FFRF sues IRS on behalf of Nonbelief Relief

Nonbelief Relief

FFRF is taking the Internal Revenue Service to court over yet another religion-related tax privilege.

The national state/church watchdog filed a federal lawsuit Oct. 10 in D.C. district court to challenge the preferential exemption of churches and related organizations from reporting annual information returns required of all other tax-exempt groups. The defendant is David J. Kautter, acting IRS commissioner.

The plaintiff is Nonbelief Relief, a humanitarian group created by FFRF’s executive board in 2015 as a separate 501(c)(3) entity for atheists, agnostics and freethinkers to remediate conditions of human suffering and injustice on a global scale “whether the result of natural disasters, human actions or adherence to religious dogma.” That relief includes assistance to individuals targeted for nonbelief, secular activism or blasphemy.

The IRS refused a request by Nonbelief Relief to be excused from registering the annual Form 990, which cited the discriminatory treatment of churches vis-à-vis other tax-exempt nonprofits. Nonbelief Relief’s tax exemption was revoked on Aug. 20 for failure to file the Form 990 return for three consecutive years. Nonbelief Relief “has and will suffer harm, detriment and disadvantage as a result of the revocation of its tax-exempt status, including tax liabilities and loss of charitable donations which are no longer tax-deductible by donors.”

Nonbelief Relief is asking the court to reinstate its tax-exempt status, and to enjoin the IRS from continuing to preferentially exempt churches and other affiliated religious organizations from annual information filings required of other 501(c)(3) nonprofits.

From 2015 through August 2018, Nonbelief Relief has given out nearly $600,000 in charitable grants — work which will now be injured and imperiled by the government’s actions.

The significant tax benefits to charitable organizations under the IRS code include exemption from federal income taxes and deductibility of donations for income-tax purposes, incentivizing contributions. In return, tax-exempt groups are expected to annually show that they deserve to retain these benefits by filing the Form 990, which explicitly details income, expenditures, balance sheet, staff compensation, fundraising, lobbying expenses etc., thus ensuring there is no diversion of funds from the organization’s exempt purpose. The Form 990 is made public by the IRS. Yet churches are automatically exempted from filing these returns.

Such preferential treatment results in obligations and penalties imposed on secular nonprofits that are not imposed on churches, in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and equal protection rights, FFRF charges.

Not only do churches receive preferential treatment over filing requirements, but the IRS preferentially does not enforce restrictions on political campaign activity by churches, the complaint notes. Many churches, FFRF alleges, “are quite deliberate and open in their defiance of the politicking prohibition,” such as coordinating “Pulpit Sundays.”

The complaint cites a recent violation involving President Trump’s evangelical adviser Paula White, who engaged in explicit partisan politicking from the pulpit on Sept. 18.

FFRF is also in federal court challenging the discriminatory clergy housing allowance, whereby “ministers of the gospel” can be uniquely provided a housing allowance as part of their salary, which is subtracted from taxable income.

Representing FFRF in the suit is outside litigator Richard L. Bolton, with FFRF Attorneys Patrick Elliott and Sam Grover serving as co-counsel. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

FFRF is a 501(c)(3) educational nonprofit, created as a national group in 1978.

Survey: Secular voters could offset Religious Right

Survey question 4
Survey Question 7

Editor’s note: This survey and article were completed prior to the Nov. 6 election.

A new survey of 8,500 secular voters reveals a bloc of highly educated, frequent voters determined to counter the Religious Right’s hold over the U.S. government and who would strongly support nonreligious candidates.

FFRF conducted the digital survey of registered United States voters in early October to help educate the public about secular voters in advance of the 2018 midterm elections in early November.

“The Religious Right controls all three branches of government, but secular voters are fired up like never before and ready to vote,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Our survey shows that politicians can tap into this potent force with the right message, and leave the religious pandering behind.”

According to Pew Research, one-quarter of Americans and one-third of Millennials are now nonreligious, but of the 535 members of Congress, only one — California Rep. Jared Huffman — is openly nonreligious.

When asked why so few atheists or other nonbelievers are serving, more than half of FFRF’s respondents cited widespread discrimination against atheists, and more than a third cited a belief that many atheists are

secretly serving in government but too afraid to come out of the closet.

Respondents reacted positively to learning about the 10-member Congressional Freethought Caucus launched earlier this year. On a scale of 0 to 100, respondents averaged a 90 when asked how likely they would be to support candidates who openly identify as nonreligious.

Respondents said the Freethought Caucus should prioritize mandating science-based education in schools, ending tax breaks for all churches, and protecting women’s health care against religious zealots.

When asked what is the most dangerous threat to the separation of church and state in America, the top response was President Trump’s Supreme Court nominees, followed by “Religious Freedom” bills advancing in state legislatures across the country.

FFRF’s Secular Voter Survey also found:

• Nearly three-quarters of secular voters identify as atheists, with 13 percent identifying as humanists and 6 percent as agnostic.

• More than one-quarter are Democratic Socialists, 45 percent are Democrats, 22 percent are independents and less than 2 percent are Republicans.

• Nearly two-thirds hold a college degree or multiple degrees, with just 6 percent having not attended any college.

• The largest group of secular voters are middle-aged-whites, a coveted swing demographic cited by many national political pundits and campaigns.

• The vast majority are supervoters, stating they vote in every presidential, midterm and local election, including most primaries.

 

New Treasury report vindicates FFRF’s stance on politicking ban

FFRF welcomes a new report highlighting deficiencies in the IRS’ enforcement of a rule that prohibits churches and other 501(c)(3) nonprofits from engaging in electioneering.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration — which is an independent arm of the federal government that oversees the IRS and acts as an IRS watchdog — recently published a report criticizing the IRS for failing to enforce the politicking ban, known as the Johnson Amendment, and for employing subjective standards to determine what constitutes political activity.

“This report confirms what FFRF has been warning about for years,” comments FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “While most (c)(3) nonprofits follow the law, many churches openly flout the law and are not held accountable.”

The report is particularly timely because President Trump and Vice President Pence continue to repeat their lie about “destroying the Johnson Amendment,” a provision FFRF has long worked to uphold.

In May 2017, FFRF sued Trump over his executive order on religious freedom, an order that he claimed “stops the IRS from revoking a church’s or nonprofit’s tax-exempt status if it chooses to support a political cause.” Trump signed the executive order with great fanfare during a National Day of Prayer ceremony in the Rose Garden before a largely clerical audience. He said: “This executive order directs the IRS not to unfairly target churches and

religious organizations for political speech.”

Trump also told churches that, with his new order, they would not lose their tax exemption for violating the rule and could say whatever they wanted: “This financial threat against the faith community is over. . . . You’re now in a position where you can say what you want to say.”

FFRF won that lawsuit. Trump’s own Department of Justice explained to the court that the executive order did not do what Trump claimed and, in other words, that Trump was all talk.

The Washington Post, in an article cheekily titled, “Critics said Trump’s ‘religious liberty’ order does nothing. The administration’s lawyers seem to agree,” explains: “Department of Justice attorneys defending the order argued in court that it doesn’t change any existing laws or alter any policies to benefit churches or clergy.”

That lawsuit was not FFRF’s first to seek enforcement of the Johnson Amendment. FFRF sued in 2012 because the IRS had failed to fill the position that enforces the politicking rule against churches. That case was settled in FFRF’s favor in 2014, when the IRS demonstrated it had resumed investigations of political churches. FFRF renews its claims of nonenforcement in its newest lawsuit against the IRS filed Oct. 10 in D.C. District Court on a related matter of preferential treatment.

President Trump shows off the “religious freedom” executive order he signed on May 4, 2017, in the Rose Garden, surrounded by members of the faith community and Vice President Pence.
Photo by Associated Press

Despite FFRF’s lawsuits and Trump’s attorneys admitting that he lacked authority to overturn the Johnson Amendment, the report reveals that the IRS has been ignoring a multitude of complaints alleging illegal tax-exempt politicking. The IRS’ own watchdog reviewed a sample out of more than 6,500 complaints between July 2015 and August 2016 and determined that “a significant number of allegations involving impermissible political activity were not forwarded to the [investigative body] as required.”

The report looks at 11 sample complaints that should have been submitted for further review because they alleged impermissible political activity. None of them were.

The reports recommends several sweeping changes to IRS practices so that churches and other tax-exempt organizations will be held accountable when they break the law.

FFRF is a national state-church watchdog with more than 32,000 members. Its purposes are protecting the constitutional separation between state and church, and educating the public about matters relating to nontheism.

Annie Laurie Gaylor: Supreme setback won’t deter FFRF

Annie Laurie Gaylor
Twitter screen capture

This column first ran on the Freethought Now! blog at patheos.com/blogs/freethoughtnow.

By Annie Laurie Gaylor

The suspenseful on-again, off-again confirmation hearings were grueling, raising hope until the end that despite all the odds, Brett Kavanaugh might be defeated. His unfortunate confirmation as the newest Supreme Court justice is a game changer for our causes and our country. Shortly after the U.S. Senate shamefully approved Kavanaugh, a photograph was tweeted of an older woman poignantly crying at the site of the protests in Washington, D.C. She was asking: “How are we going to find the strength to keep fighting? Are we going to be out here for another 30 years? I don’t have 30 years left.”

I, too, was sickened watching the male-dominated U.S. Senate ignore the will of the people and confirm a man who stands against true religious liberty and women’s rights, a nominee whom more than 2,400 law professors opposed, and whose behavior even prompted former Justice John Paul Stevens at age 98 to speak out against his confirmation. Like the woman in the photograph, I, too, know that everything I’ve spent my life working for — abortion rights, freethought, secular government — is imperiled.

We at the Freedom From Religion Foundation have been heart-warmed by support since Kavanaugh’s confirmation, from individuals and freethinkers who’ve sent emails, messages, new memberships and donations, telling us they know what a vital role FFRF has played and will need to play in the future. Thank you. We cannot tell you how much your messages and your support mean.

FFRF’s important purpose of guarding the separation between religion and government deeply intersects with women’s battle for reproductive liberty. As FFRF’s principle founder Anne Nicol Gaylor sagely observed: Without separation of church and state, the battle for women’s rights “would never end, because the root cause of the denial of those rights was religion and its control over government. Unless religion is kept in its place, all personal rights will be in jeopardy.” Abortion rights on the Supreme Court have been hanging for years by a 5-4 thread, and now with Kavanaugh replacing Anthony Kennedy, it looks dubious that “religion will be kept in its place” on our highest court.

Dangers of new court

This is the appointment we’ve been dreading for years — the essential takeover of the Supreme Court by a majority of Religious Right justices that could last at least a generation. The dangers Kavanaugh poses to true religious liberty and the work of FFRF can’t be overstated. From the moment that Kavanaugh’s nomination was announced, FFRF has rigorously documented his extremist positions, rulings and work.

This is a judge who concurs with former Chief Justice William Rehnquist that the vaunted constitutional wall of separation is a “bad metaphor,” who actively intervened trying to undo decades of Supreme Court precedent against school-imposed prayer, and who has sided with Catholic and religious organizations against abortion and contraceptive rights.

The Christian Supremacists aren’t playing around. Led by zealous Vice President Mike Pence, who journalists Michael D’Antonio and Michael Eisner call “The Shadow President” in their chilling new biography, today’s emboldened Christian Nationalists in and out of our government openly seek to repeal or cripple Roe v. Wade, even the right to contraception, and to do away with 65 years of firm Supreme Court precedent against the imposition of devotions and prayer upon a captive audience of schoolchildren, among other agendas.

The Christian Nationalists who openly scorn our secular government and Constitution have become emboldened since the 2016 election. As President Trump stacks the federal district and appeals courts with more and more extreme appointments, it is simply inevitable that the courts will grow increasingly hostile to Establishment Clause freedoms. Although nothing comes easy in our work to protect the wall of separation, FFRF has been able to generally rely on strong Supreme Court precedent protecting the freedom of conscience of young, impressionable school children and their parents from government-fostered religious indoctrination. Kavanaugh’s appointment and Trump’s lower court selections will have a chilling effect on liberal judges, just as it emboldens reactionary ones.

We’ve already witnessed this in our current winning case over a 34-foot cross in a park in Pensacola, Fla. Even though we’ve triumphed at the district and appeals court levels, both courts took the unheard of opportunity to actively urge higher courts to overturn precedent they are bound to follow but disagree with. We’ve never seen anything like this before.

Not an abstraction

This case law is not an abstraction to us. We know, admire and work with many of the champions of the First Amendment who have brought and won Establishment Clause challenges before the Supreme Court. Vashti McCollum, who brought the winning lawsuit, McCollum v. Board of Education (1948) against religious instruction in the public schools that all the other school-related Supreme Court decisions are built on, was an FFRF honorary director and friend. Her son, Jim, the erstwhile young boy pressured and bullied to attend religious classes that brought about the landmark challenge, is now himself a retired constitutional attorney and FFRF Lifetime Member. Ellery Schempp, who as a high schooler protested bible reading in his public schools and brought about the resounding ruling Abington Township School District v. Schempp (1963), is also a friend and FFRF Lifetime Member.

We knew Roy Torcaso, another FFRF honorary director, who brought Torcaso v. Watkins (1961) affirming Article 6, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution that there can be no religious test for public office. Ishmael Jaffree, the Supreme Court victor in Wallace v. Jaffree (1985), who successfully challenged prayer in the guise of meditation in Alabama schools, was FFRF’s first Freethinker of the Year in 1987.

We were honored to meet the Weisman family that sued over clergy prayer at public school graduations, winning their case, Lee v. Weisman (1992). They became FFRF’s Freethinkers of the Year. William Cameron Stone, the attorney who fought and won the landmark case, Stone v. Graham (1980), is a longtime FFRF Life Member. Other Establishment Clause greats we knew included Alton Lemon of the famed “Lemon Test,” who won that famed 1971 case that Kavanaugh has declared he wants to overturn.

Every day, our nine constitutional attorneys invoke these cases.

While political winds may shift every two to four years, terms on the Supreme Court are for life. But already there is speculation about how a Democratic Congress could add justices or otherwise take action to dampen the power of a Religious Right-controlled Supreme Court.

And let’s not forget what the younger woman replied as she photographed the crying woman despairing over the prospect of losing decades of progress for civil liberties in our nation: “I’ll be here. I’ll keep fighting.” So, with your help, will FFRF.

Annie Laurie Gaylor is co-president of FFRF.

Meet a Staffer: FFRF’s editorial assistant is a woman of action (alerts)

Name:

Bailey Nachreiner-Mackesey

Where and when I was born: Madison, Wis., in 1995.

Education: I graduated from UW-Madison in 2017 and majored in journalism and mass communication and political science with a certificate in gender and women’s studies.

Family: Both my parents still live in the house I grew up in and my two older sisters also live in the area.

How I came to work at FFRF: A very lucky Google Jobs search!

What I do here: I am the editorial assistant and have a pretty wide range of responsibilities. I am a part of the Strategic Response Team, so I work closely with our Legal Team to coordinate all of our Action Alerts, as well as our responses on developing news. I assist Communications Director Amit Pal with a number of press releases and coordinate sending those to media. I write up the FFRF legal victories for Freethought Today. I also manage most of the content on FFRF’s Twitter page, as well as jump in on other random tasks as I am needed.

What I like best about it: I like getting to work across teams and have a hand in so many different areas of the work we do. I also love having the opportunity to help people get involved and take action on important issues.

What gets old about it: Keeping up with social media can be a bit draining on days when there is an overwhelming amount of bad news.

I spend a lot of time thinking about: Climate change and also the prevalence of ugly typefaces.

I spend little if any time thinking about: Professional athletics.

My religious upbringing was: Nonexistent. I never went to church or observed a religion and my parents always championed my curiosity and discernment. I am so grateful for that.

My doubts about religion started: I never had a religion to doubt. But, when I pronounced the “p” in “psalm” during a class presentation once and everyone snickered, I started to get the inkling there was something I missed.

Things I like: Graphic design, traveling and reading about history.

Things I smite: When people say, “I just don’t read the news, it stresses me out!” and decaf coffee.

In my golden years: I will have outgrown my dog allergy as everybody has promised me I will someday and will own three English Cream golden retrievers and have a full library in my house.

Overheard (November 2018)

Until they allow professional investigators inside the secret archives, there will be no real transparency. They are incapable of handling this internally.

Jeff Anderson, a Minnesota lawyer who has handled many sex-abuse lawsuits, commenting on plans announced by U.S. Catholic bishops, which notably don’t include stopping their lobbying against expansion of statutes of limitation laws.

Associated Press, 9-19-18


The bottom-line is that while church and state are formally separated, religious legislators are still driven by their religious beliefs when voting in the Senate on all issue areas. This mechanism circumvents the formal separation of church and state and brings religion into politics through the back door.

Daniel Arnon, Emory University professor, who did a study called “The Enduring Influence of Religion on Senators’ Legislative Behavior.”

PsyPost, 9-26-18


The extremists have shown what frightens them the most — a girl with a book.

Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani activist and the youngest Nobel Prize laureate, after 12 schools were burned to the ground in Pakistan in early August.

Twitter, 9-19-18


What is really at stake here is less about the identity of these petitioners and more about curtailing the grand jury act and protecting powerful institutions like the Catholic Church.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, speaking about the lawsuit in the state Supreme Court to make public the names of those who had their names redacted from the grand jury report.

Washington Post, 10-7-18


There are a lot of ways to express gratitude and appreciation for the country and its citizens. This is how I plan to do that.

Stevon Cook, new president of the San Francisco School Board, after beginning the board meeting with a quote from Maya Angelou rather than reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Cook said he plans to select quotes from a range of inspirational Americans to begin future meetings.

The Hill, 10-11-18


The damage done [by abuse] is so deep and so devastating, and a survivor so desperately needs refuge and security. The question an abuse survivor is asking is “Am I safe?” and “Do I matter?” And when those in authority mishandle this conversation, it sends a message of no to both questions.

Rachael Denhollander, after telling her church leaders that former SGC president C.J. Mahaney’s return to ministry was inappropriate because he had covered up sexual abuse within the church in the past. (Denhollander was also the first to go public with accusations against Larry Nassar of Michigan State University, who was sentenced for molesting hundreds of girls.)

Washington Post, 10-11-18


There is no God. No one directs the universe. For centuries, it was believed that disabled people like me were living under a curse that was inflicted by God. I prefer to think that everything can be explained another way, by the laws of nature.

Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, in his posthumous book, Brief Answers to the Big Questions.

CNN, 10-16-18


There’s a public face of this government, which is very protective of religious liberty, and then the real work they’re doing is only protecting the religious liberty rights of those who are religious conservatives, not of religious progressives.

Katherine Franke, director of the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project at Columbia Law School, following the arrest of Scott Warren, a U.S. citizen, for harboring two Central Americans. Warren said his faith compels him to offer assistance to people in dire need.

NPR, 10-18-18

Caption contest (November 2018)

Caption contest: Chris Benedict spotted this sign at an auto dealership in Independence, Mo. To enter the contest, please write a humorous or witty caption for this photo. Email your response to [email protected] by Nov. 28. The winner, chosen by FFRF staff, will receive an FFRF T-shirt! We will announce the winner and top runners-up in the December issue.

Heads Up poetry column: Eve

EVE

Clever, he was, so slick

he could weave words into sunshine.

When he murmured another refrain

of that shimmering promise, “You

shall be as gods,” something with wings

whispered back in my heart,

and I crunched the apple—a taste so good

I just had to share it with Adam,

and all of a sudden

we were naked.

Oh, yes, we were nude before, but now,

grabbing for fig leaves, we knew

that we knew too much, just as the slippery

serpent said—so we crouched all day

under the rhododendrons, trembling

at something bleak and windswept in our bellies

that soon we’d learn to call by its right name:

fear.

God was furious with the snake

and hacked off his legs on the spot

And for us

it was thorns and thistles,

sweat of the brow, dust

to dust returning. In that sizzling

skyful of spite whirled

the whole black storm of the future:

the flint knife in Abel’s heart,

the incest that swelled us into a tribe,

a nation, and

brought us all, like driven lambs,

straight to His flood.

I blamed it on human nature, even then,

when there were only two humans around,

and if human nature was a mistake,

whose mistake was it? I didn’t ask

to be cursed with curiosity, I only wanted

the apple,

and of course that promise—to be

like gods. But then,

maybe we are like gods.

Maybe we’re all exactly like gods.

And maybe that’s our really original

sin.

From Perfidious Proverbs and Other Poems: A Satirical Look At The Bible

© Philip Appleman.

Philip Appleman is a Dis­tinguished Pro­fessor Emeri­tus at In­dia­na Uni­ver­si­ty. He is editor of the Norton Critical Edition of Darwin. He and his playwright wife, Marjorie Appleman, are both “After-Life” Members of FFRF.

Meet a Member: Studying the bible turned Wes Bieritz into anti-theist

Name: Wesley G. Bieritz.

Where and when I was born: Born in 1936 in a small farming town in northern Illinois.

Family: I have been married three times and widowed twice. I have three daughters by my first wife Laurel; and seven grandchildren.

Occupation: I’m a retired veterinarian, having graduated from the University of Illinois in 1963.

Military service: I served in the Army Reserves for 5 1/2 years.

My doubts about religion started: I was born into a Lutheran farm family in Illinois where my dad was a sharecropper. I was baptized, confirmed and married as a Lutheran and was a devoted churchgoer for decades. I thoroughly enjoyed the camaraderie and the music in my church family.

After graduating and working as a veterinarian in central Illinois, I was asked to teach an adult Sunday school class. I reluctantly agreed, but as my studies into the bible progressed, I found serious questions regarding the New Testament. Then, after years of reading and study I became an anti-theist. I’ve maintained that belief status to this day despite living, working and retiring in a Christian community for more than 50 years. However, like many nontheists today, I struggle with my beliefs in my relationships with my Christian friends.

These are a few of my favorite things: I am an enthusiastic tennis player and a devoted barbershop singer and have sung in a barbershop chorus and several barbershop quartets over the past 50-plus years. I’m still active in my community serving on our county board as well as on several other significant boards.

Person in history I admire and why: I admire the work of Richard Dawkins, the late Christopher Hitchens, Richard Carrier and Sam Harris and the hundreds of other remarkable people who have opened our world to biblical research, secular archeology and to reason.

Ways I promote freethought: It is my hope that my gift will help FFRF to pry open the minds of the people of the world from the clutches and oppression of organized religions that paralyze minds and inhibit progress. There is no greater cause! Perhaps my contribution to FFRF’s Legal Fund will encourage others to do likewise.

Wes Bieritz

FFRF welcomes new Life Members

FFRF is excited to announce our 34 newest Lifetime and After-Life Members.

Our new After-Life Members are John De Lancie, Ray Stefanski and Donald T. Tober. An After-Life Membership is a $5,000 donation for those who want their donation to “live on” after them.

FFRF’s newest Lifetime Members are Peter Antonowicz, Ruth Bragman, Jeremy J.G. Brown, Rick B. Brumfield, Alice Byers, Doug Campbell, Tom Cara (2nd Time Lifer), David Carter, Tom Gengler, Geoffrey Gervase, Chris Hagen, Michael B. Healy, Bruce Johnson, Jamila Kisses, John Mayer, James A. Mayo, John McIntyre, Paul Premack, John Roberg, Johann C. Rode, Dan Selle, Ivan Smith, Judith L. Smith, Gayle Teague, Vicki Wallshein, Jerry Walters, Laurian Webre, Gene Werden, Laurie Wermter, Warne White and Craig C. Wruck.

States represented are Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin. Individual Lifetime Memberships are $1,000, designated as membership or membership renewal, and are deductible for income-tax purposes.