House votes to make churches dark money PACs

One of the greatest atrocities against the U.S. Constitution and America as it was created was foolishly providing churches with tax exemption with one simple requirement they refuse to abide.

As much as Americans complain about the filthy rich and corporations not paying their fair share of tax, it is curious there is no outrage about religious groups paying no amount of tax or contributing anything of value to society. Oh, it is true the “faithful” boast about the church’s “good works,” but those works are mandated by the faith for entrance into eternal bliss, or some such absurd notion. “Good works” are alleged to be their own reward for “real” followers of Christ.

It has been on the religious right’s wish list for decades, but now those “good works” entail actively funding Republican candidates and campaigning from the pulpit for more Republican “good works” enriching the wealthy and punishing non-compliance with evangelical edicts. In addition, Republicans have provided wealthy donors and dark money groups with a nearly foolproof means of avoiding campaign finance regulations with a value-added bonus of deducting campaign contributions as “charitable donations to a tax-exempt church.”

The religious right has revolted against the Johnson Amendment since its inception in 1954 because without their political activism in support of Republicans, they would be incapable of installing anti-women and anti-gay cretins in office. They wanted their tax exemption and the ability to campaign from the pulpit – which is exactly what the Johnson Amendment prohibited until now.

Although House Republicans did not vote to repeal the dreaded amendment, they did vote to prohibit the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) from taking action against churches and clergy that violate the rule with veritable impunity. Every year for the past five years on so-called “pulpit freedom Sunday,” over a thousand evangelical churches recorded clergy campaigning from the pulpit and then sent the video records directly to the IRS – daring them to take action. The goal was to initiate a lawsuit all the way to the Supreme Court to give the evangelical conservatives an opening to strike down the Johnson Amendment as unconstitutional. It is ironic because giving churches taxpayer money is contrary to the Separation Clause in the First Amendment and seems patently unconstitutional. And yes, tax-exemption for churches is giving religious groups free taxpayer money as much as the obscene “faith-based initiative” atrocity is giving churches free taxpayer money.

Now, with Trump demanding that the IRS give churches what they want, something he promised before his poorly-attended inauguration,  and House Republicans voting to make it illegal for the IRS to hold churches accountable to their sacred agreement as non-profits; churches will be the ideal dark money PACs. Remember, donations to political campaigns or PACs and candidates are not deductible and are limited by law. However, donations to religious organizations are deductible and likely unlimited.

What that means is that wealthy donors like the Koch brothers can donate to churches that will funnel the money to the campaign coffers of Republican anti-choice and anti-gay candidates; and they would be tax-deductible unlike any other form of the Kochs’ political giving. It also means “dark money” donors will be able to conceal those contributions from the prying eyes of the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) and especially the Internal Revenue Service. As Matthew Bulger at The Humanist noted:

Donations to churches for political ends would be anonymous, unlike most other forms of political giving.  This is especially concerning because while most 501(c)(3) groups must file a Form 990 with their tax return, which provides some information about the group and its activities, churches are exempt from that reporting requirement. As a result, their political spending would be nearly impossible to track.”

Moreover, the recently announced Treasury Department rule allows certain tax-exempt organizations, including politically active nonprofit groups like churches, to conceal the identify of their donors to tax authorities ensuring an unlimited, and unchecked, supply of dark money in campaigns. If anyone still believes there is an ounce of fairness in America under Republican rule, they are a moron.

As an aside, it is difficult to believe that this Treasury Department action was not enacted, at least in part, to protect groups like the NRA from reporting that Russia paid the gun-zealots to campaign and advocate for Trump and his gun-crazed GOP cohorts during the 2016 general election.

As Politico noted, the Republican House legislation “amounts to a backdoor way around the so-called Johnson amendment,” but it is so much more. It portends nothing good for America’s waning democracy and all but guarantees that the religious right’s crusade to install more GOP theocrats in high places will proceed with the utmost expediency.

These Republican actions on behalf of churches, and the permanent political supremacy of Republicans, certainly have the potential to be a greater attack on democracy than the dreaded Citizens United ruling. It does not necessarily mean that every church in America will be holding weekly Republican campaign rallies, but it does give evangelical clergy the freedom to promote candidates that share their Dark Age mentality with a captive audience every Sunday. And, coupled with the recent Treasury Department ruling, it will give wealthy donors and dark money groups all the cover they ever hoped for without abolishing all campaign finance regulations.

The concept of giving churches tax exemption, and by extension free taxpayer money, is an honest-to-dog abomination; and it is contrary to the intent of the Founding Fathers and Constitution’s Framers. Why so many Americans believe church tax exemption is sacrosanct is beyond comprehension; likely a fair amount of the blame rests with the media and politicians who refuse to alert the people that they are giving churches free welfare to the tune of over a hundred-million dollars every year. Of course the ignoramus public falls for the tired argument that the church and clergy provide “special” benefits to society, but they never consider that nurses, teachers, police officers, fire fighters, soldiers, and public service workers all provide a benefit to all of society and they all pay taxes; a portion of which is flowing directly to churches.

It is an honest-to-dog travesty that large and small communities across America are struggling to find funding for services like clean water, law enforcement, schools, and dependable roads while churches avoid paying anything for the same roads, clean water, schools, law enforcement and firefighters the rest of the population funds. While discussing exactly what “religious freedom” entailed at the nation’s creation, Founding Father and third President Thomas Jefferson said:

No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever.”

Nearly two-and-a-half centuries later, not only are all Americans compelled to support religious worship, places and ministries by government fiat, they are soon going to compelled to comply with the evangelicals who now have all the tools they need to create their theocracy – a theocracy that is being partially funded by the poor unwitting American people.

Image: Patheos

Strip Tax Exemption From Churches – Not the N.F.L.

Apparently the petulant brat in the White House is butt-hurt that he has been unable to bully the National Football League’s team owners in his fabricated outrage over athletes exercising their constitutional rights. To further rile up his base, Trump came up with some “fake news” that brings up a point of contention, and a cost of hundreds-of-millions of dollars, among many American taxpayers; churches’ tax exempt status.

After scheduling a propaganda plot with his evangelical buddy Mike Pence, Trump took to Twitter to ramp up his base’s animosity toward the N.F.L. to portray the wildly popular sports league as unpatriotic “takers.”

Trump said Congress should eliminate a law that allowed the N.F.L. central office to avoid paying taxes as a nonprofit entity. It is important to note that “only the central office” was tax exempt, like every church in America has been for far too long. The teams, players, and team owners all pay taxes and Trump knows it.

Another bit of news Trump is aware of is that the N.F.L. “voluntarilygave up its tax exemption in 2015; there is nothing Congress can do to eliminate the N.F.L.’s tax exemption they no longer have. Trump is guilty of fabricating “fake news” that he projects on every news outlet on Earth that fails to praise him as a Republican demigod.

It is important to note that the N.F.L. central office’s tax exempt status didn’t bother Trump when he was trying, and failing, to buy an N.F.L. team in 2014. As an aside, many pundits assert that Trump’s current attacks on the league are, besides a distraction from his glaring incompetence, retribution because the league didn’t accept his bid to buy the Buffalo Bills because it was considerably lower than billionaire Terry Pegula’s.

On the only media outlet that Trump has a semblance of control over, his Twitter account, he tweeted:

Why is the NFL getting massive tax breaks while at the same time disrespecting our Anthem, Flag and Country?” Change tax law!

Ignoring the fact that the N.F.L. is not getting any “massive tax breaks,” there is more “fake news” from Trump that the 32 teams that make up the “league” are disrespecting “our anthem, flag and country.” Neither the “league” nor any one of the 32 teams are disrespecting a song, a flag or America any more than the players exercising their First Amendment rights are. The players are protesting racial injustice and they are paying taxes; something no-one knows if Trump is doing because he is too corrupt to release his tax returns. Everyone knows churches are not paying taxes.

One would support eliminating the N.F.L. central office’s tax exempt status if it still existed on one condition; first strip the tax exempt status from every church in America and do it with extreme prejudice.

According to the last time an organization “estimated” how much church tax exemption is costing American tax payers, that free welfare amounted to about $8.5 billion annually in 2013.  It is noteworthy that the $8.5 billion does not include tens-of-millions in “faith based” initiative money or the double-dipping members of the clergy enjoy on what little they claim on their personal income tax returns. Added in those number are religious organizations exemption from paying sales tax, property tax, federal, state, and local income tax, or investment taxes.

Trump’s claim the N.F.L. Is disrespecting “our country” applies “bigly” to evangelical and Catholic Church organizations. According to their namesake Jesus Christ, and  “their” almighty god’s immutable words, Christians are commanded to pay taxes as well as obey the government on pain of everlasting damnation in eternal Hellfire.

Instead, primarily evangelicals and Catholics regularly violate federal and state laws they claim don’t comport with their “religious beliefs;” even though those “deeply held beliefs” are not part nor parcel of either faith. Those groups also disrespect the United States Constitution by denying other Americans their constitutional equal rights or freedom from religious imposition. It is a monumental form of “disrespect” to other Americans and the Constitution to violate their equal rights and still take the “violated people’s” tax dollars in the form of a tax exemption.

There are many people who have asked for years; “Why are churches getting massive tax breaks while disrespecting the Constitution, other Americans’ freedoms and the secular nation the Founding Fathers provided? Change tax law!”

Trump doesn’t come up with great ideas often. For dog’s sake, he never comes up with even good ideas until now. It is an excellent idea, and time, to “change tax law.” However,  before even considering the N.F.L.’s non-existent tax issue, it is damned high time for Congress to strip tax exemption from every church in the land and save taxpayers what is certainly well over $100 billion annually.

It is possible that for some Americans churches provide a service of sorts, but they don’t deserve tax exemption for doing what their “holy books” command. School teachers, firefighters, military personnel, police officers, librarians, dog catchers and many, many other Americans pay taxes and they all actually provide crucial services to all Americans. For Trump to demand the N.F.L. lose a tax exemption it  forfeited voluntarily two years ago while not focusing on the unwarranted, and wildly expensive, church tax exemption is not only hypocritical, it is further proof that Trump is a punk-ass hypocrite looking for a reason to rile up his base and distract America from his criminal enterprise in the White House.

 

Greedy Texas Churches Sue FEMA Over Hurricane Harvey

According to the Christian bible, Christ’s followers are supposed to be humble, obey the laws of the land, not be greedy, and pay taxes. No doubt there are plenty of Christians who do adhere closely to those commands, but it is not always the case with “houses of worship and clergy;” especially the “pay taxes” command. Churches have become moneymaking enterprises and a significant reason is because they are greedy, do not obey the laws of the land, and they definitely don’t pay taxes.

In an audacious display of greed and disrespect for the law of the land, three Texas churches are suing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) demanding taxpayer funds to rebuild their churches after flood damage from Hurricane Harvey. The reason they are suing the federal agency is because FEMA disaster relief “explicitly excludes facilities primarily used for religious activities.” Churches are not entitled to any taxpayer funded disaster relief money; it is a longstanding rule based on the Separation Clause of the First Amendment and FEMA policy.

According to a Reuters report:

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has been sued by three Texas [evangelical] churches severely damaged in Hurricane Harvey, over what they called its policy of refusing to provide disaster relief to houses of worship because of their religious status.

In a complaint filed on Monday in federal court in Houston, the churches said they would like to apply for aid but it would be “futile” because FEMA’s public assistance program “categorically” excludes their claims, violating their constitutional right to freely exercise their religion.

Now, this is nothing short of abominable. Not forcing taxpayers to fork over their hard-earned dollars to pay for a church project is not “violating the churches’ constitutional right to freely exercise their religion.” They can still pray, support Republicans, read their bibles, sing Psalms, and proselytize to their collective hearts’ content.

Taxpayers, however, are already having their “constitutional rights” violated by being forced to hand churches well over $82.5 billion annually (In 2013) and that doesn’t include the tens-of-billions of dollars annually in taxpayer funded faith based initiative “money.”

The legal outfit suing FEMA on behalf of the three evangelical fundamentalist churches, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, issued a statement about how unfair the law is and claimed the government is being unreasonable. A counsel at Becket, Diana Verm, argued that it is only fair that the evangelical churches should receive even more taxpayer money to rebuild their churches. Verm stated:

After the costliest and most devastating natural disaster in U.S. history, the government should come to the aid of all, not leave important parts of the community underwater.”

Whether those churches are important parts of the community is debatable, but what isn’t debatable is that those three churches don’t care about the Constitution or FEMA policy, or that they already receive tax-free status at taxpayer expense; but it is not enough.

They want taxpayers to fund their rebuilding efforts after taxpayers fund everything else the churches use without ever contributing a penny. This move is more than just greedy Christian churches; it is an ongoing attempt by Christian Dominionists to overturn myriad legal precedents and abolish the First Amendments’ Separation of Church and State.

It is noteworthy to mention that if attorney general Jeff Sessions has any input, FEMA will be forced to violate its own longstanding rule and the Constitution. Sessions has stated categorically that the Constitution’s Separation Clause is “unconstitutional and unhistorical;” he claims the ACLU made it up in the mid-twentieth century.

The churches are hoping to use the recent Supreme Court ruling, Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia Inc v. Comer, which forced Missouri to fund a church’s private school playground as precedent to force taxpayers to rebuild their churches.

However, the Trinity decision was narrow and about a playground the court ruled “could have” a secular purpose. In that case the church “could have used its tax-free money” to pay for playground upgrades itself, but the conservative majority didn’t see it that way. However, in an “important and powerful dissent,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor expressed the sentiments of many Americans and Founding Fathers Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Ms. Sotomayor wrote:

If this separation means anything, it means that the government cannot tax its citizens and turn that money over to houses of worship.” (author bold)

Justice Sotomayor is right, of course, and her statement parrots that of Thomas Jefferson who saidno man shall be compelled to support any place of worship.” However, Sotomayor stopped short of adding that the government is already taxing its citizens and turning over extremely significant amounts of “that tax money” to houses of worship, and they are doing it every stinking year. Not just with taxpayer-funded “faith-based initiatives,” but with literally tens-of-billions of dollars every year via tax-exemptions. Churches pay no taxes and clergy receive extraordinary tax breaks simply because they are clergy; but it isn’t enough.

There are several biblical violations in this latest church atrocity, but that isn’t really news to any American. The churches are greedy, refuse to “obey government authorities” and don’t pay taxes as directed by their Christian bible. And now they are suing FEMA to support their churches and biblical violations.

This is another case of evangelical churches filing a lawsuit that should be summarily dismissed on grounds the churches are asking the courts to violate the Constitution and decimate the Separation of church and State. It is also a violation of the churches’ own biblical commands to not be greedy and obey the government authorities that have made clear that FEMA is not robbing taxpayer-funded disaster relief money to fund a “house of worship.”

There is a very simple solution that will allow churches access to disaster relief funds and give evangelical clergy free rein to campaign from the pulpit to their greedy hearts’ content; cut off the free church welfare and start taxing the churches. No doubt the tens-of-billions in “free money” could be put to better use actually helping American communities.

Image: Patheos