January 14, 2012
India—Troubling Developments Regarding Taxation of Commercial Income
A number of leading public charitable trusts and institutions that for years enjoyed tax exemption have lost their 12Aa registration and their total income has been made taxable. Virtually all of them are well established, credible, well governed and contributing to the commonweal of society - be it empowering women and creating self-sufficiency or promoting art and culture, according to an update by Noshir Dadrawla, Chief Executive of the Centre for Advancement of Philanthropy (CAP) (www.capindia.in). He notes that the Finance Act 2008 changed the definition of “charitable purpose” under Section 2(15) of the Income Tax Act so that “advancement of any other object of general public utility” would not be considered as a “charitable purpose” if it involves carrying on any activity in the nature of trade, commerce, or business or any activity of rendering any service in relation to any trade, commerce, or business for any fee, assessment, or other consideration. Later, the Finance Act 2010 attempted to provide some relief by exempting the aggregate value of the receipts from such activities up to Rs. 10 Lakhs and finally under the Finance Act 2011 to Rs. 25 Lakhs from taxation. Nonetheless, some NPOs that engage in consultancies, etc. are now subjected to tax on all their income. Noshir has urged all affected trusts and institutions to write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
January 12, 2012
Supreme Court Upholds "Ministerial Exception"
Yesterday, the Supreme Court decided Hosanna-Tabor Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The Court affirmed that religious organizations benefit from a “ministerial exception” to employment discrimination laws.
Commenting on the decision, the NonProfit Times explained that
The unanimous ruling culminated a case in which a woman sued Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School in Redford, Mich. The woman, Cheryl Perich, said she was fired for pursuing an employment-discrimination claim, based on her having narcolepsy. Hosanna-Tabor didn’t deny the facts, but responded that it fired Perich for violating religious doctrine by taking the case to court rather than trying to settle it within the church.
The High Court, in a unanimous decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts, affirmed religious entities’ right to choose who will preach their beliefs, teach their faith and carry out their mission.
The Reporter, the official newspaper of the Lutheran Church -- Missouri Synod, gave more details:
In the case, Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, et al.,a former commissioned-minister (teacher) at the now-closed Hosanna-Tabor school sued the school after she was dismissed in 2005 for "insubordination and disruptive conduct in violation of church teaching," according to Hosanna-Tabor's Petition for Certiorari.
The fourth-grade teacher, Cheryl Perich, sued the congregation for disability discrimination, claiming the church rescinded her call as a commissioned minister because of her narcolepsy, a sleep disorder that typically causes excessive daytime sleepiness.
A federal district court dismissed the case based on the "ministerial exception," a First Amendment doctrine that bars lawsuits that would interfere in the relationship between a religious organization and employees who perform religious functions.
But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit later reversed the district court and ruled in favor of Perich, holding that the teacher had a predominantly "secular" role because she spent more time each day teaching secular subjects than religious ones.
In his opinion, Chief Justice John G. Roberts said that, in light of the First Amendment's guarantee of the free exercise of religion, "it is impermissible for the government to contradict a church's determination of who can act as its ministers."
Justice Roberts continued:
Since the passage of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other employment discrimination laws, the Courts of Appeals have uniformly recognized the existence of a 'ministerial exception,' grounded in the First Amendment, that precludes the application of such legislation to claims concerning the employment relationship between a religious institution and its ministers. The Court agrees that there is such a ministerial exception.
As a minister of religion, I am delighted with the Court's decision. In fact, I agree with the writer at the North American Religious Liberty Association who opined that this was "likely the most important religious liberty case to come down in the past two decades."
January 11, 2012
China—112 Charities to Join Online Disclosure Platform
To restore public trust in charities, 112 Chinese organizations are on track to participate in a government-sponsored information disclosure platform, according to Caixin Online. In the wake of immense public backlash against China's charities over millions in misused funds, these organizations have pledged to promote information transparency through a new government disclosure platform. Through the China Charity & Donation Information Center’s (CCDIC) forthcoming online platform, the 112 charities said they will publish their accounting records according to a new set of information disclosure guidelines. The announcement at an annual philanthropy conference sponsored by the Ministry of Civil Affairs—which oversees the CCDIC—comes just three weeks after 24 foundations publicly pledged to ensure the integrity of philanthropy in China. The new standards will also clarify how and when third parties should audit charities, the charities said, although they did not clarify what the exact requirements will look like. The joint effort includes China Charity Federation, as well as the China Youth Development Federation and the Red Cross Society of China. For more see http://english.caixin.com/2012-01-09/100347049.html.
January 10, 2012
Laysha L. Ward Elected Chairperson at CNCS
Today's NonProfit Times is reporting that Laysha L. Ward, president of Community Relations for Target Corporation and leader of the Target Foundation, was yesterday elected chair of the board of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS).
According to the Times, as the nation's largest grant maker for service and social innovation, "CNCS engages more than five million Americans through Senior Corps, AmeriCorps, and other programs, and leads president Barack Obama's United We Serve initiative."
The bipartisan board, whose members are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate, sets overall policy and direction for the agency and its programs and provides guidance to the agency’s CEO. Ward was appointed to the CNCS board by President George W. Bush in 2008.
Ward replaces outgoing CNCS board chair Mark Gearan, president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges in New York, who served three terms on the CNCS board, including board chair since June 2010.
Fuller Seminary Awarded $5.3 Million Grant
The John Templeton Foundation has awarded a $5.3 million grant to Fuller Theological Seminary's Thrive Center for Human Development. The grant will fund a three-year project studying "The Science of Intellectual Humility." According to a press release from Fuller, the project will help find answers to questions such as:
How do we come to hold and retain our beliefs? With today’s deepening religious, political, and societal divisions there are calls for tolerance, but can people simply decide to put aside the intellectual differences that divide them?
The release also states that
The three-year project will produce a significant volume of research with the goal of leading other scientists—as well as theologians, traditional philosophers, and experimental philosophers—to devote more attention to the subject of intellectual humility. The centerpiece of the project will be an open grant competition administered by Fuller's Travis Research Institute, which will award $4 million to 16 "sub-grantees" who will engage in scientific research on the nature, implications, and ultimate causes of intellectual humility and arrogance—resulting in a body of literature and two conferences that will promote dialogue and collaboration on the topic.
The project’s ultimate goal is to inform work in philosophy, theology, and clinical psychology in ways that will lead to greater openness, more civil discourse, and flourishing in human relationships.
Noble goals, for sure, and goals that, if realized, will help us be, in the words of President George H.W. Bush, "a kinder and gentler nation."