Thursday, May 28, 2009

Liberty University's Tax-Exempt Status Challenged

We were bantering about this in the comments the other day. You may have seen the news recently that Baptist college Liberty University has banned the Democratic Club on campus. Decided that Democratic values were not consistent with the school's particular flavor of Christianity, that is, Jerry Falwell flavor.

It is not often that I have the pleasure of quoting the Associated Baptist Press here, but this is how they tell the story:
A church-state watchdog group says the IRS should review Liberty University's tax-exempt status for its decision to revoke recognition of its Democratic Party student club.

University officials ordered the student group May 15 to cease using the school's name, logo, seal or mark in any of its publications, including electronic postings on a website, Facebook or Twitter.

Mark Hine, vice president for student affairs, said the school could not "lend support to a club whose parent organization stands against the moral principles held by Liberty University."

"Even though this club may not support the more radical planks of the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party is still the parent organization of the club on campus," Hine said. "The Democratic Party platform is contrary to the mission of LU and to Christian doctrine (supports abortion, federal funding of abortion, advocates repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, promotes the 'LGBT' agenda, hate crimes, which include sexual orientation and gender identity, socialism, etc)."

Hine said candidates supported by the party "are directly contrary to the mission" of the university, founded by the late Jerry Falwell. Group says IRS should review Liberty University's tax-exempt status

The government doesn't ask much of a religion: stay out of politics. That's all. Don't campaign from the pulpit. Don't give church funds to political candidates. Stuff like that. You can preach all you want about the principles of social and personal behavior, a church can be against abortion, for instance, but it can't campaign on behalf of a candidate who agrees with their position, or against one they don't like. I think they can print a flyer that says how the candidates feel on the issues, but they can't put devil horns on the ones they don't like and halos on the ones they do like, no exes and checkmarks.

Of course preachers have been crossing that line forever, but there has to be some amount of enforcement. If you're gonna break the law, you got to be cool about it.

Banning the Democratic Club is not being cool about it. That is called "being partisan," sometimes known as "taking sides in politics." Goes by many names.

There's nothing wrong with it, you just lose your tax-exempt status if you do that. You're not a religion any more, you're a political advocacy group, and those pay taxes. Nobody's stopping you, you'll just have to pay up like any other organization.
Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said May 27 that Liberty may have violated federal tax law by denying recognition to a Democratic club while recognizing one for Republican students.

"Liberty University is a tax-exempt institution and isn't allowed to support one party over another," Lynn said. "If the school insists on pushing policies that favor Republicans over Democrats, it should have to surrender its tax exemption."

Yeah, yeah, I just said that.

Here's their side of the story, you'll only get this from the Associated Baptist Press.
Liberty President Jerry Falwell, Jr., said May 25 that a lot of the media reporting about the decision was wrong, and it started when Terry McAuliffe, a Democratic candidate for Virginia's governorship, called a telephone press conference to talk about the Democratic club formed by Liberty students.

Falwell said the university had not "banned" Democrats, as some headlines proclaimed. He said the club can continue to meet on campus but will not be officially recognized, meaning it cannot use Liberty's name or receive university funds.

"Parents and students support the university because they believe in its distinctly Christian identity and mission," Falwell said. "Liberty University is pro-life and believes that marriage between one man and one woman provides the best environment for children. Liberty University will not lend its name or financial support to any student group that advances causes contrary to its mission."

Falwell said the school also would not endorse a Republican student group that supported abortion rights. "Liberty stands for certain core values," he said, "not for a political party."

Heh, working pretty close to the line there, dude, good luck with that.

I hope this does go to court. I want to see what happens. The Christian right has been given free rein to run this country into the ground, it's time to consider putting some limits on them as the Founding Fathers intended.
But Lynn said campus political clubs often endorse and work on behalf of candidates, amounting to an in-kind contribution. By allowing students to support only one party, Lynn said the university appeared to be taking sides.

"As a tax-exempt institution, Liberty is barred from intervening in elections or showing preference for one political party over another," Lynn said in a letter to the IRS. "By banning a Democratic club while permitting a Republican club to exist and offering funding to the latter but not the former, university officials appear to be operating in violation of federal tax law."

Lynn said he found the incident "very troubling" and urged officials "to investigate this matter and ensure that the law is enforced."

Let's keep an eye on this story, I have the feeling it's more important than it appears right now.

12 Comments:

Anonymous Robert said...

Seems pretty clear to me.

It strikes me that hard-right religious groups talk about lgbt rights and abortion in the same breath, as though they were equally important issues to them.

May 28, 2009 11:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

actually, Robert's right: abortion is a much more serious matter than lbgt rights; not even close; I'd also say things like socialism are pretty far down the list of priorities

still, Falwell's also right: despite the rhetoric, the Democratic club is not banned from campus, it is simply not allowed to associate itself with Liberty; if freedom of religion means anything, it means you don't have to support a group that advocates against your religious beliefs; take the religion out of that statement and you still have the same truth: if freedom means anything, it means you don't have to support a group that advocates against your beliefs

furthermore, the whole concept that the government can discriminate against religions if they take political positions is unconstitutional

a court case will confirm that and, like Jim, I hope there is one

I've always liked Barry Lynn, btw, but his groups has taken some pretty radical positions over the years that most Americans would disagree with

"The government doesn't ask much of a religion: stay out of politics."

We have a system of seperation of church and state, as envisioned in the teachings of Jesus, and the government has no right to "ask" anything of religion.

"a church can be against abortion, for instance, but it can't campaign on behalf of a candidate who agrees with their position"

why not?

"Banning the Democratic Club is not being cool about it."

they weren't banned; this statement is deceptive

"it started when Terry McAuliffe, a Democratic candidate for Virginia's governorship, called a telephone press conference to talk about the Democratic club formed by Liberty students"

so, this started when the Democratic party chairman tried to associate the Democratic Party with Liberty U

interesting

a political group was trying to associate itself with a religious group and now is complaining because the religious group objected

interesting

"Barry Lynn said... that Liberty may have violated federal tax law"

key word: may

Barry is trying to get the court to legislate here, create new ways to attack religious groups.

"The Christian right has been given free rein to run this country into the ground,"

Well, that's a matter of opinion. You could easily make the same case about labor unions, Barney Frank, Wall Street and Hollywood.

"it's time to consider putting some limits on them as the Founding Fathers intended"

actually, they intended just the opposite-

no governmental interference with religion

"Lynn said ...By allowing students to support only one party...the university appeared to be taking sides."

there you go again, Barry

Falwell said clearly that the students are allowed to support any party they wish

May 28, 2009 1:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To messers Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins, & Stephen S. Nelson a committee of the Danbury Baptist association in the state of Connecticut.

Gentlemen

The affectionate sentiments of esteem & approbation which you are so good as to express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Baptist association, give me the highest satisfaction. my duties dictate a faithful & zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, and in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them becomes more & more pleasing.

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man & his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state. [Congress thus inhibited from acts respecting religion, and the Executive authorised only to execute their acts, I have refrained from presenting even occasional performances of devotion presented indeed legally where an Executive is the legal head of a national church, but subject here, as religious exercises only to the voluntary regulations and discipline of each respective sect.] Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection and blessing of the common Father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves and your religious association, assurances of my high respect & esteem.

(signed) Thomas Jefferson
Jan.1.1802.

May 28, 2009 2:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

sounds like Thomas Jefferson would agree that the government can't discriminate against a religious group based on their poitical advocacy

so much for the "limits" that the Founding Fathers would have placed on religious activity

Thomas Jefferson, btw, was a deist who didn't believe in parts of the Bible so he cut it up and pasted it back together the way he liked it. The product is displayed in the Smithsonian, paid for by the government.

Does Barry Lynn consider that an endorsement of religion by the government?

May 28, 2009 2:57 PM  
Anonymous Robert said...

Does exempting political organizations from taxes if they are also religious organizations, but not those that aren't, constitute endorsement of a religion? Who decides what qualifies as a religion?

Those were essentially the questions Jim and others raised about Liberty U and its policies.

rrjr

Render under Caesar, etc.

May 29, 2009 7:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Political organizations aren't really taxed that much, Robert. Only on their interst income.

A good question, though, is wy should political organizations be taxed at all.

On another tangent, the whole area of taxes could be argued as being a violation of our constitutional right to privacy. In the early 20th
century, the constitution was amended to allow this intrusion. Because of the income tax law, the government has an excuse to examine and monitor all kinds of things about citizens that it would otherwise have no excuse to do.

The same goes for organizations. Taxing them could theoretically give the government a way to attack opposing political parties.

Of course, you may wonder where I found a right to privacy in the Constitution? Ask the guys who wrote Roe v. Wade. They say we have to allow the murder of unborn infants to protect the privacy of mothers.

Which brings me to the Supreme Court.

Back in another century, the first Pres Bush nominated a David Souter, thought to be a fairly conservative guy to te Court.

Before long, we learned he was part of the lunatic fringe.

Now, Sir B.O. has nominated a Sonia Sotomayor to replace the retiring lunatic.

No one knows and can say for sure if Sotomayor is pro-choice. She never had a case involving the right directly but in a handful of cases involving pro-life demonstrators or government funding of abortions, she has consistently favored the pro-life position on those cases. Further, she used to volunteer for an organization that helps women bring their pregnancies to term. Further, none of her friends or colleagues ever remember her voicing any pro-choice convictions.

Could we have a reverse Souter on our hands? A closet pro-lifer?

The White House is sending pro-abortion groups "strong but vague assurances".

I find that vaguely encouraging.

May 29, 2009 7:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speaking of pro life, I found these cool quotes:

Dr. Hymie Gordon, Chairman, Department of Genetics at Mayo Clinic, stated, "By all the criteria of modern molecular biology, life is present from the moment of conception."

Sir William Liley, a key pioneer of fetal therapy, wrote a famous article in 1972, The Foetus as a Personality, in which he shows us why we have moved away from the view of the fetus as an inert, unformed passenger awaiting arrival at the destination of life, and have seen that the fetus is a splendidly functioning human, full of vigor and very much in command of the pregnancy.

Dr. Jerome Lejeune, "Father of Modern Genetics" and discoverer of the cause of Down's Syndrome, stated, "To accept the fact that after fertilization has taken place a new human has come into being is no longer a matter of taste or opinion . . . it is plain experimental evidence."

May 29, 2009 8:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here is a heartwrenching video.....

http://www.priestsforlife.org/images/index.aspx

May 29, 2009 8:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds like gays are afraid that voting citizens of D.C. will not support changing the definition of marriage:

"D.C. City election officials said yesterday that they will expedite their review of a request for a referendum to block a D.C. Council bill recognizing same-sex marriages performed elsewhere, as opponents vowed to fight to keep it off the ballot.

At the heart of the debate is whether same-sex marriage is a civil right that should be protected from the will of the electorate.

Both sides are preparing arguments for the June meeting, highlighting the emotion and tension that surrounds the same-sex marriage debate.

"The civil rights of a minority should never be put up for popular vote. Period," said Michael Crawford, executive director of DC for Marriage, an organization fighting for same-sex marriage. "Just as we never voted on whether African Americans should be treated equally or whether women should have the right to vote, we should not vote on whether gays and lesbians should be treated equally."

Crawford is black, but his characterization of same-sex marriage as a civil rights issue generated a heated response from Kathryn Pearson-West, an African American community activist who lives in Ward 5.

"I really get offended when I hear it, because when you are talking about civil rights, you are talking about African Americans, and civil rights are not the same as same-sex marriage," said Pearson-West, a supporter of the referendum. "This is changing the whole system of marriage, which is one man and one woman, and the citizens deserve to have a say on that.""

May 29, 2009 12:43 PM  
Anonymous Robert said...

Taxes and political advocacy bring up the central question of McCain-Feingold: should the amount of free speech you have be dependent on the amount of disposable money you have. If not, where do we set limits and how do we regulate them.

Used to be voting was determined by property holdings; my Republican friend asserts that I shouldn't be allowed to vote since I rent.

May 29, 2009 4:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

TORONTO -- Former President George W. Bush called former President Bill Clinton "his brother" and the two rarely disagreed in their first-ever appearance together on stage.

The Republican and Democratic ex-presidents defended each other at a Toronto forum on Friday, disappointing some in the crowd of 6,000 who expected a more heated debate.

Bush said that he never liked it when previous administration officials criticized his government but said Clinton was respectful and never did.

Bush declined to criticize the Obama administration, in contrast to former Vice President Dick Cheney, who has been a vocal critic of Obama. Bush, who wasn't asked about Cheney, said there are "plenty of critics in America."

Bush joked about how much time his father, former President George H.W. Bush, and Clinton spend together.

He said his mother, Barbara Bush, "said President Clinton and Father share the stage so much, he's like a son to her."

He said, "So brother, it's good to see you."

Bush joked about the speaking fees, which are normally lucrative for former presidents.

"President Clinton and I used to believe in free speech," Bush said before pausing. "So thanks very much for coming _ we are glad you're here."

The unusual joint appearance found its way into the last monologue performed by comedian Jay Leno in his final night hosting the Tonight Show.

After noting the presidents would appear together that night, Leno remarked wistfully: "I wish I had one more day."

Clinton praised Bush for his AIDS initiatives and also hailed the racial and ethnic diversity of his cabinet choices.

May 30, 2009 11:10 AM  
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