Churches are fuming over being taxed by Republicans and Trump

There is no reason whatsoever to celebrate America these days; the concept of good news has all but vanished. In fact, it is highly likely that a fair number of Americans are mourning the demise of their nation as it existed for 239 years and see nothing but the relentless advance of corporate fascism and a bloodless theocratic coup d’état on the near horizon; many observers, including this author, believe the theocrats have taken over already. These are seriously bad days for America as a nation, and devastating for any citizen that embraced a secular democracy with liberties and freedom for all Americans regardless of race, religious affliction, or gender.

There was a bit of news recently that, although not necessarily good, is certainly worth celebrating if for no other reason than the religious right is up in arms over what they regard as an attack on their religious freedom. In addition, even more reason to marvel is that the attack came at the hands of Congressional Republicans and the religious right’s messianic hero Dumb Don Trump. This particular attack entails a little known “reform” in Trump’s highly touted GOP tax legislation that includes a first ever tax on churches and other non-profits. It is a brief “good time” moment in what is now a horrifically hideous country run by a fascist pig with theocrats and white supremacists supporting his regime.

To remark that the various church leaders are dumbfounded and irate over being taxed would be a monumental understatement. Literally hundreds of church leaders are struggling to comprehend why Republicans would dare treat them like every other American and business, and why their Republican facilitators stabbed them in the back in secret. Actually, since the GOP tax reform legislation was conceived and crafted in secret by the Heritage Foundation, and Republicans voted en masse to enrich the wealthy and corporations without even perusing that legislation, few in Congress were aware of the tax on “the church.”

However, this “tax outrage” is not the kind of tax regular people bemoan; it is a minor tax on the various freebies church and some non-profit organization’s employees receive. Still, the concept of religious organizations being required to contribute anything in the way of “a tax” has infuriated church leaders who vehemently insist that their tax exemption is “sacrosanct,” and non-negotiable.

Subsequently, over 600 churches, thus far, signed a petition demanding that Republicans repeal the tax immediately; because regardless what Jeff Sessions says about the Christian bible command to obey the government, the faithful say they are “exempt” from that particular bible passage like they are exempt from contributing anything of value to America.

The gist of the “hidden tax atrocity” simply requires “churches, hospitals, and other historically tax-exempt organizations to begin paying a 21 percent tax on some types of fringe benefits they provide their employees.”

As a seasonal tax professional and former minister, this author is well-acquainted with the ridiculous number of “tax-free benefits” church employees, especially members of the clergy, receive because they are “blessed” to live in a country that gives churches tens of billions annually as “theocratic welfare.”

The new tax will seem like more “secular persecution” to churches and their employees who are accustomed to special treatment due to their “deeply held faith.” Expecting them to pay taxes like their bible commands is an abomination, and is perceived as the secular government punishing them. It is irrelevant that the “persecution” came at the hands of Republicans and Trump; Trump’s evangelicals, in particular, are beyond incensed. They are not satisfied that the same tax bill “persecuting” them with a small tax also grants them the unconstitutional and unconditional freedom to campaign from the pulpit with the Trump government’s blessings.

That perceived persecution has incited over 600 churches, and some other greedy groups, to sign a petition demanding the Republicans’ tax be repealed.  The churches claim they “don’t need the hassle” of taxes or interacting with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or their silly tax forms. The vice president of government relations at the National Association of Evangelicals, an umbrella group of evangelical organizations, Galen Carey said:

There’s going to be huge headaches. The cost of compliance, especially for churches that have small staffs or maybe volunteer accountants and bookkeepers — we don’t need this kind of hassle.”

It is an affront to decency that Carey has the temerity to complain about “the cost” of obeying his evangelical bible’s command to pay taxes. It is a particularly egregious remark since churches receive tens-of-billions of free taxpayer dollars annually due to being exempt from taxation. Moreover, since Bush’s “faith-based initiatives,” they receive billions of taxpayer dollars in direct payments from the federal government because “faith.”

The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) is joining evangelicals in complaining that their group may face a tax bill this year because of the Republican tax reform that Trump celebrated signing. The senior tax policy counsel for the group, Steven Woolf, predicted the faithful would force Congress and the Treasury to “stop the outrage.” Woolf said:

“A lot of people are just finding out about it and the more people find out about it, the more pressure there will be on Treasury and Congress to either delay implementation or consider changing this.”  

At least one Republican lawmaker is now promising to rescind the tax he just celebrated voting for because god – or some related nonsense. As previously mentioned, many groups are beyond outraged that they are expected to adhere to Jeff Sessions’ favorite scripture, Romans 13, that commands abject obedience to the government. The churches are particularly aggrieved because Republicans failed to get clearance from the religious right before passing tax reform that Trump signed. According to the crybaby chairperson of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, some malcontent named Mike Batts:

What we’re talking about is an income tax on the church. It’s absurd. The whole idea of tax exemption for nonprofit organizations that are doing charitable, religious and educational work is for them not to be on the same playing field when it comes to taxes, in order to incentivize the good work they do to make our society better.”

If Batts wasn’t an entitled religious cretin, he would understand that millions of Americans in jobs that “make our society better,” such as law enforcement, healthcare, education, disaster relief and the military pay taxes on all their earnings and employee benefits; and they don’t complain that they don’t understand how to do taxes.

Many of the 600 and counting churches demanding the tax’s abolition say  they are confused over how exactly the tax is supposed to work – because they have been exempt unlike the rest of the population. Churches want to know how they are supposed to calculate the value of “freebies” they include as compensation for their employees. Some openly wonder if the garages provided as part of clergy residences are now taxable, or if they can still “double dip” and avoid paying their fair share of tax.

It is worth reiterating ad nauseam that religious organizations (churches et al) already receive at least $82.5 billion annually from taxpayers, and that 2013 amount did not include the billions in faith-based initiative funding from taxpayers. In a fair country with a secular Constitution, churches would not be tax exempt; it is probably why the immutable word of god and Jesus in the Christian’s holy bible commands the religion’s adherents to pay taxes.

Although this is not a major story among the daily revelations that America is lurching towards an evangelical theocracy with a corrupt fascist incrementally decimating everything decent about America, it is worth enjoying for a minute. Of course the “faithful” will force Republicans to abolish the tax, and they will continue using Republicans to take complete control of all facets of the government. They will succeed, in large part, due to a curious fear among Americans, the media and Democrats of “offending” the faithful by resisting their bloodless coup d’état.

It is little consolation, but for people devoted to America as a secular representative democracy, they now have an “event” to look back on fondly and they had better enjoy it. It is the last time the religious will ever be “inconvenienced” by the government because it is likely there will never be a law passed without the express consent of the religious right theocrats running America.

Now DeVos wants separation of church and state in the “ash heap of history”

Despite what evangelical know-nothings the current administration is overflowing with claim incessantly, the intent of the Founding Fathers and Constitution’s Framers is crystal clear regarding the “wall of separation” between church and state. Thomas Jefferson famously said in his second explanation of what the religious clauses in the First Amendment mean that,“No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever.”

In Trump’s “cesspool” administration, far too many evangelicals from Mike “preacher” Pence to J. Beauregard Sessions to that nasty “B” DeVos person, the idea of “not compelling” all Americans to support religious places is an affront to evangelical zealots and patently unconstitutional; and according to DeVos it needs to be “assigned to the ash heap of history.”

Seriously, this idea of abolishing the “separation” clause is only being proposed openly by the Trump theocrats because the media, almost all media, and Democrats are too terrified of ever alerting the American people that their government is being hijacked by a minority of the population made up of evangelical extremists with the undying support of Republicans. As this column has stated over two-hundred times over the past twelve years; it is not against any federal or state law to cite the unconstitutionality of allowing evangelical zealots to force their bastardized version of Christianity on the people.

Even though it is brutally painful for a secular humanist and two decade-long educator to see Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ name in print, or her face in an image because of the horrors she represents, it was with no great pleasure to learn that there is yet another DeVos theocratic atrocity to comment on. And like everything that DeVos and her evangelical ilk represent, it is a struggle to comment without getting downright nasty; especially when her latest outrage is a major threat to America as it has existed for 238 years.

Some Americans are aware that DeVos openly claimed her intent as Education Secretary is to change American culture in ways that more rapidly advance her god’s kingdom, but they may not be aware that she and her wealthy and powerful friends intend on meeting their 2020 “deadline for restoring religion and Judeo-Christian values under the Constitution.” It is a goal that requires deleting the Amendment in the Constitution that forbids the government from “imposing” any religion on the people; or compelling the people to “support religious worship, places, and ministries.”  It is why DeVos and her evangelical cabal want the Constitution’s “Establishment and Separation” clauses “assigned to the ash heap of history.”

DeVos made the not-so-stunning remark after spending two days visiting some schools in New York and then addressing an evangelical-corporate outfit, the Alfred E. Smith Foundation. It is noteworthy, but not atypical for DeVos, that during her two-day visit to New York schools, she  spent the entirety of her taxpayer-funded time “officially” visiting private religious schools; she refused to set foot into any of the public schools the agency she runs is tasked with overseeing and assisting.

In defending her intent to shift even more taxpayer money intended for public schools to private, for-profit, religious schools, DeVos lashed out at the so-called “Blaine Amendment” founded on the Separation and Establishment Clauses in the Constitution’s First Amendment.

The Blaine Amendment is the law of the land in 38 states that were intelligent enough to know that unless there is a clear state Constitution prohibition on robbing public school funding to pay for private religious instruction, the stinking evangelicals would attempt to skirt around the U.S. Constitution; something that is occurring regularly in Republican controlled states.

The Blaine Amendment simply forbids “direct government aid to educational institutions that have a religious affiliation.”

DeVos used her speech to the religious-corporate “non-profit” group to rail against what she considers an atrocity of biblical proportions; not allowing religious parents to rob public school funds to send their children to private, for-profit, religious schools.

The nasty piece of work said:

I know very well there are powerful interests that want to deprive families their God-given freedom. I know that those sycophants of ‘the system’ have kept legislators here from enacting a common-sense program that would open options to thousands of kids in need.”

Then she cited last year’s atrocious Supreme Court ruling, Trinity Lutheran v. Comer,allowing a church to rob public money for its playground as why abolishing 38 states’ Blaine Amendments is something the new theocracy has to do quickly in order to legally rob public school funding for private religious schools. She screeched:

As many of you know, the Supreme Court ruled in last year’s Trinity Lutheran case that it was unconstitutional for a playground restoration program funded by state-taxpayers to exclude a school ‘simply because of what it is – a church.’ These amendments should be assigned to the ash heap of history.

The dirty evangelical comment is tantamount to saying that the Separation and Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment are destined for the “ash heap of history.” There is also the issue of another hypocritical Republican who regularly champions the States Rights when it contradicts federal law; unless it interferes with an agenda Republicans won’t comport. In this case those Blaine Amendments are founded on the U.S. Constitution so there is no “conflict.”  The only problem for the theocracy advocates is that those Amendments don’t allow the likes of DeVos to steal even more taxpayer dollars to fund religion.

There has been chapter and verse written about DeVos’ intent to decimate the public school system, including the Department of Education she leads. That was verified by a Dominionist Christian group with close ties to DeVos that devised what sane Americans would call “an alarming report” demanding the immediate end of the Education Department and a federal mandate promoting Christianity in “public schools.”

The report, an honest-to-dog evangelical manifesto, was handed to Trump and DeVos less than a month after Trump’s poorly attended inauguration. The Council for National Policy’s orders to Trump and DeVos were clear: “Restore education in America in accordance with historic Judeo-Christian principles.”  Translation: decimate public schools and create a system of taxpayer-funded evangelical madrassas with the Christian bible as curriculum.

Of course DeVos was already a major player and committed acolyte of the Council for National Policy organization, and Trump duly followed its orders in his first address to a joint session of Congress pledging his intent to provide all the taxpayer dollars necessary to fund private, for profit, religious schools; and this was after his call to drastically slash funding for the public schools system.

Look, this is getting serious rapidly and there seems to be little-to-no urgency to respond to America lurching towards an evangelical theocracy. It is true, of course, that religious Republicans have long advocated robbing the public schools to enrich the private religious school industry, but this is the first time anyone in a position like DeVos actually advocated sending the separation clause to the ash heap of history. It is true that Mike “preacher” Pence and J. Beauregard Sessions have called the Separation of Church and State patently “unconstitutional” and an unhistorical concept; but even those two evangelical maniacs have not called for deleting a major part of the First Amendment.

Although DeVos did not, in fact, call for sending the actual 1st Amendment to the ash heap of history, her call to abolish 38 states’ constitutional provisions founded on the First Amendment’s “wall of separation” informs that she and her dirty evangelical cohort will not rest until anything preventing a theocratic coup d’état, such as the First Amendment, is abolished and sent to the ash heap of history.

Image: Patheos

Theocracy Alert: LGBT students forced to read bible as punishment

No doubt human beings read the Christian bible for various reasons whether it is to learn how to live according to Stone and Bronze Age sensibilities in the 21st Century, or to verify that America’s bastardized version of the faith is founded on fantastical lies, or for academic studies into archaic mythology and superstition. For some people it is probable that reading the Christian bible is sheer torture, and it may explain why an Oregon school forced LGBTQ students to read Christian bible scriptures as punishment.

First, although America officially began lurching towards becoming an evangelical theocracy shortly before Trump’s poorly attended inauguration, it is still patently unconstitutional to insert any religion into public education – regardless what “preacher” Pence or Education Secretary and evangelical extremist Betsy DeVos believe. It almost certainly occurs often but is hardly reported for a couple of reasons. Either because victims are terrified of the theocrats, or because there are far too many evangelical extremists in power who regularly flout the U.S. Constitution by inserting and promoting some form of the Christian religion in public schools they refuse to accept or believe that their Christian bible is not the Constitution and ultimate law of the land and they will inflict damage on anyone claiming otherwise.

It is noteworthy that the evangelical extremists who reject the Constitution as heretical also believe that the Constitution imparts religious liberty authorizing evangelicals to single out women and members of the LGBTQ community for “special treatment” regardless of equal rights laws or federal protections against discrimination. Of course it is abominable and contrary to the Constitution to discriminate against any American, but to discriminate against gay students and then use the Christian bible for punishment in the public schools would be criminal if America wasn’t creeping towards theocracy.

In a rural region about 200 miles from Portland Oregon the North Bend School District is facing what are being termed “serious discrimination” charges for “forcing at least one LGBTQ student to read the Christian bible as punishment.” The discrimination aspect entails allegations that the district singles out LGBT students for  “separate or different rules of behavior, sanctions, or other treatment;” such as a school administrator “forcing LGBT students to read the Christian bible while they were being disciplined.

Of course the district, and likely the culprits, summarily denied the allegations because like all common criminal they knew they were violating more than a few rules. However, it seems certain that at some juncture someone in authority actually scanned the Old Testament and read “Number Nine” of the BIG Ten Commandments prohibiting lying under pain of death. Possibly then the theocrat using their bible for punishment realized they were courting death according to Old Testament rules if they continued lying. The administrator in question, although not contrite, confessed to the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) investigators that the allegations were indeed true. It also was revealed that another teacher was reported as equating same-sex marriage to marrying a dog — during taxpayer-funded public school lessons.

Part of the Oregon Department of Education investigation is whether the “forced Bible reading violated the student’s First Amendment rights, including the Establishment Clause which recognizes the separation of church and state.” Obviously, any introduction of religion in public school violates the Constitution, so there is no question that punishment by bible is a serious violation; obviously forcing any student to read it is violating the students’ rights.

The ODE letter to North Bend School District Superintendent Bill Yester said in part:

There is substantial evidence to support the allegation that the district subjected LGBTQ students to separate or different rules of behavior, sanctions, or other treatment… The department finds that discrimination on the basis of sex and sexual orientation may have occurred.”

Coos Bay World provided excerpts from a “detailed account” of the three primary allegations lodged against the district.

Under the matter of “using the bible as punishment,” the ODE noted that:

The District allegedly treated students differently on the basis of sex and sexual orientation when imposing discipline.”

The district also “failed to respond to sexual harassment complaints when those complaints were made by LGBTQ students.”

And finally, “District  failed to take appropriate action to remedy a hostile environment after complaints had been made by LGBTQ students alleging that students and district staff had sexually harassed other students.” (author bold)

This incident should raise myriad red flags and incite outrage about the increasing imposition of religion occurring at the state and federal level, but it has not. It is likely increasing because at one time only an evangelical extremist would disagree that using the Bible for anything in the public schools violates the First Amendment; now the minority die-hard evangelical extremists run the government as an extension of their version of “the Church” in a burgeoning evangelical theocracy.

Under Supreme Court interpretations of the Constitution’s Establishment Clause, educators cannot use the Bible as a moral authority in public schools because it is an “establishment of religion” that violates the separation between church and state. The concept of separating church and state, although enshrined in the First Amendment of the Constitution is an abomination and “unconstitutional” according most religious right fanatics, including Mike “preacher” Pence and J. Beauregard Sessions.

The ODE’s letter to the District also noted that one school counselor the students appealed to for assistance faced retaliation from the district officials after he began advocating for LGBTQ students. The counselor said:

These students have required quite a bit of support, but luckily they have some good family and friends. A lot of students who have been involved didn’t come forward or remained anonymous so it’s two main students who spearheaded the appeal. They had the courage to do this.”

No-one should be surprised at this latest imposition of religion in the public school system, or that LGBTQ students have been singled out and “openly discriminated against and forced to read the Christian bible” both as a form of punishment and to “demean LGBTQ students.” There is a crusade at the federal level to force evangelical teaching on public school students as the be all, end all “national moral authority,” as well as to inculcate America’s youth into the superstitious worldview of bigots according to a religion.

Another aspect of this atrocity in a secular nation is that, save a few local and regional media outlets, this all-too-common story has been woefully under-reported, if reported at all. That dearth of reporting is part and parcel of why evangelical extremists, religious right activists, and Republicans nationwide continue flouting the Constitution with veritable impunity. Sadly, although they only make up a minority of the population, the evangelical theocrats now co-own the federal government with the Kochs and corporations and if Republicans are not thrown out of power quickly, this particular incident is going to be a regular occurrence. And if the Christian Dominionists achieve their goal, it will not be unconstitutional, it will be the law of the land and reporting it as discrimination will be a crime.

Image: Patheos