First Assembly of God behind anonymous mailers opposing same-sex marriage
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawai'i News Now was the first to report on an anonymous flyer targeting lawmakers and urging recipients to ask them to vote no on same-sex marriage. We have learned the First Assembly of God is behind the mysterious mailers, which has grown to focus on another legislator, and now the Hawai'i State Ethics Commission is getting involved.
Representative John Mizuno says his phone has been ringing off the hook since residents in his district started receiving the anonymous flyer Wednesday.
"It's offensive and to me it displays hatred. It's a hit piece," described Representative John Mizuno, of House District 28, which includes Kalihi Valley, Kamehameha Heights, and a portion of Lower Kalihi.
The flyers are being distributed by the First Assembly of God. Until Thursday morning, there was a link on their website offering customizable downloads for every House Representative who has indicated they may vote yes to same-sex marriage. The link has since been taken down.
"It gets me very concerned that there's a lack of transparency and accountability by the church that sent this out. First of all, it's bad enough that they just sent this out like a hate piece, a hit piece – but second of all that they're providing false information, it's twice as bad. And the third thing, they're, again, not taking any accountability on this. They just send this out they don't put their identity on it. It hurts me because I'm a Christian and it's everything opposite of being Christ-like and I'm shocked," Rep. Mizuno said.
Hawai'i News Now contacted the Hawai'i State Ethics Commission Tuesday after our first report on anonymous mailers featuring Representative Linda Ichiyama aired Monday night. (http://www.hawaiinewsnow.com/story/23632566/same-sex-marriage-critics-working-to-rally-opposition) Executive Director Les Kondo said the flyers could potentially be in violation of the state's lobbyist laws, but would require further review.
Hawai'i News Now contacted Kondo as soon as we learned the identity of the church behind the flyers and officials are now investigating. The Hawai'i State Ethics Commission sent the First Assembly of God a letter Thursday afternoon informing them if an organization is soliciting members of the public to contact legislators to support or to oppose a bill that's lobbying.
"If that organization spends $750 or more within a six month period, it must file expenditure reports with the commission – and those reports would detail the expenditures it spent in its lobbying efforts, as well as any contributions it might have received in order to fund those lobbying efforts," explained Kondo.
Those reports aren't due until the end of next January, but Kondo says either way the state lobbyist law doesn't require any disclosure as to who the message is coming from -- only that the expenditures are submitted.
Officials with Common Cause Hawai'i, a non-profit, non-partisan government watchdog agency says that's unfortunate.
"We ask college students to cite their sources so why not people trying to influence public policy in general," said Executive Director Carmille Lim.
Common Cause Hawai'i and Representative Mizuno are now raising questions about the accuracy of the mailer.
"You engage people responsibly by laying out the facts that support your position not misleading people to think that something else is going to happen," Lim said. "Intentionally posting false information, we feel that that's not only disingenuous, but it's completely irresponsible."
Lim wants to clarify that despite what the flyer says— "Hawai'i's state legislature may soon vote to legalize same-sex marriage without your input"— everyone will get a chance to be heard.
"As an organization that really aspires to protect the public process we really want to emphasize that there is opportunity for public hearing and public input – even during special session," Lim explained.
Representative Mizuno says he's frustrated by the portion of the mailer that says: "Same-sex marriage will force businesses and individuals to recognize same-sex couples in all their benefits and activities. Non-compliance means risking fines and even jail time. According to lawyers who reviewed Hawaii's proposed same-sex marriage bill, even churches are not spared, and can be forced to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies even if it violates their beliefs."
"To say that churches are going to be forced to perform marriages is just flat-out false. Even if you read the bill that's currently before us, that doesn't have that. There are wide exemptions for churches. A lot of the things they put in is completely false or half truths," Rep. Mizuno said.
Mizuno voted twice against civil unions and has been undecided on same-sex marriage, but says the flyer is pushing him to consider voting yes.
"It makes my development and evolution a lot faster and I think I'm leaning one side but I'm very hurt by this. This does not represent all churches, but I'm shocked that as a Christian they would do something that's so false and misleading and opposite of Christ-like," Mizuno explained.
The Attorney General's office provided Hawai'i News Now with this statement regarding the religious exemptions set forth in the current draft of the same-sex marriage legislation.
"The marriage equity bill circulated by the Governor's Office on September 9 contains two provisions that provide exemptions based on religious beliefs and use of a religious organization's facilities.
Clergy, ministers and priests will not be required to provide marriage ceremonies (called "solemnization" in the bill) under the provisions of the bill. This same protection applies to the officers of any religious denomination or society that does not have clergy but does provide marriage ceremonies. This right is absolute. Under the bill, there can be no civil penalty including fines or criminal penalty for individuals refusing to perform a marriage.
In addition, under conditions provided under the bill, religious organizations are also protected from any civil liability or criminal liability for refusing to allow same sex couples from using their facility for a wedding. The conditions are: the facility is regularly used for religious purposes, the religious organization only allows its members to use its facility for marriages, and the religious organization is not used as a for profit business.
We think it is useful for people to understand that the religious facilities exemption contained in the marriage equity bill is already the law in the civil unions statute. As far as we are aware, to date there have been no lawsuits filed against any religious organization for refusing to perform a civil union. The proposed bill does not change that law. It merely applies the same law to marriages.
In addition, Hawai'i's public accommodations law has been in effect for decades. It can be found at HRS chapter 489. It bars discrimination in places of public accommodation, which means places that are open to general public as customers, clients, or visitors. Seven years ago, in 2006, the public accommodations code was amended to specifically ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Under existing law, therefore, organizations cannot discriminate on the basis of race, religion, disability, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender identity. There is no criminal liability for violations of this chapter.
As explained above, the bill explicitly allows clergy to refuse to solemnize a marriage between two individuals of the same sex. Furthermore, the First Amendment of the U.S. constitution and the parallel provision from the Hawaii constitution protect the free exercise of religion.
People who are interested in the public accommodations code and the marriage equity bill can visit the Hawai'i Civil Rights Commission website, the Governor's website where there is a list of frequently asked questions, and the website of the American Civil Liberties Union, Hawaii chapter. http://labor.hawaii.gov/hcrc/ "
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