Nel's New Day

November 24, 2013

Judge Strikes Down Pastor’s Housing Tax Exemptions

The annual “War on Christmas” shrieks from the far-right will fade compared to the primal screams regarding to the federal judge decision. Judge Barbara Crabb, Western District of Wisconsin, struck down a 1954 law giving the “ministers of gospel” billions of dollars in tax exemptions for housing. In her decision she wrote that the law  “violates the establishment clause… because the exemption provides a benefit to religious persons and no one else, even though doing so is not necessary to alleviate a special burden on religious exercise.”

Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) wrote in a news release:

“Ministers may, for instance, use the untaxed income to purchase a home, and, in a practice known as ‘double dipping, may then deduct interest paid on the mortgage and property taxes. Clergy are permitted to use the housing allowance not just for rent or mortgage, but for home improvements including swimming pools, maintenance and repairs. They may exempt from taxable income up to the fair market rental value of their home, particularly benefiting well-heeled pastors. The benefit extends to churches, which can pay clergy less, as tax-free salaries go further.”

In the 1950s, Rep. Peter Mack (D-IL) convinced Congress that pastors should be compensated by the U.S. government for “carrying on such a courageous fight against this [godless and anti-religious world movement].” Churches get billions of dollars each year for their “courageous fight”–$82 billion a year. Religious groups also own property exceeding the value of $600 billion.

As founding father Benjamin Franklin wrote:

“When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it so that its professors are obligated to call for help of the civil power, it’s a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.”

Here are some of the places that receive these tax advantages.

Kenneth Copeland: 18-thousand square foot home valued at $6.3 million

Joel Osteen: $10.5 million home

Joel Osteen: $10.5 million hom

 

Benny Hinn: $10 million seaside mansion

Benny Hinn: $10 million seaside mansi 

 Pastor Steven Furtick:   $1.7 million dollar home

Pastor Steven Furtick: $1.7 million dollar home

A ruling from neighboring state Ohiodecided against public school science teacher John Freshwater, who distributed creationist materials to students. After he was told to remove religious items from his classroom, “Freshwater deliberately added to them, incorporating the Oxford Bible and Jesus of Nazareth into the classroom,” according to Justice Maureen O’Connor. He was then fired.

The Ohio Supreme Court decision was 4-3, ruling that the school district had a right to fire him because the First Amendment does not permit him to ignore orders from his employers or display whatever religious items he pleases in his classroom. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that public schools cannot teach creationism as science, but three Ohio Supreme Court justices seem to think that it’s just fine. The judges on this court are elected; six of the seven are Republicans.

Another excuse for ire from religious groups was the “Fiction” sticker on Bibles sold at a California Costco. The store apologized and changed the sticker.

Another apology came from Harvard Ichthus Editor-in-Chief Aaron Gyde for publishing an essay claiming that all the suffering that Jewish people have faced since the destruction of Jerusalem’s Second Temple in approximately 70 A.D. came from God and was “just.” The blog comes from a campus “journal of Christian thought.” The essay also argued “the Jews were marked out for destruction when they killed Jesus.”

Marriage equality is wrong according to Russell Moore, president of the Baptist Church’s ethics and liberty commission, and he means equality between men and women.  Women who are not subservient violate biblical law, and men can keep them subservient by not getting “too close” to their wives.

A North Carolina Christian school wants families to cast out LGBT relatives and plans to mandate a pledge that would support this. At Myrtle Grove in Wilmington, the “Biblical Morality Policy” would refuse admission to LGBT children or children with any LGBT relatives at all and expel students if any of their relatives reveal those tendencies. To guarantee that everyone understands, heterosexual families must swear in writing that they will not participate, support, or in any way affirm “sexual immorality, homosexual activity, or bisexual activity; promoting such practices; or being unable to support the moral principles of the school.” Myrtle Grove will still receive taxpayer subsidies.

Hobby Lobby, a corporation that sells crafts and claims to be a religious person, wants to take its case to the U.S. Supreme Court to fight the Affordable Care Act’s requirements that provide contraceptives for employees. The company itself is not providing these; the insurance companies are doing that. But the owner sees Hobby Lobby as a religious entity.

The president of Hobby Lobby, Steve Green, is going farther than fighting the health mandate. He has written a Bible curriculum for Mustang School District (Oklahoma) that he wants adopted for classrooms. Students would sit through units that purportedly examine the Bible’s influence on society. Superintendent Sean McDaniel asked Green to write this curriculum because much of his personal wealth has gone into the promotion of Bible education. With Christian revisionist historian David Barton, Green runs full-page newspaper ads to tell people that the United States is a “Christian nation.” He also has strong ties to Bill Gothard, the leader of an extremist Christian fundamentalist sect, rife with allegations of child abuse.

Gothard thinks he can determine a person’s character by staring into the eyes, that disease has spiritual causes, and that men are the sovereign rulers of the household. His books include illustrations to detail how women should stand, what their hairstyles should be, and how long men’s pants should be. Video of Green describing Hobby Lobby’s “desire to share Christ and Disciple others” is on Gothard’s website.

My favorite evangelical story of the week comes from retired Lt. Gen. William “Jerry” Boykin, vice-president of the Family Research Council. According to the Boykin, mainstream Christians are all wrong about Jesus. He’s not weak and effeminate as churches now teach: Jesus is a “man’s man” and a “tough guy.” Because he was a carpenter and stone mason, Jesus “smelled bad” and had “big, bulging biceps, big ole veins popping out of his arms, thin waist, [and] strong shoulders.” Boykin explained:

“We’ve feminized Jesus in the church and the men can’t identify with him anymore; not the kind of men that I want to hang out with, they can’t identify with this effeminate Jesus that we’ve tried to portray.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is working hard to fence-sit in the church v. state conflict. During his keynote address at a fundraising event for the Florida Family Policy Council, he claimed that the issue is not worth debating because “God is everywhere” and “doesn’t need our permission to be anywhere.” The conservative organization’s agenda promotes ex-gay conversion therapy, creationism in public schools, and the abolishment of reproductive rights.

On the Catholic side, Springfield (IL) Bishop Thomas Paprocki went through with his “Homily for Prayers of Supplication and Exorcism in Reparation for the Sin of Same-Sex Marriage” 30 minutes after Gov. Pat Quinn signed marriage equality for the state into law. Among other justifications is that marriage’s sole purpose is reproduction. I would think that this would eliminate over half the marriages in the country. Also, the Devil uses same-sex marriage to waste resources because “much of our time, energy and resources are being spent in addressing this issue.” My suggestion: don’t address it.

Paprocki had two armed guards for the crowd of 500. Over 2,000 people attended the ceremony where Quinn signed the bill into law.

The United Methodist Church owes an apology to Rev. Frank Schaefer in Lebanon (PA). After officiating at the marriage of his gay son to another man, he was found guilty of violating church law. Schaefer has 30 days to renounce his participation in the marriage or give up his credentials. His punishment for “disobedience to the order and discipline of the United Methodist Church” ranged from a mild reprimand to being defrocked. Ten years ago, he presided over his oldest son’s 2007 same-sex wedding in Massachusetts. Three of his four children are gay.

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