When Push Comes to Shove

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At the end of April I appeared before the Latah County Commissioners to register my concerns about the discriminatory harassment that is being directed at our ministries. The tax-exemption complaints that have been filed against Anselm House, New St. Andrews, Logos School, and Community Christian ministries were complaints that, if consistently applied to others in the same boat, would negatively affect virtually every other tax-exempt entity in the county. The wooden application of the “exclusive use” principle that is now being imposed upon us would (if applied to others) remove the tax-exempt status of just about everybody. Churches rent facilities for weddings, churches have day cares, a church can rent to Weight Watchers, and so on. None of this is consistent with the new understanding of exclusive use. So on the one hand, consistent application of the law would up-end community life across the county. But inconsistent application of this understanding of the law would continue to affect only those entities that are associated with me — because thus far our elected officials have declined to notice what is actually going on here.

In short, our magistrates and the law are being used by others in order to bring about a selective and discriminatory application of the law for their own personal ends. In the course of remonstrating with them, among other things, I told the commissioners that I was not going to start filing tax-exemption complaints against innocent entities that are in the same boat we were, just to illustrate the hypocrisy and inconsistency of it all. The illustration I used was the Presbyterian church, right across the street from where the commissioners were sitting. I was not going to do that, and am still not going to do that. You don’t shoot at innocent by-standers just to make a point, which would be the legal equivalent of terrorism.

Although this principle must remain constant, the zoning complaints invite a different application of it. The complaint against New St. Andrews is being wielded by our adversaries for the same reasons that the tax-exempt complaints are, but the law involved is different. In other words, virtually every tax-exempt entity is out of compliance, given the newly discovered “understanding” of exclusive use. But compliance to the zoning code is generally good, with inconsistencies found here and there. And it just so happened that a number of the high profile inconsistencies were exhibited by those who had been involved in harassing us for the last several years.

Bill London, associated with the Food Co-op, has been one of the harassment ring-leaders against us. Charlie Nolan, one of those who filed the complaint about NSA’s zoning, has been running a publishing business out of a residential district for years. (Nothing has been filed against him, but why not? I wonder. His compatriots Dustin Bauer and Joseph Hansen have assured us all that they are motivated solely by Love of the Code. I hereby respectfully draw their attention to this potential threat to the zoning purity of our fair city. Let’s see what they do. Let’s see what Mike Curley does. For the Love of the Code.) The Moscow School District was materially involved in the harassment of our history conference a year and a half ago. The University of Idaho spent thousands of dollars to counter our history conference (and then charged us extra for the security costs caused by the hubbub they were helping to cause). No innocent by-standers here — just a lot of nerve.

So back to the tax-exempt status. My commitment to the commissioners is rock solid. I will not illustrate the county’s inconsistency by dragging innocent by-standers into the fracas. Let churches rent their sanctuaries for weddings, for Pete’s sake. But hypothetically if there were a tax-exempt entity that was using its meeting hall to assemble their “Lynch Wilson” yard signs, with the reverse side reading “Tear his intolerant head off and scoop out his insides with the Spoon of Tolerance,” I think an responsive complaint, just like the one brought against us, would be entirely in order. Don’t you? I thought so.

One more thing. I heard last night that at least one elected official expressed his disappointment with “both sides” in this controversy. I would like to take this opportunity to respectfully differ. We have not taken it upon ourselves to defend ourselves by these means lightly. We allowed the system to grind its interminable way to a non-conclusion. After several years of having the machinery of government being manipulated against us in different ways, we finally began to respond in a way calculated to bring these issues to a head. If those on the city council and the county commissioners do not like what is now happening (as I hope they do not), then it is entirely within their power to stop it all. As for us, we will cooperate fully with them in stopping it all. We have better things to do than working up a new strategy each month to avoid being run out of town. The Moscow City Council and the Latah County Commissioners have it within their own respective jurisdictions to clear their agendas, and take vigorous steps to prevent the law from being so easily twisted by those with personal or ideological vendettas. If the conflict continues, it will simply be because the council and the commissioners are unwilling to take the steps that will stop it. I said the other day that the situation in Moscow had moved from a debate to a conflict. Our elected officials have the authority and the responsibility to move it back to a debate again. I cordially invite them to do so, and will do all within my power to help them.

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