By Jody Hope Strogoff
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
Supporters of a ballot proposal to bring back a slightly altered form of last year’s controversial “Personhood” Amendment have a more immediate goal: to become the first initiative campaign in Colorado to be run entirely by volunteers.
They are trying to build upon last year’s effort — which ultimately went down to defeat 3-to-1 despite more than half a million affirmative votes.
Campaign officials, pro-life enthusiasts and volunteers of varying ages gathered at a South Denver Post Office Tuesday morning to launch their petition drive for 2010. They hope to reactivate a thousand volunteer petitioners from last year.
Petition circulators gathered 131,000 signatures in 2008 — way more than was necessary — to secure a place on the ballot.
For 2010, amendment backers are looking to gather 100,000 signatures by the Feb. 15 deadline, roughly six months away, as they strive to obtain at least 76,047 legitimate and verifiable signatures for ballot certification.
The Colorado Secretary of State Title Board earlier gave the group the unanimous go ahead to begin the process of collecting the signatures.
“We are pleased that once again the Colorado Secretary of State has seen through objections of Planned Parenthood and has allowed the personhood campaign to move forward,” said initiative co-sponsor Gualberto Garcia Jones, of Personhood Colorado. He is described in campaign literature as a “Spanish/English speaking Catholic lawyer with great integrity and a desire to serve the Lord and protect his neighbor.”
Leslie Hanks, longtime vice president of Colorado Right to Life and the other main sponsor, said incremental advances are being made for the personhood rights of the newborn.
The 2010 amendment differs from last year’s in that it defines a “person” to include every human being from the beginning of the biological development of that human being. The 2008 version defined fertilized human embryos as people, and was said to have caused confusion among the electorate.
Keith Mason, founder of Personhood USA, said at the press conference this week that 27 states now have started personhood efforts.
Mason said he is encouraged because polls reportedly show a slight majority of Americans now consider themselves pro-life.
“The Personhood Amendment will ensure that the Colorado Constitution protects children in the womb from abortion and other forms of legalized child killing,” supporters assert in literature.
A large part of the effort to collect petition signatures for this second attempt will be delegated to churchgoers, who have been urged to talk to their pastors and organize signature drives.
Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, which opposes human embryonic stem cell research and abortion rights, wrote in a recent letter that many pastors may want to speak in defense of life and in support of the amendment, but could be deterred for fear that their church’s federal tax-exempt status would somehow be endangered. Stanley said those fears are often sparked by media reports of an “IRS crackdown,” which, in turn, “triggered complaints from leftist organizations bent on silencing the church.”
In virtually every case, Stanley said, “such charges are no more than bare scare tactics.”
The Scottsdale, Ariz. attorney said that federal tax law allows a church to spend at least 5 percent (and in some cases, up to 20 percent) of its total resources on direct lobbying for legislation, including ballot initiatives.
“This certainly includes the right of church leaders to urge their congregations to vote for life and in support of the Personhood Amendment,” he wrote.
Stanley said the issue of life in the upcoming 2010 election season should be considered as a special mission field, affording “Christians a special opportunity to talk about moral truth.”