An appeal to reconsider HLB 20-48: A pastoral letter


As your bishop, I must exercise my obligation to inform you about several pending bills in our Legislature that will affect the common good if enacted into law.  These pending bills deal with gambling.

Leadership in a community is a sacred trust. It is the responsibility of everyone in the community—but particularly the leaders in the community—to pursue the common good for the benefit of the community. It is helpful to remember that the common good refers to those circumstances which allow us to become that which God created us to be.  Thus the common good includes not only economic benefit but cultural, educational, spiritual, moral and material development.

Part of the role of the Church is to be a moral guide. That is, the church must help the community discern what is the best path to take as it establishes policies and laws in pursuit of the common good, based on the principles found in the Gospels.

In discerning the morality of various acts several criteria can be used. A particular act can be seen as inherently good, neutral, or evil. An inherently good action should be pursued. An inherently evil action should be avoided. A neutral act should be considered in light of additional criteria. Saving a life or helping someone in dire need would be an inherently good act. The taking of innocent life, as in murder, is inherently evil.

In its desire for a sustainable economic and tax base the CNMI leadership has flirted with commercial gambling for decades. This often has taken the form of poker machines and casinos. Gambling has traditionally been considered by the church to be a morally neutral act. The criteria that are applied is an examination of the consequences of this technically neutral act. That is, what impact does commercial gambling have on the community? Does it promote the common good? Does it work against the common good?

Regarding the various proposals, the church has consistently opposed the various forms of commercial gambling that have been proposed for the CNMI. Commercial gambling has been a consistent source of problems for many people in the local community who have suffered from gambling addiction, loss of property value due to proximity to gambling establishments and increased crime rates. Karidat and our clergy have had firsthand experience over the decades in trying to help persons who have been negatively impacted by commercial gambling. It is because of this experience and the negative consequences of commercial gambling that the church has opposed commercial gambling in this community.

Several years ago, a zoning law was passed which provided for commercial gambling but limited it to specific areas that would focus on the tourist industry and avoid the negative consequences it has had on the local community. This seemed a reasonable compromise. Recently the Legislature passed H.L.B. 20-48, which rezones previous residential areas into mixed commercial/residential areas, with the intention of allowing commercial poker establishments in residential areas. It appears that this bill will undo the compromise embodied in the current zoning law. Further, the bill was passed without public hearings and contrary to the recommendation of zoning professionals.

As bishop of the people of God in the CNMI, I respect the right of the Legislature to pass laws regulating public life in the CNMI, even if I disagree with certain measures, such as the expansion of commercial gambling. I respect the right of the governor to sign or veto those bills sent to him by the Legislature and then to enforce those laws. However, as bishop, I request that H.L.B. 20-48 not be signed into law. Allow the community to present testimony and debate the issue by holding hearings on rezoning. Provide an example of real leadership, that is not afraid to pursue the common good in the light of public scrutiny and debate.

Ryan Jimenez, DD (Special to the Saipan Tribune)

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