On Aug. 8, voters in ruby-red Ohio rejected a measure supported by politically conservative Christian groups that would have made it more difficult for citizens to change the state’s Constitution.

Ballot Issue 1 lost by 56.5% to 43.5% in a special election.

The measure was promoted by the Center for Christian Virtue, a 40-year-old nonprofit lobbying group which does not publicly disclose its links to Focus on the Family but is one of the most effective members of the ministry’s network of 40 state affiliates, which ls led by Focus’ sister organization, the Family Policy Alliance.

CCV urged believers to vote for Issue 1 “to protect our state’s governing document from the deadly agenda of Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and other radical pro-abortion groups as they attempt to create a right to abortion up to birth.” CCV said these groups were trying to “hijack Ohio’s constitution.”

CCV even organized an all-star Sunday “Get Out the Vote Prayer Rally” featuring:

  • Abby Johnson, a bestselling anti-abortion author and speaker
  • Actor Jim Caviezel, who stars in the popular sex trafficking movie Sound of Freedom and has a weakness for QAnon conspiracy theories
  • Michael Flynn, the retired general who briefly served the Trump administration, founded the ReAwaken America Tour, which takes MAGA politics to churches nationwide, and argues that all Americans should be united around one national God

But some of the Buckeye state’s believers — including many African American clergy and laypeople who organized against the measure for months — feared Issue 1 was undemocratic by design and would erode their power at the polls.

“This is holy ground!” said Tony Minor, pastor of Cleveland’s Community of Faith Assembly, a Pentecostal church. “Blood was shed that we might have a right to vote,” he told Religion News Service.

The bill’s defeat means Ohioans who want to change the state Constitution will do so the way they’ve done so for years: gathering signatures in 44 of the state’s 88 counties to place a measure on a ballot and earning a 50% simple majority to win. Issue 1 would have required signatures in all 88 counties and a 60% majority.

The defeat also means an aggressive abortion rights bill on Ohio’s November ballot needs only a simple majority to pass.

The defeat also means an aggressive abortion rights bill on Ohio’s November ballot needs only a simple majority to pass — something the state’s Christian conservatives were trying to avoid due to the unpopularity of measures restricting abortion.

CCV says it “seeks the good of our neighbors by advocating for public policy that reflects the truth of the gospel,” but many neighbors, including some conservatives and Republicans, saw Issue 1 as a naked power grab, an attempt by the GOP majority to change the political rules of the game in its own favor.

Adding to the bill’s unpopularity was its timing. Last December, the state GOP enacted legislation to ban August referendums, claiming they weren’t representative because of low voter turnout. But this May, they reversed themselves and scheduled the Issue 1 vote for August, hoping they could prevail. The switcheroo didn’t work. Voters turned out in higher numbers than they did for the 2022 primaries.

The vote was “a harsh judgment against the anti-majoritarian politics that Republicans are practicing in many states they control,” wrote Washington Post columnist E.J. Dione, who called the referendum a “scam.” “Their methods include highly partisan gerrymanders, efforts to make it harder for some groups to cast ballots (particularly Black and younger voters), and state takeovers of election administration in Democratic cities.”

Focus on the Family was just one of the conservative out-of-state special interest groups urging Ohio voters to support Issue 1 and defeat “out-of-state special interest groups.” Focus said Issue 1 would protect Ohioans from “radical and sudden changes promoted and funded by liberal millionaires.”

“Will Ohioans acquiesce to these progressive, dark money donors?” Focus asked, “or will they take a stand, support Issue 1 and preserve their state constitution? If Ohioans don’t approve Issue 1 on August 8, the state will have a ‘for sale’ sign on their front lawn by the time leaves begin to fall.”

Another Focus article said America’s founders would have supported Issue 1.

Our founding fathers knew that it should be difficult to enact radical changes to our nation’s governing documents,” said Focus’s Daily Citizen. “Ohioans should heed the founding fathers’ advice and vote ‘Yes’ on Issue 1 on August 8.”

Focus claimed Issue 1 would provide “wise leadership and policies that take into account and protect against the inevitability of human nature” and avoid “passing passions and volatile partisanship.”

D.C.-based Family Research Council, which was created by Focus founder James Dobson, warned Tuesday: “If the voters of Ohio reject this amendment, it will leave the door wide open for the Left to force their ideology on the state … and they will use this as a blueprint for the rest of America and target other states with their radical agenda!”

Focus on the Family Headquarters in Colorado Springs

Conservative Christian groups that hoped Issue 1 would provide their own blueprint for the rest of America are heading back to the drawing board. The loss also may complicate matters for Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who heavily promoted Issue 1 and is running for U.S. Senate.

CCV issued a statement after the vote, saying, “We cannot allow Ohio to become California. Issue 1 would have better protected us from these dangerous political schemes. … Discouragement is not a word we know at Center for Christian Virtue. … We press on!”

This article originally appeared in Baptist News Global.