Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Texas Tribune & ProPublica Investigate Churches Politicking

The Texas Tribune and Propublica published an investigation into churches, politicking and lack of IRS enforcement and quote a couple members, including myself, of this blog. From the article:

"At one point, churches fretted over losing their tax-exempt status for even unintentional missteps. But the IRS has largely abdicated its enforcement responsibilities as churches have become more brazen. In fact, the number of apparent violations found by ProPublica and the Tribune, and confirmed by three nonprofit tax law experts, are greater than the total number of churches the federal agency has investigated for intervening in political campaigns over the past decade, according to records obtained by the news organizations." . . . 

"Among the violations the newsrooms identified: In January, an Alaska pastor told his congregation that he was voting for a GOP candidate who is aiming to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, saying the challenger was the “only candidate for Senate that can flat-out preach.” During a May 15 sermon, a pastor in Rocklin, California, asked voters to get behind “a Christian conservative candidate” challenging Gov. Gavin Newsom. And in July, a New Mexico pastor called Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham “beyond evil” and “demonic” for supporting abortion access. He urged congregants to “vote her behind right out of office” and challenged the media to call him out for violating the Johnson Amendment."

Though the story is perhaps not news to those who follow this topic closely, it's a good piece, documenting pretty clear violations of the prohibition on charities from intervening in a political campaign. It has some nice history on the adoption of the amendment that I found useful alone. It also gives nice context for the PACI project where the IRS actually began actively looking at political activities in general, where many of the charities were indeed churches.

Though it is true that the IRS has barely enforced this provision over the years, the fact that there is a large effort among some churches to vigorously move into the politicking space today that is documented in this story is of concern. The biggest policy reason to focus in on this issue is summarized pretty well by the following quote by Andrew Seidel, vice president of strategic communications for the advocacy group Americans United for Separation of Church and State: “If you pair the ability to wade into partisan politics with a total absence of financial oversight and transparency, you’re essentially creating super PACs that are black holes.” 

Philip Hackney

 

November 1, 2022 in Church and State, Current Affairs, Federal – Executive, Federal – Legislative | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 22, 2022

King Charles III: Britain's New Defender of the Faith

Today's Religious News Service presents an interesting analysis of the new British monarch's task of making the country's rapidly expanding numbers of nonbelievers feel included. The analysis begins by noting that the recently deceased Queen Elizabeth II's funeral was not entirely representative of Britain’s increasingly secular population. The funeral service was held in Westminster Abbey. According to RNS, the "medieval abbey, the sublime music and military processions were all a visual and aural feast, but the event was at its heart a Christian ceremony, with the coffin placed in front of the altar and presided over by robed clergymen."

With this in mind, RNS continues, the Queen's funeral "was not entirely representative of Britain’s increasingly secular population. Even its believers are less likely to be Christian than at the start of Elizabeth’s reign, with 2.7 million Muslims, 800,000 Hindus and a half-million Sikhs, among many other faiths. Christians, who once consisted mostly of various Protestants — chiefly members of the Church of England, the Church of Scotland and the Church in Wales — and Roman Catholics, have been joined by a growing Pentecostal movement and other evangelical churches, according to the BBC."

In Britain, though, the Church of England remains the official, established church, with the monarch as its Supreme Governor, and since Elizabeth’s death on Sept. 8, we have seen it in the ascendant. Yet, there are also signs that the late monarch, now-King Charles III and the Church of England have recognized that the time has come to adjust.

RNS continues its analysis:

In a landmark speech in 2012 at Lambeth Palace, the London home of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the queen said of the Church of England that “Its role is not to defend Anglicanism to the exclusion of other religions. Instead, the Church has a duty to protect the free practice of all faiths in this country.”

She credited the established church with having done so already. “Gently and assuredly, the Church of England has created an environment for other faith communities and indeed people of no faith to live freely,” she said.

The new king has endorsed those words as recently as Sept. 9, the night after his mother died, in his first televised address to the British nation as its king. “The role and the duties of Monarchy also remain,” he said, “as does the Sovereign’s particular relationship and responsibility towards the Church of England — the Church in which my own faith is so deeply rooted.”

But he continued, ”In the course of the last 70 years we have seen our society become one of many cultures and many faiths.”

Nearly 30 years ago, as prince of Wales, Charles articulated concern about other faiths and Christian denominations in modern Britain not feeling included, and controversially suggested that when he became king he should be called Defender of Faiths — plural— rather than the title Defender of the Faith bestowed on Henry VIII by the pope in 1521 and used by England’s monarchs since.

Anglicans reacted harshly to Charles’ gambit, fearing he would not be fully wedded to assuming his role of Supreme Governor of the Church of England when the time came. Even after he rescinded his statement in 2014, the moment haunted Charles. His statement on Sept. 9 came in part to reassure doubters, who then heard him proclaimed king and Defender of the Faith the next day before the Accession Council, who proclaimed him the new monarch.

Then, bit by bit, we saw more evidence of how the king and his advisers, as well as the late queen, through her funeral plans, tried to embrace other traditions.

The Sept. 12 service of thanksgiving for the queen’s life was held at Edinburgh’s St Giles Cathedral, the main church of the Church of Scotland. Representatives of other faiths were in attendance, and the Gospel was read by Mark Strange, primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, the other main Protestant church in Scotland besides the Church of Scotland.

More surprising, a passage from Paul’s Letter to the Romans was read by Leo Cushley, the Catholic archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, and included lines often interpreted as encouraging ecumenical dialogue: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”

When Charles then paid a visit to Northern Ireland, more efforts were made to include the Catholic population, for whom the monarchy has long been a sensitive issue. At St. Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast — where the president of Ireland, Michael Higgins, and Taoiseach (as Ireland calls its prime minister) Micheál Martin were in attendance — Eamon Martin, the Catholic archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, offered a prayer; others were said by Methodist and Presbyterian church leaders. At a service during Charles’ stop in Wales, prayers were said by Muslim and Jewish representatives as well as representatives of several Christian denominations.

But a reception at Buckingham Palace for 30 faith leaders on Friday (Sept. 16) — before the new king met any world leaders in London for the funeral, and even before he took part in a vigil with his siblings at the lying-in-state of his mother — spoke volumes about the importance Charles assigns religion in Britain.

Charles welcomed not only the Catholic archbishop of Westminster but Bishop Kenneth Nowakowski of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy and Imam Asim Yusuf, telling them that Britain’s sovereign has an “additional” duty — presumably in addition to being Supreme Governor of the Church of England — to protect “the space for faith itself” in Britain. This duty, he said, is “less formally recognized but to be no less diligently discharged.”

He added: “It is the duty to protect the diversity of our country, including by protecting the space for faith itself and its practice through the religions, cultures, traditions and beliefs to which our hearts and minds direct us as individuals. This diversity is not just enshrined in the laws of our country, it is enjoined by my own faith.”

That Charles’ words were backed up by his mother was evident in the state funeral Monday. The specialness of the Church of England and of multifaith, diverse Britain was acknowledged as a procession of religious representatives entered Westminster Abbey in advance of the main funeral party: Jews, Baha’is, Jains, Zoroastrians, Buddhists, Sikhs and Hindus, as well as Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis; Pope Francis was represented by Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican’s secretary for relations with states.

Reading prayers during the service were the Rev. Iain Greenshields, moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland; Shermara Fletcher, principal officer for Pentecostal and charismatic relations for Churches Together in England; the Rev. Helen Cameron, moderator of the Free Churches; and Roman Catholic Cardinal Vincent Nichols.

The questions that remain are: "What happens now?" "What shall we see at Charles's coronation?" "Will it be all-inclusive affair, or will it be limited to clergy of the Church of England?" Of great importance also, is whether King Charles III, whose titles include "Defender of the Faith," be a defender of both believers and nonbelievers. After all, in the last British census (2011), a quarter of the population said they had no religion.

Prof. Vaughn E. James, Texas Tech University School of Law 

 

September 22, 2022 in Church and State, Current Affairs, In the News, International, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 19, 2022

Mass Corruption at Church: New York AG Investigation Reveals Harlem Clergy Took Secret Cash as They Sold Churches to Developer

According to New York State prosecutors, senior religious leaders conspired with a developer to sell seven churches in Harlem and Brooklyn in exchange for secret payments — only for the developer to waver from his promise to build new homes for the churches, in some cases demolishing them and letting the sites sit empty for years.

As reported by Nick Garber of Patch, prosecutors maintain that the deals, which netted the three church leaders nearly $2 million combined, were uncovered through an investigation launched by New York Attorney General Letitia James’s office into the developer, Moujan Vahdat. Vahdat and two of the church leaders reached settlements with the state last year, though the accusations against them have not previously been reported. A third pastor also under investigation is still battling the state in court.

According to prosecutors, the churches, all part of predominantly African-American denominations, were often struggling financially and saw the sales as potential lifelines. In a 2015 resolution, one church board supporting the sale to Vahdat wrote:

Not without a struggle, over the past several years we have worked hard to maintain the upkeep of the house of God. We understand that there has been a need for a greater vision from God to move this church forward in its fiscal responsibility and ministry.

However, authorities maintain, behind congregants' backs, church leaders were accepting cash payments and expensive gifts then turning a blind eye as Vahdat revised the sale contracts in his favor, squeezed churches for more money, and in one case, shut off a church’s heat in the middle of winter and allowed its ceiling to collapse onto a parishioner.

According to Patch, Vahdat’s attorney defended his client's conduct, telling the news organization that he remains focused on “bringing vibrant new church facilities to the community.” Indeed, said the attorney, even after the state’s intervention, many of the houses of worship are still doing business with Vahdat to this day.

In a court filing laying out their investigation, prosecutors wrote that Vahdat, a billionaire real estate and telecommunications magnate, began eyeing churches for possible development deals in 2013. However, prosecutors noted that despite his history in the real estate industry, Vahdat had no experience with church developments. But, prosecutors continued, Vahdat soon met Bishop Kevin Griffin, the senior pastor of Childs Memorial Temple Church of God in Christ (COGIC), and by 2014, Griffin agreed to sell his dilapidated Amsterdam Avenue Church building for $2 million to Vahdat, who promised to replace it with an apartment building with space reserved for Childs Memorial. According to prosecutors, Griffin did not reveal to either his parishioners or New York State authorities that he personally received $450,000 once the church sale closed in early 2016 and an additional $440,000 in “finder’s fees” for introducing Vahdat to other church leaders. 

There followed a series of events whereby Vahdat was introduced to three other ministers and he purchased other churches in Harlem and one in Brooklyn using the same modus operandi. While claiming to be serving the Lord, the pastors were enriching themselves and really serving Vahdat. But by early 2018, the state attorney general’s office had begun investigating the church deals after hearing “allegations” that the churches’ sale terms had been changed. According to prosecutors, as the probe loomed, Vahdat asked two of the pastors to produce letters describing the personal payments he gave each of them as "having been made for charitable purposes for use on the churches’ behalf" — adding that he had given them the payments personally only for “expediency” and “convenience.”

According to Patch, clergy members pressed Vahdat in the ensuing months for answers about missing payments he owed to the churches and a lack of progress on the new developments. 

By 2021, state prosecutors intervened in the New York church dealings, reaching settlements with Vahdat in October and with two other pastors -- Rev. Melvin Wilson and Bishop G.M. Ingram -- in November. Vahdat agreed to "neither admit nor deny" the state's accusations, while Ingram and Wilson both promised not to make any public statements denying the investigation's findings.

"The clergy placed their self-interest ahead of the interests of the churches," the attorney general’s office wrote in a virtual presentation delivered to the AME churches in November 2021.

Let us take a close look at the punishment meted out to the offenders:

  • Wilson and Ingram’s settlements both required them to pay back the money they received in a series of installments — plus, in Ingram’s case, the proceeds from his Rolex watch, which he sold for $33,000;
  • Both men are barred from holding a role in any New York-based nonprofit or charity that involves dealing with money, though both can continue holding purely “spiritual” positions;
  • Yet, both Wilson and Ingram appear to maintain active roles in the AME Church. Ingram and his wife were thrown a retirement party in 2021 and were pictured attending an AME board meeting earlier this summer, while Wilson’s LinkedIn profile lists him as the pastor of an AME church in Orange, N.J.;
  • According to the Religious News Service (RNS), on August 31, the AME Church released a statement that condemned "the inappropriate practices of our colleague and the former presiding elder in the New York Conference, who currently pastors in the New Jersey Conference;"
  • Ingram will not take part in any denominational events until 2024, while discipline against Wilson will be determined by the bishop now in Ingram's former role;
  • Vahdat’s settlement, meanwhile, requires him to keep up to date on any payments owed to the churches and cover their legal fees.

I wonder as I conclude, what ever happened to this principle learned at Seminary: "He has shown you, O man (and woman), what is good; And what does the Lord require of you, But to do justly, To love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8, NKJV).

Prof. Vaughn E. James, Texas Tech University School of Law 

 

 

 

September 19, 2022 in Church and State, Current Affairs, In the News, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

NYTimes looks at Hasidic Jewish Schools in New York City

The New York Times provided an interesting, though critical, look into Yeshivas in New York City. The two points that stand out are that the children of these schools, particularly the boys, are roundly not able to pass basic competency state tests assessing learning, and that the schools are taking in lots of public dollars to accomplish this result.

The story necessarily raises the issue of what role education plays within the nonprofit sector; what role nonprofits should play in primary and secondary education in a democratic order; what role primary and secondary education ought to provide in a democratic order; and what role religion should play in shaping any of that education. I have a draft paper thinking about charter schools within that order that I will be posting soon, that confronts some of those questions. But, it does not confront the role of religion in that order.

Primary and secondary education play many roles, but the two most significant that resonate in the US conception seem to be preparing individuals to be able to be employed and support themselves and also to support a democratic order. We are not born with the ability to do either of these things and it is in all our interests to ensure the children of the country have the ability to engage in both endeavors. From the description in the article, these schools are likely failing on both counts.

And yet, the notion of freedom of religion for parents to train children to uphold the values they uphold remains strong in our nation. This comes into stark contrast though with maintaining a just political order. I think there is a lot for the nonprofit world to reflect upon in this article. Worth some thought.

From the story: "The leaders of New York’s Hasidic community have built scores of private schools to educate children in Jewish law, prayer and tradition — and to wall them off from the secular world. Offering little English and math, and virtually no science or history, they drill students relentlessly, sometimes brutally, during hours of religious lessons conducted in Yiddish.

The result, a New York Times investigation has found, is that generations of children have been systematically denied a basic education, trapping many of them in a cycle of joblessness and dependency.

Segregated by gender, the Hasidic system fails most starkly in its more than 100 schools for boys. Spread across Brooklyn and the lower Hudson Valley, the schools turn out thousands of students each year who are unprepared to navigate the outside world, helping to push poverty rates in Hasidic neighborhoods to some of the highest in New York.

The schools appear to be operating in violation of state laws that guarantee children an adequate education. Even so, The Times found, the Hasidic boys’ schools have found ways of tapping into enormous sums of government money, collecting more than $1 billion in the past four years alone."

There are many highly critical responses of this article from the Orthodox community. Here is one.

Philip Hackney

September 13, 2022 in Church and State, Current Affairs, In the News, Religion, State – Executive, State – Legislative | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Representatives Ask IRS About Church Status of Family Research Council

Propublica reported a few weeks ago that the IRS had granted church status to a right-wing think tank, the Family Research Council. Sam Brunson blogged on here about why FRC might be interested in obtaining this special status.

Now, 40 Democratic representatives from the US House have sent a letter to the Treasury Department and the IRS asking them to explain this decision. Here is the letter.

"We are writing to express concern regarding the Family Research Council’s (FRC) tax-exempt status as an “association of churches.” In addition, we request a review of the existing Internal Revenue Service (IRS) guidance related to political advocacy organizations self-identifying as “churches” to obtain the status of churches, integrated auxiliaries, and conventions or associations of churches.

As you know, Congress has enacted many special tax rules that apply to churches and religious organizations. Under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code (Code), churches are tax exempt organizations and are not required to file IRS Form 990, which provides transparency on tax-exempt organizations’ board members, key staff salaries, donations, and large payments to contractors. Further, there are special limitations on how and when the IRS can conduct an
examination of churches. In accordance with section 7611 of the Code, the IRS cannot conduct tax inquiries of churches without approval from a “high-level Treasury official.”

Philip Hackney

August 4, 2022 in Church and State, Current Affairs, Federal – Executive, Federal – Legislative, In the News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Family Research Council Is Now a Church

Cosmic-timetraveler-_R1cc2IHk70-unsplashA little over a week ago, ProPublica reported that the Family Research Council filed with the IRS to be treated as an association of churches for tax purposes.

Is the FRC an association of churches? Not in any colloquial sense; rather, it's an advocacy group that, in its words, works to "advance faith, family, and freedom in public policy and the culture from a biblical worldview" (which it does, according to SPLC research, largely by denigrating and attacking the LGBTQ community). It claims to meet 11 of the IRS's 14 criteria for qualifying as a church, though many of those claims seem like a stretch.

And its worth noting at this point that FRC isn't the only organization to claim (and obtain) church status where the claim of being a church is a stretch. It has become an aspiration model for activist organizations. And why?

Continue reading

July 19, 2022 in Church and State, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

RNS: In Defiance of US Bishops, Nancy Pelosi Receives Communion at the Vatican

Last week's Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization has left the American public very divided. Many are angry; many are happy. The debate over the right to an abortion and women's rights to make their own decisions about their bodies has heated up. In the midst of this heated atmosphere, RNS reported today that in defiance of some U.S. Roman Catholic bishops, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi received Communion during a Mass presided over by Pope Francis on Wednesday (June 29) for the celebration of the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul.

Back in Speaker Pelosi's home diocese of San Francisco, California, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone announced on June 1 that the Catholic congresswoman is banned from receiving Communion due to her abortion rights stance. Since then, she has been barred from receiving the sacrament in four other dioceses

Pelosi called the Supreme Court's decision in Dobbs an “outrageous and heart-wrenching” decision. The US Catholic Bishops lauded the court's decision, which they said overturned “an unjust law that has permitted some to decide whether others can live or die.”

But earlier today, Wednesday, Speaker Pelosi met with Pope Francis before the service and received a blessing, according to one of the Mass attendees. 

Sitting in the VIP section during the traditional Mass at St. Peter’s to celebrate the patron saints of Rome, Pelosi listened to Pope Francis’ homily before receiving Communion from one of the many priests in the basilica, according to eyewitnesses. Francis has rarely distributed Communion, citing precisely the desire to prevent politicization of the sacrament.

In his homily, Francis urged the faithful to “Go to the crossroads and bring everyone: blind, deaf, lame, sick, righteous, sinful, everyone, everyone! This word of the Lord must resound, resound in the mind and heart: everyone! In the church there is room for everyone!” He added that “many times we become a church with open doors but to dismiss people, to condemn people.”

The RNS article concludes by noting that

Last year, Pope Francis told reporters on his return flight from Central Europe that he has never denied Communion to anyone and criticized bishops who didn’t act as shepherds and “aligned themselves with political life, on political problems.” The Vatican’s doctrinal department, in a letter in May of last year, urged the U.S. bishops to engage in dialogue among themselves and with Catholic politicians before reaching any decision.

Well, in this, as in an increasing number of philosophies, there appears to be a great divide between these United States of America and the Rest of the World!

Prof. Vaughn E. James, Texas Tech University School of Law

June 29, 2022 in Church and State, Current Affairs, Federal – Judicial, In the News, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Should Private Schools Proven to Discriminate Intentionally Receive Government Aid?

    In thinking about the recent Supreme Court decision in Carson v. Makin, No. 20-1088, which deals with private religious schools and state tuition programs, I raised the question of whether government aid should be awarded to private schools at all.  One reason I raised this issue is because private schools are not subject to the same civil rights laws as public schools.  Almost one year ago to the day, I blogged about how historically private schools have not been subject to federal civil rights laws because they did not receive federal funds.  I also noted that perhaps unknowingly, by virtue of receiving P.P.P. loans during the pandemic, private schools became subject to such laws, including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VI”), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin.  In other words, private schools with P.P.P. loans cannot engage in racial discrimination against employees, students, parents, or other participants.  This includes in terms of employment, admissions, enrollment, and other treatment. 

    One must consider the compelling question whether private schools (which in the absence of a P.P.P. loan or other federal funding) are permitted to run afoul of civil rights laws, should be able to receive government aid under a state tuition program, which appears to be the case with the Maine law.  Granted, private schools (non-religious and religious) are subject to nondiscrimination requirements by virtue of their 501(c)(3) status, which they must attest to annually either by filing Form 990 or a statement with the IRS, respectively.  Nevertheless, it is important to consider that Title VI imposes prohibitions against racial discrimination not covered by section 501(c)(3).  One definite difference is that private schools who become subject to federal civil rights laws, e.g., those who receive P.P.P. loans, may have to pay compensatory damages to individuals who prove intentional discrimination in lawsuits against the schools.  In addition, injunctive relief may be awarded to such individuals.  In other words, these private schools are no longer shielded from causes of action from individuals and families who have faced racial discrimination at their hands.

    In the opinion, Chief Justice Roberts himself acknowledged the distinction between public schools and private schools in this regard:  “[T]o start with the most obvious, private schools are different by definition because they do not have to accept all students…”  Given that private schools (who have not received federal funds) largely are shielded from damages or injunctions for intentional discrimination which can be proven, should they be allowed to receive government aid?  This is the larger question that must be answered.

 

Khrista McCarden

Hoffman Fuller Professor of Tax Law

Tulane Law School

June 23, 2022 in Church and State, Current Affairs, Federal – Judicial, In the News, Religion | Permalink

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Supreme Court Rules Maine Cannot Exclude Religious Private Schools from Aid - The Larger Question

    Today in Carson v. Makin, No. 20-1088, the Supreme Court ruled that Maine cannot exclude religious private schools from a state tuition program.   According to NBC News, under the state tuition program in Maine, taxpayer money is made available to families in remote areas that lack public high schools.  Under the state law, these families could use taxpayer money to send their children to public or private schools in other communities, as long as the schools were not “sectarian,” i.e., did not promote a particular belief or faith system and teach “through the lens of this faith.”  It was a 6 to 3 vote against the Maine law led by a conservative majority.  Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority and stated the ruling does not require states to support religion.  He notes that it requires states that choose to subsidize private schools not to discriminate against religious ones.  In separate dissents, Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Justice Stephen G. Breyer strongly objected on separation of church and state grounds.  A full copy of the decision may be found here

    One of the lawyers for the families who challenged the Maine law summed up the decision as “a major step for religious schools to receive the same kind of government aid as other private schools.”  Even if one agrees that religious private schools should not be treated differently than non-religious private schools, an important and long-standing threshold question remains:  Should taxpayer money be made available for private school tuition at all?  

 

Khrista McCarden

Hoffman Fuller Associate Professor of Tax Law

Tulane Law School

June 21, 2022 in Church and State, Federal – Judicial, In the News | Permalink

Friday, June 17, 2022

Can Religious Freedom Protect Right to Abortion?

Congregation L’Dor Va-Dor, a progressive synagogue in Palm Beach County not affiliated with a broader denomination filed a lawsuit last week challenging Florida legislation banning most abortions after 15 weeks, under the State Constitution’s right to privacy and freedom of religion. 

The Congregation apparently argues that under the Jewish religion “abortion is required if necessary to protect the health, mental or physical well-being of the woman.”

I have not found the complaint but would gladly post if anyone has found it online. I am wondering whether they are bringing a claim under the Religious Freed Restoration Act (presumably that would be Florida's version of that statute). EDIT: Here is the complaint 

Seems like this should be an interesting case to follow for nonprofits given the potential of the public policy requirement to play a role in how we think about nonprofits engaged in the abortion realm after the Dobbs opinion comes out.

Philip Hackney

 

 

June 17, 2022 in Church and State, Current Affairs, State – Judicial | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 14, 2022

Russian Orthodox Parishes in Europe in Uproar as War Rages in Ukraine

Religion News Service (RNS) is today reporting that the war in Ukraine has split Russian Orthodox parishes across Europe, forcing believers outside Russia to either stay loyal to the church leadership in Moscow despite its support for the invasion, leave the church in protest or seek a messy middle ground.

Writing for today's edition of RNS, Tom Heneghan states:

While public opinion in Europe has almost unanimously denounced the war Russian President Vladimir Putin has unleashed, the small communities of Russian Orthodox faithful to the Moscow Patriarchate are in a bind because its head, Patriarch Kirill, has come out solidly in its favor.

Many of these believers are Western-born descendants of earlier emigres who have few links to today’s Russia but a faith anchored in the Russian tradition. Some belong to other Orthodox churches but happen to frequent a Russian church. 

Meanwhile, in Paris, Metropolitan John of Dubna, Archbishop of the Russian Orthodox Churches in Western Europe, in an open letter to Patriarch Kirill on March 9, struck a typical note by declaring solidarity with Ukraine and calling the war “monstrous and senseless.” While denouncing Kirill’s support of the war and asking for his intervention, Dubna stopped short of taking action that might signal a formal break.

Others stopped commemorating the patriarch in their liturgies -- an act which ranks as a serious protest in Orthodox churches -- but otherwise kept their dissent discreet. Only more attentive parishioners would notice at a Sunday service that the patriarch was not mentioned in normal commemorative prayers.

The Parish of Saint Nicholas of Myra in Amsterdam, where several hundred worshippers from about 20 nations attend weekly services in Dutch, Russian or English, has learned how complicated this choice can be. Probably the first Western Orthodox church to break ties with Moscow over the Russian invasion of Ukraine, St. Nicholas went from loyal criticism of Moscow’s decision to switching its allegiance to the rival Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul.

“There are many traditions within Russian Orthodoxy,” Archimandrite Meletios Webber, head of the parish, told the congregation earlier today, Monday, March 14.

The London-born archimandrite — a monsignor in Roman Catholic terminology — spoke in a clipped English accent at his church near central Amsterdam. Another Orthodox priest translated his remarks into Russian.

“This tradition cannot be attached to any organization or any thought which promotes violence and warfare,” said Meletios, born an Anglican but converted during his studies at Oxford by the influential British Orthodox theologian, Bishop Kallistos Ware.

Heneghan tells the story leading to this announcement in lively and interesting detail:

Horrified by the ferocious fighting in Ukraine, the four priests of St. Nicholas first signed a petition in early March asking Patriarch Kirill to urge Russian authorities to end the war. But Kirill, doubling down like his ally Putin, came out in favor of the war, prompting a petition from Orthodox priests in Russia against the violence. Even the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church loyal to Moscow, Patriarch Onufry, appealed to Putin for “an immediate end to the fratricidal war.”

The priests in Amsterdam decided they could no longer commemorate Kirill at their divine liturgies and informed their superior, Archbishop Elisey of the Moscow Patriarchate in The Hague.

On March 6, Archbishop Elisey turned up unannounced just before their Sunday service. He took over the celebration and made sure a deacon from outside the parish commemorated Kirill.

“His visit was like a spiritual tank sent to our parish,” one parishioner complained afterwards to the Dutch daily Nederlands Dagblad.

The archbishop, who came in a car from the Russian embassy, warned the priests that both the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Foreign Ministry were closely following developments in the parish.

The priests saw Archbishop Elisey’s warning as a threat but loyally mentioned his name during the service. “Then we started making contact with other hierarchs,” Meletios said.

“We have not left the Moscow Patriarchate,” the priests wrote on the parish website last week in an initial report about the archbishop’s unexpected visit. They listed examples from the past when dropping a patriarch’s name from a liturgy was not considered a schism.

But by Tuesday, March 8, a “Z” — the symbol widely used in support of Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine — was daubed on the church’s gates. During the week, the parish received enough other threats that it decided to close down until further notice.

It was “no longer possible to function within the Moscow Patriarchate and provide a spiritually safe environment for their believers,” they concluded in another report on Saturday.

“We cannot go back on our decision to distance ourselves from Patriarch Kirill. Our consciences will not allow that,” they said. “So we see ourselves forced to link with the Ecumenical Patriarchate.”

The priests have now asked Archbishop Elisey to officially dismiss them from his diocese and asked Metropolitan Athenagoras, the top cleric of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the Benelux countries, to take them under his wing.

According to the priests, they took this "very difficult step with pain in [their] hearts." As far as they are concerned, they and their parish "are concerned with the kingdom of Heaven and not with any political movement of any kind of kingdom here on Earth.”

As an ordained minister of religion myself, I stand in solidarity with these priests who have chosen to speak truth to power. I wish them well.

Prof. Vaughn E. James, Texas Tech University School of Law

 

March 14, 2022 in Church and State, Current Affairs, In the News, International, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Study: Attendance Hemorrhaging at Small and Midsize US Congregations

An article in today's Religion News Service reports that the most recent round of the Faith Communities Today survey (FACT), found a median decline in worship attendance of 7% between 2015 and 2020. What is also quite interesting is that the survey period ended before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new survey of 15,278 religious congregations across the United States confirms trends sociologists have documented for several decades: Congregational life across the country is shrinking.

According to RNS, 

The survey, fielded just before the coronavirus lockdown, finds that half of the country’s estimated 350,000 religious congregations had 65 or fewer people in attendance on any given weekend. That’s a drop of more than half from a median attendance level of 137 people in 2000, the first year the FACT survey gathered data.

Scott Thurman, director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research and the survey’s author, had this to say: “The dramatically increasing number of congregations below 65 attendees with a continued rate of decline should be cause for concern among religious communities.”

Produced by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, the FACT survey consists of self-reported questionnaires sent out to congregational leaders every five years since 2000 — mostly through 20 collaborating denominations and faith traditions. According to RNS, the most recent survey found that mainline Protestants suffered the greatest decline over the past five years (12.5%), with a median of 50 people attending worship in 2020. Evangelical congregations declined at a slower rate (5.4%) over the same five-year period and had a median attendance of 65 people at worship. Catholic and Orthodox Christian churches declined by 9%. The only groups to boost attendance over the past five years were non-Christian congregations: Muslim, Baha’i and Jewish. 

The survey found that half of the nation’s congregations were in the South, even though only 38% of the U.S. population lives there. It also suggested that small congregations in rural areas and small towns may be unsustainable. Nearly half of the country’s congregations are in rural areas (25%) or small towns (22%), while the 2020 census found that only 6% of Americans live in rural areas and 8% in small towns.

One bright spot in the study is this: Congregations are becoming more racially diverse. In 2000 only 12% of congregations were multiracial. In the latest survey, the figure climbed to 25%.

The survey defined multiracial congregations as those where 20% or more of participants are not part of the dominant racial group.

Many researchers are now investigating if racial diversity also equals integration in relationships — or if people are simply attending church together. Previous research has also found increased diversity is one-directional.

“It’s still in the direction of predominantly white churches becoming less predominantly white, said Chaves. “It’s very little in the other direction. There’s not a big increase in diversity in predominantly Black churches.”

Professor Vaughn E. James, Texas Tech University School of Law

 

October 14, 2021 in Church and State, Current Affairs, In the News, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Religious Organizations Prepare for 'Potential Onslaught' of Evictions

Writing for today's edition of Religion News Service (RNS) news, Kathryn Post states that the Supreme Court’s August 26 decision to end the federal eviction moratorium brings new challenges for religious leaders and organizations working to aid those at risk for homelessness. Post cites to recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau indicating that more than 3.6 million Americans say they could face eviction in the next two months.

This startling statistic has brought the following response from Sarah Abramson, vice president of strategy and impact at Combined Jewish Philanthropies in Boston: "We’re very, very nervous. There is already a tremendous housing shortage in Boston. And we know from our data, and from the experience of our partners who do this work, just how difficult it was for somebody who has been evicted in the past to get housing.”

Jerrel T. Gilliam, executive director of Light of Life Rescue Mission in Pittsburgh, also shared concerns: “We are going to need to be very creative, and to think outside the box in order to prepare for what could be a potential onslaught of people needing assistance in a short amount of time.” 

In its August 26 decision, the Court ruled that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lacked the authority to establish a federal eviction moratorium. According to the Court, such a moratorium requires congressional approval. The decision comes as renters and landlords face a backlog of promised funds. According to Census Bureau data, the government has thus far distributed only about $5.1 billion of the $46.5 billion in federal rental assistance funds intended to prevent eviction.

“We definitely have to work hard to make sure that money reaches people,” said Shams DaBaron, a New York activist who also goes by “Da Homeless Hero.” “We have to cover both sides: these small landlords that need it, and those who are extremely poor.”

DaBaron is currently living in an apartment with the support of a voucher program, but he says the city is behind on three months of rent. An eviction moratorium is one measure that can help buy more time while such funds face bureaucratic delays.

DaBaron gained national attention as unofficial spokesperson for the residents of the Lucerne, a hotel-turned-shelter during the pandemic in Manhattan’s Upper West Side that became the center of New York’s “homeless hotel” debate. When he was not advocating for his fellow residents, DaBaron partnered with local group Open Hearts to develop a program called Soulful Walk and Talks. The program provided hotel shelter residents the opportunity to walk to the nearby Riverside Park with local faith leaders from a range of religious traditions who provided a safe space for spiritual reflection.

“We didn’t want to make it a religious thing, but we understand the value of spirit, of soul, of that deep essence within everybody,” said DaBaron. “One of the things that came out of it, from talking to many of the faith leaders, is that many of them were transformed, just as many of us were transformed.”

“It was definitely very impactful,” said Rabbi Lauren Herrmann of the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, who joined in the Walk and Talks and organized other clergy participants. “For one thing, I really understood for the first time in my life the issues surrounding the shelter system, and why people choose to be on the streets instead of being in shelters. … The shelter system is deeply broken, and some of the stories I heard were deeply upsetting.”

Herrmann and DaBaron see the Soulful Walk and Talks as tending to the essential spiritual needs of those facing homelessness. They hope to continue and expand the program as the federal eviction moratorium lifts. Yet, DaBaron and Herrmann also pointed to structural changes that need to take place. New York state implemented a new eviction moratorium on Sept. 1 that extends until January 2022. However, the moratorium does not address the city’s lack of affordable housing, the income cliffs that foster dependence on government programs and the health and safety risks facing those in congregate shelters, where many former Lucerne residents are finding themselves since the hotel shelter closed this summer.

In Pittsburgh, Light of Life Rescue Mission takes a multifaceted approach to homelessness by providing a range of services including case management, education, unemployment services and accommodations for those facing housing insecurity.

Gilliam, the Christian organization’s executive director, is concerned the end of the eviction moratorium will mean a sudden, sharp increase in the number of residents facing evictions. At one point during the pandemic, evictions in Pittsburgh slowed to a complete halt — in a typical year, according to Gilliam, Pittsburgh sees 14,000 evictions.

Gilliam suggested implementing preventive measures that would allow landlords to receive rent payments while enabling those at risk for evictions to find suitable housing.

“We’re pleading with everyone,” said Gilliam. “Let’s try to get people help while they’re still in the home and help the landlord have another month or two of rent, so that we can find a place for them without them having to pass through homelessness to get assistance.”

The pandemic has not been as kind to all religious organizations working to serve those facing housing insecurity. Chaplain Asma Inge-Hanif, founder and executive director of Muslimat Al Nisaa, has been serving the Baltimore community for 30 years. The organization provides health, education and social services to all, regardless of their ability to pay, and its Home Shelter is especially designed to meet the needs of Muslim women. She says her organization has served thousands of people over the years.

In the last year and a half, Inge-Hanif almost died from COVID-19 and lost her organization’s signature location. “I couldn’t pay the rent anymore, even though they claim there was an eviction moratorium,” she said. Now, Inge-Hanif is working to keep the shelter open on a small scale so she can help meet housing needs, especially those of people arriving from Afghanistan.

“I’m getting so many requests all the time from people who are getting evicted,” she said. “It’s often people who have no status and people of color. Everyday I get seven to 10 requests for shelter and housing. And I can’t help them.”

As the federal eviction moratorium ends, Inge-Hanif is hoping to raise money for an apartment building so she can house more people. She also says governments need to make rental assistance and other services more accessible.

“That’s why people are being evicted. They can’t get through the paperwork,” said Inge-Hanif. “The people who need the help are not in a position to maneuver through all the red tape. … The way the system is set up prevents the people who are most in need from actualizing success and being self-sufficient.”

That, indeed, appears to be the sad truth.

Prof. Vaughn E. James, Texas Tech University School of Law

September 9, 2021 in Church and State, Current Affairs, Federal – Judicial, Federal – Legislative, In the News, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 30, 2021

White House Announces New Religions Affairs Leaders, Including First Islamic Religious Freedom Ambassador

The White House announced Friday (July 30) a slate of nominations and appointments for top religious affairs roles, including the first Muslim American nominated to be the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom.

According to a report by the Religious News Service (RNS), President Biden will select Rashad Hussain as his nominee for that post, filling a State Department slot vacant since former Kansas governor and U.S. Senator Sam Brownback left at the close of the Trump administration. Hussain, who would need to be confirmed by the Senate, currently works as director for Partnerships and Global Engagement at the National Security Council.

Mr. Hussain previously served as White House counsel under President Barack Obama, as well as U.S. special envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and U.S. special envoy for the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, among other roles.

Commenting on the upcoming nomination, Saeed Khan, an expert on American Muslim communities at Wayne State University, stated: “Rashad’s appointment demonstrates not only the importance the Biden administration places on religious freedom, it also shows the importance of the Muslim world to the administration both in terms of combatting Islamophobia and also promoting religious freedom in Muslim majority countries. Rashad’s background will allow him to have a frank discussion with Muslim majority countries about religious freedom.”

Anila Ali, a co-founder of the American Muslims and Multifaith Women’s Empowerment Council Iftar who has worked with Hussain in the past, also celebrated his nomination. “As AMMWEC, and as a woman leader, I look forward to working with him because women play an important role in peace-making,” Ali said. “He has worked with Muslim communities during the Obama period and we hope his relevant experience is going to make him a voice for all of us.”

According to the RNS report, President Biden is also expected to nominate Deborah Lipstadt as the next U.S. special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism. Lipstadt is a professor at Emory University in Atlanta and a prominent Holocaust historian. She is the author of Antisemitism: Here and Now and is known for successfully defeating a libel suit brought against her by Holocaust denier David Irving.

Commenting on the expected nomination of Prof. Lipstadt, Mark (Moishe) Bane, president of the Orthodox Union, had this to say:  “She is a leader with great moral courage; her dedicated work, clear voice in fighting Holocaust denial and preserving the memory of the attempted destruction of the Jewish people make her an exemplary choice for this role.”

In addition, President Biden plans to appoint two new commissioners to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom: Khizr Khan and Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum

Khan became famous in 2016 when he and his wife, Ghazala, spoke during the Democratic National Convention as “Gold Star” parents, discussing their son, Humayun, a U.S. Army captain who died in Iraq in 2004. Mr. Khan, the founder of the Constitution Literacy and National Unity Project, runs his own law practice and has authored three books, including This is Our Constitution: Discover America with a Gold Star Father.

Kleinbaum, for her part, already served as a USCIRF commissioner in 2020 and leads the Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in New York City, a community that centers LGBTQ people. A human rights advocate, she also sits on Mayor de Blasio’s Faith Based Advisory Council and serves on New York City’s Commission on Human Rights. In addition, she is a board member of the New York Jewish Agenda and the New Israel Fund.

Prof. Vaughn E. James, Texas Tech University School of Law

July 30, 2021 in Church and State, Current Affairs, Federal – Executive, In the News, International, Religion | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Seattle Pacific University Faculty Vote No Confidence in Board Over LGBTQ Exclusion

The faculty of Seattle Pacific University, a Christian school associated with the Free Methodist Church, has taken a vote of no confidence in its board of trustees after members of the board declined to change its policy prohibiting the hiring of LGBTQ people.

The no-confidence vote, approved by 72% of the faculty Monday (April 20), was the latest in a series of escalating clashes between faculty, students and the school’s governing board. Faculty and students also want the school to drop its statement on human sexuality, which declares marriage between a man and a woman as the only permitted expression of human sexuality. A total of 213 out of 236 qualified faculty voted no confidence on an online form.

The board of trustees responded to the no-confidence vote Tuesday with a statement saying it would not change its employment hiring policy, which excludes LGBTQ people from full-time positions.

The statement read in part:

The board recognizes that fellow Christians and other community members disagree in good faith on issues relating to human sexuality, and that these convictions are deeply and sincerely held,” read the statement. “We pray that as we live within the tension of this issue, we can be in dialogue with the SPU community.

The board also indicated it was taking its stand because it wanted to continue to maintain its ties to the Free Methodist Church, a small denomination of about 70,000 in the United States and 1 million around the world. The Free Methodist Church has eight affiliated educational institutions including Azusa Pacific, Spring Arbor and Greenville universities.

Kevin Neuhouser, a professor of sociology at Seattle Pacific who is also the faculty advisor for HAVEN, the student club for LGBTQ students on campus, opined that “Right now the board is the last remaining group that has not yet come to recognize that LGBTQ individuals can be faithful Christians, and as faculty and staff they would play positive roles on our campus, if we can hire them.” According to Neuhousser, the school was engaged in a larger discussion of trying to discern what it means to follow Jesus. But, he asked, “Is it being faithful to include or exclude?”

Nationwide, a group of students and former students of Christian institutions are seeking an answer to that question. Last month, 33 LGBTQ students or former students at federally funded Christian colleges and universities filed a class-action lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education alleging widespread discrimination at 25 Christian colleges and universities.

We shall follow closely as this case winds its way through the court system. 

 

Vaughn E. James, Professor of Law, Texas Tech University School of Law

 

 

April 20, 2021 in Church and State, Current Affairs, In the News, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Law and Religion: Catholic Bishops Split on How to Deal with President Biden

The Washington Post reports that Joseph Biden, the second-ever Roman Catholic U.S. president, was greeted on his Inauguration Day with contrasting messages from his church: A warm blessing from Pope Francis — and a statement by the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops saying that Biden “will advance moral evils,” including contraception, abortion and same-sex marriage.

The statement by Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez immediately set off a debate among U.S. bishops, who, like U.S. Catholics, are bitterly divided on the direction of their extensive denomination and its entanglement with partisan politics. Those divisions are coming to a head in the figure of Biden, who makes it clear with his weekly churchgoing, his frequent references to Catholic teachings and culture, and his use of Catholic symbols that he is indeed a part of the church. 

The current dispute over how to contend with the new president features dueling comments from leading bishops.

On one hand, Archbishop Gomez stated:

In a time of growing and aggressive secularism in American culture, when religious believers face many challenges, it will be refreshing to engage with a President who clearly understands, in a deep and personal way, the importance of religious faith and institutions. I must point out that our new President has pledged to pursue certain policies that would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity, most seriously in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender. Of deep concern is the liberty of the Church and the freedom of believers to live according to their consciences.

Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, rejects this thinking:

Today, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued an ill-considered statement on the day of President Biden’s inauguration. Aside from the fact that there is seemingly no precedent for doing so, the statement, critical of President Biden came as a surprise to many bishops, who received it just hours before it was released. The internal institutional failures involved must be addressed, and I look forward to contributing to all efforts to that end, so that, inspired by the Gospel, we can build up the unity of the Church, and together take up the work of healing our nation in this moment of crisis.

The Catholic Bishops have in the past taken a more positive and collaborative tone towards new presidents. For example, in 2016, the conference put out a statement congratulating Donald Trump, saying it “looks forward to working with President-elect Trump to protect human life from its most vulnerable beginning to its natural end.”

San Diego Bishop Robert W. McElroy said he was “echoing Pope Francis’ message to President Biden and calling for dialogue, not judgment; collaboration, not isolation; truth in charity, not harshness. … It is a pathway of reconciliation that places the healing of our society ahead of any specific policy issue, in the recognition that repairing the soul of our country is the pre-requisite for any sustainable effort to advance the common good. … Most importantly of all, Pope Francis’ message to President Biden fundamentally speaks to him in his humanity, a man of Catholic faith striving to serve his nation and his God.”

On Wednesday morning, President Biden received a message from the Pope: “Under your leadership, may the American people continue to draw strength from the lofty political, ethical and religious values that have inspired the nation since its founding,” said Francis, who had called Biden on Nov. 12 to offer his congratulations and to discuss working together on issues including poverty, climate change and integrating immigrants and refugees.

Thursday morning, the USCCB put out four statements — an unusually busy morning for the Conference — praising actions Biden took the day before, including lifting the Muslim ban, and fortifying the “Dreamers” program that allows young immigrants to stay in the U.S. for work and school.

Prof. Vaughn E. James, Texas Tech University

January 21, 2021 in Church and State, Current Affairs, In the News, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Election 2020: Pre-Election Walking Up To (and Over?) the 501(c)(3) Political Campaign Intervention Line

ImagesAs happens every election season, in the run-up to the 2020 election there were a flurry of news stories about Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3) charities pushing up against, and maybe pushing through, the political campaign intervention prohibition. With over 65 years of guidance from the IRS, as meticulously compiled by  Steven H. Sholk of Gibbons P.C., you would think just about every possible situation has been addressed, yet charities and candidates continue to come up with new ways of walking right up to, and maybe crossing, that line.

For example, in mid-October the Washington Post reported on a closed-door session of conservative activists, including leaders of a number of 501(c)(3)s, discussing electoral tactics from challenging mail-in ballots to ballot harvesting. The story quoted nonprofit experts  Roger Colinvaux and Marcus Owens as being concerned that the involvement of 501(c)(3) leaders raised questions about their organizations' compliance with the political campaign intervention prohibition. In response, some of those leaders stated they were not there on behalf of the groups they lead.

At the more local level, in Kansas a state senate candidate included on his campaign signs not only that he had founded a church and thrift store, but also included the organization's logo. The candidate insisted that the sign was purely informational. But as I noted to the reporter who wrote the story, the problem is the inclusion of the group's logo, which constitutes the use of the charity's property for the candidate's benefit. And the story also reported appearances by the candidate at two churches, which did not provide his opponent with a similar opportunity to appear.

And of course there were other reports of more common but still problematic support of candidates. These included a Kansas state house candidate using mailing equipment owned by a church; his campaign reimbursed the church for the cost of that use, but it does not appear that the church made the equipment generally available for use by the public or other candidates on similar terms as required by IRS guidance. And a Catholic priest in Mississippi called then candidate Joe BIden "an embarrassment to Catholicism" from the pulpit in late October.

There is no indication that any of these events have led to adverse IRS attention, although of course the IRS has a number of years to pursue an audit or, in the case of the churches, a church tax inquiry.

Lloyd Mayer

November 17, 2020 in Church and State, In the News, Publications – Articles | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Nonprofit "church" Parking Tax Ended by Congress: IRS Guidance on Refunds?

In a tax package agreed to on December 17, 2019, last year, Congress repealed a provision of the code widely known as the church parking tax. I wrote about it on Surly Sub Group when it was enacted in 2017 concerned about its massive probably unintended effect on nonprofits. It caused massive havoc in that world, and nonprofits, led by churches mounted a massive effort to get the provision repealed. It took two years, but they were successful. 

In P. L. 116-94 (found in section 302 at the bottom of that Act) Congress repealed the offending provision section 512(a)(7) retroactively.

Thus, even though the IRS spent significant time providing guidance on how to comply, and presumably large nonprofits around the country adjusted their parking situation dramatically, nonprofits and the IRS must now act as if none of that ever happened. Many nonprofits like universities and hospitals likely paid large 21% rate taxes on parking fringe benefits that they continued to provide to their employees.

What now? IRS needs to figure out how to expeditiously issue refunds.

Congress members just issued a letter to the IRS asking it to issue guidance as quickly as possible to let nonprofits know how to obtain these refunds. 

Philip Hackney

 

January 9, 2020 in Church and State, Current Affairs, Federal – Executive, Federal – Legislative, In the News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Churches, Transparency, and $100 Billion

Yesterday, I wrote that this week I would be blogging about the Mormon church's $100 billion endowment.

It's worth noting here that estimating the value of the Mormon church has been something of a parlor game for the last couple decades, at least. When I was in college, Time published a story estimating the church's wealth at $30 billion. A decade and a half later, Reuters estimated that the church owned real estate worth $35 billion and received roughly $6 billion annually in donations from members in the U.S. and Canada. And now, apparently, the church receives $7 billion in contributions annually and has an investment portfolio worth $100 billion.

So why all of the estimates? Because churches in the U.S. aren't required to file the financial disclosures that other tax-exempt organizations must file. Church finances and assets, then, can be a black box. (They don't have to be a black box--nothing in the tax law prevents churches from disclosing financial data, and some churches have chosen to be transparent. More on that in a minute.)

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December 31, 2019 in Church and State, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, December 30, 2019

$100 Billion and the LDS Church

About two weeks ago, Religion Unplugged and the Washington Post simultaneously broke a story: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (which going forward I'll refer to as the Mormon or the LDS church). In brief, they reported a whistleblower complain to the IRS saying that Ensign Peak Advisers, a tax-exempt supporting organization/integrated auxiliary of the Mormon church, was sitting on investment assets worth $100 billion. Moreover, during its 32-year existence, the whistleblower alleged, it had never made any charitable distributions, to the Mormon church or any other charitable institution.

As both someone who spends a lot of time researching and writing about the intersection of tax and religion AND as a practicing Mormon, that revelation ended up taking a lot of my time. It raises interesting and ambiguous legal questions, many of which I wrote about here.

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December 30, 2019 in Church and State, Current Affairs, In the News | Permalink | Comments (1)