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Nov 16 2012

FFRF sues IRS for allowing flagrant electioneering by religious nonprofits

I just wanted to put this initiative on the community radar and wish FFRF good luck with this. Churches have been ramping up electioneering and becoming more and more open about their pushes for candidates and parties. They use a very simple code that should fool no one.

They swap out “Intelligent Designer” for god. They claim “god” on the money and in the Pledge are just traditional hat tips to deism (but after they win, argue it demonstrates we’re a Christian nation). They use “family values” for anti-gay and anti-women. And it’s been this way ever since they discovered it can sometimes work to subvert church-state separation.

The judge in Dover called them out on it and said that it’s not sufficient to simply use code for “god” and “creationism.” And I hope the judge in this case sees the same wisdom. “Bible” and “Biblical values” as code for “Republican” should fool nobody who follows religious blogs or sites. And neither should it be allowed as legal means to subvert tax exemption laws. Good luck, Dan and FFRF, in your latest case.

32 comments

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  1. 1
    michaeld

    And lately they don’t even seem to be using token weasels words or sticking to issues (which they can legally do). For example “Vote for the Mormon, not the Muslim! The Capitalist, not the Communist!” That’s about as blatant as you can get without using their names.

    Link to show I’m not making that up:
    http://www.opposingviews.com/i/religion/christianity/church-sign-says-vote-mormon-not-muslim

  2. 2
    Martin Wagner

    Religious privilege in a nutshell. The IRS has acknowledged that churches electioneer, and has said they just choose not to go after them.

    1. 2.1
      nathanaelnerode

      In this case, every political organization needs to declare itself a church and claim the tax exemption.

      If the IRS denies it… then the selective granting of tax exemptions to political organizations / religions based on governmental preference is clear a violation of the Establishment Clause.

  3. 3
    dariensimon

    There is an topic that I believe deserves a voice, the topic is the effects religion has on people who have mental health issues. My son killed himself two years ago because he had mental health issues. I suffer with mental health issues and the way most religions deal with the issue is by telling us that we have “Satan’s” demons controlling our minds. Most often times when they learn that we have mental health issues, they will either pray over us to cast the demons out or they tell you to keep praying. I had been praying for twenty years and he never answered my prayers. All I was told was to pray harder. I concluded that god is hard of hearing or he does not exist.

    I spent much of my adult life thinking that I had demons controlling my mind, when in actuality, I had a chemical imbalance. Since I became Atheist I no longer believe in demons or god and it has helped me take responsibility for my own mind; by taking medication, getting enough rest and leaving it to science to explain my condition. The problem is there are many religious people with mental health issues that believe what the bible says and the church. Because of these reasons, I believe as atheist, we should address this issue.

  4. 4
    gnt

    I really can’t take any American secular organization that talks about “partisanship” seriously.

    I know that a majority of seculars are quite ‘lefty’, but these organizations do a shit job of keeping on topic without showing their own bias (usually with no inherent link to their secularity) even on economic or other non-social issues.

    In this case the message would be much stronger if they showed examples on both sides of these violations. That this made absolutely no mention of the rampant violations by black churches and pastors is quite pathetic. I guess it’s cool if it’s for ‘their’ guy right?

    1. 4.1
      Martin Wagner

      Are you implying that there were black churches electioneering for Obama? If so, you should send the information about which ones to the FFRF. I see no reason why they wouldn’t include those in the complaint. Before complaining about biases, it might help to check if they actually exist.

      If you actually bothered to read the FFRF’s page that Tracie links to, there’s nothing there that says they’re only interested in punishing the churches that electioneered for Romney. Though they do list examples of anti-Obama churches, that’s probably because those churches made it really easy by parading their indifference to the law in the media.

      1. gnt

        > Are you implying that there were black churches electioneering for Obama?

        I have to say, your information bubble must be quite narrow to even ask that.

        I was already sick of the elections half way through, so not going to dig old articles, but google Joseph Lowery’s recent speech at some Baptist church for a colorful one. The racism might overshadow the ‘electioneering’ there, but hey… it’s got plenty of that too.

        And since you don’t like ‘code’ speak, you’ll be pleased to find out that like Mr. Wright, Obama’s mentor for 20 years, Lowery, whom Mr. Obama bestowed with the “Presidential medal of freedom”, is very direct.

        1. Jasper of Maine

          whom Mr. Obama bestowed with the “Presidential medal of freedom”, is very direct.

          Do you know what “electioneering” is?

          1. heicart

            It doesn’t sound like it, I agree.

            At any rate, the case isn’t being made against churches, but against the IRS for not enforcing the law. If the IRS goes after violators–left *and* right supporters who violate the tax laws would be equally as in danger of being prosecuted by the IRS. The suit is against the IRS, not particular churches. The churches are examples of how the IRS is not enforcing the law. But any church they allow to violate this law, whether they lean left or right, would be a problem for the IRS.

          2. gnt

            The quoted part was irrelevant to ‘electioneering’. I mentioned a specific example, I’m talking about Lowery’s speech at the St. James Baptist Church.

            In the link provided, FFRF has a complaint (the 3 at the end of the article) for tamer similar speeches. There at least the bishops were trying to tie it to specific beliefs or doctrines (abortion, etc) whereas Lowery aside from racist remarks, mentioned candidates specifically and said something along the lines of “I don’t know what kind of a n***** wouldn’t vote with a black man running”, “Nobody intelligent would risk this country with Romney”. etc.

        2. Martin Wagner

          I have to say, your information bubble must be quite narrow to even ask that.

          So you claim with great confidence that they exist, but you won’t say which ones they are. Okay.

          In any event, if you believe Lowery’s speech violated electioneering laws, report it to the FFRF and ask them to include it in their lawsuit. Why complain about it here?

          1. gnt

            I did mention one that is IMO pretty clearly way more out of line than the three speeches/letters of the bishops in that FFRF page. Those at least tie their stands to their church doctrines.

            I didn’t make my claim that FFRF are very selective in what they are against very lightly. You must understand that I subscribe to atheist/secular feeds and whatnot for 10+ years.

            Even an irrelevant republican who has ties to some nut bishop gets more attention than say a Dem. president who went to the church of someone as hateful as Jeremiah Wright for 20 years.
            (The coverage of that major event by these circles was absolutely pathetic IMO)

          2. cafeeineaddicted

            Cenk Uygur from the Young Turks mentioned that he’s aware of some churches electioneering for the left, but didn’t mention names either.

          3. Martin Wagner

            Well, if they have, they’re in violation.

    2. 4.2
      Jasper of Maine

      Just as an aside, I must say that I’ve grown a bit weary of the “right versus left” injections into conversations that I would think have no bearing on that.

      When I talk about social or secular issues, I’m not thinking in terms of right wing or left wing. I’m thinking in terms of what’s factually supported or not, or what’s moral or immoral.

      Instead, we get people leaping into the fray throwing out accusations of political partisanship as a way to dismiss what we’re saying.

      I’d much rather talk about the substance of the topics.

      It’s like those people who start blurting out “dogma” and “feminazi” whenever the topic of feminism pops up, leaving me wondering “What are you talking about?” and “Do you have anything substantial to say?”

      1. Dago Red

        Here! Here!

        People use party politics and left/right distinctions simply to cover up the fact that they are too mentally lazy to break-down politics into the actual constituent policies and positions, and decide for themselves which ideas work and don’t work based on the evidence. Instead, they prefer the football mentality of demonizing the people under the other banner as insane and out of touch and become resolved to be knee-jerk, toe-the-party-line, flag-waiving believers, degrading politics down to the level of faith (and the same reasons faith doesn’t work in religion are the same reasons why it doesn’t work in politics). Anyone who thinks they agree 100%, or much beyond 51% for that matter, with their chosen affiliation — be it left/right or Democrat/Republican — is very likely not very engaged with the actual policies being supported/debated within their own affiliation, let alone those of other side.

  5. 5
    Tim Wicklund

    I have yet to see a church or any other 501C organization support a democratic candidate. I would also like to see evidence of your claims about the “black” churches. The IRS does revoke tax exempt status for organizations for other reasons though. Here is a list of recent groups that lost their privileges. http://www.irs.gov/Charities-&-Non-Profits/Charitable-Organizations/Recent-Revocations-of-501%28c%29%283%29-Determinations—Latest-Additions-and-Table-of-Links

    1. 5.1
      gnt

      If you notice the three complaints included in that FRFF page, those are all speeches/letters by bishops/ministers that potentially aren’t the official stance of the church or organization.

      The Joseph Lowery speech, as an example, to me is incredibly more offensive as it doesn’t even attempt to tie the speech to an election issue like abortion or gay marriage (which is a legitimate thing to talk about in religious institutions), he outright speaks about the candidates.

      Obviously you wouldn’t hear about much of what ‘black’ churches have done in support of the Obama campaign if all you do is read dailykos or huffpost.

      Here’s a link that shows that black churchgoers were far more likely to hear favorable messages about a candidate.

      http://www.people-press.org/2012/10/31/in-deadlocked-race-neither-side-has-ground-game-advantage/#pulpit

      I didn’t anticipate anyone to get so defensive about my post though. You can just look back to the timid reaction in Jeremiah Wright days to see how selective the “secular” organizations are to what they take issues with.

      1. Arion

        First off, a statistic is no where near the same thing as evidence. Have a newspaper article, a video, or even an audio recording, great, but as much as I hate to say this, the judge won’t force the IRS to revoke T.E.S for 1/5 black churches just because 1/5 black churchgoers say they heard their pastors talk about candidates. Personally, I’d rather all churches have their non-profit status removed, but it won’t happen unless the country suddenly becomes 100% secular or the IRS has evidence against 100% of the churches. Despite my personal biases, your ‘evidence’ is useless…

        1. heicart

          Amen to that. Churches are exempt because they are assumed to serve the public good. But that remains to be demonstrated. They seem to me to fleece people by selling them something they can’t even demonstrate exists (tickets to the afterlife).

          1. Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc

            That seems to be one of the issues. Churches get automatic exemptions, other charities have to jump through more hoops.

      2. N. Nescio

        Are you going to name any specific occurrences of what you claim or not?

        1. gnt

          I did?

      3. Unfamiliar w/ your ways

        You seem to be confusing this lawsuit with specific partisan issues. By all means, as everyone who has responded to you has also been encouraging you, find some legally-admissible evidence and send it to the FFRF! It can only strengthen their case against the IRS!

        As far as how “timid” the Rev. Wright coverage was… I’m probably going to stomp right on this partisan landmine here, but you honestly think Fox News didn’t beat that drum (and blow that race-baiting dog whistle) as hard as they humanly could have? I’d say it got plenty of attention. I’d say everyone who could be goaded into caring about it had been, and it influenced just about as many opinions as it could have. I think what you’re lamenting here is that Obama won in 2008 despite the extremism of someone he sat in church and had to listen to every Sunday for years. And as offended as you may be by the idea, I and 52% of the country that year just couldn’t seem to muster up enough give-a-damn about a black preacher voicing admittedly-stereotypically-black comments. God damn America? I’m sorry, but that just doesn’t offend me. It’s nothing a liberal in the country hasn’t thought to themselves at some point over the last 100 years or so. There are way too many things broken about our country, way to many crimes remaining unpunished, way too many codified evils to this day to make me have anything but deeply mixed feelings every time my students and I pledge allegiance to our blood-soaked flag. Sorry, I just don’t see America as being so star-spangled-awesome that it forgives every legitimate criticism leveled against it, especially from a historically well-trodden-upon demographic, even when spewed inartfully by someone steeped as deeply in our interracial struggles as a black community leader. Checking again… Yep, sorry, still don’t give a shit.

        But again, landmine stomped (BOOM) or not, please please find something concrete to contribute to the FFRF’s lawsuit! Finding lefty preachers doing the same thing makes it all the more substantive of a case, removes the part that could be construed as partisan. It would help avoid the air of false dichotomy in the mind of the judge that you have, apparently, fallen prey to

        1. nathanaelnerode

          “please please find something concrete to contribute to the FFRF’s lawsuit! Finding lefty preachers doing the same thing makes it all the more substantive of a case, removes the part that could be construed as partisan. It would help avoid the air of false dichotomy in the mind of the judge that you have, apparently, fallen prey to”

          Yep. Send it to the FFRF. Any electioneering under cover of pulpit needs to be reported.

          To be clear, churches should have the right to electioneer, but not while claiming tax exemptions. If you want to be political, pay your taxes.

  6. 6
    MaroonJack

    On a completely unrelated note: I’m wondering if anyone from The Atheist Experience Show will go to the F1 race this Sunday. Are there any F1 fans around here?

    We still have an atheist (Alonso) fighting for the championship ;)

    1. 6.1
      Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc

      Not sure about the other drivers… Certainly here in the UK no-one gives a crap about what drivers believe.

      I’ve only been to one GP race (as opposed to watched on the TV) and it was a fantastic experience. I’d love to do the Austin GP one day, maybe that’ll be a future vacation that I need to consider!

      Damn, given myself an expensive idea now…

      1. MaroonJack

        Damn it was a great race! To be honest I don’t give a crap what they believe either. I just found out that Alonso doesn’t believe in God this weekend, reading an old interview on Ferrari site. I figured this is as good an excuse as any to post a question about F1 on this blog :D

  7. 7
    Solvent

    I think that FFRF is totally in the right here, but that this is a bad idea anyway because -unfair as it is- this is a case that they have no chance of winning. What good will it do for the whole country to see a prominent atheist group being ejected from court for filing a “frivolous” lawsuit? And afterwards all the fundie news outlets will point and laugh and do a happy-dance.

    1. 7.1
      ethanmyerson

      I am admittedly no expert on legal matters, or on what makes a case unwinnable or frivolous, so please forgive my ignorance. Why do you say this is case the FFRF cannot win, and why would they be ejected for filing a frivolous lawsuit? It certainly seems to me like the argument has merit.

      Thanks.

  8. 8
    TroopDawg

    of the 4,500 roach species, we breed one kind in our house so that our bearded dragon can have tasty treats. I have just thought I should change the breeder bins that would cause them to evolve in some simple way. Any ideas? :D

  9. 9
    Krista

    Gosh, I hope this sticks–if they’re going to act like political organizations, they should pay like them.

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