INDIANAPOLIS - Indiana United Methodist Bishop Mike Coyner led a delegation of judicatory leaders opposed to an expansion of legalized gambling and other issues with Governor Mitch Daniels on Monday morning, March 26 at the Governor's State House office.
Accompanying Coyner were the Rev. Stephen Gray, conference minister, Indiana-Kentucky Conference, The United Church of Christ; Steve and Marlene Pedigo, general superintendents, Western Yearly Meeting of the Society of Friends; the Rev. Richard Spleth, regional minister, The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); Bishop James R. Stuck, Indiana-Kentucky Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Dr. Larry Mason, executive minister of the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky; and the Rev. Lorin Clemenz, a retired North Indiana Conference minister and convener of the Indiana Coalition Against Legalized Gambling.
Dr. Robert C. Anderson, Interim Executive Presbyter of the Presbytery of Whitewater Valley had planned to be there but was unable to attend because his wife had hand surgery in Philadelphia.
Expansion of legalized gambling
During the 35-minute session the group confronted Daniels with the expansion of legalized gambling with casino expansion, the privatization of the state lottery, the slot machine bill which proposes 1,500 slot machines in each of the two horse race tracks in Indiana and the possibility of legislation to permit up to five electronic gambling devices in bars and restaurants and up to 10 machines in private lodges being amended into existing legislation.
In reflecting upon the meeting, Coyner wrote these words in his weekly E-pistle. "Our governor is a man of faith, and he asked some excellent theological questions as we discussed the issues facing Indiana. In particular, he listened to our concerns about the many bills proposing an expansion of gambling in Indiana, and he asked us to share our theological perspectives on this issue. What a refreshing question! Rather than another "political" discussion or a discussion of the economics of gambling, Governor Daniels invited us to look at the theological dimensions of this issue."
Daniels expressed his concern about the ever growing number of illegal Cherry Master electronic gambling devices found in thousands of locations in bars, restaurants, lodges, truck stops, even coin-operated laundries. He said his administration had made strides in cracking down on illegal gambling, but he needs the help of local governments to rid Indiana of this problem.
Coyner on behalf of the group asked Daniels to veto the slot machine bill if passed by the Senate. At this point, Daniels did not commit himself one way or the other to such a veto. Daniels has openly expressed his opposition to the expansion of legalized gambling in Indiana ever since his campaign.
Spleth brought to the Governor's attention a letter signed by hundreds of religious leaders across the state, including many United Methodists, pointing out the proposed marriage amendment would strip civil rights from committed same-gender couples.
The Governor said he realizes that the second part of the amendment can be problematic and that he has heard from businesses on this issue. He is watching the amendment as it has been passed by legislatures in around 20 states. He received the information but did not make any substantive comments about it. Spleth commented back to the governor that he felt Indiana should be a state noted for its hospitality and that this amendment would make such hospitality difficult.
The issue of handguns in state parks also came up. Last year the Governor signed an executive order permitting handguns in state park. The Governor said this was a U.S. Constitutional issue for which he didn't have much of a choice. He said the issue is being reviewed by the courts, but until he receives different word from the courts, handguns will be permitted in Indiana's state parks as a protected freedom under the constitution.
Daniels requested prayer to end the meeting. Bishop Stuck closed in prayer with and for the governor.
Coyner said, "The issues confronting our governor and those we have elected to the state legislature are not easy issues. Certainly we religious leaders do not have all of the answers, but we believe it is important to be a part of the conversations about the future of our state. I appreciate a governor who welcomes these conversations."
Meeting with Long
Following discussions with the governor, Spleth, Gray and Clemenz met with Senator David Long of Fort Wayne, president pro tempore of the State Senate, with the assistance of Sen. Patricia Miller, a member of Old Bethel United Methodist Church in Indianapolis. The three expressed their opposition to the slot machine bill.
Like Daniels, Long expressed greatest concern with the growing number of illegal Cherry Masters in use across the state. He also said an amendment might be introduced to place electronic gambling devices in bars and restaurants as an amendment to HB1510, a bill on charity gaming, that was approved by committee and is now on the Senate floor for action.