Voters reject nearly all ballot measures on issues of Catholic concern

| Carol Zimmermann | November 9, 2016 | 5 Comments
Marijuana plants for sale are displayed at the medical marijuana farmers' market at the California Heritage Market in Los Angeles July 11. Medical marijuana laws have expanded nationally in a relatively short period. As of July 8, Washington state became the second state after Colorado to allow retail sales of recreational marijuana to adults. Voters in two more states will consider legalizing recreational pot in 2014. CNS photo/David McNew, Reuters

Marijuana plants for sale are displayed at the medical marijuana farmers’ market at the California Heritage Market in Los Angeles July 11. Medical marijuana laws have expanded nationally in a relatively short period. As of July 8, Washington state became the second state after Colorado to allow retail sales of recreational marijuana to adults. Voters in two more states will consider legalizing recreational pot in 2014. CNS photo/David McNew, Reuters

In this year’s election, voters went against nearly all of the ballot initiatives backed by Catholic leaders and advocates, except the referendums on minimum wage increases and gun control measures.

Voters passed an assisted suicide measure in Colorado and voted in favor of the death penalty in three states and in favor of legalized recreational marijuana in four states and against it in one. They also voted for minimum wage increases and gun control measures in four states.

In Colorado, the only state with an initiative to legalize assisted suicide, voters passed the measure, making the state the sixth in the nation with a so-called “right-to-die law,” joining Washington, Oregon, California, Vermont and Montana.

“The decision the voters of Colorado have made to legalize physician-assisted suicide via the passage of Proposition 106 is a great travesty of compassion and choice for the sick, the poor, the elderly and our most vulnerable residents,” said Jenny Kraska, executive director of the Colorado Catholic Conference.

“Killing, no matter what its motives, is never a private matter; it always impacts other people and has much wider implications,” she said in a Nov. 9 statement.

Kraska also said the state’s initiative will only “deepen divides along lines of race, ethnicity and income in our society and entrench us deeper into a culture that offers a false compassion by marginalizing the most vulnerable.”

The three death penalty referendums before voters this year all ended in favor of capital punishment. Bishops and Catholic conferences in these states had engaged in efforts to educate Catholics in particular on this issue and urge them to vote against it.

Oklahoma voters re-approved the use of the death penalty after the state’s attorney general had suspended executions last year. Nebraska voters also reinstated the death penalty that had been repealed by state lawmakers last year.

In California, voters defeated a ballot measure to repeal death penalty in the state and narrowly passed an initiative aiming to speed up executions of death row convictions.

Karen Clifton, executive director of the Catholic Mobilizing Network, the national Catholic organization working to end the death penalty, said in a Nov. 9 statement that “despite referendum losses” in those states, she was hopeful “the country will continue to move away from the death penalty and toward a greater respect for life.” She also praised the work of Catholics on the state level to end the death penalty.

Clifton said the state ballots gave Catholics the chance to “prayerfully reflect on the dignity and worth of all life during this Jubilee Year of Mercy and to continue moving away from violence as the answer in our criminal justice system.”

The California Catholic Conference said it was “extremely disappointed” that the ballot to repeal the death penalty didn’t pass, stressing “it would have been the fitting culmination of a yearlong calling to live out the works of mercy.” And the Catholic bishops of Nebraska expressed similar disappointment, saying in a statement they would “continue to call for the repeal of the death penalty when it is not absolutely necessary to protect the public safety.”

Voters in California, Massachusetts, Nevada and Maine approved recreational marijuana initiatives, while Arizona voters rejected it. California, Massachusetts and Arizona bishops spoke out against the initiatives.

The Boston Archdiocese spent $850,000 in a last-minute effort to defeat the ballot measure, saying increased drug use was a threat those served by the Catholic Church’s health and social-service programs. A Boston Globe report on the campaign quoted an archdiocesan spokesman who said the money was from a discretionary, unrestricted central ministry fund.

In a statement opposing the ballot measure, the Massachusetts Catholic bishops referenced a report from the National Institute of Drug Abuse that said marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States.

“Its widespread use and abuse, particularly by young people under the age of 18, is steadily increasing while scientific evidence clearly links its long-term damaging effects on brain development,” the bishops said.

On minimum wage ballots, voters in Maine, Arizona and Colorado voted to increase the minimum wage to at least $12 an hour by 2020 and in Washington they voted to increase it to $13.50 an hour by 2020. Catholic Charities USA has long been a proponent of raising the minimum wage as have other groups that work to reduce poverty.

Gun control measures passed in three states — California, Nevada and Washington — and lost in Maine.

Although gun control has not been taken up by the U.S. bishops as a body, some bishops have spoken out in favor of gun control measures, including Cardinals-designate Blase J. Cupich of Chicago and Kevin J. Farrell, the former bishop of Dallas who is prefect of the new Vatican office for laity, family and life.

Measures on climate change, an issue backed by the Catholic Climate Covenant, were rejected by voters. In Washington state, a ballot initiative called for the first carbon tax in the U.S., and a Florida measure would have restricted the ability of homeowners to sell electricity created through rooftop solar panels.

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  • tj.nelson

    So Catholic voters reject ballot measures of Catholic concern? Really?

    We voted for Trump and a Republican platform out of a major concern for the preeminent pro-life concerns and religious freedom issues. Do you even realize what kind of sacrifice many Catholics made in voting for Trump? Geez!

    • Mike17

      I don’t understand your point. Are you saying that the ballot measures were not of concern to Catholics? Are you implying that the author is saying that the ballot measures were of concern to Catholics but the presidential election was not? (If so, I don’t see where she says it.) Is there some rule that any time you mention one thing that concerns Catholics you have to mention anything else which concerns Catholics?
      I would, however, take some exception to one of the causes which the author includes in her article: a carbon tax. The carbon tax might well have been backed by some organisation calling itself Catholic Climate Covenant but I would be interested to know what percentage of Catholics in the USA think that a carbon tax is a good idea.

  • Michael Anderson

    Charles– good job discerning the difference between Catholic issues and issues of concern to Catholics. Would we agree that Catholic issues (or more generally, religious issues) should not be on the ballot? On the other hand, I do not agree that any of us are qualified to judge who is Catholic or “Catholic enough.” I am aware of the Pew surveys–there are many of them, but perhaps the view that they are evidence of failed Catholicism is wrong. Perhaps they indicate that today’s Catholic Faithful have a much broader tolerance for differences in belief based on the multi-cultural society in which they live. I suspect their *sensus fidelium” has grown beyond what their clergy can comprehend. Perhaps the percentages you cite from Pew reflect approval in some cases, and in others, a refusal to judge as described by Pope Francis. I personally belevie that the only way forward is for the Church and the Faithful to agree that there can be both a “traditional” path in the Church and a “Vatican II” path.

    • Charles C.

      Dear Mr. Anderson,

      Thank you for your kind reply. It is very encouraging. You raise excellent questions to which I do not have one word answers. (I’m rather wordy to begin with, and your questions require some care.)

      You’ve introduced what may be a third category of issues, “Religious issues.” If I understand you, religious issues solely concern theology, Church governance, modes of worship, etc. They are issues which only affect individuals who claim membership in that religious body.

      If I’m right, then there could be Jewish or Muslim issues concerning the eating of pork, for example. I do agree that those issues are best decided within the church body and should not be presented to the citizenry at large, at least in present day America.

      But there are Catholic, or “Religious” issues which affect the citizenry as a whole and as such deserve input from the entire society. The “life” issues are examples of that class of questions.

      Euthanasia and abortion find a strong opponent in the doctrine of the Catholic Church, stronger than can be found in many Protestant denominations. Still, I would argue that those questions affect the citizenry as a whole and should be voted on.

      The same holds true with other controversial issues such as homosexual marriage. Even though the Church has religious grounds for opposing it, she also opposes it on sociological, psychological, and medical grounds. As a “scientific” question affecting individuals who are citizens not connected to the Church, I believe it becomes eligible to be a ballot issue.

      But enough of that, what of the Pew polls?

      If nothing else, they show that great numbers of “Catholics,” even majorities in many cases, do not hold to Church teachings, and even live lives in opposition to them.

      It seems, but I could be wrong, that you are advancing the idea that the faithful in America (it is not that way in some other countries) have a “truer,” faith than the priests and bishops. It is different from the faith of the Church, but it is better somehow.

      I may be missing something, but it seems to me if your faith is opposed to the church of which you are currently a member, then the only courageous thing to do is to go to a church whose beliefs you can support.

      When you suggest two “paths,” how is that different from two churches? Will the Vatican II path accept the headship of the Pope? i suspect not. If that is the case, then we have a situation of formal schism, by definition.

      i don’t think you want to go that way, so please correct any errors in my thinking.

      (Oh, not wanting to judge? Can’t happen. Humans judge, they have to. Why do you pick carrots over rutabaga? Why do you help an injured person instead of robbing him? There are somethings that a right and some that are wrong. We face temptations daily, we have to judge the moral value of any given action. Not only our own, but others’.)

      • Dominic Deus

        Charles–I have to get on the road now but look forward to more dialogue. I finally figured out how to match my name to my blogging name hence the change to “Dominic”, my confirmation name.