VENICE — It wasn’t political and it wasn’t a protest. But now it’s not happening at all.
“It” was a candlelight vigil being put on by St. Mark’s Episcopal Church’s Social Justice Committee on Saturday as a memorial for all victims of violence, racism and hatred.
“I figured we needed to make some kind of response in Venice,” organizer Peter Madpak said.
The vigil was to be in remembrance of “people of color, … police officers and law enforcement, … peaceful protestors, … people of privilege, … people suffering with poverty, and … people willing to stand up and speak out against violence, racism, and hatred of all kinds,” he wrote in response to social media posts criticizing the event.
“We’re really covering all the spectrum,” he said Wednesday.
But on Thursday the event was canceled because of concerns it had gotten politicized.
“I’m personally heartbroken,” he said.
When the Venice Area Democratic Club posted the event on its members’ Facebook page, a note appeared with it that said “Hosted by: Venice Area Democratic Club.”
That’s a standard Facebook add-on when organizations post events, club president Mike Shlasko said. The club supported the event but claimed no role in organizing it, he added.
“I thought they were doing a fabulous job organizing it,” he said.
The venue — West Blalock Park — was large enough to allow social distancing and attendees were asked to wear masks. Masks would also be provided.
But “Hosted by” could make it look as though it was a club event to anyone not familiar with how Facebook operates, he said.
He said the club’s posting was shared on Meetup, a website that people use to share information about events,. The “Hosted by” note went with it but the Meetup posting didn’t mention the Social Justice Committee or St. Mark’s.
When the church’s leadership learned that on the internet the event appeared to be connected to a political club, Madpak said, they decided it could no longer be involved without risking a violation of the Johnson Amendment.
The amendment is a provision in the U.S. tax code that precludes a church from endorsing or opposing political candidates, at the risk of losing its tax-exempt status. Some political activities are allowed, but only if they’re nonpartisan.
The event wasn’t supposed to be political in any way, said Madpak, the church’s choirmaster, but church leaders were concerned that it might appear to be.
Besides his involvement, two members of St. Mark’s clergy were scheduled to participate.
Shlasko said he was “gravely disappointed” by the cancellation of the event, though he understood St. Mark’s decision.
The vigil was something everyone should be able to support, he said.
“How people of color are treated has nothing to do with party,” he said.
Venice Mayor Ron Feinsod had accepted an invitation from Madpak to be a speaker at the event. He said his topic was going to be racism, from a personal perspective.
“I’m sorry it’s not going to happen because I think it would bring people together,” he said. “I expected this to be a very peaceful vigil.”