Thursday, March 09, 2006

The Knights, charity, and the State of Tennessee (2)

Yesterday I discussed how our Knights of Columbus council was strapped for cash and had such difficulty raising money because of our laws here in Tennessee. I’m sure that some readers are wondering just how the law prevents us from raising money that will go to charitable causes.

Across the country, Knights of Columbus councils that have plenty of money (and therefore dole much of it out to charity) have two factors going for them: Many of them have council halls in which to meet (and rent), and many of them run charitable bingo games at least weekly to raise money for their charities. Council 645 some time back elected to sell its hall on Magnolia Avenue. This meant that the Council would have to split its meetings between Holy Ghost and Immaculate Conception. It is true that Magnolia is not the best part of town to be coming to a meeting in, and that would explain why the hall was so hard to rent. Having a hall would help our cause, however, though the men of 645 are deeply divided on that matter.

Law, however, prevents us from holding a charitable bingo game or other similar enterprise because the Knights of Columbus are not classed as a non-profit organization, as most fraternal societies are not. One reason for this for-profit classification is because the Knights offer an insurance option to members. We may choose not to take life insurance with the Knights, but we do have that benefit available.

Many other states exempt fraternal societies from the rules regarding charity gaming and apply the same rules that would apply to non-profits to fraternal organizations. Tennessee law makes no such exception. Even if it did, the law might then make it cost prohibitive: The law as I understand it only allows non-profits one such event per year, and the one-time permit cost would eat up a substantial portion of the profits.

Some reading may say: “Gosh Dave, Tennessee is a really conservative state and you Catholics are in a minority. A lot of the folks might be uncomfortable with bingo games and Monte Carlo nights going on in fraternal halls and churches all over the state.” That is a truism indeed and the Tennessee Knights respect both the law and the general public sentiment. However, the same laws that prevent profitable bingo also prevent profitable raffles, profitable sweepstakes, and other such cash or high prize drawings. Why do we need the kind of money these kinds of drawings might generate? We need it because the mission of the Knights of Columbus demands big time dollars. Tennessee Right to Life and the Special Olympics, two organizations the Knights traditionally support, do not run on pocket change. Neither do Catholic Charities or Catholic Relief Services, which we also support. As a result, we cannot run on rummage sale money.

A change in our law is needed to allow groups like the Knights greater fundraising latitude. This may take an outright constitutional change, I am not certain. I do know that if we do not find an effective and legal way to raise large amounts of money, the Knights of Columbus will survive but will not be able to rightfully uphold the very first principle of our order effectively: Charity itself.


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