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Alvin McEwen

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The Catholic Church Is Overstepping Its Bounds Against Marriage Equality in Minnesota

Posted: 10/21/11 02:14 AM ET

In its efforts to help pass a state constitutional amendment against gay marriage in Minnesota, the Catholic Church is creating a troubling precedent:

Archbishop John Nienstedt sent a letter to every priest in the state at the start of October urging them to put every Catholic church in Minnesota to work passing a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

"It is imperative that we marshal our resources to educate the faithful about the Church's teachings on these matters, and to vigorously organize and support a grass roots effort to get out the vote to support the passage of the amendment," the letter read. It went out on Oct. 4 to every priest in the state.

The archbishop said it wants priests in every parish to identify a "church captain" in order to create an "ad hoc committee" in every church in the state. The "church captain" is a component of the Schubert Flint strategy used in 2008′s divisive Proposition 8 battle in California. ...

According to Nienstedt's letter, the church captains will be organized by the Minnesota Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the Catholic church, which will in turn report to the Minnesota for Marriage coalition for statewide efforts. Minnesota for Marriage is made up of the Minnesota Family Council, MCC and the National Organization for Marriage.

First of all, I wonder if it is legal for a tax-exempt organization to take such a role in the political process?

And even if it is, I am seriously disturbed by this latest development. I feel very uncomfortable when I think of the possibility of how deep the Catholic Church is putting itself into this state issue. I think people should vote as their faith dictates. However, I have a serious problem with a church official using his office or name to marshal large groups of people to vote in a particular way. And my problems become deeper when I realize that the church where that official belongs is tax-exempt.

Any entity flexing its power over how large groups of people vote while being exempt from laws that cover this sort of thing is a dangerous entity in terms of manpower and money. Moreover, this entity's actions are a slap in the face of an American core belief: the right to vote as your conscience dictates and not be intimidated via implied or stated threats, be they physical ("you are going to be murdered") or spiritual ("you are voting against God's law and will go to hell for it").

It's definitely a license to create havoc. You may not think it's a big deal, but it is. In fact, it is a nasty precedent. Today it's marriage equality. Tomorrow it could be another issue decided not by individual choice but by spiritual groupthink.

And in this case, the Catholic Church is teaming up with questionable allies. Earlier this year, the Minnesota Family Council was rightfully criticized after it was discovered that materials on the organization's website accused gays of pedophilia, bestiality and the consuming of bodily wastes.

The idea that the Catholic Church would align itself with such a group represents a serious problem in judgement.

But regardless of that, this is a country ruled by the Constitution, not papal authority. And frankly, any person who surrenders his or her vote to the whims of someone else -- even if that person supposedly represents a "higher power" -- needs to examine themselves.

Furthermore, I don't think that any entity that assumes tax-exempt status should be allowed to take such a role in a political vote -- at least not without being taxed.

No group should be above the laws of this country, even if that group is of a religious nature.

The Catholic Church may think that it is working in God's name, but those truly working in God's name never have to stoop so low.