Tax Exempt Status and the Privilege of Churches

“What I would say to the churches is be bold and challenge them and say in our church we’re still going to discuss good and evil and what we think of it, and so be it if the government wants to come and challenge us because if we don’t stand up and try and protect our God-given rights they’re going to be taken from us.”

Rand Paul to CBN host David Brody

Listening to Rand Paul’s latest appeal to Christian church pastors to speak out on political matters, you would think American churches are embroiled in a spiritual war with the federal government. Are pastors being threatened by the IRS on pain of death to keep silent when it comes to endorsing political candidates or causes? Have they been drug into the street, had their family and homes taken from them? No.

What Rand Paul is attempting to doing here is to re-frame this issue away from the truth. Rand Paul needs churches to feel like they are victims, so he is framing a new ‘truth’ so they will be free to play that role. He wants us all to believe that churches are being suppressed by not being able to take positions on political matters. The truth is that churches are completely, 100% free to take positions in politics – but there is a cost.

In an agreement with the American people, through the law of the United States for 501(c)3 organizations, churches have been given the benefit of operating as non-profit entities, which means they do not have to pay taxes on the money they bring in. In the agreement to receive this benefit there are some costs for churches. One of those costs is not being able to take positions on political matters. This restriction is not unique to churches; all non-profits are prohibited from taking positions on political matters. It is a perfectly reasonable system that distinguishes between organizations that want to exercise political power or make a profit (which must pay taxes) and those that want to operate for the benefit of a community and not make a profit (which do not have to pay taxes).

This is a simple cost / benefit proposition. For this benefit there is this cost. That’s life in the real world. Every benefit has a cost. If churches are no longer happy with the cost, they are perfectly free to give up the benefits of being non-profit organizations, and they can pay taxes on the money they bring in (which is a substantial amount for some churches, but enough to at least maintain a building for most).

The really sad thing here is the privilege, dishonesty and immaturity of the American conservative Christian culture that is being exposed. Churches have actually enjoyed greater privilege than other non-profits in America. While all other non-profits of the 501(c)3 classification have been required to submit tax filings every year, to prove that their income is being spent as they claim it is, this filing requirement has not been enforced on churches. But even with this added privilege, the churches are not willing to stand up to their side of the agreement with the American people that allows them to be tax-exempt. They act as if they deserve this privilege and even more, and if it is denied to them they will act like five year-olds and throw a fit.

The best thing the secular community can do in regard to this growing movement for churches to wield political power is to rationally point out the truth of the matter: being tax-exempt is a benefit that comes with the cost of not taking political positions, and if churches want to take positions on these political matters, they are perfectly free to give up their tax exempt status. The end.

Dan Patrick Huffs and Puffs at CSCOPE Users

Dan Patrick calls everybody a poopoo head.

Dan Patrick calls everybody a poopoo head.

State Sen. Dan Patrick doesn’t like poopoo heads! Poopoo heads are mean and do things he doesn’t like! And he is totally going to tell on them and get them in trouble.

But seriously, Dan Patrick is acting like a six year-old. He said CSCOPE is bad. He doesn’t have any evidence – but who are you to demand evidence? – it’s bad! In his underdeveloped mind, because Dan Patrick doesn’t like CSCOPE, everybody should listen to him and do what he says. And if you as a school district or teacher are so brazen as to disobey the commandments of Dan Patrick and continue to use CSCOPE lessons, well he is going to sic the Attorney General on you.

CSCOPE is a system of lesson plans produced by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) meant to supplement textbooks. The lesson plans provide activities for students to learn materials required by the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) curriculum outside of the usually dry context of textbooks. These plans have been used by about 70% of Texas school districts since 2006.

Toward the end of 2012 some reactionary conservative types began to question three of the lesson plans in the Social Studies category. They claimed these lesson plans were anti-American and pro-Islam. From what we can tell, however, when they claim a lesson was pro-Islam, what they meant was that the lesson presented the precepts of Islam (as required by TEKS) without also noting how its claims are false and it is evil. And when they claimed a lesson was anti-American, what they meant was the lesson dared to question whether every action ever taken by the United States has been moral and right.

The people making these accusations seem to believe the United States belongs to the Christian God and all her activities have been ordained by that god. To these people, to question either god or country is a high crime. To these people, well rounded critical thinking skills threaten their worldview.

Eventually they got the attention of Sen. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Greg Abbott. Dan Patrick was the Chairperson of the Senate Education Committee during this past legislative session. He began a witch hunt against CSCOPE based on the claims about these three lessons. After much accusation and little evidence, TEA folded to the political pressure and agreed to stop producing CSCOPE lesson plans. Bills meant to stop CSCOPE were filed toward the end of the legislative session. Senate Bill 1406, passed during the regular session this year, requires any “curriculum management system [developed] by a regional education service center” to be reviewed by the SBOE. This is simply a state level administrative requirement and provides no penalty for the use of any such material by a school district. Since CSCOPE has shut down and the lessons have been put into the public domain, it does not seem to be part of such a system any longer.

With CSCOPE shut down, many small school districts have found themselves without supporting lesson plans as they near the Fall 2013 semester, and having to divert funds from other school programs to pay for new lesson plans. Because of this, TEA has made the CSCOPE lesson plans available in the public domain, and many smaller school districts have decided to continue using them.

When the SBOE noted that they did not have the power to stop local school districts from using the materials of their choice, Dan Patrick huffed and puffed and threaten to sue anyone who continues to use them; or, he volunteered Attorney General Greg Abbot to sue them, at least.

This is how a six year-old acts. A six year old says something and expects everybody to do it. A grown adult who wants to be Lieutenant Governor of Texas would have a legal basis for the demands he is making before threatening to have the Attorney General go after them, but not Dan Patrick. It doesn’t seem to matter much to him that there are no laws being broken by school districts or teachers that use CSCOPE lessons plans. No legislation has been passed outlawing them.

So what is Dan Patrick’s plan? It’s either super secret or he doesn’t have one.

The 2014 election landscape is beginning to take shape. With current Attorney General Greg Abbot as the likely Republican candidate for Governor, and Dan Patrick as the likely candidate for Lieutenant Governor combined with Texas’ penchant for only electing Republicans to statewide office, this is a worrisome scenario. It is not clear what Abbot’s position on this situation is, but if he does not want to spend his possible first term as governor of Texas chasing around Dan Patrick’s witch hunts, then he is going to need to put a stop to this. On the other hand, if the Abbot and Patrick duo can work up this frenzy into a mess of Todd-Aiken-esque sound bites, it might provide Texas with a very interesting election season.

Dan Patrick is throwing a bit of a temper-tantrum right now. He isn’t getting his way and he’ll throw down with some kicking and screaming if he has to. Secular Texas has drafted a letter to Attorney General Greg Abbott to inquire as to his intentions. With any luck Dan Patrick will get sent to bed early with no dessert.

Do we need more evidence of the war on women in Texas?

Tampon Confiscation

Tampon Confiscation

If you haven’t already witnessed the outrage on the news, Twitter (#tampongate), or Rachel Maddow’s blog, let me fill you in quickly on the actions of the Texas DPS this past Friday at the Texas Capitol. Upon entering the Senate Gallery to observe the hearing on House Bill 2, Texas Department of Public Service Officers, who serve as security for the Capitol building, were searching the bags of those entering. By itself, this isn’t that big of a deal. Liquids and food are not allowed in the gallery because it is historic and they want to protect it. What is not understandable is what else DPS Officers were confiscating upon entrance: tampons and maxi-pads. Yes. Security officers were taking and disposing of feminine hygiene products upon entry of the Senate Gallery. This meant that women currently menstruating, about 20% of women at any given time, and women soon expecting to be menstruating, another 10% of women, were DENIED access to the Senate Gallery unless they were willing to sacrifice their personal hygiene.

Through the debate the last six weeks over the attempt by Texas’ religious conservatives to impose their personal religious convictions on Texas by restricting access to abortion services, I have avoided any reference to this being a ‘war on women’, as has so often been proclaimed, because I understood how it could simply be an ideological disagreement. That is, until this moment. This is when I realized I was wrong. It was suddenly made clear that Texas is waging a war on women.

The incident on Friday was either an outright attack on women or criminal disregard for the rights of women in order to protect the pride of the all-male leadership in Texas. But let’s be clear, either way it is evidence of a war against women. From the mounting evidence, including Perry’s recent veto of a bill that would guarantee equal pay for women, it is becoming more obvious that what is going on in Texas is purposeful.

To cynically use the normal and natural processes of the female body as a tool to keep as many women as possible from participating in and observing their own government shows not only the contempt in which the leaders of Texas hold women, but also the fear they have of them. One would be hard pressed to find another example of the disdain and hatred that can be expressed toward women in the last few years without turning to the ever-present, barbaric teachings of Leviticus, which religious conservatives claim still to follow.

It is an amazing testament to the spirit of the women of Texas fighting for their rights that the Senate Gallery was still filled with women, despite this attack on them. As a male Texan, watching this story unfold broke my heart, and inflated my already growing disappointment in our state. However, the courage and strength displayed by the women at the Capitol filled me with hope at the same time.

Reports from those at the Capitol on Friday claim Senator Kirk Watson (D-Austin) put a stop to the confiscations. We are not sure how this happened or what was said, but we are thankful for his actions.

In an attempt to cover-up their obvious guilt, the Texas DPS has released two separate stories to justify their actions. First, the DPS claimed they intercepted information that a protest was planned to throw feminine hygiene products from the gallery. Even if this were true, which is hard to believe considering there has been no evidence brought forward of such a protest being planned, there is a line that one cannot cross as an officer of the law. We do not sacrifice the Constitution of the United States, with the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments guaranteeing equal treatment under the law for all citizens, to ensure that David Dewhurst isn’t embarrassed. Even if one thousand maxi-pads had been thrown from the gallery, the results would have been minimal (picking them up) compared to the unconstitutional attack on women the DPS undertook.

Later on in the day the DPS added to their story and claimed that they had confiscated “bottles of urine” and “jars of feces” that some attempted to bring into the Senate Gallery (once again, no evidence of this being true has come forward; including no Twitter images of feces or urine confiscation and no knowledge of feces or urine confiscation by the DPS officers doing the searches), throwing into the middle that this is why they were confiscating tampons and maxi-pads. Adding another false reason to an already false reason does not add up to a reason to violate constitutionally guaranteed rights.

In the end there is absolutely no excuse for the actions of the DPS and Texas leadership. This was either a cynical and outright attack on the women of Texas or a brilliant demonstration of the criminal lack of concern or compassion for Texas women and their rights. Either way, the attack is equally as damaging to women and our State. If the DPS and the leaders of Texas cannot see the truth of this then they need to take a step back from their positions of power, which they are currently using as a tool of abuse, and seriously examine the unchecked privilege in which they operate.

The DPS should be ashamed and the leaders of Texas should be ashamed. That is if they are capable of feeling shame for such actions. It is growing increasingly obvious, however, that they are not. After Friday, this war against women does not seem to be an accident. It does not seem to be a simple misunderstanding over differing ideologies. This specific attack against women seems to have been a targeted and obvious attempt to remove women from the political process and possibly revealing the desire by the all-male leadership in Texas to return Texas to the days when men had exclusive access to power and an exclusive voice in public policy.

We, as Texans, need to take the necessary actions to not only guarantee the rights of women in Texas, and their access to the political process, but to ensure that we have more women who are willing to stand up to this abuse of privilege in positions of power in our State.