep us safe, and teach our children.”

Father Donnelly, Father Landgraff, Mr. Miller, and more than a dozen public workers and Catholic activists spoke at a news conference held in the rain under the leafy boughs of an American beech tree on the University of Toledo campus. The event was co-sponsored by Catholics United and We Are Ohio.

Father Donnelly said “every Catholic schoolboy and schoolgirl is taught the Catholic justice tradition” and is expected to participate in the electoral process with “well-informed consciences.”

He said that an interfaith prayer service about Issue 2 is scheduled for Nov. 6, two days before the election, at Monroe Street United Methodist Church.

Among those planning to attend the Nov. 6 service is Imam Farooq Abo-Elzahab, spiritual leader of the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo. He did not attend Tuesday news conference but said in an interview that he supports “everything that helps the public and the workers to live honorable lives, to get what they deserve, especially health care.”

Imam Farooq said the Prophet Mohammed taught that everyone should receive compensation for their labor based on the quality of their work, and that a worker should be paid “before his sweat dries.”

Rabbi Alan Sokobin, rabbi emeritus of The Temple-Congregation Shomer Emunim in Sylvania, said in an interview that he believes in the American ideals of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and you can’t have life without good health care.”

As a rabbi, he said, he is concerned with moral issues and avoids political issues, but “the Hebrew Bible is replete with exhortations and requirements concerning caring for those who provide for us their labor.”

The Rev. Cedric Brock, pastor of Mt. Nebo Baptist Church and head of the Interdenominational Minister’s Alliance of Toledo and Vicinity, also said he is opposed to Issue 2.

“We’re taking a strong stance against Senate Bill 5 due to the fact that if it passes it is going to hurt the common worker — nurses, firefighters, policemen, the common janitor,” Mr. Brock said. “It is really going to affect them and their livelihood and their pension plans.”

While individual Catholic priests have taken a stand on Issue 2, the Ohio Conference of Catholic Bishops said it is neutral on the ballot issue.

“A voter’s position on Issue 2 involves a prudential judgment where people of goodwill may differ as to the specifics of this proposal,” the bishops said in a statement.

Bishop Leonard Blair of the Toledo diocese said Tuesday that he remains in accord with the bishops’ conference’s neutrality. He also does not object to individual priests expressing their views on Issue 2, according to Sally Oberski. the diocese’s director of communications.

The IRS has set strict guidelines on religious groups’ political campaign interventions, rules that also apply to every tax-exempt organization.

Any organization that has been granted 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status cannot “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,” the IRS states on its Web site.

Such organizations may take positions on public policy issues, but cannot favor or oppose a candidate, according to the IRS.

The ban on political campaign activity by tax-exempt organizations does not apply to individual leaders of religious groups, who are free to express their views on political matters although they cannot state or imply that they speak on behalf of their church, mosque, synagogue, or other group.

The religious leaders are also barred from making partisan comments in official organization publications or official functions of their church or organization.

Religious groups that violate IRS guidelines may lose their tax-exempt status and be ordered to pay an excise tax on the amount they spent on political activity in question.

Contact David Yonke at: dyonke@theblade.com or 419-724-6154.



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