There has been little enforcement of the standard IRS rules against partisan political activity by 501(c)3 organizations, including churches. The rules that help maintain this requirement become meaningless if they are not enforced: Americans United sent a letter today to IRS Acting Commissioner Daniel Werfel, asking him to crack down on this illegal activity.
“Houses of worship are tax exempt as 501(c)(3) organizations. Under federal law, groups holding the (c)(3) status are strictly prohibited from intervening in elections; they may not advise congregants or members to vote for or against specific candidates.”
The IRS, however, has done little to enforce the law. Part of the problem stems from a 2008 federal court ruling involving a Minnesota church that successfully challenged the IRS’s procedures for investigating churches.
Read more about it here
Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, both secular, for-profit companies owned by conservative Christian families, are asking the highest court in the land to allow them to seriously impede their employees’ fair access to contraception coverage.
At AU, we disagree. We’ve consistently told the courts that secular corporations don’t exercise religion. The owners of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods are asking the Supreme Court to elevate their beliefs over the medical needs of their employees. True religious liberty should never come at the cost of someone else’s rights.
If you work for Hobby Lobby, Conestoga Woods, Eden Foods or any other company that is challenging the contraceptive mandate and you’re worried about your ability to obtain contraception coverage, AU wants to hear from you: click here to (confidentially) submit your concerns.
A generous AU donor has offered to match all donations to Americans United today, as Giving Tuesday kicks off the giving season!
If you have never donated to Americans United before, today’s match ensures that your gift will be worth *three times* its value in building the wall of separation! (So your $25 gift will become $75 for AU; a $100 gift will become $300!) Donate here: www.au.org/new-giving-tuesday
If you have donated to Americans United before, thank you so much for helping make our many legal, legislative, educational and grassroots programs efforts possible! Our generous Giving Tuesday supporter has promised to match dollar-for-dollar every donation today from current donors! (So your $35 gift is worth $70!) If you’ve given to AU before, make your additional gift here: www.au.org/GT-additional
Please share this opportunity with your friends and visit the page all day today to report on your generosity!
Those of us in Minnesota are familiar with the Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF), the group behind the “Good News Club” that is quite active here in the state: they held their most recent conference here.
An item in a Washington county council’s proposed budget that would give taxpayer funding to a fundamentalist Christian organization that works to convert young children must not be approved, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
The Pierce County Council intends the grant to help Child Evangelism Fellowship rent space at local fairs. This is doubly problematic, as this is not just a government entity using taxpayer money to help a religious organization: to make the issue far worse, the recipient group will use the money to increase their presence in public fairs in order to promote their strictly religious mission.
AU wants to hear about the activities of the CEF and their “Good News Clubs”: if you have heard of them in your public schools and are aware of their activities, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Arguments were held yesterday in front of the Supreme Court on the Greece v. Galloway Supreme Court case regarding prayer during legislative sessions: the transcript is posted here. Background and discussion on the case is available at SCotUSblog, and details of AU’s involvement in the case can be found at the au.org website.
A public school bus driver who is also a pastor was warned not to pray with the students on his bus, and kept doing so: he was fired last week. While he has claimed that this is a freedom of speech issue, the fact that he is driving a public school bus with a captive audience of children is a violation of the Establishment Clause.
As a pastor, he should focus his prayer efforts on people who are part of his congregation and are willing attendees to his sermons, not on those who have no choice to be present and may not share his religious beliefs.
A reminder: our monthly board meeting and public discussion will be on Tuesday Nov 5th, at the Larpenteur Estates Party Room at 1280 Larpenteur Ave W, St Paul, MN. The board meeting starts at 6:30pm, and the discussion starts at 7pm. More details are available here.
We are into a new school year, and with that we see a whole new series of challenges to separation of church and state. Americans United depends on its membership for visibility and awareness of potential church-state separation concerns: you are our eyes and ears. As members, we are looking to you to help inform us of any issue concerning church-state entanglement that bothers you and requires our attention, so that we may provide support and address the issue. We would like to invite you to discuss the issues and ask any questions during our next open discussion meeting, on Nov 5th at 7pm, after the monthly board meeting at 6:30pm. The meeting will be held at 1280 Larpenteur Ave., in the party room at Larpenteur Estates: park in the rear of the complex, walk to the gap between buildings near the East end of the complex, and signs will guide you to the party room.
What type of issues are we looking out for? Examples include:
- Taxpayer support for religious schools: this includes “vouchers” and similar programs, as well as charter schools that are primarily or significantly religious in nature, and tax credits, subsidies or other financial assistance. Any program that redirects taxpayer money toward schools that have religious requirements is problematic, and may be an unconstitutional subsidy of religion.
- Promotion of religion in public schools: this can include official prayers in school or at school events, posting of religious banners, icons or symbols for non-educational purposes, prayers, any official school organization, activity or policy that promotes religious membership or makes non-members feel excluded from school activities and school resources being made available exclusively to particular religious groups to the exclusion of others, be they religious or otherwise.
- Public school curriculum changes: we have seen many attacks on the curriculum in the past few years, with special focus on undermining evolution and crippling sex education in order to address religiously based objections. Also, watch for changes to textbooks in order to promote sectarian positions, as well as religious handouts; while the study of religions is acceptable, the promotion or evangelization of one religion is not.
- “Faith-based” initiatives: programs in which taxpayer money is funneled into religious organizations (and only religious organizations) in order to provide social services. While we are strong believers in charity and social services, and support the ability of churches to provide these services, we believe that they should be using their own resources to do so through voluntary contributions of their faithful, and not unfairly burden taxpayers that do not share their religious beliefs. Any action that “partners” the government with a religious group and provides them with funds to help promote their own religious agenda under the guise of social services should be considered unacceptable, and is potentially unconstitutional.
- “Pulpit politics”: as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, Americans United is prohibited from endorsing or opposing candidates or political parties. By the same token, so are religious organizations that are tax-exempt. In the last few years we have seen several actions taken by religious groups to challenge this (e.g. “Pulpit Freedom Day”), actions that we consider a violation of tax law. Listening to partisan political speeches, being solicited for campaign contributions and getting instructions about whom to vote for on election day are not activities that belong in the church.
- Sectarian prayers at government meetings: while it is acceptable for government meetings to start or conclude with a non-sectarian, non-exclusive prayer, all religious viewpoints must be given an opportunity for expression and participation. If only one narrow set of viewpoints or religious beliefs is represented while others are discouraged or not allowed, this is an unconstitutional promotion of religion. This is the subject of the Greece v. Galloway lawsuit that will be presented soon before the U.S. Supreme Court.
- Ensuring fair treatment of minority religions: the First Amendment prohibits the state from promoting any religion, but also from suppressing any. This is especially important when it comes to religious groups with smaller memberships, who may not get the respect and fair treatment other religions do.
If you are aware of these issues occurring in your local community, you can let us know by contacting the Minnesota Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State at email@example.com, or visiting our website at http://mnau.org