Challenge to IRS Regulations Dismissed on Standing


A challenge brought by American Atheists to the Internal Revenue Service regulations that do not treat religious and non-religious non-profits equally has been dismissed on standing grounds. A federal judge in Kentucky ruled that because they had not tried to qualify as a religious non-profit, they didn’t have standing to sue.

A review of case law establishes that the words “church,” “religious organization,” and “minister,” do not necessarily require a theistic or deity-centered meaning….

Thus, the Atheists’ assertion that they are subjected to unconstitutional discrimination and coercion due to their alleged inability to gain classification as religious organizations or churches under I.R.C. §501(c)(3) is mere speculation. At this point, the Atheists have no idea whether they could gain classification as a church or religious organization under I.R.C. §501(c)(3) because they have never sought such classification. Accordingly, the Atheists have not suffered a particularized injury which is fairly traceable to the actions of the Commissioner.

There are many special benefits that are given to religious organizations in the IRS code. Churches do not have to apply for non-profit status, they’re given it automatically. They don’t have to file a Form 990 every year like secular non-profits do. And they get the parsonage allowance, which is being challenged in a separate case by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (they won at the district court level, it’s in the appeals court now).

Here’s the problem, though. If atheist groups apply for and are considered a “religious organization” by the IRS for these purposes, it will give ammunition to religious groups to say “see, atheism is a religion too!” You know damn well that if that happens, the Christian right legal groups will then be claiming that you can’t teach anything that is viewed as supporting atheism, like evolution, in public schools because of the Establishment Clause.

Update: In fact, they’re doing it already.

Attorney Harry Mihet of Liberty Counsel explains that the legal test for a religious or nonreligious organization does not involve believing in a diety.

“So interestingly enough,” he says, “the court is suggesting that the atheists can receive the same types of benefits because they themselves are a religion or religious.”

Mihet calls that a “remarkable concept,” one Liberty Counsel has been pursuing in the courts for some time because it has important implications.

Why? Because subjects such as evolution are allowed to be taught in schools but creation science is denied.

Mihet explains: “Because if atheism or humanism are religions themselves, and public schools decide to teach the tenets of those religions while excluding the tenets of other theistic religions, then that is discriminatory treatment in and of itself.”

So the Liberty Counsel attorney contends that in claiming discrimination, the atheists may have opened the door for challenges from Christians and other faith groups in the future.

How entirely unsurprising. You can read the full ruling here.

Comments

  1. D Carter says

    The ruling is defective and should be appealed. The argument is (or should be) discrimination. Claiming that standing to challenge discrimination requires membership in the undiscriminated class is analogous to claiming that only straights can challenge discrimination against gays. Weird, hardly even wrong.

  2. raven says

    Why? Because subjects such as evolution are allowed to be taught in schools but creation science is denied.

    Isn’t going to work.

    Liberty Council is conflating science, biology, and evolution with…atheism!!!

    This is just wrong. Science is not a religion. Evolution is a biological theory that has nothing to do with religion.

    In fact, most xians worldwide don’t have a problem accepting evolution. Creationism is a cult belief of the fundies.

  3. sqlrob says

    In fact, most xians worldwide don’t have a problem accepting evolution.

    Most xians believe that humans are just an animal and aren’t anything really special? If you don’t accept that, you aren’t accepting evolution, so I have a hard time saying xians don’t have a problem accepting evolution.

  4. matty1 says

    “Because if atheism or humanism are religions themselves, and public schools decide to teach the tenets of those religions while excluding the tenets of other theistic religions, then that is discriminatory treatment in and of itself.”

    I would agree if they were teaching that students must believe that there is no god and/or that all values are human based. However teaching facts that humanists and atheists happen to accept is not the same thing as teaching humanism or atheism. The Catholic Church accepts evolutionary biology but you never see people claiming that teaching evolution in schools is teaching Catholicism.

  5. matty1 says

    @4 ‘just’ an animal and ‘nothing special’ are value judgement, the science of evolution says nothing about them. I would assume that Christians who accept evolution also accept that humans are in the animalia but nothing about that fact obliges them to also believe we are of equal worth with other animals.

  6. steve oberski says

    @matty1

    Believing that we are really special in the sense that we have a non material part that survives death and floats away to party with baby jebus for a really long time is not a value judgement.

    That’s the xtian take on “humans are just an animal and aren’t anything really special”.

  7. raven says

    Most xians believe that humans are just an animal and aren’t anything really special? If you don’t accept that, you aren’t accepting evolution, so I have a hard time saying xians don’t have a problem accepting evolution.

    That is just your opinion and one out of 7 billion opinions.

    In fact, half of all scientists and biologists don’t “believe humans are just an animal and aren’t anything really special?”

    Roughly half of all US scientists are religious, most of them being…xians!!! It isn’t that much lower than the general population. You can be religious and be a scientist and many are.

    BTW, who appointed you Pope of All Scientists anyway? I must have missed getting that memo.

  8. Chelydra says

    So a non-profit doesn’t have the right to make its own determination that it’s *not* a religious organization?

  9. steve oberski says

    @raven

    Well you can religious and and be a paedophile as well.

    Not that being religious predisposes one to paedophilia but it sure does give one a mantle of authority and a comfortable place to hide.

    I would think that any irrationally held, non evidence based set of beliefs would tend to make one a less effective scientist than one could be.

  10. raven says

    Misconceptions of science and religion found in new study
    news. rice. edu/…/misconceptions-of-science-and-religion-found-…

    by David Ruth – in 36 Google+ circlesFeb 16, 2014 –

    The study also found that 18 percent of scientists attended weekly religious services, compared with 20 percent of the general U.S. population; …

    Pew survery of 2009:

    According to the poll, just over half of scientists (51%) believe in some form of deity or higher power; specifically, 33% of scientists say they believe in God, while 18% believe in a universal spirit or higher power.

    sqlrod is observationally and empirically wrong.

    so I have a hard time saying xians don’t have a problem accepting evolution.

    Well most of the sects don’t, i.e. mainline Protestants and Catholics and they say so themselves. I don’t think the xian churches really get their beliefs from random internet posters on Freethoughtblogs.

  11. raven says

    I would think that any irrationally held, non evidence based set of beliefs would tend to make one a less effective scientist than one could be.

    You can be an atheist and be a slime mold and/or idiot too. We see it often even on Freethoughtblogs.

    You are guessing here and you are wrong. Scientists leave their religious beliefs at home when they are at work.

    BTW, I was a xian and a scientist for decades myself. The amount of time I spent reconciling my religion with biology was…one second maybe. God created evolution, end of story. It made no difference one way or the other to what I did at work. And I’ve never seen it make the slightest difference among my coworkers and colleagues.

  12. matty1 says

    Believing that we are really special in the sense that we have a non material part that survives death and floats away to party with baby jebus for a really long time is not a value judgement.

    Ah now it makes more sense, I couldn’t get that from your original post but put that down as my problem not yours. I regard this belief as false mainly because there is no evidence for it but I don’t think it is as such incompatible with any facts of evolution. Dogs could have a non material unobservable part and it wouldn’t stop them being animals or say anything about their origin, same for humans.

  13. colnago80 says

    Re raven @ #8

    However, the elite scientists who belong to the NAS are much less religious then the garden variety scientists. Only 8% of the membership of that organization believe in a personal deity.

  14. raven says

    However, the elite scientists who belong to the NAS are much less religious then the garden variety scientists. Only 8% of the membership of that organization believe in a personal deity.

    True.

    But that is a correlation and says nothing about cause and effect.

    It is more likely that elite scientists don’t believe in the gods than that not believing in the gods makes one an elite scientist.

    Scientists at work spend as much time thinking about the gods as your average auto mechanic, lawnmower person, or computer programmer i.e. about zero. It’s not relevant, not part of your job, and not what you are getting paid to do.

  15. D Carter says

    #15: No. Believing in magic is not irrelevant but patently counterproductive to science.

  16. sqlrob says

    @raven:

    You haven’t heard of cognitive dissonance? There is no way you can be 100% accepting of evolution and a xian, not and still be honest with yourself. No divine humans. No Adam and Eve. No prophets. No sensus divinitus. No meddling in biology(including soul). No inheritance of sin. No flood. No babel. What’s left, other than just saying one is xian?

    Theistic evolution is as much evolution as creation science is science. Which sects have accepted evolution without caveats? Of those that have, how have they addressed the incompatibility with their other claims?

  17. anubisprime says

    @ OP

    “It’s A Trap!”

    As Admiral Ackbar would opine!

    Judge should be impeached!

  18. says

    “Well most of the sects don’t, i.e. mainline Protestants and Catholics and they say so themselves. I don’t think the xian churches really get their beliefs from random internet posters on Freethoughtblogs.”

    I have managed to avoid religious pedagogy for most of the last 50 years but my take is that the Cath-O-Licks I know (including most of my family) have no problem accepting evolution and also accepting that humans are re: “animals”, first among equals–in that we have the power of reason and an immortal soul (neither of those qualities being particularly evident); ymmv.

  19. raven says

    You haven’t heard of cognitive dissonance?

    There is no way you can be 100% accepting of evolution and a xian, not and still be honest with yourself

    You haven’t heard of Hitchen’s Rule?

    An assertion made without data or proof may be dismissed without data or proof.

    You are wrong. Not just wrong but completely wrong.

    PS You still aren’t Pope of All Xians, no matter what you believe. They don’t get their religious beliefs or thoughts from atheists on comment threads!!! Telling xians what they believe, or should believe, or think is just silly.

  20. John Pieret says

    If atheist groups apply for and are considered a “religious organization” by the IRS for these purposes, it will give ammunition to religious groups to say “see, atheism is a religion too!”

    Well. of course, it shouldn’t be considered a “religious” organization but an organization with religious/theological implications.

    After all, if “theology” is, as Merriam-Webste says:

    the study of religious faith, practice, and experience; especially: the study of God and of God’s relation to the world

    … atheism is a theological position. It says that god(s) have no relation to the world.

    The legal question is whether you have to be religious to qualify for the benefits of IRS code. That answer is ‘no.’

    The public relations question is whether atheists should apply for the IRS benefits at risk of being called “a religion.” Personally, I don’t think it makes much of a difference. Courts are not likely to make this category mistake and the Religious Right has already made it and made as much hay out of it as they can.

  21. John Pieret says

    sqlrob @ 17:

    I am very tired of the misunderstanding of “cognitive dissonance.”

    It is NOT whether you “can be 100% accepting of evolution and a xian … and still be honest with yourself.”

    “Cognitive dissonance” has to do with situations where you believed in a particular fact, such as the end of the Earth on a particular day, that did not come true, and how people rationalized away that demonstrable fact.

    We ALL hold beliefs that, if we are “honest with ourselves,” are false. The question in “cognitive dissonance” is how we deal with it when those beliefs are definitively proven false.

    Accusing, say, Ken Miller, of “cognitive dissonance” is as ignorant as accusing atheists of wanting to eat babies.

  22. lofgren says

    There is no way you can be 100% accepting of evolution and a xian, not and still be honest with yourself. No divine humans. No Adam and Eve. No prophets. No sensus divinitus. No meddling in biology(including soul). No inheritance of sin. No flood. No babel. What’s left, other than just saying one is xian?

    I’m not sure which should shame you the most: your misunderstanding of evolution, your misunderstanding of Christianity, or your misunderstanding of cognitive dissonance.

  23. D Carter says

    It’s not even about the history of religions or about all the pseudo-moral detritus that falls out around them. It’s about the fundamental (sorry) and absolutely irresolvable contradiction between faiths and evidence. From a (real) scientist’s point of view, faith could claim anything, but evidence hews toward observable reality. By definition there is no resolving this, not ever, not until the end of time.

    If one chooses faith, one must believe the articles of faith, however much they contradict observable reality, and however much they contradict other faiths. There is (or should be) no claim of consistency. Scientists with faith don’t exist, at all. Not one. Exactly to the extent that one holds to the faith of any religion, he has already intentionally repudiated the scientific method and a fair proportion of reality.

    In the end, it’s simple: Faith is Stupidity.

  24. John Pieret says

    absolutely irresolvable contradiction between faiths and evidence

    While I sympathize with your position, in a certain sense, I distrust any view that asserts that everything is black or white.

  25. says

    I don’t get this. Did the atheists really claim they are entitled to the same benefits afforded religious groups, or did they claim that the difference in benefits between religious and non-religious groups is unconstitutional? If the former, that was a stupid position to take, and the ruling is probably correct. If the latter, the ruling is a non sequitur and it shouldn’t take much to have it overturned.

    As usual, however, I’m probably missing something.

  26. steve oberski says

    @matty1

    Dogs could have a non material unobservable part and it wouldn’t stop them being animals or say anything about their origin, same for humans.

    I suppose you can look at it that way, I tend to look at this as a truth claim about how the universe works in general and how evolution works specifically, a claim that is not backed up by any evidence and contradicted by everything we currently know about evolution.

    At the very least it is not a very parsimonious claim, adding complexity to the theory without increasing (and in fact decreasing) it’s explanatory power.

    You could make all sorts of claims of this nature, cows have a special accord with the little people who need to be placated with regular offerings of milk, and so on, which would not stop cows from being animals but would most certainly make me distrust the holder of such a theory and hold any statements they might make to greater scrutiny.

  27. dingojack says

    All this talk of cognitive dissonance made me think of:

    Michael: I don’t know anyone who could get through the day without two or three juicy rationalizations. They’re more important than sex.
    Sam: Ah, come on. Nothing’s more important than sex.
    Michael: Oh yeah? Ever gone a week without a rationalization?

    Dunno — it seemed appropriate somehow.

    Dingo

  28. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    SUCKLING AT THE TEAT OF STATE AND SHOUTING “GIMME GIMME GIMME!”!!! TYPICAL ATHIEST MOOCHERS!!!

    I have often heard this metaphor used, “sucking at the teat of X and saying Y”.

    There are mixed metaphors and then there are simply failed metaphors. If you’re sucking at the teat of X, how could you be saying anything other than, “Mmmph Mmm Glp”?

  29. zmidponk says

    eoraptor #26:

    I don’t get this. Did the atheists really claim they are entitled to the same benefits afforded religious groups, or did they claim that the difference in benefits between religious and non-religious groups is unconstitutional? If the former, that was a stupid position to take, and the ruling is probably correct. If the latter, the ruling is a non sequitur and it shouldn’t take much to have it overturned.

    As usual, however, I’m probably missing something.

    I’m not sure I’m getting it either. From what I gather, American Atheists brought a suit because religious non-profit groups automatically get certain benefits under IRS regulations that other, non-religious non-profit groups don’t get. The judge summarily dismissed the case because American Atheists failed to try to get the benefits in question themselves, and therefore can’t say they’re being discriminated against by this, as, for all they know, they could get these benefits if they tried, even though they probably don’t actually consider themselves a religious non-profit, and wouldn’t be considered a religious non-profit unless the IRS has a pretty wide, and arguably incorrect, definition of ‘religious’.

    If that is accurate, then the judge in question is basically asking American Atheists to redefine themselves as something they’re not in order to try to get benefits from the IRS they’re not really entitled to under IRS regulations, which actually sounds quite a bit like tax fraud to me.

  30. says

    “If that is accurate, then the judge in question is basically asking American Atheists to redefine themselves as something they’re not in order to try to get benefits from the IRS they’re not really entitled to under IRS regulations, which actually sounds quite a bit like tax fraud to me.”

    In the sense that the judge and the IRS would be coercing the AA to commit tax fraud, I agree.

    The law is unconstitutional but, as is the case with the 2nd Amendment, courts–including the SCotUS–have been unwilling to make logial. decisions about it. If they ever took off their ideological/KKKristic blinders and saw what IS they would stop relying on what they want the world to BE.

  31. matty1 says

    @Democommie, while I think I support your conclusion on both issues I’m not quite sure how you determine something to be unconstitutional (as opposed to wrong) in contradiction to SCotUS. Presumably for the constitution to mean something other than ‘what the court says it means’ there must be some relatively fixed ‘real’ meaning and I’m curious how you find this out if not through court decisions?

    Please note I’m not saying that this decision was good, if I’m anything I’m saying that I am at least 3/5ths certain that things can be in the US Constitution and still be morally wrong.

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