Churches mobilize to tout Scottsdale's Prop. 401
Casey Newton and Lesley Wright
The Arizona Republic
Sept. 8, 2006 12:00 AM
Scottsdale's newly aligned faith community is
mobilizing as never before, preparing to send
thousands of congregants to the polls Tuesday to
support a ban on lap dancing at strip clubs.
The strategy continues a recent surge of clergy
activism prompted by a city proposal to place limits
on large neighborhood churches. Pastors across the
city are urging their flocks to take part in battles
over regulatory and moral issues.
The real test of the faith community comes Tuesday,
when Scottsdale voters head to the polls to decide
Churches have rallied their congregations in favor of
the measure, which would require dancers to stay 4
feet away from patrons. Strip clubs say the new rules
will put them out of business.
David Friend, senior pastor of the 1,500-member
Scottsdale First Assembly Dream Center, said religious
leaders fighting the zoning ordinance realized their
"The (zoning) amendment has done wonders to get us in
unity," Friend said. "But it's just the beginning. You
watch: There's going to be a very well-organized
Churches have long made their voices heard on issues
of statewide and national importance. Organizations
such as the Arizona Interfaith Network lobby on
immigration and health care issues. Religious groups
have fought abortion rights for decades.
But if Scottsdale's faith community can topple a
Goliath of the sex industry, which has outspent
supporters by a ratio of 65-1, it could prove the
churches to be a potent force in local Valley politics
Fighting deep pockets
Leaders of 16 Christian churches have publicly
endorsed Proposition 401. Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted,
head of the Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, and Minerva
G. Carcaño, bishop for the Phoenix area of the United
Methodist Church, endorsed the measure as well.
They're going up against deep-pocketed opponents that
include adult-film star Jenna Jameson and executives
of pornography giant Vivid Entertainment. A "yes" vote
on the measure would affirm the city's ordinance. A
"no" vote would send city lawyers back to the drawing
Through Aug. 23, Babe's and Skin Cabaret had raised
$219,831 and spent $169,999 in their defense. The
YESon401.com committee had mustered $6,816, of which
they spent $2,634.
Supporters of the measure hope that if religious
leaders mobilize enough of their congregations, the
fund-raising totals won't matter.
"The faith community has played a huge part in this,
there's no doubt about it," said Jamie Capobres, vice
chairwoman of YESon401.com. "It's unprecedented. It
A growing force
Religious groups in Scottsdale awakened to their
political power last year, when some homeowners
complained to the city about the overflow parking and
seemingly endless activities of the megachurches that
had moved into their semirural neighborhoods.
Scottsdale planners began studying a zoning amendment
that would require "non-residential uses," such as
churches and private schools, to seek a conditional
use permit and the restrictions that go with them.
Church members were quick to react, blasting City Hall
with e-mails and phone calls. The campaign reached
such a fever pitch that Scottsdale delayed bringing
the issue to a vote, saying it needed more time for
Church leaders saw they could tap into the same potent
organization to support Proposition 401 and other
"We are becoming very organized," Friend said. "I've
had people I don't even know call me about this."
Soon, for example, Friend wants to start lobbying
against restrictions on temporary signs in north
Scottsdale so that churches can advertise their
vacation Bible schools.
Churches' staying power
City leaders generally are skeptical that their local
organized churches will stick together for long.
"I've seen a lot of alliances come and go," Councilman
Bob Littlefield said.
Terry Crist, senior pastor at Scottsdale's CitiChurch,
said he would make Proposition 401 part of his sermon
on Sunday. But he said religious institutions needed
to strike a balance between their more traditional
functions and encouraging civic involvement.
"If you come down too heavy on one side or the other,
you end up either with a (politically) inactive
congregation or you end up with people that aren't
nurturing their soul; they're just out mobilized for
battle on any and every front," Crist said. "Finding
that fine line is never easy but very important."
Steve Lee, general counsel for the American Civil
Liberties Union of Arizona, said churches are
generally within rights to take positions on issues,
so long as political functions remained a relatively
small part of their activities.
"Under existing tax law, I don't see any problem with
the churches expressing their views on this matter,"
Lee said of 401.
Councilman Wayne Ecton said he would welcome another
organization to serve as a counterweight to the
Coalition of Pinnacle Peak, a neighborhood group that
has successfully lobbied to curb development and
preserve desert views.
Bob Vairo, president of the Coalition of Pinnacle
Peak, said that zoning issues also were the genesis of
"It's not surprising they feel somehow being organized
would give them more influence or clout with the
city," he said.
Vairo said the churches have a right to have a place
at the table of civic politics, but he advised them to
keep their emotions in check.
"If you want to be respected as a civic group,
approach things intelligently, do research and know
what you're talking about. Keeping things focused and
objective is very hard to do."
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted,
Catholic Diocese of Phoenix
Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño
United Methodist Church