Friday, October 22, 2010

Cincinnati Sr. High School Accused of Bribing Students Voting with Ice Cream? Left or Right, Wrong is Wrong.

UPDATE: I always like to check out the most local sources I can find when fact checking a news story.  While any news outlet can get details wrong, they tend overall to be more reliable than partisan sources (you know - like the version of these events that is being promoted by Fox-Not-the-News).

So here are answers to at least a few of my earlier questions.  There were only 'several' students involved, riding on one bus of the three buses/ church vans transporting other members of the community to a polling location, per television station WCPO channel 9's news coverage of the event.  Students who are old enough at this Cincinnati High School are encouraged every year to register to vote at local polling places - no one was actually voting that I can confirm - as part of their Government Course.  The official school statement by their lawyer is:
"The lawsuit was filed less than seven hours ago and we are still investigating the allegations. CPS has long encouraged its students as part of its Government Course curricula to register to vote and to vote. CPS does not endorse candidates or political parties. Some years when the funds can be found CPS has arranged the transportation of students to the Board of Elections for early voting by finding sponsors for bus tokens for student transportation. This year, our bus token sponsor could not find any money in the budget. A group volunteered church vans to drive some students and we accepted the offer. No CPS personnel engaged in the promotion of candidates or any political party.
This version of events is distinctly different - and I would add more plausible - than the Fox News, Hugh Hewitt broadcasts, or the blog post where I first learned of this alleged incident.  While the government course encourages students to register to vote.  It is not clear if this activity was actually PART of the class (which seems doubtful for only several students) or if it was something those students chose to do on their own time such as lunch or study hall.  Given that there were three buses full of other community members being transported, it would also seem more plausible by way of explanation that the several students (so far, appears to be three of them) simply were included as a courtesy in being provided ice cream as part of some sort of outing for the other participants of the church van trip.  It does not appear to be some sort of bribe to vote Democratic after all.

As to the core issue of this story, the whole claim that these students were being provided democratic-name only sample ballots in an attempt to demonstrate how to vote?  Yeah.......well,no.  Seems that whole claim rests on an allegation made by one of the bus drivers who is a big supporter of the Republican candidate who brought the suit against the school district.  His other claim is that the teacher or some other supervisory adult involved may have had a democratic candidate sticker on their clothing, as the basis for his belief that some sort of democratic candidate only ballot existed.  There is so far as I can tell absolutely zilch to validate that claim.

And it does NOT appear to be supported by anyone else involved in the event, nor does it seem plausible to me that a public polling place - which this was - would have a sample ballot available to the public with only one set of candidates on it.  This was NOT a political party location, and the purpose of the trip was not partisan, so far as I can determine.  Other individuals contradict, quite emphatically the claim that there was a democratic only ballot supplied.

Looks like another crackpot tea party tempest.
You scream, I scream, we all scream for ice cream... a funny thing children chant. That SMALL children chant, not usually something done by adults of voting age.

But it is a great opening for this story on the blog, listed and linked in our Penigma blog roll.

A short summation for those who don't want to read the whole post, a teacher in a Cincinnati public high school exercised extremely poor judgment in organizing a van full of students - no precise number was given, but we can posit from the typical van size that it was 15 or less.  For purposes of this discussion lets call it a dozen students, plus or minus.  Those students were loaded onto a van, a van provided by a local church (so far as I can tell at this point, at no cost to the School District) and taking them somewhere to look at sample ballots with the names of democrats on them (not the names of all candidates).

Then, and yes, this is the scary part.......the students were provided with ice cream, and then apparently returned to their school.  The students were registered voters, or at least that is the claim in the law suit filed over the incident.  But then that law suit also claims there were school buses involved (yes, plural) not a single church-provided van; so the spokesperson for the suit is being less than accurate on details.  The  litigious right wingers bringing the suit are called the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending & Taxes. 

I can't see where there was any actual school spending involved in this event.  So perhaps this is just a grandstanding effort in part, to get them some attention, above and beyond any legitimate objection. (I'm cynical that way.)

I registered to vote as soon as I was old enough, as did my friends, which was AFTER graduating from high school.  I attended a fairly large high school, and I don't think there were very many of my fellow seniors my final year who were registered voters.  I didn't know any, but was NOT a priority before graduation in spring, as the next election was the following fall. 

So, one of the questions in the back of my mind is how is it that this school had a van full of registered voter students, and how many were there?  Are we talking the dozen more or less I posited for purposes of argument, or is it more like three to five?  And huge question in my mind, given that ACORN was persecuted by the right for being active in voter registration -- were these students registered voters BEFORE leaving school, or did they register as voters during this little field trip?  Did their parents have to sign permission slips, given the necessary age to register to vote?  Did the school know of this before the trip, or only afterwards - and did they approve this expedition?  Were the students avowed Democrats before this event, or not? Was it a mandatory event? (I'm guessing not ,with so few students involved)  More important than getting ice cream - was there any kind of academic credit involved?  What legal liability might this have exposed the school to, if any?  Was this perhaps during a study period, free time, where the students could come and go with permission of a teacher, and not anything to do with formal class time at all?

I don't approve of this, in any way.  I think the teacher should be disciplined; and if there is a previous record of other bad judgement or ill-advised behavior, possibly fired.  No action should be taken against the school district if it was not done without their consent, and unless it is established they approved of all aspects of this in advance.  I think the publicity is probably punishment enough for the school officials at all levels. They are absolutely correct that a policy should be put in place preventing any recurrence, ever.  I think it would be appropriate for the high school to have an assembly of students, to address these events as well.

The litigious righties are correct; school is NO place for politicking to students.

I don't see a similar objection by any right-wing groups like the Coalition Opposed to Spending and Taxes over politicking from the pulpit by tax exempt organizations like churches that are violating the rules of their tax status.  Churches, just like schools, are not supposed to promote specific candidates.

You see, the problem as I look at instances where that is happening - exclusively in RIGHT wing clergy in churches for RIGHT wing candidates is that invoking GOD to persuade voting behavior seems to me a whole lot more persuasive and significant than......a few cents worth of ice cream.  Especially to those young first time voters who are plausibly more vulnerable to that kind of pressure and persuasion.  Those churches, many of them having affiliated schools, are benefiting from tax exemption in a manner that involves significant cash.  Is it the same kind of figure as the money spent on schools? No.  But it is still involving significant amounts of tax payer money they are NOT paying because of their status as churches, and the number of individuals being inappropriately influenced is far higher, and it is occurring far, far more often than this silly little ice cream field trip.

But of course, the Righties aren't objecting - or suing school districts - on the basis of principle.  They are doing it for purely partisan reasons.  I very much doubt that this group would have had a similar objection to what had happened in Cincinnati had it been Republicans only on that ballot.  I can just imagine the hypocrisy all over Fox News and the right wing blogosphere justifying it had this been about conservative, GOP, or Tea Party candidates.

So, I'm only able to manage a very, very small amount of indignation at this point, pending more verifiable details about this event that answer my questions above.  And until I see the right showing a reasonable objection to other violations of persuasion to vote, I am not going to be more critical than I have been here.

Because Left or Right, Wrong is Wrong.


  1. Exclusively right wing politicing in churches? Come on. Check out this article from the Clinton campaign.
    Every presidential election you see the Democratic candidate speaking at the big Baptist Church in Harlem. Now my church does remind people that supporting a candidate who supports abortion is in effect supporting abortion but they have never mentioned the name of any candidate and never invited one to speak.

  2. Tuck, I disapprove of any improper mixing of religion and politics.

    I would draw one small distinction here however - in the example you cited, a church was being used as a community space, and it is my understanding that the entire public was invited to hear candidates, not just parishoners - and there was at least one Republican speaking.

    I haven't been able to confirm decisively if other Republicans were invited and turned down the offer or not. But my impression however is that a spectrum of candidates were given the opportunity to speak, not only Democrats. Again - big difference here for purposes of comparison.

    Yes, churches are generally welcoming of the public, for worship - but this was not an invitation to the public to come worship, it was to come here candidates, no preaching or worshipping, communion in the case of the Baptist church, etc., and it was not during the usual hours that worship services were held - in either case, Gore or Clinton.

    I think that is a very important distinction, a huge qualitative difference.

    Clinton is noted urging parishoners to vote - not specifically to vote for HIM or exclusively other democratic candidates. I believe he has demonstrated on other occasions his commitment to separation of church and state.

    This to me is a second very important difference between the examples.

    This differs from a pastor or priest during an actual worship service, using his or her position in the pulpit to not only personally endorse a roster of candidates, but to give the imprimateur that he (or she) is speaking in a manner which conveys the opinion or will of God and the church on behalf of specific candidates.

    I agree with the criticism that in the case of this article there should have been a more clear separation of church and state, but I do think the examples are significantly different from each other.

    In Minnesota - and if I was not clear, let me elaborate here - in MINNESOTA - the instances where there is campaigning on the right from the pulpit for candidates has been deliberate, it has been announced that it was intended as a calculated challenge to the IRS prohibitions and statutes relating to politics and church tax exempt status.

    Here it HAS been done exclusively on behalf of republican / tea party / conservative candidates in support of the notion that this is a Christian country which should make the Constitution subordinate to the Bible, a fairly extreme, and largely right fringe political view. In some cases - Senator De Mint's views in a few respects for example - are attempting to impose what amounts to a Christian version of Sharia law in Islamic countries. THAT goes beyond Minnesota.

    Unfortunately the right in Minnesota has been hijacked by the extremists - and that is true elsewhere as well. Moderate republicans lost in many of the primaries here not because of a genuine majority but because of primary voter turn out.

    Funny thing - the most rabid "there is no separation of church and state" candidate promotion from the pulpit here had also been from Baptist churches btw. It was a Baptist church involved in the Clinton article you posted as well.

    I do not know if this is specific to Baptist churches generally, or just a coincidence in these two examples, but perhaps one of our readers will be able to elaborate on that for us.

    Thanks for the excellent comment Tuck! (You know I'm big on people providing those back up links to support statements - keep it up!) Well done!

    You have made a superb addition advancing the discussion of this topic. Applause from me!

  3. Tuck,

    I see it as only a shade of gray difference between allowing a political figure to speak at a church on behalf of another candidate, effectively endorsing that candidate from the church by use of the church, and having the Priest do so. However, there is a difference. One is the assumed appointed arbitor of the word of God, the other is a politician.

    However, this raises another question, is the use of a parking lot, or a parking way (green space) by a candidate for a politcal sign, a political endorsement. If so, does this create an obligation on behalf of the owner to declare the contribution of his/her time and property?

    The answer is yes to the former, but it is never done. Consequently, if it is true for a private business that they should declare an 'in-kind' contribution, so should a church, and therefore, it crosses the line into advocacy and THAT is what is wrong.

    However, if the church is LEASING it's space, then it's simply a business transaction, no different than if the Target Center rents itself out for a political rally. It is not advocating for the renter in any way.

    So, there are three questions --

    1. Do we consider a Priest (Pastor, etc..) to be a special kind of speaker. I do, but...

    2. If ANYONE advocates from the pulpit, is that improper? If so, why? which is what drives...

    3. Is what is being done by the conservatives different here?

    To the first question, while I believe ANY advocacy from the pulput is wrong, why is it wrong? It is wrong because we believe that churches should be exempt from intrusion by government, but in so making them exempt, we believe they should stay away from directing the votes of parishoners. We accept that Priests have exceptional influence over their parishoners generally - but ask them to speak to the ethical questions at hand (including abortion) without advocating for specific politicians. A big part of this has to do with the fact that we want churches to feel they can speak freely, but another part has to do with the fact that we generally feel spiritual leaders aren't necessarily expert secular leaders. Yet, of course Priests CAN speak as they may like, advocate for whomever they like, they only have one issue - and that is (and that speaks to points 2 and 3)...

    IF they do (or anyone at the Church does in a manner which is a contribution of time or space not otherwise paid for(and therefore an in-kind contribution), the church is now using parishoner funds for political contribution. To allow this would be to allow for TAX FREE contribution, i.e. like a charity, to political campaigns. Do we want to allow people to get a tax exemption on income like they do for contribution to political campaigns to charities? I certainly do not. I am given an exemption for contribution to charities because we decided (as a people) that we SHOULD treat such income as if I never had it, given that it is being put to good use. Conversely, let's say I give to the local member of the Black Panthers, that's certainly not altruistic - shall any contribution I make, say I give to my local marina to build me a new dry dock, shall I have ANY contribution become a direct tax deduction?

  4. The point is, we do not want to allow for unlimited TAX DEDUCTIONS for political speech - to do so again invites unlimited intrusion into our political spectrum by the most powerful and wealthy and using a venue which people are inclined to give MORE not less credence to since they are going there for worship of their own volition. It fundamentally violates our idea of keeping government out of church and church out of government (in reply). If we start allowing church into government, there is no question the reverse (government into church) will become reality because powerful people will WANT to use the pulpit.

    The last point, and most important, is that this is exactly what conservatives want to overturn. They want to overturn the restriction on advocacy from the pulpit, but do not understand that what they are seeking would be the end of the tax exempt status for contributions to churches AND it would mean the end of keeping the government out of church. So, whether Clinton was improperly advocating from the pulpit ultimately isn't the main point, it was do you believe in ending tax exempt status for churches and with it, allowing government to dictate church doctrine. I do not believe or support either one.