Monday, March 11, 2024

The Society for American Civic Renewal, a Domestic Fraternal Society

This morning, the Guardian posted a story on the Society for American Civic Renewal, 

According to the Guardian, SACR is closely aligned with the Claremont Institute. (The Claremont Institute is perhaps most famous for being the home of attorney John Eastman. Eastman, in turn, is perhaps best known for suggesting that Vice President Pence could ignore the electoral college results.) The Claremont Institute contributed $26,248 to SACR in 2020, and the president of Claremont helped found SACR.

SACR's website lays out its public vision:

We foresee a nation building great projects of civic and cultural renaissance. A society with strong leadership committed to family and culture. A society that nurtures, rather than rejects, virtue. A society that seeks the good and the beautiful, and abjures ideology.

We are raising accountable leaders to help build thriving communities of free citizens, who will reclaim a humane vision of society while rebuilding the frontier-conquering spirit of America. A new thing for a new day, informed by the wisdom of the past but facing the future

The Guardian reports that internal documents lay out an edgier mission statement, though. According to the Guardian, internally, SACR plans to

recruit[] a “brotherhood” who will “form the backbone of a renewed American regime” and who “understand the nature of authority and its legitimate forceful exercise”; whose “objectives” include to “collect, curate, and document a list of potential appointees and hires for a renewed American regime”.

What leapt out to me as I read, though, was that SACR is exempt under section 501(c)(10) of the Code. It's a tax-exempt domestic fraternal society!

And what's a domestic fraternal society? It's an organization that operates under the lodge system, that uses its earnings for fraternal (or certain enumerated charitable) purposes, and that doesn't provide insurance. Honestly, as a Gen-X-er who spent plenty of time glued in front of cartoons as a kid, the first thing that comes to mind is the Loyal Order of Water Buffalos from the Flintstones (though even if the Flintstones hadn't replayed almost constantly when I was a kid, the Simpsons' Stonecutters would have had me covered).

In the real, rather than animated, world 501(c)(10) organizations include Masonic lodges and, Shriners International, among other organizations.

A couple things about domestic fraternal societies: the first is they're exempt from taxes. And, while not all tax-exempt organizations can received deductible donations, some domestic fraternal societies can. As long as they use the donations for "religious, charitable, scientific, literary, or educational purposes, or for the prevention of cruelty to children or animals" purposes, donations are deductible. (The critical thing here: fraternal purposes aren't mentioned.) Because I don'tknow how SACR uses its donated money, I don't know whether donations would be deductible, but its at least possible that donations get that federal subsidy.

Its operations raise an important question in my mind, though. According the the Guardian, it's looking to replace the current secular government with one that embraces its religious preferences, specifically to secure "political and social dominance," maybe through force.

The Guardian posits that SACR may not be against installing its theocratic government through force. I don't know if I read its mission as going quite that far, but it's at least plausible.

But here's the thing: if its mission is the forceful overthrow of the federal government, it almost certainly doesn't qualify for tax-exempt status. In Bob Jones, the Supreme Court held that (charitable) tax exemption included an implicit "fundamental public policy" clause: an organization that violated fundamental public policy cannot qualify as tax-exempt. 

The IRS has mostly limited its use of Bob Jones to deny exemption to and revoke the exemption of racially-discriminatory private schools. But it has also reached beyond that, for instance, denying exemption under 501(c)(4) and 501(d) to, respectively, an advocacy group for polygamy and a communitarian polygamous religion.

Frankly, I think those two instances applied the rule too broadly: neither of those two exemptions is founded in charitable behavior. But, while I'm not aware of the IRS applying Bob Jones to fraternal societies, 501(c)(10) is based in concepts of charity, and it would make sense to read Bob Jones as applying to it.

And I can't think of actions less compatible with fundamental public policy than insurrection and replacing the current government, through non-electoral means, with a different government.

Is SACR at risk of losing its election? I think, at this point, if I were in charge, I would be in a hurry to explain why the documents that the Guardian reported on don't actually reflect SACR's mission. Because it's not hard to read them as contrary to U.S. public policy.

Samuel D. Brunson

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