Be on the lookout for Lookadoo lookalikes
Critical thinking won a solid victory recently when faith-based speaker Justin Lookadoo was publicly berated for a presentation described as sexist that was given at Richardson High School in Richardson, Texas.
Students used social media to express their disapproval, adopting the hashtag #lookadouche when making statements about the misogynistic views portrayed in Lookadoo’s presentation. Subsequent to Lookadoo’s performance at Richardson, FFRF had sent open records requests to George West Independent School District and Canadian Independent School District, where Lookadoo was scheduled to perform on Nov. 19 and Dec. 11, respectively.
Both districts responded with information that Lookadoo’s performances had been canceled. Whether the districts will be refunded the money they paid (over $3,000 in the case of George West) remains to be seen. Until shortly after the Richardson fiasco, Lookadoo’s website also advertised performances early next year at Eagle Mountain Independent School District, Saginaw, Texas; Tonawanda Middle and High Schools, Tonawanda, N.Y.; various schools in Scottsboro, Ala.; and a student council conference at Lufkin High School in Lufkin, Texas.
“The chilling reality is that Lookadoo’s strategy of masquerading as an expert in order to disseminate his religious ideology to public school students is not unique,” noted Sam Grover, FFRF constitutional consultant. FFRF has received complaints about many “Lookadoo lookalikes” (no, Guy Fieri, we don’t mean you).
A number of religious groups go into schools under the guise of offering sex education, anti-drug and other secular programming. Once in the schools, these noncredentialed performers routinely insert a religious message into their talks or exploit the opportunity to speak before a captive audience to invite all students to a proselytizing evening program, usually held at a church.
FFRF has written letters about public school performances by the Christian ministry group You Can Run But You Cannot Hide (and the band Junkyard Prophet), Team Xtreme (part of Youth With A Mission), Team Impact (which also performed at Richardson ISD), The Power Team, Go Tell Ministries (with BMX biker Rick Gage), Christian hip hop musician Kryst Lyke, B-SHOC, Sons of Thunder, magician/motivational speaker Jason Alvarez (sponsored by Faith Assembly), and Youth Alive-7 Project (with Brian Pruitt Motivational), to name a few.
“It’s important that school districts remember their constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion and to properly research any performer before inviting them to speak before a captive student audience,” advised Grover.
Too often it falls to students to report violations and to be vocal in expressing their disagreement with messages being conveyed.
“FFRF has a homework assignment for school administrators: Perform due diligence when bringing speakers to public schools. A little homework can go a long way toward preventing Lookadoo-like disasters,” added FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott.
FFRF ends school’s ‘daily devotions’
Until October, Hokes Bluff High School in Etowah County, Ala., started mornings with student-led recitations of bible passages over the intercom, a practice approved by school administration. A concerned student reported the practice to FFRF, and Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a letter Sept. 24 to Superintendent Alan Cosby.
“Nothing in the law prevents students, teachers or school employees from freely exercising their religion on their own time and in their own way,” wrote Seidel. “But a public school itself must not broadcast a decidedly religious message to a captive student audience, thereby isolating and excluding those students who are non-Christian or nonreligious.” FFRF has not received a reply directly from the district regarding the illegal readings, but the complainant informed us, “As of now they have not been doing ‘daily devotions.’ ”
No more ‘blessings’ at school meetings
FFRF successfully ended prayers during annual in-service meetings for transportation employees at the Berkeley County School District in South Carolina.
The complainant informed FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott that formal prayer had become a part of the mandatory event in the current and preceding years. Elliott addressed the unconstitutionality of the practice in an Oct. 24 letter to Superintendent Rodney Thompson: “The prayer at district in-service meetings appears to a reasonable observer to be an endorsement of religion, particularly Christianity. This is exactly the type of government endorsement that is prohibited by our Constitution’s Establishment Clause, and could also be perceived as workplace harassment.”
An attorney representing the district responded Nov. 19: “While there was no blessing or prayer offered as part of a program or included as a formal part of the in-service, an employee did offer a blessing for the food before the employees ate the meal. There was certainly no intent to offend any employees. Further, in order to avoid any misunderstandings in the future, the district will not offer a blessing before the meal.”
Chain stops discount for church bulletins
Luna’s Friendswood, a Mexican restaurant with six different locations in Texas, has stopped offering a 10% discount to dine-in customers who presented a current church bulletin on Sundays.
FFRF Staff Attorney Liz Cavell and constitutional consultant Sam Grover sent a letter Oct. 10 to the owner, explaining that under the federal Civil Rights Act, places of public accommodation are not allowed to discriminate on grounds such as race, color, religion or national origin.
“Your restaurants’ restrictive promotional practices favor religious customers, and deny both customers who do not attend church as well as nonbelievers the right to ‘full and equal’ enjoyment of Luna’s Friendswood,” FFRF’s letter said.
On Nov. 8, Luna’s responded, stating, “As of Nov. 4, this ‘discount’ has been eliminated.”
Ohio school strikes prayer after letter
FFRF advised the administration of Western Brown High School in Mount Orab, Ohio, to stop including prayers at school events after a concerned parent informed Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel that prayer was part of the National Honor Society induction ceremony earlier this year.
In his Oct. 3 letter to Superintendent Peggy McKinney, Seidel noted that prayer at any event endorsed by the school, regardless of whether it takes place before or after school, is illegal. “Federal courts consistently strike down school-sponsored prayer in public schools because it constitutes a government endorsement of religion, which violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and interferes with the personal conscience of students.”
There were also allegations that the administration had discriminated against the Secular Student Alliance by delaying approval of an SSA chapter for more than six months and complaints that the Christian club received preferential treatment.
“As you are no doubt aware, the Equal Access Act requires schools to treat all noncurricular clubs equally,” warned Seidel.
While the administration denied any wrongdoing, legal counsel informed FFRF on Oct. 22 that the school has dropped prayers from the ceremony “in the interest of not having misleading programs or confusion in the future.”
The school claimed the delay in SSA approval was due to a “coincidental change” in administration and logistical inconvenience.
Just say ‘Aloha’ to football prayers
Prayers are dropped from pregame routine in Oregon high school (October 29, 2013)
The Aloha [Ore.] High School football team will no longer include prayers in its pregame routine, thanks to a concerned student who reported the practice to FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel.
Seidel sent a letter of complaint Oct. 25 to Superintendent Jeff Rose. “As a general matter, it is illegal for a public school to organize, sponsor, or lead religious messages at school athletic events,” noted Seidel.
The principal informed FFRF on Oct. 29 that the team has eliminated prayers and any faith-based rituals before games. The school is part of the Beaverton School District.
Thanks to intern Yuna Choi for help compiling victories.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation calls on proponents of separation of state and church to boycott (and “girlcott”) Hobby Lobby, a national retail craft store chain. Hobby Lobby characterizes itself as a Christian company, with 561 stores, 21,000 employees and revenues of more than $2.28 billion a year.
Hobby Lobby’s website notes it’s committed to “Honoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with biblical principles.”
FFRF is calling the consumer boycott in response to Hobby Lobby’s religiously motivated role in challenging the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate. The Supreme Court on Nov. 26 accepted a case involving Hobby Lobby, which opposes some forms of contraception based on the religious views of its founder David Green, a preacher’s son.
“The foundation of our business has been, and will continue to be strong values, and honoring the Lord in a manner consistent with biblical principles,” a statement on the Hobby Lobby website reads, adding that it closes on Sundays.
The 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals agreed with Hobby Lobby that corporations have the same religious rights as individuals. Other, more reasonable courts such as the 3rd Circuit, have held that “for-profit, secular corporations cannot engage in religious exercise” and that a business owner’s religious rights do not allow that owner to impose his religion on his business’s employees. That decision, Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius (3rd Cir., July 26, 2013), will also be reviewed by the Supreme Court
“Corporations don’t have a right of conscience, women do,” says Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. “As Margaret Sanger pointed out long ago, ‘No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her body. No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother.’ ”
Hobby Lobby’s founder objects to Plan B (the “morning-after” pill) and ella (the “week-after” pill), and two types of intrauterine devices. “These abortion-causing drugs go against our faith,” Green told NPR.
“What next?” wonders Gaylor. “Jehovah’s Witnesses employers claiming insurance coverage of blood transfusions violates their company’s religious rights? Scientologists refusing mandates for mental health coverage? Employers do not have the right to impose personal religious views upon employees by denying workers basic health care benefits.”
Major medical groups submitted a brief on behalf of the government in the Hobby Lobby case, noting that the morning-after pill is not an abortion and cannot stop pregnancy after fertilization takes place, but instead prevents ovulation.
More than 70 lawsuits have been filed in federal court, at least a third by Roman Catholic dioceses, challenging birth control coverage benefits. FFRF spoke out strongly last year against the interference of U.S. Catholic bishops against the contraceptive mandate, running a full-page ad in The New York Times and several other newspapers, advising, “It’s time to quit the Catholic Church.”
On Nov. 1, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled 2-1 in favor of the Catholic owners of two Ohio produce companies who oppose the contraceptive mandate. Some of its delivery trucks bear signs saying, “It’s not a choice, it’s a child.” In the majority opinion, Judge Janice Rogers Brown, a George W. Bush appointee, said the company would be forced to be “complicit in a grave moral wrong.”
FFRF ran two dozen full-page newspaper ads this year countering Hobby Lobby’s annual disinformation campaign, in which it places hundreds of ads on July 4 claiming that America is a Christian nation. FFRF was censored by only one newspaper during that ad campaign, the Daily Oklahoman, which shares hometown “pride” with Hobby Lobby.
FFRF also fact-checked Hobby Lobby’s 2013 full-page ad. To view the interactive exposé researched by attorney Andrew Seidel and designed by Harvard Law School intern Charles Roslof, scroll to the Sept. 3, 2013, press release at:
“We ask other secular and feminist organizations to join us in speaking out against religious control of women’s bodies,” said FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. “Hobby Lobby needs to find a different hobby than imposing ‘biblical values’ on women employees.
“Exercise your freedom — and shop somewhere else!”
Article (2): Islam is the state religion, and Arabic is its official language, and the principles of Islamic Sharia are the main source of legislation.
Section of proposed new Egyptian Constitution
Religion Clause, 12-8-13
So if there is enough evidence to warrant belief in the Quran or the works of L. Ron Hubbard or that Moses parted the Red Sea, we ought to believe those things. There isn’t sufficient evidence, and that’s why people invoke faith. You would not need to invoke faith if you have sufficient evidence.
Peter Boghossian, philosophy instructor and author of “A Manual for Creating Atheists”
Religion News Service, 11-19-13
God don’t make no junk.
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, speaking to the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition in Des Moines
Des Moines Register, 11-10-13
Every day is a day that we’re full of life. We’re with our families, we see sunrises, sunsets. We eat, we breathe, we have art. It’s a total, total celebration of every single day. Calling someone who loves every day of their life “angry” seems a little bit odd.
Author Penn Jillette, rebutting a Chicago radio host who asked if Every Day Is An Atheist Holiday was an “angry” title
In his book Profiles in Courage, John F. Kennedy talked about how important it is for public officials to educate public opinion rather than pander to public opinion that has not been informed by the facts. In this situation, the school board chose to pander to a boisterous crowd instead of educate them concerning the requirements of the U.S. Constitution. And now they have to pay a price — albeit with taxpayers’ dollars — for their foolish, cowardly, and illegal decision. (Taxpayers pay the district’s insurance premiums, which likely will go up at least in part because of the stupidity that the district has displayed in this matter.) The ACLU and the Freedom From Religion Foundation should be commended for upholding the law and the rights of religious minorities in this case. All blame should go to the school board and those who egged them on in their unlawful, intolerant, and hopeless course.
Online comment by J.C. Sommer on the successful suit to remove a Jesus portrait in a school in Jackson, Ohio
Columbus Dispatch, 11-30-13
First her pastor convinced her to quit her job to do full-time ministry at the church. Now the pastor is pressuring my wife to sow a financial seed into the ministry, which would mean tapping heavily into our savings.
Comment by “Sick of These Preachers” to “Ask Tamara: Pastor is Ruining My Marriage!”
Lee Bailey’s Electronic Urban Report, 11-4-13
It depends on your luck. You can be an atheist and tell people and nothing can happen to you. Or you can be fired from work, your life can be destroyed, acts of violence can be taken against you. It depends where you are, the circle of people around you. For me, the people at work don’t know. The people at school didn’t know. You have to keep your opinions to yourself. It’s a stressful situation.
Ayman Emam, 28, Cairo, who started the Egyptian Atheists Community on Facebook, on how atheists are threated
Al Jazeera, 11-18-13
During the service, attendees stomped their feet, clapped their hands and cheered as Jones and Evans led the group through rousing renditions of “Lean on Me,” “Here Comes the Sun” and other hits that took the place of gospel songs. Congregants dissolved into laughter at a get-to-know-you game that involved clapping and slapping the hands of the person next to them and applauded as members of the audience spoke about community service projects they had started in L.A.
News story on the Sunday Assembly, which envisions “a godless congregation in every town, city and village that wants one”
Associated Press, 11-11-13
You’re a good Catholic fellow as I am. That’s not the way Catholic people — that’s not the way anybody with morals — should do anything.
Statement at sentencing by Florida Judge Russell Healey which resulted in the appeals court ordering the defendant to be resentenced by a different judge
Florida Times-Union, 11-7-13
We were disappointed to learn that former President George W. Bush has decided to move ahead with his plan to speak at a fundraising event for an evangelical proselytizing group whose stated goal is to convert Jews to Christianity.
Abraham Foxman, Anti-Defamation League national director, on Bush’s speech to the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute in Dallas
The bible does not specifically speak about sequester cuts, or any other fiscal proposal or funding law enacted by the U.S. Specific directions for tax policy are never spelled out in scripture.
Rob Schwarzwalder, Family Research Council vice president, “God and the IRS: What the bible can teach us about tax policy”
Washington Post, 11-11-13
God is still there. The Filipino soul is stronger than any typhoon.
Fr. Lito Capeding, pastor of Shrine of the Holy Cross, Daphne, Ala., on Typhoon Haiyan
Mobile Press-Register, 11-12-13
All politicians now have the moral obligation to work for the repeal of this sinful and objectionable legislation. We must pray for deliverance from this evil which has penetrated our state and our church.
Thomas Paprocki, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Springfield, Ill., announcing he’ll offer “prayers of supplication and exorcism” Nov. 20, the day when Gov. Pat Quinn was scheduled to sign a same-sex marriage bill into law
State Journal-Register, 11-14-13
Paprocki might consider directing that exorcism toward his own heart. He might be surprised at what demons fly out.
Columnist Neil Steinberg, noting that 47% of Catholics attended Mass once a week in 1974 compared to 24% now
Chicago Sun-Times, 11-17-13
If I won the lottery and could afford to live in Manhattan, no one would care, but here, I can have an effect. Not to create more atheists, but to simply create a place that the secular can call home. I would never say that I am the answer for DeRidder [La.], but for this community I know I am the question.
Jerry DeWitt, former evangelical pastor who stayed in DeRidder to “minister” to atheists and the secular community
The Daily Beast, 11-17-13
I looked up the verse Jeff put on the bag [Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”] and had to laugh. How can someone so smart be so gullible? The idea of trusting or believing that someone has control over your future is the definition of insanity. I will continue to trust people I’ve actually met to help chart my course.
Virginia businessman Brian McMahon, an atheist, canceling his sponsorship of aspiring pro golfer Jeff Cochran
One sign that caught the attention of the local newspaper was the message I put up after Michael Jackson died last year. It read: THE KING OF POP IS DEAD. THE KING OF KINGS STILL LIVES.
Darrel Brandon, pastor at Clay City [Ill.] Christian Church, “How I devise my church sign messages”
If you want to do something about the climate, you want to do something about the weather, there is only one thing that we can do to affect climate or affect weather and that is to pray to Yahweh.
Bryan Fischer, American Family Association
“Focal Point With Bryan Fischer,” 9-13-13
[Los Angeles Cardinal Roger] Mahony and his aides insisted on secrecy even when lives were at risk. In one case, the archdiocese was informed that a man dying of AIDS had been having sex with a parish priest, who in turn was abusing high school students. At the time, the average life expectancy after an AIDS diagnosis was 18 months. Yet church officials did nothing to alert the priest or the students.
Newspaper story on cover-ups of sex abuse by clergy
Los Angeles Times, 12-1-13
I want to wish everyone a really, really merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, all the holidays —all you infidel atheists out there, I want to wish you the very best also. I don’t know what you celebrate during the holiday season, I myself celebrate the birth of Christ, but it’s your choice, and I respect your choice. If you want to celebrate nothing, and just get together with friends, that’s good, too. All the best.
Brian Pallister, Conservative Party of Canada member, speaking in the Legislative Building
Winnipeg Free Press, 12-2-13
I’m sure that right-wing advocacy groups raise of a lot of money this time of year by hyping a fake war on Christmas. But the truth is that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution already protects schoolchildren’s religious freedom — whether they are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu or none of the above — and nothing that the Texas Legislature passes is going to improve on what the Founders gave us.
Terri Burke, executive director, American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, on the new Texas “Merry Christmas” law
Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 12-7-13
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national state-church watchdog based in Madison, Wis., has scored another victory for secularism on public college campuses.
Late last year, FFRF persuaded the University of Wisconsin-Madison to remove Gideon bibles from the Lowell Center, its campus inn. Now it has likewise persuaded the Memorial Union at Iowa State University-Ames to remove bibles from its hotel rooms.
Richard S. Reynolds, director of the union, responded Feb. 13 by email: "The concern you raised about the availability of Bibles in the guest rooms of the Memorial Union has been taken under advisement and, effective March 1, 2014, the Bibles will be removed from the Hotel rooms."
FFRF received a complaint about the religious propaganda on state property from one of its Iowa members.
"It is a fundamental principle of Establishment Clause jurisprudence that a government entity cannot in any way promote, advance, or otherwise endorse religion," wrote Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott in FFRF's Jan. 29 letter to Reynolds. "If a state-run university has a policy of providing a Christian religious text to guests, that policy facilitates illegal endorsement of Christianity over other religions and over nonreligion. Permitting members of outside religious groups the privilege of placing their religious literature in public university guest rooms also constitutes state endorsement and advancement of religion.
"Individuals, not the state, must determine what religious texts are worth reading."
"We're delighted to see reason and the Constitution prevailing. We can all sleep easier knowing secularism is being honored at our public universities," said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.
"Many nonbelievers greatly object to its primitive and dangerous instructions to beat children, kill homosexuals, atheists and infidels," Gaylor added, "and that it sanctions the subjugation of women, who are scapegoated for bringing sin and death into the world.
"Imagine the uproar if someone found a Quran or Richard Dawkins' 'The God Delusion' in their state-supported hotel room. Government can't take sides on the religious debate."
FFRF, which has more than 20,000 members, represents nearly 150 Iowa members.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, concerned about dangers to public health posed by ritual circumcision, has contacted New York state, local and national officials about the religious practice.
According to reports by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, ultra-orthodox Jewish parents are exposing newborns to herpes simplex virus infections by allowing adult men called mohels to place their mouths on boys' penises to draw blood away from the circumcision wound. At least two infants have died from the infection, two others have suffered brain damage, and other victims must deal with a chronic, lifelong infection that can cause painful lesions.
The "bris" or "brit milah" is traditionally done on the eighth day of life and is followed by a celebratory meal. Oral suction of the wound, "metzitzah b'peh," is limited to primarily Hasidic communities.
FFRF is a state-church watchdog based in Madison, Wis., with about 20,000 members nationwide and more than 1,100 in New York state. Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote a letter Feb. 12 to several officials, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, District Attorney Cyrus Vance, heads of the state and city health departments and U.S. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer.
"To put the seriousness of this infection in perspective, the reported cases show that a newborn infected with HSV by a mohel is seven times more likely to die than a climber attempting to summit Everest or a U.S. soldier fighting in World War I," Seidel wrote.
"Currently, the only regulation to protect children from this outrageous practice is informed parental consent. This must change. The government should stop placing adults' desire to impose their religion above the health, safety, and lives of defenseless infants," he said.
FFRF called on Vance to prosecute those responsible. "No person's religious rights would be hindered by prohibiting this criminal act. Without regulation, the helpless infants' rights are trampled in the name of a religion they cannot begin to grasp. Adults do not have a religious right to expose their children to disease and death."
Seidel noted that current state law bans knowingly transmitting an infectious venereal disease, endangering the welfare of the child and reckless endangerment. "The exceptions carved out for religion could be amended or these laws could actually be enforced."
Evolution is the scientific theory that explains Earth's wide variety of species and their striking similarities. Evolution explains how species descended from a common ancestor and were modified by natural selection during that descent. Essentially, parents pass traits on to offspring and different individuals have different traits that give them a competitive edge in passing on those traits to offspring.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation by early December had placed freethinking winter solstice signs inside three state capitols — in Illinois, Florida and Wisconsin — to counter nativity scenes there.
When a nativity scene was unexpectedly placed by Religious Right groups in Florida for the first time, FFRF went to work, obtaining a permit, ordering banners and a stand. Tallahassee FFRF members Gary Whittenberger and Warren Brackmann placed the display Dec. 5. The banner depicts the “nativity” of the Bill of Rights (Dec. 15 is Bill of Rights Day), and founding fathers gazing in adoration at a Bill of Rights parchment on a crib. The Chicago area chapter FFRF designed the banner, which was also erected in Daley Plaza. (See story on page 3.)
The manger scene was placed with great religious fanfare, hymns and prayer in the capitol in Tallahassee: “We are not trying to offend anyone, but we are taking a stand for Christ in Christmas, a stand for truth and religious freedom,” said Pam Olsen, who organized the event. “And what better place to do this than the heart of our state government.”
FFRF begs to differ. “We don’t think there should be religion or irreligion in any State Capitol, but if they’re going to start allowing religion and call it a public forum, then certainly the nonreligious point of view should be there, too,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president.
FFRF’s “may reason prevail” message was also placed in the Wisconsin Capitol in Madison for its 18th visit during the month of December.
The solstice message was composed by Anne Nicol Gaylor, Foundation co-president emerita, and says:
“At this season of the Winter Solstice, may reason prevail.
There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell.
There is only our natural world.
Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”
Joining the classic sign is FFRF’s tongue-in-cheek “natural nativity scene,” which was unveiled in 2011 to challenge a manger scene placed in the Capitol by a Wisconsin division of Focus on the Family.
FFRF’s display, crafted by Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel, features a baby who is black and female, as Botticelli’s Venus declares, “It’s a girl.” The “wise men” are atheists and scientific giants Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein, plus “wise woman” Emma Goldman,a with humorist Mark Twain and founding “father” Thomas Jefferson thrown in for good measure. The sign declares “Celebrate the Solstice, The Reason for the Season.”
FFRF placed Anne Gaylor’s wording in the Illinois Capitol in Springfield in reaction to a manger scene first placed there six years ago. FFRF member Steve Foulke, driving eight hours roundtrip, placed the sign Dec. 1 in advance of the religious ceremony when the crèche was put up.
“We’re here on our soapbox to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ,” said the president and chief legal counsel of the Thomas More Society, Julia Zanoza, chair of the Springfield Nativity Scene Committee. She said the goal is to celebrate the “birth of Jesus Christ” and to promote “private expressions of religious faith in the public square.”
Also participating in the prayerful event was the notorious Bishop Thomas Paprocki, of the Springfield Catholic Diocese, who was introduced by Zanoza as a “pro-family warrior.” Paprocki notoriously held an “exorcism” on Nov. 20 to protest same-sex marriage being signed into law in Illinois.
At the manger ceremony, Paprocki preached that gay couples must have a true definition of love, and that the truth is not a thing but a person — Jesus Christ, hence making clear the Religious Right import of the “baby Jesus” depicted.
Focus on the Family has announced a goal to get nativity scenes in all 50 state capitols. “If a devotional nativity display is allowed, then there must be ‘room at the inn’ for all points of view, including irreverency and freethought,” said Gaylor.
Thanks to Staff Attorneys Patrick Elliott and Andrew Seidel for coordinating permits.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation and plaintiffs Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker won a significant ruling Nov. 22 in federal court declaring unconstitutional the 1954 “parish exemption” benefiting “ministers of the gospel.”
The challenge, filed in September 2011, has far-reaching ramifications for up to 83% of ministers who receive a housing allowance. (Read a story on the clergy outcry against this decision on page 17.)
“May we say ‘Hallelujah?’ ” said Gaylor. She and Barker are FFRF co-presidents. “The judge agrees with us that Congress may not reward ministers for fighting a ‘godless and anti-religious’ movement by letting them pay less income tax. The rest of us should not pay more because clergy pay less.”
The government has 60 days to appeal. While enjoining Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew and IRS Acting Commissioner Daniel Werfel from enforcing the tax break, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb for the Western District of Wisconsin stayed her ruling until the conclusion of any appeal, as is typical in significant cases.
The law allows “ministers of the gospel” paid through a housing allowance to exclude that allowance from taxable income. It is not a tax “deduction” but is a tax exclusion. Ministers may, for instance, use this 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.
Crabb issued a 43-page decision declaring 26 U.S.C. §107(2) unconstitutional. Quoting the Supreme Court, Crabb noted, “Every tax exemption constitutes subsidy.”
Crabb wrote, “Some might view a rule against preferential treatment as exhibiting hostility toward religion, but equality should never be mistaken for hostility. It is important to remember that the Establishment Clause protects the religious and nonreligious alike.”
“The court’s decision does not evince hostility to religion, nor should it even seem controversial,” said Richard L. Bolton, FFRF’s attorney in the case. “The court has simply recognized the reality that a tax-free housing allowance available only to ministers is a significant benefit from the government and is unconstitutionally provided on the basis of religion.”
The benefit to clergy is enormous, saving an estimated $2.3 billion in taxes in the years 2002-07 alone, according to a 2002 statement by U.S. Rep Jim Ramstad, R-Minn., cited in Crabb’s ruling. Clergy may use the housing allowance for rent or mortgages and home improvements, including furnishings, property taxes and maintenance.
In 2002, a case went before the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals when the IRS sued Rev. Rick Warren of Saddleback Church. Warren had claimed all or nearly all of his California housing costs for several years as a tax-free parsonage allowance.
The 9th Circuit was poised to rule against Warren, so Congress immediately passed the Clergy Housing Allowance Clarification Act of 2002 to moot the case. From 2002 on, the law restricted the parsonage exemption to “reasonable rental value.”
The 1954 bill’s sponsor, Rep. Peter Mack, D-Ill., argued that ministers should be rewarded for “carrying on such a courageous fight against this [godless and anti-religious world movement].”
Judge: No secular purpose
“I agree with plaintiffs that §107(2) does not have a secular purpose or effect,” wrote Crabb, adding that a reasonable observer would view it “as an endorsement of religion.” Crabb wrote that “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.”
All taxpayers are burdened by taxes, Crabb noted. “Defendants do not identify any reason why a requirement on ministers to pay taxes on a housing allowance is more burdensome for them than for the many millions of others who must pay taxes on income used for housing expenses.”
Crabb rejected the claim that the 1954 law was necessary to eliminate “discrimination” against ministers not living in parsonages. “A desire to assist disadvantaged churches and ministers is not a secular purpose and it does not produce a secular effect when similarly disadvantaged secular organizations and employees are excluded from the benefit.”
She added, “Under defendants’ view, there would be no limit to the amount of support the government could provide to religious groups over secular ones.”
Crabb invoked the Supreme Court’s 1989 case, Texas Monthly Inc. v. Bullock, calling exemptions for religious publishers from having to collect state sales taxes “unjustifiable awards of assistance to religious organizations.”
“If a statute imposed a tax solely against ministers (or granted an exemption to everyone except ministers) without a secular reason for doing so, that law would violate the Constitution just as §107(2) does,” Crabb reasoned.
Other cases pending
Crabb dismissed as implausible the government’s bizarre argument that atheists Gaylor and Barker could “conceivably” qualify as “ministers of the gospel.” The government put forth that argument seeking to deny them standing and thus get the challenge dismissed.
Gaylor and Barker, as directors of an educational organization advocating atheism and freethought, earned standing because they have not been entitled to claim the housing allowance FFRF designates for them, while any “minister of the gospel” may do so for promoting religion.
Crabb’s decision noted that Treasury Secretary Donald Regan wrote a 1984 memorandum advising repeal of §107 because there “is no evidence that the financial circumstances of ministers justify special tax treatment.” Ministerial compensation may be low compared to other professions, but “not compared to taxpayers in general.” The recommendation was withdrawn after clergy protests.
In 1921, Congress passed a law allowing ministers to exclude from gross income the rental value of housing, such as a parsonage, received as part of compensation, saying it was for the convenience of the employer. Since FFRF does not provide Gaylor and Barker with a house, FFRF voluntarily dropped that portion of its challenge.
The far-ranging ruling makes interesting reading, even working in Robert Ingersoll’s maxim, “With soap, baptism is a good thing” (included on FFRF’s “Debaptism Certificate”).
FFRF has three federal lawsuits against the IRS for preferential treatment of religion versus irreligion. FFRF and its plaintiffs have been found to have preliminary standing in a challenge to the IRS for failure to enforce church electioneering restrictions.
FFRF has also been found to have standing to pursue its challenge of an IRS provision which exempts church denominations from an annual reporting requirement that applies to all other 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations, essentially shielding them from public accountability.
Read the ruling: