Monday, February 18, 2008
In Care About Politics? Begin With the Church, Mercer University Professor of Christian Ethics, David Gushee, calls for the Church to engage the world, not withdraw from it. Though arguing that "declining confidence in the church as the center of God's redemptive activity correlates directly with an exaggerated emphasis on worldly politics," Professor Gushee maintains that it would be erroneous to conclude that secular politics is unimportant or that the Church should withdraw from the world altogether. Rather, the professor states,
A healthy church characterized by resurrection power will engage the world. It will do so through the moral witness of its own community life above all. And sometimes, yes, it will use words. It will speak to Obama and Hillary, to CNN and Fox. But it will do so with great care to protect the identity of the church, integrity of its mission, and independence of its message—and its messengers.
Archbishop George H. Niederauer, head of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco, recently issued Religion and Politics - 2008, a statement intended to guide Roman Catholics on the proper relationship between religion and politics. The statement reflects much of the advice contained in Faithful Citizenship, a document prepared by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. According to Archbishop Niederauer, "'Faithful Citizenship' is not a voter's guide, nor does it endorse particular candidates or parties. Instead, it is intended to help Catholics recognize and understand the implications of their faith for their conduct as citizens of this country."
The Archbishop continues:
Religion and politics, church and state, should be independent of each other. However, both politicians and religious leaders rightly - and unavoidably - concern themselves with many of the same issues. Ethicists and moral teachers address the principles of right and wrong in human behavior, and those principles guide both believers and citizens. For instance, the question of how best to care for the poor and the homeless challenges religious and civil leaders alike, and it is only sensible that they communicate and even collaborate on the answers. A recent Vatican document makes the point that the political sphere has a "rightful autonomy . . . from that of religion and the Church - but not from that of morality."
Addressing the Catholic Church's opposition to Roe v. Wade and specifically answering the question whether the Catholic Church should now stop opposing "the settled law of the land," the Archbishop writes:
The United States Supreme Court is not infallible. It has handed down seriously flawed judgments in the past and can do so again. In 1856, in the Dred Scott decision, the Court found that a slave was property and hence had no personal rights. The Civil War and some Constitutional amendments corrected that mistake. Another example: In 1896, in Plessy v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court declared that separating school children by race was permissible according to the U.S. Constitution. After almost 60 years, the Court reversed itself in Brown v. The Board of Education (1954) . A third example: During the Second World War the Court declared constitutional the forcible internment in camps of American citizens of Japanese origin. Decades later Congress apologized for this action by the federal government and voted to indemnify the survivors of those camps.
With regard to Roe v. Wade, Catholics are not alone in questioning the Court ' s decision. The liberal political columnist Michael Kinsley has commented: "Although I am pro-choice, I was taught in law school, and still believe, that Roe v. Wade is a muddle of bad reasoning, and an authentic example of judicial overreaching. "
"The effectual, fervant prayers of a righteous man availeth much." Leaders of Americans United for Separation of Church and State better hope certain prayers are either not effectual, not fervant, or not from righteous men. Because according to a report in the Los Angeles Times, the pastor of a church that endorsed Mike Huckabee is now asking his church to pray for the death of two leaders of Americans United For Separation of Church and State (AU). AU filed a complaint with the IRS after learning that Pastor Wiley Drake endorsed Huckabee. Whether Drake did so in his personal capacity or in his capacity as Pastor of his church is still an open question. But according to the Los Angeles Times article, "shortly after learning of Americans United's complaint, Drake called on his followers to pray for the deaths of two of the liberal group's officials, Joe Conn and Jeremy Leaming." The article also reports that the IRS has sent a "notice of inquiry" to the church regarding the endorsement.
Most Americans think charities spend too much on administrative expenses, according to a survey released February 13, 2008.
Study results released today from Ellison Research (Phoenix, Arizona) show most Americans believe non-profit organizations and charities are not financially efficient enough in their work. Sixty-two percent believe the typical non-profit spends more than what is reasonable on overhead expenses such as fundraising and administration.
I'm all for change, just don't cut my salary!
But while the First Cathedral pushes the power of prayer on its congregation, it isn’t leaving its own finances entirely up to God. T o support its size and mission, First Cathedral, a megachurch with upwards of 11,000 members, behaves less like a tax-exempt nonprofit and more like a full-fledged business — a national trend that’s raising gritty tax issues across the country.
The article makes the very sensible observation that current laws relating to 501(c)(3) organizations are ill-equipped to deal with houses of worship. That is, houses of worship ought not to be lumped together with all the other charities and then regulated as though they were soup kitchens, museums, or other types of secular charities. Someone must have made this point already. Indeed, the de facto status quo ante probably admits that houses of worship are exempt under an unstated 501(c)(3).(5). There is a palpable sense of "hands-off" that suggests that churches are exempt under a wholly different standard. Anyway, here is another interesting excerpt from the article that suggests a different standard of unrelated business income likewise applies to houses of worship:
The church bookstore, The First Connection, is open seven days a week and is plugged repeatedly in the church service flyer, giving the word of God a shot of “act now” advertising. Women are encouraged to buy the next book-of-the-month-club book at The First Connection “as soon as possible” because “this book will bless you.” Teens are “challenged” to read Martin Luther King Jr.’s autobiography, a copy of which can also be found in-house. And just in case anyone needs one, “all bibles are still 15 percent off!” For those suffering from obesity, the church’s The Good Life Wellness Center pushes a weekly health tip in the flyer. But if turning to God instead of food doesn’t seem to help, the center offers health products for sale Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. The church’s in-house catering company, First Harvest, offers an after-service feast for church members but also caters to events outside the confines of the church.
I don't think this sort of behavior is unique to "mega-churches" by the way. Even the small churches I've attended have looked for "mission-related" ways to regularly raise money. I suppose the present uncomfortable truce between tax law and houses of worship works just as well as an explicit debate regarding the better articulation of separate tax exempt standards for house of worship. Why open that pandora's box when, by and large, the present system seems to work (despite occasional dust-up's that suggest houses of worship are doing something illegal).
Sunday, February 17, 2008
In a recent interview on BBC Radio 4's World at One, Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, predicted that it was "unavoidable" that elements of Islamic sharia law would be introduced in Britain. According to Dr. Williams: "It seems unavoidable and, as a matter of fact, certain conditions of sharia are already recognised in our society and under our law, so it is not as if we are bringing in an alien and rival system. We already have in this country a number of situations in which the internal law of religious communities is recognised by the law of the land as justifying conscientious objections in certain circumstances." Dr. Williams added: "There is a place for finding what would be a constructive accommodation with some aspects of Muslim law as we already do with aspects of other kinds of religious law."
According to British newspaper reports, the Archbishop's statement has been met with widespread criticism (see, e.g., Archbishop of Canterbury Warns Sharia Law in Britain is Inevitable). The criticism notwithstanding, the Archbishop has stood by his statement. A report in the February 12, 2008, edition of THE GUARDIAN states in part:
Having torn up his original speech to address the remarks first given in a BBC interview and then in a lengthy speech at the Royal Courts of Justice, [Dr. Williams] took responsibility for any "unclarity" which may have caused "distress or misunderstanding" among the public, especially his fellow Christians. But while he moved to neutralise the crisis which followed his assertion that adopting certain aspects of Islamic law seemed "unavoidable", he stopped short of the full apology some critics had demanded.He said he believed "quite strongly" it was not inappropriate for a pastor of the Church of England to address issues around the perceived concerns of other religious communities. And, clearly blaming media coverage for the outpouring of anger, he told his Westminster audience: "Some of what has been heard is a very long way from what was said in the Royal Courts of Justice last Thursday."
Synod members gave him a minute-long standing ovation as he took his seat. He appeared relaxed during the address, which was well received.
He was not proposing, he said, to introduce sharia as a "parallel jurisdiction" and insisted there could be no "blank cheques" regarding the status of women and their liberties. He did, however, repeat his assertion that certain provisions of sharia were already recognised by society and that this could be extended to other areas.
"The question remains whether certain additional choices could and should be made available under the law ... for resolving disputes and regulating transactions. It would be analogous to what is already possible in terms of the legal recognition of financial transactions under Islamic regulation ... it would create a helpful interaction between the courts and the practice of Muslim legal scholars."
Incensed by the Archbishop's remarks, one British columnist has called them "a strategic attack on secularism from the head of an outdated institution," and has offered Dr. Williams some advice: Split his Church from the State.
While French President Sarkozy currently appears prepared to break with his country's tradition of strict separation of Church and State (Sarkozy Breaks French Taboo on Church and Politics Christian Today, Dec. 23, 2007), for some time now, the British have apparently been thinking of divorcing Church from State. In 2003, a commission set up by the Fabian Society with the full co-operation of Buckingham Palace recommended that the British monarch be stripped of her title as Supreme Governor of the Church of England. As reported in Call for Queen to Lose Title as Head of Church, the commission's report argued that the monarch should be a head of state not committed to any particular religion. One source close to the commission explained the recommendation thus: "We want to make the argument that the monarchy needs to be seen as a modern institution there for all of the people of Britain, whether they are Christians or non-Christians. It is no longer appropriate for the monarch to be so closely allied with one religion."
The commission's recommendation is yet to be implemented. Should it be, it would be one of the most radical changes in British Church-State relations since Henry VIII became head of the Church of England in 1534.
Peter G. Peterson, a Beneficiary of Private Equity Tax Breaks, Establishes Charitable Foundation to Promote Fiscal Discipline
On February 15, 2008, the New York Times reported that Peter G. Peterson, a wealthy beneficiary and proponent of tax breaks for private equity, has formed a private foundation that will promote fiscal discipline by government. Peterson has tapped none other than the U.S. Comptroller General, David Walker, to run the foundation. David Walker announced on the same day of the New York Times story that he will be resigning from his government post. Here is an excerpt from the New York Times story:
On Friday, Mr. Peterson will unveil the Peter G. Peterson Foundation and announce his plan to allocate his newfound billions to projects that will increase public awareness of fiscal imbalances, Social Security deficits and nuclear proliferation.
But the larger question that was posed by Mr. McCurry is unavoidable: Can a man who has scored riches from an industry that has benefited from a generous, controversial tax break emerge as a credible voice in favor of broad fiscal constraint in Washington?
It is a quandary that has plagued Mr. Peterson for years. And while he supports increased taxes on the wealthy (along with broad-based benefit reductions), he remains firm in his defense of the special provision for private equity partnerships despite the view of many on Wall Street, including the billionaire investor Warren E. Buffett, that the rate is too low.
. . .
Out of the gate, the Peterson foundation will be worth about $100 million and Mr. Peterson expects it to grow to $1 billion, a large part of his total fortune.
He has hired David M. Walker, the respected head of the Government Accountability Office, to be chief executive and has already committed $5 million — a grant that will be matched by Mr. Buffett — to the former Senator Sam Nunn for his work on curbing nuclear proliferation, as well as funds to the Concord Coalition, a group he helped found that lobbies for deficit reduction.
For the entire story, see "Tax Break Helps a Crusader for Deficit Discipline" in the February 15, 2008, New York Times.
Shelley Ross Saxler Posts "Faith in Action: Religious Accessory Uses and Land Use Regulation" on SSRN
Shelley Ross Saxler (Pepperdine) posted an abstract of her forthcoming Utah Law Review article, Faith in Action: Religious Accessory Uses and Land Use Regulation, on the SSRN Nonprofit Law and Philanthropy Abstract Journal. Here is the abstract:
This article details the application of constitutional, land use and tax law principles to non-religious facilities and activities, within religious institutions, considered accessories or auxiliaries to the institutions' principal religious function. To qualify them as accessory uses, the religious institution must establish that these non-religious/secular uses are necessary to the religious exercise of the institution's members and guests. The article compares the tests for accessory uses applied in land use cases interpreting the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), with the test for auxiliary uses employed by cases determining the tax exempt status of certain religious organizations. The idea of accessory uses was developed in land use law according to the principle that because the primary use (religious worship) was permitted under the zoning regulations or a variance, the secondary and incidental uses should likewise be protected. On the other hand, the integrated auxiliary principle proceeds from the idea that the religious institution should not be burdened by government regulation. Therefore, those activities and facilities meeting the definition of an integrated auxiliary likewise cannot be burdened. The article proposes that the rationale behind providing protection for accessory uses under the RLUIPA and the rationale behind offering tax relief for religious auxiliary uses are the same: that religious exercise should not be unnecessarily burdened by the government. Therefore, the article suggests a consolidated approach be created wherein an auxiliary use that qualifies for tax exempt status likewise should warrant protection under the RLUIPA as an accessory use, and vice versa. By combining the approaches for tax exemption and land use regulation, religious freedom will be more consistently secured. To avoid violating the Establishment Clause, the article warns, the government must not become so entwined with legislating or acting in the area of religious worship as to express a preference for one religion over another, or religion over irreligion. Ultimately, it is a difficult line that the state or federal government must walk: avoiding interference with religious exercise on one side and benefiting or preferring a certain religion over another on the opposite side. The article concludes that the laws governing tax exemptions can inform land use cases struggling with the issue of accessory uses and constitutional protection under RLUIPA. There are three reasons why tax laws are helpful: 1) tax courts and legislatures have struggled to answer the same basic question of what constitutes an accessory use; 2) tax laws have embraced a more cooperative approach, allowing religious institutions to define which accessory uses are reasonably devoted to church purposes (and therefore deserving of tax exemption); and 3) tax courts have increasingly recognized that the term religious use constitutes some activities, such as recreation and social gatherings, not traditionally considered religious in nature. On the other hand, land use decisions have not provided any consistent approach to identifying accessory religious uses, and some courts have required the religious institution to independently establish the religious nature of the use without the benefit of referencing the primary religious function of the organization. Finally, the article proposes that the RLUIPA be broadly construed to protect all accessory uses that contribute directly to the religious mission of the institution, regardless of whether their independent religious nature is established.