The dispute between the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland and Preble Street, an area homeless agency, points out an often forgotten attribute of free speech: It often comes with a price tag.

Just because the government cannot legally restrict an individual or group from making a statement, that doesn’t mean that there are no consequences when someone speaks out. When advocates working with Preble Street took a stand on the gay marriage vote last year, they faced the consequence of the agency losing a grant from Portland’s Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

That’s just what happened, and no one involved should have been surprised.

Critics of the decision seem to forget that CCHD is an arm of the Roman Catholic Church, a religious organization for which charity is just one way it fulfill its mission, which it defines as “spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” The church does not give up any of its right to determine how charitable giving fits with that mission when it determines where its money should go.

None of this should be news to the organizations that apply for CCHD grants, including Preble Street. Applicants applying for funding fill out a form that requires them to say if their organization is compatible with the church’s moral and social teachings.

Applicants, including Preble Street, had to say that their organization is not “supporting, promoting or advocating” same-sex marriage. Answering “yes” would disqualify the applicant. So would a “yes” answer for a group that advocates for abortion rights or the death penalty.


Preble Street’s executive director Mark Swann answered “no” to all questions, and his group got the grant. After the program “Homeless Voices for Justice” took a public stand on the Question 1 election, the church pulled its support.

Some supporters of Preble Street and same-sex marriage felt stung by the decision and are predicting that CCHD will lose contributions from Catholics who have a different view on the issue than the one expressed by Bishop Richard Malone.

If that’s true, that would be how freedom of speech is supposed to work. The church has the right to spend its money in a way that best fulfills its mission. Donors have the right to give or withhold contributions if they approve or disapprove of the church’s teachings.

As long as everyone’s right to free speech has been respected, no one should complain when the bill comes due.


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