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Reason #5832 to Join the UU

Because religion gets all the breaks.

That is, at least until the bad religions manage to declassify us, even we non-believers can get on the bandwagon. And we might as well. If you are into schadenfreude, it’s nice to know that when the religious right lobbies on behalf of state sponsored religion, they have to be quietly cursing using slang euphemisms like “darnation” to themselves that the heathen get a few of those same benefits.

From the NYT article:

At any moment, state inspectors can step uninvited into one of the three child care centers that Ethel White runs in Auburn, Ala., to make sure they meet state requirements intended to ensure that the children are safe. There must be continuing training for the staff. Her nurseries must have two sinks, one exclusively for food preparation. All cabinets must have safety locks. Medications for the children must be kept under lock and key, and refrigerated.

The Rev. Ray Fuson of the Harvest Temple Church of God in Montgomery, Ala., does not have to worry about unannounced state inspections at the day care center his church runs. Alabama exempts church day care programs from state licensing requirements, which were tightened after almost a dozen children died in licensed and unlicensed day care centers in the state in two years.

The differences do not end there. As an employer, Ms. White must comply with the civil rights laws; if employees feel mistreated, they can take the center to court. Religious organizations, including Pastor Fuson’s, are protected by the courts from almost all lawsuits filed by their ministers or other religious staff members, no matter how unfairly those employees think they have been treated.

And if you are curious about how Ms. White’s nonprofit center uses its public grants and donations, read the financial statements she is required to file each year with the Internal Revenue Service. There are no I.R.S. reports from Harvest Temple. Federal law does not require churches to file them.
[...]

The special breaks amount to “a sort of religious affirmative action program,” said John Witte Jr., director of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at the Emory University law school.
[...]

“The religious community has a lot of pull, and senators are very deferential to this kind of legislation,” said Richard R. Hammar, the editor of Church Law & Tax Report and an accountant with law and divinity degrees from Harvard.

As a result of these special breaks, religious organizations of all faiths stand in a position that American businesses — and the thousands of nonprofit groups without that “religious” label — can only envy. And the new breaks come at a time when many religious organizations are expanding into activities — from day care centers to funeral homes, from ice cream parlors to fitness clubs, from bookstores to broadcasters — that compete with these same businesses and nonprofit organizations.

Religious organizations are exempt from many federal, state and local laws and regulations covering social services, including addiction treatment centers and child care, like those in Alabama.

Federal law gives religious congregations unique tools to challenge government restrictions on the way they use their land. Consequently, land-use restrictions that are a result of longstanding public demands for open space or historic preservation may be trumped by a religious ministry’s construction plans, as in a current dispute in Boulder County, Colo.
[...]

Religious organizations defend the exemptions as a way to recognize the benefits religious groups have provided — operating schools, orphanages, old-age homes and hospitals long before social welfare and education were widely seen as the responsibility of government.

But while ministries that run soup kitchens and homeless shelters benefit from these exemptions, secular nonprofits serving the same needy people often do not. And rather than just rewarding charitable works that benefit society, these breaks are equally available to religious organizations that provide no charitable services to anyone.

(All emphasis mine)

H/T to onegoodmove

No comments yet to Reason #5832 to Join the UU

  • RW

    You want religious organizations to fall privy to EEOC laws? So if a fundamentalist denomination determines that it would be a bad example to hire, say, Elton John to run the day care center (hypothetical, as if he needed the gig) because of his flaming gay status & the church’s teachings that such a thing is against the covenant, they should be liable for suing?

    Should a church be liable for discrimination suits should they decide to oust members if they’re guilty of adultery which causes a divorce (which is the case in some churches)?

    Iffy territory…once the gov’t decides what rules a church can follow in it’s every day biz, then the slope is no longer slippery….it’s flat. And big brother is the one calling the shots.

  • You want religious organizations to fall privy to EEOC laws? So if a fundamentalist denomination determines that it would be a bad example to hire, say, Alan Keyes to run the day care center (hypothetical, as if he needed the gig) because of his unabashed black status & the church’s teachings that such a thing is against the covenant,

    Yeah.. why not? ;-)

    No really – it would go either way. If a church wants to enter the business world, it should go by the same rules as the businesses it competes with. It should have to hire fairly. It should have to comply with safety regulations for customers (especially children) & for workers. It should pay taxes. I think this should go for any service for which the church charges a fee.

    Should a church be liable for discrimination suits should they decide to oust members if they’re guilty of adultery which causes a divorce (which is the case in some churches)?

    No – churches qua churches can make up whatever dumb rules they want. That’s why they’re called churches ;-)

    And big brother is the one calling the shots.

    At least we can elect a new Big Brother. Big Father is elected, apparently, by colored plumes of smoke :)

  • btw – this wasn’t covered by regs when it happened – but even if it had been, the church wouldn’t have been:
    Child dies of hypothermia in church van. I remember that story for some reason, though I wasn’t still living there at the time.. There may have been a similar case while I did live there.

  • RW

    No really – it would go either way. If a church wants to enter the business world, it should go by the same rules as the businesses it competes with.

    Then by that measure, you then remove any inkling of separation between the state & the church. If a church pays taxes, then the state has no say-so in what goes on in the pulpit…meaning campaigning from the preacher for his favorite politicians is hereby legal (and not just having Dem pols stop by during the last months of presidential campaigns). Nothing stops a church from handing out materials on school grounds (hey, if a company can give out free samples of condoms, a “business” can hand out free bibles, nothing stops a church from working for candidates, nothing stops a church from becoming activists, nothing stops a church from becoming a mouthpiece for politicial causes. Contrary to conventional wisdom, I’ve lived in the south & gone to southern baptist churches my whole life and there’s less politickin’ there than in a Celine Dione song.

    I see nothing wrong with the current setup of churches being separate entities than business but adhering to the sanctions against many actions that would remove their exemptions. I’m pretty sure that building codes are universal so the worst-case scenario of building an unsafe church is a pipe-dream (most of them are the safest buildings around, btw, & a great resource for bad weather).

    BTW, Alan Keyes can most defintely have any role at any church of his choosing. Should he decide to become a polygamist or attempt to marry another man, he’d be in violation of most churchs’ covenants. BTW, a lot of them bar folks from selling alcohol & being members, so a devout bartender isn’t supposed to be a member in good standing.

    I don’t agree with that & a lot of churches have removed that from their covenants over the years, but it’s none of the gov’ts business what a church’s rules are.

    What happened to “give me liberty or give me death”? Am I the last remaining person with an iota of libertarianism left?

  • re-read me, there RW. I agree with you where it concerns church-qua-church. I mean, yes – there should be some sane restrictions. Building codes are a good for instance. But overall, as churches, they should get to play by their own special rules – just because of separation of church & state.

    But, when churches branch off into capitalist enterprise – opening private schools & daycares, for instance – then they should have to play by the same rules as non-church entities. That doesn’t mean they can’t still have their special rules for their *church* operations. It just means they don’t get special breaks for their *business* operations, just because they happen to be a church.

  • RW

    But there’s the part where their day-care centers & schools also serve a religious function (like Catholic schools). Making St. Andrews catholich high hire a lesbian instead of a nun simply so as to adhere to EEOC laws is an anathema to the church & the teachings that those very same nuns put forth in the classroom. Don’t get me wrong, if Jerry Falwell wants to start up his own chain of gas stations then he should be privy to the same laws as Texaco, Shell & the rest, but Liberty University is a religious institution and as such the gov’t should be out of the ins & outs of the entity (building codes, fire safety and the other stuff notwithstanding). If the Unitarian Church decided to become all lesbian & therefore wanted all-girl schools, I’d be fighting with them in order to keep the US gov’t out of their hiring biz should some dude demand equal protection in their hiring practices.

    Churches are not a business and their offshoots aren’t, either. If they do become one, then, yes, they should be treated the same as any other business. But it would be abhorrent to me to find out that Billy Graham’s church (if there even is one) would be sued by the NOW because there aren’t enough female deacons in the pew.

    I want the church out of the government and I want the government out of the church. Isn’t that one of the items that we were founded upon?

  • RW – what do you mean by “out of”.. .I mean, I want the government out of the church – and the church out of the government… meaning I don’t want one telling the other how to do things.

    That doesn’t mean that I want special priviledges for church from the government. It doesn’t mean I think churches should be exempt from the rules everybody else follows – unless those rules actually encroach on the church’s religious function. And I’m willing to be reasonable about that. If a church wants to discriminate in hiring preachers for chapel at its religious schools, then go for it. If they want to discriminate in hiring teachers for the classes they charge tuition for, then they are on shakier ground. That’s a school function, not a church function. If they don’t want to play by the rules other private schools play by (whatever they may be, up to and including being bound by EEOC), then they should just have the chapels.

    Day cares — commercial ones should be bound by the same rules as non-church commercial day-cares. Charity day-cares should be run by the same rules as non-church day cares. Because “day-care” isn’t what the founders were talking about when they instituted separation of church & state. It isn’t separation of church & day care.

    Question: Can churches put up a sign that says “jesus loves you” (so they will have a religious purpose) in their grocery stores and dodge taxes there, too? Would you want to be a grocery store operator competing with the church-run version?

    btw – there are still a few churches around that “believe in” discrimination against blacks — would you, or would you not, be uncomfortable with exempting businesses they ran – day-cares for instance from EEOC requirements there?

  • The above quip would have been more meaningful if it said “it isn’t separation of day care & state”. Laugh anyway, please.

  • RW

    A. I’m pretty sure that church run day-care centers have as a part of their every day business plan the “Sunday school” type of teachings for the kiddies, which differentiates it from normal day care centers. Even then, they’re required to follow certain gov’t guidelines like the size of the building, safety regs, etc. I know that for sure as I’ve visited one in GA. Dunno about nationwide, but it’s not like you can throw up a church run day care center & be hands off from regs…doesn’t happen that way.

    B. The grocery store wouldn’t pass muster as being a church or a church run entity. That would definitely be a for-profit venture & the IRS would rightly laugh off any attempts at making it a religious venture. In that scenario, the primary function would be commerce, while a day-care center would include caring for children & including religious oversight and some bible learnin’. The US gov’t shouldn’t tell a church what people they can hire, period. A grocery store falls under EEOC regs (which are a joke, btw…..I could go into detail but I won’t).

    **** btw – there are still a few churches around that “believe in” discrimination against blacks ***

    Where? Anything is possible but I find that remarkable in 2006. Were that the case, however, the church should have it’s status revoked and should be forced to pay taxes because that sort of thing is not included within any ACCEPTED religion (and you can’t go around making up your own religion & assuming protected status). Just like the church in CA where the pastor blantantly campaigned for Kerry right before the election (which the LAT described simply as being ‘anti-war’)….you don’t follow the law, you lose your status. Cut & dried. Keep it religion & the state has no say-so & should butt out.

  • RW: Even then, they’re required to follow certain gov’t guidelines like the size of the building, safety regs, etc.

    Article linked in opening post: The Rev. Ray Fuson of the Harvest Temple Church of God in Montgomery, Ala., does not have to worry about unannounced state inspections at the day care center his church runs. Alabama exempts church day care programs from state licensing requirements, which were tightened after almost a dozen children died in licensed and unlicensed day care centers in the state in two years.

    —-
    Moving to the EEOC:

    Where? Anything is possible but I find that remarkable in 2006.

    Well, there is the out & out White Supremacist church, but they may not have tax-exempt status.

    But there are others – independent churches, or those affiliated with larger denominations that practice a little differently than those. There was a (I think Baptist) church somewhere in the south (I think Mississippi) – I can’t find the link, but they kicked out a mixed race married couple and child – for being mixed race. The Pastor quit over it, but they continued to operate. That was this year.

    Were that the case, however, the church should have it’s status revoked and should be forced to pay taxes because that sort of thing is not included within any ACCEPTED religion

    I, personally, don’t think a church with racist theology should have its status revoked. To say that this isn’t “included” in any “accepted” religion is pretty much begging the question. If I happen upon a church that discriminates against blacks, I can go inside & see pretty obviously if it is an church with an anti-black theology, or an anti-black organization disguised as a church. It isn’t difficult. If it is a church with an anti-black theology, it’s no different than a church with an anti-gay theology. What makes it harmless enough that the state doesn’t have to get involved is that it’s just a church. It isn’t charging money for its services. It isn’t competing with legitimate businesses. It’s just a place where people can hang out & practice their religion. We protect the 1st amendment rights of the Klan, don’t we?

    But, this all misses the point… My fault – I phrased my question poorly. Are you ok with church organizations being able to routinely discriminate against blacks in their hiring practices? Because, being exempted from EEOC, they can do it whether or not the denominational theology explicitly embraces the practice.

    If you are a black child care worker in a town with two day-cares, one church run, and one privately run – are you ok with the possibility that your chances of finding a job are cut in half, if that’s how the church day care operator likes to do things?

  • RW

    . Are you ok with church organizations being able to routinely discriminate against blacks in their hiring practices?

    *Accepting that the question pertains to outright discrimination, meaning “I won’t hire a black person no matter what. I won’t hire Michael Jordan to coach the basketball team, even” not just a case of a church having an all-white roster (which could be a simple case of parishoner makeup & church attendance norms.

    Nope, because that “church” (and I use that term loosely) isn’t based on any accepted religion that the USA recognizes.

    If you are a black child care worker in a town with two day-cares, one church run, and one privately run – are you ok with the possibility that your chances of finding a job are cut in half, if that’s how the church day care operator likes to do things?

    I feel pretty confident in saying that almost every church-run day care facility has church members as its employees, so it’s highly doubtful that a stranger will walk into a church run daycare facility & expect to be hired under any circumstances. Likewise, any employee would be expected to follow the church’s covenant and any church member who was following church guidelines would have an open avenue to getting hired.

    Having attended well over 100 different churches in the south during my lifetime I can say that generally the only criteria are (1) be a Christian; (2) try to live the “go forth and sin no more” life, even though no one can. Some yahoo that refuses to hire __________ is probably as easy to come by as anything else. But we don’t need the gov’t to intrude on the first amendment (freedom of religion, with emphasis on “freedom”) in order to eradicate those yahoos…..they’re dying off, anyway. I recall the case you mentioned and I bet that in a few years that church will have turned over a good bit of its congregation: no rational interpretation of Jesus’ teachings or the bible can justify that sort of behavior.

    BTW, what are the chances that a successful white Republican lobbyist will be hired on the NAACP’s fundraising team? :)

    Because, being exempted from EEOC, they can do it whether or not the denominational theology explicitly embraces the practice.

    Buddy, I could tell you stories about the EEOC that would make you say “no way, Ricky, you gotta be lying”. I’m for an open diversity & outreach program in any business, but the EEOC is as ridiculous in its practices as Mark Foley was in his cyber-communications (rimshot).

  • Nope, because that “church” (and I use that term loosely) isn’t based on any accepted religion that the USA recognizes.

    Again – begging the question. It could be the Baptist church down the street. Not too long ago, it would likely have been. What makes Baptists immune from racism?

    And again – who is to say that next week the USA won’t recognize a religion that is (currently) racist in its theology? What is it about the first amendment that disqualifies such a religion from protection? Or – what is it about your viewpoint that makes it tolerable for such a religion to practice discrimination in the marketplace?

    I feel pretty confident in saying that almost every church-run day care facility has church members as its employees,

    I can only argue by exception. My experience with church day-cares is very small. But my friend “J” who went to school with me way back when took a job as a day-care attendant at one church, but she attended another one.

    I agree that exceptions based on church membership are reasonable, if hiring is done primarily from within the church.

    BTW, what are the chances that a successful white Republican lobbyist will be hired on the NAACP’s fundraising team?

    Key word being Republican… and I agree with you – a Republican who shares the NAACP’s mission (assuming there is one), should challenge the hiring practices of the NAACP since they are a non-profit and are supposed to be non-partisan.

    but the EEOC is as ridiculous in its practices as Mark Foley was in his cyber-communications

    Bearing in mind that this is a general statement, assuming that you are correct that they have practices that we would all agree are “ridiculous”, is the solution to exempt more people from compliance, or to reform the EEOC? Your opinion…

  • P.S.

    no rational interpretation of Jesus’ teachings or the bible can justify that sort of behavior.

    We are talking about religious – not rational – interpretations of the Bible here, remember :D

  • RW

    Key word being Republican

    Bingo.
    It’s supposed to be a non-partisan organization (you can stop laughing, now) because it too has tax exempt status.

    Which makes this whole church thing seem small in comparison, since not long ago the Christian Coalition (no longer) and now media matters are also “non partisan” 501C orgs, along with moveon.org and various Republican entities. Yeah, our tax system is all screwed up. I say we scrap it all and go with the fair tax (churches included….heck, everyone included.).

  • I say we scrap it all and go with the fair tax (churches included….heck, everyone included.).

    Does this mean that you don’t think that tax exemptions are necessary to keep the government out of the church, or does it mean that you are more committed to the idea of the national sales tax than to the idea that government should be kept out of religion? Or was it just tongue in cheek?

  • RW

    I say we remove all exemptions from the tax code, period, and maintain our policy of keeping the gov’t completely out of the churches dealings. This would allow churches to then have “free speech” and then the white churches could then campaign on a par with the black churches (THAT part was tongue in cheeck….although, the pols and preachers most certainly *do* campaign in black churches and use the pulpit for political sermons…I’ve seen too many for that to be denied). :)

    FYI, another view on the story:
    http://www.businessandmedia.org/printer/2006/20061011154937.aspx

    The site is a division of the MRC so it’s a right-leaning site (much like the NYT is left leaning, as portrayed in the hit piece). Laying all my cards on the table.

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