Why Romney’s Mormonism Has Caused No Backlash Among GOP Faithful

From: The Beast

By:Michael Medved

“It’s too early to know whether Mitt Romney will realize his dream of becoming the first Mormon president, but he has already made history by achieving a new pluralism in the Republican Party and encouraging a more inclusive focus for the religious right.

I saw that change first hand as a featured speaker at a Battleground States Talkers Tour event in Cleveland last Thursday night. The boisterous, overflow crowd of 1,700 included a prominent portion of evangelical Christians who nonetheless cheered lustily at every mention of a Mormon named Romney, a Catholic named Paul Ryan, and the Jewish nominee for U.S. Senate in Ohio: Josh Mandel, state treasurer, Marine Corps officer, and Iraq War veteran. In conversation and book signing afterward, I met Latino Catholics, black Baptists, Eastern Orthodox believers of Serbian heritage, Irish-American cops, a smattering of Mormons, Seventh-day Adventists, and dozens of observant Jews.

Had Democratic partisans or pundits from the mainstream media attended this event, they would have found it jarringly incongruent with their image of the Republican base as bigoted, benighted, and born again. Contrary to common contentions that Christian conservatism promotes intolerance and a narrow-minded insistence on biblical literalism, the Romney campaign has assembled a coalition of truly impressive theological diversity.

In fact, it’s Republicans and not Democrats who this year achieved the distinction of fielding the first-ever ticket in the history of the Republic without a Protestant candidate for either president or vice president. Prior to the nomination of Romney and Ryan, in the previous 166 years of GOP history, only one other non-Protestant represented the Republicans: Congressman William Miller, running mate for the ill-fated Barry Goldwater in 1964, who was Catholic. This year, the GOP not only broke through previously formidable religious barriers, but they did so with shockingly little fuss, bother, or even questioning comment.

As recently as this April, conventional wisdom suggested that Mitt Romney’s faith would damage his candidacy, as polls showed one out of five American voters saying they could never cast ballots for a Mormon. It turns out that many of these wary citizens may have been liberals who disapprove of the conservative social positions of the LDS Church; in rallying the religious right to his cause, Romney has encountered far less difficulty than did the previous nominee, John McCain, who was raised Episcopalian but attended a Southern Baptist church. Even Texas pastor Robert Jeffress, who made headlines a year ago by denouncing Mormonism as a “cult” while pushing Gov. Rick Perry for the GOP nomination, has become an enthusiastic supporter of the Romney-Ryan ticket.

Religious conservatives have mobilized to resist changes to the status quo rather than to impose their own extremist vision of a theocratic state.

Far more significantly, the nation’s most revered and influential evangelical icon also has taken a dramatic, unprecedented role in the campaign. After meeting with Romney, 93-year-old Billy Graham told the press he would be “praying for him” and went on to place striking full-page ads in more than a dozen newspapers across the country. “As I approach my 94th birthday, I realize this election could be my last,” the text proclaimed beside the heroic image of Dr. Graham. “I believe it is vitally important that we cast our ballots for candidates who base their decisions on biblical principles and support the nation of Israel. I urge you to vote for those who protect the sanctity of life and support the biblical definition of marriage between a man and a woman. Vote for biblical values this November 6, and pray with me that America will remain one nation under God.” In later versions of the same ad, Graham also mentions “defending religious liberty,” another prominent theme of the Romney campaign. Though he never cites a candidate by name, Graham leaves little doubt which ticket he associates with “biblical values”—especially after the ardent endorsement of Romney by the evangelist’s son Franklin.

Even before the participation of the Grahams, Romney commanded overwhelming support from self-described white evangelicals—with polls showing he will receive up to 80 percent of their votes, outperforming McCain and approaching the levels of Ronald Reagan in his landslide reelection victory of 1984.

The question puzzling many disappointed Obama supporters would be why the supposed anti-Mormon prejudice regularly imputed to born-again believers has played so little role in this campaign.

The answer involves a basic misunderstanding of Christian conservatism by most of its critics, who fail to recognize that the rise of the religious right has been a powerful force for interdenominational unity, not for fractionalization and polarization.

Catholic clergy and lay leaders, for instance, regularly acknowledge that nothing has done more to erase anti-Catholic prejudice than the emergence of the pro-life movement after Roe v. Wade. The close cooperation of traditional Catholics and evangelical Protestants in building opposition to abortion on demand destroyed the insulting old stereotypes of hard-drinking, garlic-reeking, immigrant papists versus sweaty Bible Belt snake handlers and led both groups to new respect for one another.

By the same token, the fervent support for Israel by Christian conservatives has made them increasingly prominent in Jewish-led groups like AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) and produced surging Jewish cooperation with CUFI (Christians United for Israel) and its fiery leader, pastor John Hagee. Even before Mitt Romney secured the presidential nomination, religious conservatives felt comfortable with Republican congressional leadership by the Jewish House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and his Catholic boss, Speaker John Boehner. Meanwhile, though evangelical Christians continue to constitute the largest single religious group within the GOP, the current five Republican appointees to the Supreme Court of the United States (John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, and Anthony Kennedy) all happen to be Catholics.

In a sense, the enhanced ability for faith-based conservatives to put aside their denominational differences for the sake of political goals stems from a series of challenges by the secular left and from the fastest-growing group in American religious landscapes: the “nones,” or those who claim no connection with organized faith of any sort. These unaffiliated Americans now represent between 15 percent and 20 percent of the populace. Though most of them still profess their generalized belief in God, they’ve been strongly associated with powerful movements for legalized abortion, against school prayer, objecting to religious displays at Christmastime, or the phrase “under God” in the pledge of allegiance and, most radically, for the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex relationships.

To a great extent, religious conservatives have mobilized to resist these changes to the status quo that prevailed before the epic disruptions of the 1960s, rather than to impose their own extremist vision of a theocratic state.

For the religiously committed, the rise of secularism powerfully facilitated the cause of cooperation among fervent believers. In the Eisenhower era, nearly all Americans agreed on basic values and the beneficial impact of organized religion, embracing popular slogans like “The Family That Prays Together Stays Together” and giving top ratings to faith-based TV shows like Life Is Worth Living with Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. Within that consensus, interdenominational squabbling remained an affordable luxury, so that the nomination of the first successful Catholic presidential candidate in 1960 inspired far more controversy than the nomination of a Mormon this year.

In an era when people of faith of every stripe feel the force of rising doubt, disaffiliation, and militant secularism, making common cause across theological lines becomes an indispensable survival strategy.

In that spirit, the Romney campaign cites increased support from evangelicals and Orthodox Jews, while counting on reversing Barack Obama’s 2008 advantage among American Catholics as the final key to victory. Exit polls four years ago showed that 40 percent of all voters attended church or synagogue every week (or more), and another 15 percent went at least monthly. If the Republicans can continue to build their lopsided current edge with this clear majority (55 percent) of the national electorate, the final results on Nov. 6 could be far more decisive than generally anticipated.”

Emphasis Mine

see:http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/10/29/why-romney-s-mormonism-has-caused-no-backlash-among-gop-faithful.html

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The Secular Revival

From: Tablet Magazine

By: Liel Lebovitz

“Later this month, as Republicans flock to Tampa, Fla., to crown Mitt Romney their candidate for president, they’ll be greeted by a billboard mocking Mormons for believing that God is a space alien. Democrats, congregating shortly thereafter in Charlotte, N.C., will scarcely enjoy a more hospitable welcome: A sign awaiting them will feature Jesus’ face seared onto a piece of toast, along with the assertion that Christians—a group that includes President Obama, despite vicious and insistent rumors to the contrary—worship a “sadistic God” and a “useless savior.” Both billboards are paid for by American Atheists, an organization that describes itself as “the Marines of free thought.”

Of course, it’s only too easy to find similar vitriol on the other bank of the religious divide: To hear too many Americans tell it, this nation’s pious soul is under constant and vicious attack from those who want to turn it into a smoldering Sodom of late-term abortions, gay marriages, and decadent popular culture.

Both forms of extremism are bad, and both—one by espousing the absolute removal of religion from all recesses of public life, the other by demanding the very opposite—are ruinous to the intricate attempt at liberty that has set America apart from other nations.

In a splendid new book, Jacques Berlinerblau, director of the Program for Jewish Civilization at Georgetown University, warns that the indispensable hedge that keeps church and state apart is being trimmed to within an inch of its existence and that if America is ever to be America again, we must rush to the hedge’s defense.

The hedge Berlinerblau calls by a funny name: secularism. Berlinerblau, who writes frequently and astutely about religion, acknowledges that the concept is difficult to define. As he explains in his book How To Be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom, secularism isn’t the same as atheism. In fact, many of its advocates, Jews first and foremost, have defined themselves along secular principles while simultaneously remaining faithful to religious beliefs and traditions. At its core, secularism isn’t a rejection of religion, but rather a political philosophy that “is preoccupied with, and often deeply suspicious of, any and all relations between government and religion.”

But before we join the ranks of those who, like the pontiff, believe that secularism’s end goal is the censoring of religious freedoms, we would do well to consider American secularism’s history. Its founding fathers, Berlinerblau argues, include Martin Luther, John Locke, and Roger Williams—religious men who, even if they never used the term “secularism,” saw the hedge as a necessary precondition for the ultimate religious liberty: the right to worship freely and without intervention. “The care of souls does not belong to the magistrate,” wrote Locke. “The care therefore of every man’s soul belongs unto himself, and is to be left unto himself.” For that to happen, the state’s power must end at the church’s door.

With such theologically intricate roots, secularism was bound to grow more and more tangled. Thomas Jefferson, another of its founding fathers, may have been the tangler-in-chief: The most ardent advocate of separation, his views were, most likely, so out of touch with the majority of his contemporaries that George Washington was urged to acknowledge the discrepancy in his farewell address. “And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion,” said the departing colossus. “Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect, that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

It was, perhaps, precisely the peculiar structure of his mind that enabled Jefferson—and, later, James Madisonto kindle the fire of secularism. Centuries later, in a brief golden period ranging from the 1940s to the 1970s, a host of Supreme Court decisions fanned Jefferson’s flames and established secularism as a dominant force in American public life. In a helpful aside, Berlinerblau compares our version of secularism with that practiced in France; while to some the laïcité may look more appealing in its nearly absolutist insistence on separation of church and state, it is achieved at the cost of the state closely supervising religion, which puts the two in a tight embrace. France has a ministry of religions that deems some legitimate and others, like Scientology, not. It also pays for things like Muslim soldiers’ pilgrimage to Mecca. In America, Berlinerblau argues, things are simpler, as our brand of secularism allows the state to keep the church at an arm’s length, granting it the freedom to do as it pleases (tax-free) so long as it does not violate any laws.

It doesn’t take a scholar, however, to know that this blissful vision is everywhere under attack. For at least three decades, a well-organized coalition of religious activists—Berlinerblau calls them Revivalists—has worked to subject the state to church dogma, whether by meddling with textbooks that teach evolution or by vowing to repeal Roe v. Wade. Often, these Revivalists enjoy the majority’s support; what’s secularism to do when its opponents charge it with being undemocratic for opposing the will of the people? Here, Berlinerblau is adamant. Secularism, he argues, is not synonymous with democracy; rather, it is the soil in which democracy is planted. And when that soil is upended by zealots, the state can and must resist. Locke, again, is instrumental here. “It appears not that God has ever given any such Authority to one Man over another, as to compel anyone to his Religion,” the philosopher wrote in A Letter Concerning Toleration. “Nor can any such Power be vested in the Magistrate by the consent of the people.” Berlinerblau calls this the Lockean Escape Clause: Not even a democratic vote should be allowed to compromise the state’s sovereignty over the church in matters of policy and governance.

Even geared with this intellectual resolve, proponents of secularism in America are still forced to fight an uphill battle. They are not only undermanned, Berlinerblau explains, but also philosophically underprivileged: While their opponents believe in communities, secularists tend to sanctify the virtue of the individual and are therefore loath to join mass movements or march on D.C. or form single-issue voter blocs. Instead, they have fought their battles in court, an intellectual jujitsu move that launched them to great heights in the short term but left them susceptible to attack in the long run.

How, then, to preserve secularism and its many gifts? Berlinerblau has a blueprint, and it rests on a few surprising assertions. The first is that secularism and religion aren’t mutually exclusive. Indeed, he admits, if secularism is to persevere, it will do so primarily thanks to religious moderates who see no contradiction between their faith and their desire for a government unencumbered by dogma. These folk may be called secularish, and Berlinerblau, in a brief but instructive passage, posits the American Jewish community as an example for doing just that. Far more than any other religious group, he writes, American Jews were capable of producing a culture that “was intolerant of excessive religiosity. It abhorred displays of hyper-‘fruminess,’ or by-the-book adherence to Jewish law. Nor did it show an exaggerated respect for the institution of the rabbinate. In its more communistic variants it was aggressively anti-theistic. Yet for the most part these secular Jews were fiercely proud to be Jewish Americans.”

Then there are the doubters. Rather than adopt the hard and scornful line that defines so many of the contemporary luminaries of American atheism, Berlinerblau argues that even those secularists who find any tinge of religion disturbing would be well-advised to build coalitions with religious moderates and accept meaningful compromises. Complete separation of church and state, as history shows, is an impossibility anyway, and accommodationism—which argues for some allowances of religion into civic life, such as the current federal support for faith-based initiatives—is not without its merits. To regain prominence, secularists need to be known, once again, for a nuanced understanding of the past and inspiring ideas for the future. Berlinerblau’s book, erudite and warm and not without humor, is a great step in this direction.”

***

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Liel Leibovitz is a senior writer for Tablet Magazine.

Emphasis Mine

see:http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/books/109560/the-secular-revival?utm_source=Tablet+Magazine+List&utm_campaign=1c767c64b7-8_17_2012&utm_medium=email

Research Report: How Secular Humanists (and Everyone Else) Subsidize Religion in the United States

From: Free Inquiry

By: Ryan T. Cragun, Stephanie Yeager, and Desmond Vega

“The home in the photo (above) is the $1.75 million mansion of the Reverend Randy White, the former head pastor of Without Walls International Church in Tampa, Florida. While some people may be bothered by the fact that there are pastors who live in multimillion dollar homes, this is old news to most. But here is what should bother you about these expensive homes: You are helping to pay for them! You pay for them indirectly, the same way local, state, and federal governments in the United States subsidize religion—to the tune of about $71 billion every year.

We mention Rev. White because he was the impetus for this article. White and his mansion came up in a class taught by lead author Ryan T. Cragun. In that discussion, the other authors asked how much Pastor White pays in taxes on his income. The answer wasn’t readily available. Only a handful of publications in the sociology of religion have examined the finances of religions, and they are largely aimed at telling religions how to increase donations.1 Nowhere did we find prior research summarizing and detailing religious finances and tax policy, so we decided to investigate it ourselves. This article is the result. It took some digging, but we think we now have a moderately clear understanding of the tax laws regarding religions in the United States. What we found suggests that religious institutions, if they were required to pay taxes the same as for-profit corporations do, would not have nearly as much money or influence as they enjoy in America today. In this article we estimate how much local, state, and federal governments subsidize religions.

However, before we get into our calculations, we think it best to address a criticism that is likely to be raised about this article. By suggesting that these groups should pay taxes, we are likely to be criticized by those who think that religions are largely charitable institutions engaged in beneficial service or charitable work and should therefore be exempt from taxes. This criticism requires responses at two levels, because there are two ways to think about religious “charity.” The first type of charity is the type that most people think of when they hear the phrase “serving people’s physical needs” (feeding and clothing the poor, building schools, and the like). The second type is different and involves addressing people’s “spiritual concerns.”

Do religions engage in charitable work that addresses the physical needs of the poor? Many do, but that is not their primary focus. Religions are quick to trumpet when they do charitable work—ironically for Christians, since the Bible explicitly says not to (Mathew 6:2). But they don’t do as much charitable work as a lot of people think, and they spend a relatively small percentage of their overall revenue on such work. For instance, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the LDS or Mormon Church), which regularly trumpets its charitable donations, gave about $1 billion to charitable causes between 1985 and 2008. That may seem like a lot until you divide it by the twenty-three-year time span and realize this church is donating only about 0.7 percent of its annual income.2 Other religions are more charitable. For instance, the United Methodist Church allocated about 29 percent of its revenues to charitable causes in 2010 (about $62 million of $214 million received).3 One calculation of the resources expended by 271 U.S. congregations found that, on average, “operating expenses” totaled 71 percent of all the expenditures of religions, much of that going to pay ministers’ salaries.4 Financial contributions addressing the physical needs of the poor fall within the remaining 29 percent of expenditures. While these numbers may be higher as a percentage of income than typical charitable giving by corporations, they are not hugely higher (depending on the religion) and are substantially lower in absolute terms. Wal-Mart, for instance, gives about $1.75 billion in food aid to charities each year, or twenty-eight times all of the money allotted for charity by the United Methodist Church and almost double what the LDS Church has given in the last twenty-five years.5

We recognize that there is a lot of variation in how much religions engage in charitable work, and we don’t want to discourage religions from doing so. However, comparing their charitable giving to the performance of secular charities is informative. The American Red Cross spends 92.1 percent of its revenue directly addressing the physical needs of those it intends to help; only 7.9 percent is spent on “operating expenses.”6 If you use a generous 50 percent cutoff for indicating whether an institution is primarily a charitable organization or not (that is, they spend more than 50 percent of revenue on charitable work addressing physical needs), we doubt there is a single religion in the world that would actually qualify as a charitable organization.

But what about the spiritual concerns that religions address? Isn’t this activity a form of “spiritual charity”? And since most of the expenditures of religions are spent on addressing spiritual concerns (activities including worship services, pastoral counseling, baptisms, sacraments, and the like), couldn’t these expenses be seen as charitable, thus qualifying the religions as charities?

No. Why? Because charity is the giving of something, not the exchange of something for something else. When religions give (money, clothing, labor, building materials) to address the physical needs of the poor, they are giving without receiving payment in return. There is no exchange of goods or services. Yes, those giving may feel good about what they’ve done, but that feeling is not given to them by the recipients of their charitable actions in exchange for the actions; it rather results from the charitable actions themselves. In contrast, when a pastor preaches a sermon or a priest performs a baptism, this is done out of obligation and is what these religious functionaries are paid to do. It is no more “charity” than a college professor teaching a class or a social worker helping a family is charity. If the people you are helping are paying you to help them, it’s not charity; it’s labor. You may like your job and feel that it offers value beyond what you receive in compensation, but that doesn’t change the fundamental nature of the exchange taking place. In short, if someone is paid to address spiritual concerns, it is not charity when they do so.

There is one other argument religions could use to claim they are “spiritual charities”: when religions pray for rain for the local community or when they baptize the dead to assure them salvation—as is done by the Mormon Church—isn’t this a form of spiritual charity in the sense that even people not donating to the religion benefit? These acts certainly seem closer to charity, but they don’t meet the criteria of what it means to be a charitable organization for tax purposes: If the function or service the charity provides were discontinued, would it result in a legal requirement for public funds to continue the function? Religious soup kitchens would probably meet this criteria but would praying for rain or baptizing dead people? Although Texas Governor Rick Perry may pray for rain7 and presidential hopeful Mitt Romney may want past presidents baptized, we think most people would agree that government has no interest in addressing such “spiritual concerns.”

In summary, religions spend a relatively small portion of their revenue on physical charity, and while they spend a larger portion of their revenue addressing spiritual concerns, most of that qualifies as labor, not charity. What little would qualify as “spiritual charity” would not be replaced by government if discontinued. In short, religions are, by and large, not engaged in charitable work.

As a result, we calculated the subsidies to religions under the assumption that religions are more like for-profit corporations providing entertainment (such as movie theaters or amusement parks) rather than charities. That assumption is actually a fairly accurate description of their primary activity: religions largely provide entertainment for their “consumers.” And while that entertainment may be meaningful to their consumers and even address “spiritual concerns,” the same can be said for movies (well, some movies). So, our starting assumption in calculating government subsidies to religions was to treat religious institutions like corporations. We recognize that it is not a perfectly sound assumption,8 but if you will grant it for now you may find the resulting calculations of interest.

Figure 1. Diagram of religious finances and subsidies

Figure 1 summarizes the tax code related to religions. On the left are the sources of revenue for religions, labeled “Monies In.” Religions and ministers are in the middle. And on the right are the different ways religions and ministers are subsidized, labeled “Government Subsidies.” These tax exemptions and tax breaks are an indirect form of “subsidy” in that the government is not providing direct revenue to religions, with one exception, but indirectly subsidizing religion. Religious institutions and functionaries are either not required to pay taxes or pay reduced taxes, while donations to religions are either tax free or result in a deduction from taxes. So, while the various governments involved are generally not transferring money directly to religions (though the government’s Faith-Based Initiatives do just that), they are not requiring the institutions, functionaries, or donors to religions to pay taxes that they would have to pay if they were corporations.

The primary source of revenue to religions is personal donations, but corporations and trusts can and often do donate as well. According to Giving USA, religions received $100.95 billion in donations in 2009.9 Religions can also hold fund-raisers to generate revenue, which can include things such as merchandise given as donations and income from bingo games. It is not known how much money is raised through these sources each year. While not necessarily a source of monetary revenue, religions are also the beneficiaries of volunteer labor, likely to the tune of billions of hours every year, a benefit for-profit corporations cannot receive.10 The one direct subsidy to religions in the United States every year is the money given to religions through the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. In 2009, that amount was $2.2 billion, though additional money can be given at the state level.11 Finally, religions can also rent their property or engage in other for-profit activities. Some of these business activities may be deemed “related” to their primary purpose, and the profits would not be taxed (such as a daycare for church members’ kids, selling secondhand clothes and goods received as donations, selling a church-related periodical, and the like). Other activities that cannot be deemed “related” to the primary purpose of the religion fall under the Unrelated Business Income classification of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) tax code; religions are required to pay taxes on this income at the corporate tax rate.12 To what extent religions engage in for-profit business that is tax-exempt is unclear because such entities are typically privately held corporations that do not have to report profits or losses (though see below). In summary, the revenue sources for religions fall into primarily four groups: (1) donations, (2) fund-raisers and volunteer labor, (3) direct federal subsidies, and (4) “related” and “unrelated” business income, the former being tax-exempt and the latter not.

We now turn to the other side of the figure, where the subsidies to religion are illustrated. To begin with, religions pay no taxes on personal or corporate donations or on donations given to them by trusts. These donations can be of any kind—cash, stocks, property, etc.13 Generally, religions are required to report the total donations received, but they can also be exempt from doing so. They also are not required to report the source of donations, though they are supposed to keep financial records. However, religions are highly unlikely to be audited because Congress has imposed special limitations on when churches can be audited.14

What this means is that donations to religions are largely unregulated. In our discussions while investigating the subsidies to religion, we realized that religions would be the ideal way to launder money if you were engaged in an illegal enterprise. Hypothetically, the leader of a drug cartel could have one of his lieutenants start a church and file for tax-exempt status.15 Once granted, money from the sale of drugs could then be donated to the religion, which could use the funds to build extravagant buildings (including a “parsonage”), host extravagant “services” (a.k.a. parties) for members of the religion, and pay extravagant salaries to its ministers (including the leader of the cartel). Drug money could be laundered through the church’s bank accounts with little risk of being caught by authorities. If drug cartels and the Mafia aren’t already doing this, we’d be surprised.

In order to calculate the government subsidy resulting from tax-exempt donations, we assumed that religions would be taxed at the maximum federal corporate tax rate, given their revenue (for example, the United Methodist Church parent organization falls into the highest corporate tax bracket, as would most local congregations). Using this assumption, the subsidy to religions in the form of lost corporate tax revenue to the federal government is about $35.3 billion annually.16We estimated that states subsidize religions to the tune of about $6.18 billion per year as well by not requiring religious institutions to pay income taxes.17 Given the literally thousands of different local corporate tax rates, we did not calculate the subsidy to religions from local governments, but it would likely add hundreds of millions of dollars more in subsidies.

We were also unable to come up with estimates for the size of the other three sources of revenue: fund-raisers, volunteer labor, and unrelated business income. We assume that the fund-raisers and volunteer labor do not contribute nearly as much to the overall revenue of religions as do the donations received. Also, religious institutions should be paying taxes for their Unrelated Business Income and appear to be doing so, though possibly at reduced rates. For instance, the Mormon Church owns a billion dollar ranch in central Florida.18 Careful examination of the tax record suggests that the Church may be paying just 0.03 percent in property taxes (i.e., three-hundredths of 1 percent) as compared to other landowners in Osceola County, who are paying about 1.68 percent.19 If the Church were paying the full rate—1.68 percent—it would pay almost $16.8 million per year in property taxes for its $1 billion ranch, but it appears to be paying closer to $300,000 per year. Why the LDS Church is paying at a reduced rate is unclear. Regardless of whether it pays the full tax rate or not, it is paying something. But this is just the property tax; there is no way to know how much money is generated from the ranch or any other religion-owned for-profit corporation. As a result, we were unable to calculate these sources of revenue. We can only guess, then, that we are underestimating the overall subsidy to religions in the United States, probably by billions.

As if the tax-free incentive to religions were not a sufficient subsidy, donors to religions get to deduct those donations from their taxable income when calculating their income taxes.20 Up to 50 percent of one’s income can be donated and written off.21 However, this is not a direct subsidy to religions but rather to religious people. It does, however, result in an even more indirect subsidy to religions because it results in more donations: people would rather give their money to their religion than to the government, and they do so when it is financially beneficial for them.22 Thus, the indirect subsidy to donors actually increases donations to religions, reducing taxes paid to the government. Given the complexities in calculating deductions in taxable income and the fact that most of the subsidy is to religious people and not the religions, we were unable to arrive at a reliable estimate of the size of this subsidy to religions.

In addition to paying no tax on donations, religious institutions pay no property taxes. The Hartford Seminary estimates that there are 335,000 congregations in the United States.23 Using forty-seven churches in Tampa from six different religions as our basis (Presbyterians, Mormons, Baptists, Methodists, Episcopalians, and Pentecostals), we estimated that the average value of a church in the United States today is about $1.7 million (land and building).24 Because property taxes are paid at the state level, we averaged the total number of churches across all fifty states, multiplied the estimated number of churches by the average value, and then calculated the lost state revenues. States subsidize religions to the tune of about $26.2 billion per year by not requiring religious institutions to pay property taxes for property worth about $600 billion. 25 This subsidy is of particular interest because property taxes pay for services such as firefighting and police, which religious institutions use the same as corporations and private citizens.

Religions also pay no investment taxes (such as capital gains taxes). Most people probably do not realize that many religions have investments. These can result from surplus cash donations or donations of investment instruments such as stocks, as noted above. Some denominations have such large endowments that they have split the endowment off from the denomination so that it can be managed independently. A good example is the Presbyterian Foundation, which manages $1.9 billion in assets.26 Just as with donor income, religions are supposed to report their investment portfolios or investment income27 but can be exempt from doing so. And just as with donations to religions, the IRS does not report on these at any level, making it difficult to determine the amount religions have invested. We found an estimate for endowed Presbyterian churches from a book on the finances of American religion in the mid 1990s.28 They estimated that the total of Presbyterian endowments in the mid 1990s was $500 million.29 Using that number, we generated a per-capita endowment for Presbyterians and then multiplied that by the number of adults in this country who consider themselves religious. Our best estimates suggest the total investments held by religions here are somewhere close to $18 billion. The subsidy to religions from not paying capital gains taxes is rather small compared to the other subsidies—somewhere around $41 million per year. 30

We also know that religions, when purchasing goods and supplies, are not required to pay sales tax in states that collect sales tax. However, we were unable to arrive at a reliable estimate of how much this subsidy would be because there is no clear basis for calculating the amount religions spend on such goods and services.

The situation regarding ministers and employees is a bit more complicated. Actual employees of religions (janitors, groundskeepers, and the like) pay taxes like everyone else—both income and Social Security taxes—and the taxes are typically withheld by the religions and paid directly to the IRS or state or local governments.31 Thus, there is no subsidy for religions’ employees. But ministers (pastors, rabbis, priests, and so on) are typically not considered religious employees. Often they are categorized as subcontractors and are required to pay their own taxes.32 They are taxed, for the most part, at the same rate as everyone else in the United States who is self-employed, with two exceptions.

First, religious functionaries are the only group that can opt out of SECA, the tax that funds Social Security.33 Doing so means they do not have to pay SECA taxes, but they also do not receive any benefits from Social Security. It is unknown how many religious functionaries have done this, so we cannot estimate any subsidy to religions on this front, but it is unlikely to be large because there is also a penalty in the form of not receiving Social Security benefits.

The second difference between ministers and other taxpayers is what is referred to as the “parsonage exemption.” Ministers are allowed to deduct the cost of their living arrangements from their taxable income (e.g., mortgage or rent, utilities, furnishings, upkeep, etc.).34 This can range from a relatively small deduction up to those claimed by people like Rick Warren and our very own Randy White, who have claimed deductions in the tens of thousands.35 Parsonage exemptions work like donations to religions for the donors in that the exemption reduces the amount of income against which taxes are paid. The Hartford Seminary estimates that the total number of ministers in this country is about 600,000.36 If you take an average salary for those individuals of $85,00037 and assume an average parsonage exemption of $8,000, you arrive at a subsidy of about $1.2 billion for the living arrangements of ministers in America every year.

To summarize: religious institutions receive revenue through personal and corporate donations, fund-raisers, volunteer labor, direct subsidies, and corporate profits. Donations result in tax deductions for those making the donations. Religions do not pay income, property, investment, or sales tax. Ministers can opt out of SECA and receive a parsonage exemption. We estimated the subsidies from the federal and state governments in not charging religions the equivalent of corporate income tax but were unable to come up with an accurate estimate of the subsidy from local governments. We also did not estimate the subsidy to donors through tax deductions. We estimated the subsidy to religions from not paying investment or property taxes but not the subsidy from not paying sales taxes. We estimated the subsidy from the parsonage exemption but not from the SECA exemption. And we included the direct subsidy to religions from the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives. Our calculations are summarized in Table 1. Given our inability to estimate some of the subsidies, we are fairly confident that our estimates are on the conservative end of the subsidies provided to religions by governments in the United States.

Table 1. Estimated annual government subsidy of religion per year

To put this into perspective, the combined total of government subsidies to agriculture in the United States in 2009 was estimated to be $180.8 billion.38 Religions receive at least 40 percent of the subsidy that agriculture does in the United States. Another way to illustrate the size of the subsidy may be to illustrate how much tax revenue would increase at the state level if religious institutions had to pay property taxes. In Florida, where the state government’s budget was $69.1 billion in 2011, the amount of tax revenue lost from subsidizing religious property was $2.2 billion or 3 percent of the state budget. The additional revenue would have mostly prevented the $1.1 billion cut to firefighter and police retirement plans and the $1.3 billion cut to public schools.39

One of the initial thoughts we had as we discovered the size of the subsidy to religions in the United States was that this may help explain why religion has remained so prominent in comparison to other developed countries such as those in Western Europe. However, this argument seems problematic in light of the fact that many countries in Western Europe have state churches that are literally funded by the government. Some have argued that the state-funding of churches in Western Europe may have actually contributed to their decline as it led to “lazy monopolies” and “lazy” ministers who did not have to work hard to attract adherents in order to make money.40 While that argument may have some merit, our findings are not directly comparable, as the funding systems are different. In most of the Western European countries with state churches, the subsidy is to one religion, not to all religions, which is the case in the United States. Thus, governments here actually subsidize all religion, which has the effect of maintaining a level of competition between denominations that contributes to the greater vigor observed among U.S. churches. This is a different dynamic and may have different practical consequences, such as keeping dying religions alive.

For instance, one of the authors of this article recently visited a Presbyterian church near his home in Florida. In a church built to hold over 250 members, just under thirty showed up for the Sunday service, and all but a handful were over fifty years old. In many respects, this church mirrors the empty and dying churches in Western Europe. In a discussion with one of the members of the church after the service, the issue of finances came up. It was put to this congregant that, unless there were some still-active members with deep pockets, it seemed unlikely that a congregation of twenty-five to thirty active members would be able to maintain a church of that size. He admitted that that was true but noted that the church had sufficient reserves to survive for at least a few more years before that would become a serious concern. If, on top of utility and upkeep expenses, the congregation had to pay property taxes on their $1 million church, income taxes on their donations, capital gains taxes on their investments, and could not write off their donations or volunteer labor, it is likely the church would have already folded. Thus, the subsidies to religions in the United States today may not be encouraging the growth of religions, but they may be keeping alive on the equivalent of subsidized life-support many religions that should be dead.

If these subsidies were removed—though we have no basis for believing that they will be anytime soon—we wonder what the damage to religion would be. There is evidence that donations to religions are tied to taxes; as the tax benefit of donating goes up, so do donations and vice versa.41 In other words, it seems likely that the removal of these subsidies would result in a substantial decrease in the supply of religion in the United States. To what extent it would affect demand for religion is uncertain.

For those individuals who argue that religions should receive subsidies because of their charitable work, there is an easy solution for that problem. If religions want to engage in charitable work, they should separate religious activities and finances from their charitable activities and finances. The charities run by religions could be tax-exempt, but the religious organizations would be treated like civic leagues or sports clubs or any other volunteer organization that exists for entertainment or the benefit of its members. Those groups are not tax-exempt and are not subsidized by the government.

What, then, can we conclude from these findings? First, we have avoided any discussion of the separation between church and state and the establishment of religion because these subsidies do fall under the protection of the First Amendment—they do not favor any one particular religion. They do, of course, favor religion over nonreligion, but, as noted above, we do not foresee the ending of these subsidies anytime soon. Second, it seems likely that subsidies are propping up religion in the United States, though to what extent is not clear. Certainly many religions that are near failing would have done so already if not for the subsidies they receive from the government. Another practical result of these subsidies is that religions are more affluent and more influential than they would otherwise be, because they have the resources to fund efforts to change legislation, create widely consumed media, and influence public policy.

There is also the question of whether the monies lost through these subsidies—assuming they could be collected by ending the subsidies—could be better spent, particularly by governments. We are ambivalent on that point, but we do agree with Barb Dempsey, the mayor of Mount Clemens, Michigan, who argued that religions should at least pay their fair share for services like fire protection, streetlights, police, and roads.42 They use those services just like other organizations do.

Finally, as the perceived “benefit” to society of religions becomes increasingly irrelevant as more and more Americans cease to utilize their “services” by disaffiliating, it will also be increasingly unfair for a large percentage of nonreligious Americans (almost 40 percent in some states) to subsidize the recreational activities of others. These subsidies should be phased out. But since that is unlikely to happen, we’d accept the following alternative: the ability to write off our annual entertainment expenses as “donations”; the subsidizing of all of our housing expenses, including utilities and maintenance costs; being exempt from paying taxes on businesses we start related to our primary purpose in life (say, a micro-brewery); direct cash transfers to us from the government for trying to convert people to our worldviews while claiming to provide social services; and, most important, the right to host games of bingo without reporting our income as gambling revenue!

Notes

1. See Chaves, Mark. 1998. Financing American Religion. Walnut Creek, Calif.: AltaMira Press; and Smith, Christian, Michael O. Emerson, and Patricia Snell. 2008. Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Don’t Give Away More Money. New York: Oxford University Press, USA.

2. See http://www.providentliving.org/welfare/pdf/WelfareFactSheet.pdf.

3. The United Methodist Church’s financial report for 2010 can be found at http://www.gcfa.org/sites/default/files/u3/December%20Financial%20Commitment%20Reports_0.pdf.

4. Smith, Emerson, and Snell, op. cit.

5. See this site for Wal-Mart’s charitable giving:http://walmartstores.com/CommunityGiving/9599.aspx.

6. Charity Navigator provides this information on actual charities: http://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=search.summary&orgid=3277.

7. http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/gov-rick-perry-asks-texans-pray-rain/story?id=13439686.

8. A better comparison would be civic leagues or sports clubs, which are discussed later in the article.

9. The latest version of Giving USA’s report can be found athttp://www.givingusareports.org/free.php.

10. http://www.dol.gov/elaws/esa/flsa/docs/volunteers.asp.

11. More information and the monies allocated to the Faith-Based Initiatives can be found here: http://www.fbci.gov/. H. James Towey, former director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives suggested religions may be getting a sizable portion of the $40 billion in Federal money doled out by states; seehttp://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A45643-2005Jan3.html.

12. See IRS Publication 598: http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p598.pdf.

13. See IRS Publication 1828, “Tax Guide for Churches and Religious Organizations,” at http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p1828.pdf. The IRS does distinguish between “churches” and “religions,” but “churches” are what most people would think of when they hear the word religion. “Religious organizations” are different and subject to different regulations. In this article we use the two interchangeably.

14. See the section ”Special Rules Limiting IRS Authority to Audit a Church” in IRS Publication 1828. Basically, an “appropriate, high-level Treasury Department official” has to have prior evidence of abuse and then can initiate an inquiry.

15. Technically, filing for tax-exempt status is not required, just recommended. See IRS Publication 1828.

16. This is based on current federal corporate tax rates:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corporate_tax_in_the_United_States#Federal_tax_ratesand is a straightforward calculation based on the amount donated to religions in 2009.

17. We broke down the total amount donated ($100.95 billion) into the average amount donated per person then used state populations to calculate donation rates within states. Using state corporate tax rates (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corporate_tax_in_the_United_States#State_income_tax_rates), we arrived at our estimated subsidy.

18. http://www.deseretranchflorida.com/index.html.

19. For instance, the property at 9025 Lincoln Rd. is valued at $47,700, and the owners were charged $802.01 in property taxes, while LDS Church–owned parcel #352934000000100000 is valued at $2,615,200 but the church only paid $824.80 in property taxes. See http://ira.property-appraiser.org/PropertySearch_services/TrimPDF/TRIM.aspx?pin=242732273500010770 and http://ira.property-appraiser.org/PropertySearch_services/TrimPDF/TRIM.aspx?pin=352934000000100000.

20. See IRS Publication 526: http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p526.pdf. Of note, donations to civic leagues, which are probably a closer approximation of what religions do than for-profit corporations, are not tax deductible.

21. See the section, “Limits on Deductions” in IRS Publication 526.

22. Randolph, William C. 1995. “Dynamic Income, Progressive Taxes, and the Timing of Charitable Contributions.” Journal of Political Economy 103(4):709–38.

23. The Hartford Seminary’s estimate can be found athttp://hirr.hartsem.edu/research/fastfacts/fast_facts.html#numcong.

24. Some might question this calculation. However, property values in Tampa are close to the national average and may actually be slightly lower as a result of the economic recession. Thus, we believe the estimate is close to the average price of a church in the United States today.

25. Of note, the estimate of $600 billion for the property of religions is likely a substantial underestimate because religions own a lot more property than just the lots on which they have churches. So long as they use their property for religious purposes, regardless of whether or not there is a church on it, the property is tax exempt.

26. You can read more about the history of the Presbyterian Foundation at http://www.presbyterianfoundation.org/about_us/3/mission_statement.aspx.

27. See IRS Form 990: http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f990.pdf.

28. Hoge, Dean R., and Loren B. Mead. 1999. “Endowed Congregations,” in Financing American Religion, Mark Chaves and Sharon L. Miller, editors. pp. 87–95. Walnut Creek, Calif.: AltaMira Press.

29. We’re unsure if the $1.9 billion from the Presbyterian Foundation is an accurate update to that number as the Presbyterian Foundation is not that open about the sources of the funds.

30. This estimate assumed a rather anemic 3 percent interest rate per year for the investments.

31. See IRS Publication 1828.

32. See IRS Publications 15-A and 517.

33. See IRS Publication 517.

34. See “Special Rules for Compensation of Ministers” in IRS Publication 1828 and IRS Topic 417—Earnings for Clergy (http://www.irs.gov/taxtopics/tc417.html).

35. See http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2002/november18/1.42.html.

36. The Hartford Seminary’s estimate can be found athttp://hirr.hartsem.edu/research/fastfacts/fast_facts.html#numclergy.

37. This is the average salary per salary.com:http://swz.salary.com/SalaryWizard/Pastor-Salary-Details.aspx.

38. This estimate comes from McKenna, Barrie, “For U.S. Farmers, Subsidies the Best Cash Crop,” The Globe and Mail, November 25, 2010.

39. This news article details the budget cuts:http://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/state/florida-budget-winners-and-losers-1451861.html.

40. Stark, Rodney, and Roger Finke. 2000. Acts of Faith: Explaining the Human Side of Religion. 1st ed. Berkeley: University of California Press.

41. Randolph, op. cit.

42. This request was detailed in Bunkley, Nick, “Debt Rising, a City Seeks Donations in Michigan,” New York Times, November 19, 2010.

Ryan T. Cragun is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Tampa. His research focuses on the nonreligious, Mormonism, and secularization. Religious tax policy is a new interest that he plans to develop.

Stephanie Yeager is a senior business management major at the University of Tampa and an honors student. Stephanie currently works as an administrative assistant at a professional liability insurance broker in downtown Tampa. She became interested in religious tax policy when she saw the taxes taken out of her paycheck and wondered whether pastors were paying similar amounts.

Desmond Vega is a senior psychology major at the University of Tampa. He is interested in studying religion from psychological, sociological, and philosophical perspectives.

Despite several months of intensive efforts to understand tax regulations related to religions, the authors do not claim to be experts on tax law or tax regulations.

Emphasis Mine

see:http://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php?section=fi&page=cragun_32_4

Why the War on Birth Control is a Political Disaster for the GOP

from: HuffPost

By: Robert Creamer

From the point of view of a partisan Democrat, I can only think of one thing to say about the Republican Party’s escalating opposition to birth control: go ahead, make our day.

You have to wonder if the political consultants advising the Republican presidential candidates have lost their minds. In the competition for ultra-right wing voters in the Republican primaries, the Romney and Santorum campaigns have completely lost sight of how their positions on birth control appear to the vast majority of Americans – and especially to women – and affect their chances in a general election.

Outside of a very narrow strata of political extremists, birth control is not a controversial subject. At some point in their lives roughly 98% of women – including 98% of Catholic women — have used birth control – either to prevent pregnancy, regulate menstrual cycles and cramps or to address other medical issues.

Last week a PPP poll reported that:

This issue could be potent in this fall’s election. Fully 58 percent of voters say they oppose Republicans in Congress trying to take away the birth control benefit that saves women hundreds of dollars a year, including 56 percent of independents.

And recent Pew Poll says only 8% of Americans believe that the use of contraceptives is “immoral.”

Democracy Corps published a polling memo last Thursday that said in part:

…one of the most important factors powering Obama’s gains against likely GOP nominee Mitt Romney has been the President’s improving numbers among unmarried women, a key pillar of the present and future Democratic coalition.

Among this group, Obama now leads Romney by 65-30 — and there’s been a net 18-point swing towards the President among them…

The issue of access to birth control is very important among this group.

In addition, the memo went on to say that the battle over contraception could be another “Terri Schiavo moment” where the knee jerk reaction of right wing culture warriors runs afoul of Americans’ desire not to have government interfering with their most private personal decisions.

And the numbers understate another important factor – intensity. Many women voters in particular feel very intensely about the birth control issue. It’s not just another issue – it’s about their own control of the most personal aspects of their lives.

Notwithstanding these facts, Mitt Romney has come out squarely in favor of the “personhood” amendment that was soundly defeated in Mississippi – probably the most conservative state in the nation. That amendment would essentially ban most forms of hormonal birth control, like the Pill and IUD, that millions of women – and their spouses – rely upon to prevent unwanted pregnancy.

Santorum, in addition to his support of the “personhood” amendment, actually argues that contraception of any sort is immoral.

Both Romney and Santorum have attacked the Obama Administration’s rule that requires insurance companies to make birth control available to all women with no co-payment no matter where they work.

Their positions are so far outside the political mainstream that they might as well be on the former planet Pluto.

And these are not positions that are peripherally related to voters’ opinions of candidates for office. For many swing voters, the GOP’s extremist positions on birth control could very well be dispositive determinants of their votes next November.

First, for a large number of women voters, their positions communicate two very important things:

    • They aren’t on my side;
  • They don’t understand my life.

And the spectacle of Congressman’s Dayrl Issa’s hearing on contraception that featured six male witnesses – and not one woman – generated an iconic moment that Democrats will recycle over and over between now and the fall elections.

Most American women hear these positions and respond that the guys who control the Republican Party simply don’t get it. And many add that if men could get pregnant, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

The sense that the Republican candidates are out of touch and unable to empathize with the lives of ordinary people is especially damaging to Romney, since his lack of empathy has become something of a trademark. Just ask his late dog Seamus who was famously forced to ride on top of his car for twelve hours on a family trip.

Second, Romney’s current position on birth control reinforces the correct perception that he has no core values whatsoever – and is willing to say anything to get elected. Fact is that when Romney was Governor of Massachusetts, the state had a provision virtually identical to the Federal Rule on the availability of contraceptives that he now opposes.

Santorum, on the other hand is no flip-flopper on the issue. He has been opposed to birth control his entire career – and that provides a powerful symbol of the fact that he is a right wing extremist that is completely out of step with the views of most ordinary Americans.

Third, many Americans are wondering what in the world the Republicans are doing talking about social issues like birth control, when they ought to be talking about how they intend to create jobs.

The longer they focus on birth control, the more they will highlight the fact that the while their victories in the 2010 midterms were all about popular unhappiness with the economy – the Republican majority in the House has instead focused its energy on social issues like cutting off funding for Planned Parenthood or restricting access to birth control. Normal people look at that kind of agenda and ask: “What are they thinking?”

Finally, the birth control discussion is not just damaging the two front-running presidential contenders. It is tarnishing the entire GOP brand. That will damage the chances of Republican candidates for Congress, state and local office as well.

Initially, the GOP began its jihad against birth control reasoning that the Administration’s contraception rule could prove their outrageous claim that Obama and the Democrats are conducting a “war against religion.”

Of course, someone might remind the right that it is the Democrats that are defending the core ethical principal of Christianity, Judaism, Islam – and most other major religions – to love your neighbor. In fact, President Obama intends to frame the entire Presidential campaign as a choice between a society where we look out for each other – and have each other’s back – or a society of dog eat dog selfishness where only the strongest can be successful, where the big corporations can exploit everyday Americans, and most people are left on their own to fend for themselves.

In Obama’s State of the Union, he challenged the Republicans to remember that when people go into battle – attempt to accomplish any mission – they are successful if they have each other’s backs – if they are all in this together.

Loving your neighbor is the core ethical principal of Christianity, and of other major religions. It is those who oppose that principle that are conducting the real “war against religion.”

The revised birth control rule that the President promulgated ten days ago, putting the burden to provide contraceptives on insurance companies, not employers, allowed the focus to shift away from the rights of religious institutions and back to the extreme GOP position on birth control where it belongs.

But despite the fact that even the Catholic Hospital Association supports the new compromise regulation, extremist Republicans like Issa just can’t help themselves. They can’t stop themselves from fanning the anti-birth control flames any more than a pyromaniac just can restrain his urge to start fires. And of course the reason is simple. Many members of the current GOP Congressional caucus are in fact ideological extremists. This debate calls up something primal in their inner political consciousness.

This, of course, is not true of Romney, whose political commitments are limited to his own personal success. He has no qualms whatsoever about leveraging companies with debt, bleeding them dry and laying off workers to make himself richer. And he doesn’t think twice about saying whatever he believes will help him win an election.

Problem is, that while his opposition to birth control may help him win Republican primaries, it may make him unelectable in a General Election.

Oh well, maybe after the election is done, he can replenish his coffers by suing some of his consultants for political malpractice.”

Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com. He is a partner in Democracy Partnersand a Senior Strategist for Americans United for Change. Follow him on Twitter @rbcreamer.


Emphasis Mine

see:http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-creamer/why-the-war-on-birth-cont_b_1288802.html?utm_source=Alert-blogger&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Email%2BNotifications

Morning Mix: Santorum’s Crusade Heats Up

From: Care 2

By: 

“Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum has apparently abandoned his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination and is instead campaigning for theocrat-in-chief. Santorum continues to attack the Obama administration for its oppression of religious liberty rights by enforcing civil rights laws and on Saturday suggested the President’s faith is not “based in the Bible.”

Well, it had been a while since someone suggested that President Obama was a secret Muslim, so I guess we were due, huh?

Oh, and apparently he believes Protestants have some explaining to do also.

Arizona continues to be a hot mess. Paul Babeu, a rising Republican star and anti-immigrant Sheriff faces allegations that he threatened his undocumented immigrant boyfriend with deportation when they broke up.

And because it is impossible for Mitt Romney to get good news these days, Babeu just so happened to be leading his Arizona campaign.

Another Arizona Republican made news by telling reporters she wanted to kick Santorum “in the jimmy” after his remarks that women shouldn’t be in combat. Martha McSally is a retired Air Force colonel and combat veteran running for the seat recently vacated by Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ).

After a long week of attacks on women’s reproductive health who do you think gets booked for the Sunday talk shows? Men. Of course.

We can expect more of the same in the short term. There’s too much improving economic news and spring is around the corner. All Republicans have left is the culture war.

Read more: 

Read more: http://www.care2.com/causes/morning-mix-santorums-crusade-heats-up.html#ixzz1mqc8H9BY

Emphasis Mine

see:http://www.care2.com/causes/morning-mix-santorums-crusade-heats-up.html

5 Big Lies About the Phony ‘War on Religion’

From: Alternet

By: Sarah Jaffe

Republican candidates have been traveling the country pledging to end Obama’s war.

Sounds great, except for one tiny problem—the war they’re railing about doesn’t exist. They’re not calling for an end to the war in Afghanistan or the abstract “war on terror.” The candidates claim that Obama and Democrats across the country are waging a “war on religion”– and, of course, they’re the “civilian casualties,” along with the rest of America’s white Christian majority.

Exploiting religious divides has long been one of the ways conservatives seek to win over working-class voters, whom they otherwise don’t seem to care about. Abortion, gay rights and religious education become wedge issues for politicians like Rick Santorum, who blend a kind of faux-populism with frighteningly reactionary sentiments about the rights of women and LGBT people.

That’s just it, too. The claims of “war on religion” seem to always come when a move by the administration, a court, or legislature has granted more rights and protections to those who are not straight, male and usually white. When white evangelicals and Catholics claim that Obama’s declaring a war on religion, they mean on their religion. They’re evoking the same xenophobia as the demands for the birth certificate, as the claims that Obama is a Muslim. The insinuation is that the president isn’t American, isn’t like them, and thus is to be feared, hated, or simply voted out of office.

We’ve collected five examples  of the GOP and religious-right leaders claiming their rights are being infringed when the government tells them they can no longer use their beliefs as an excuse to discriminate against others.

1. Catholic employers complain about having to provide birth control coverage with health insurance.

Republican politicians and religious-right leaders—particularly the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, known previously for its willingness to tank healthcare reform over private abortion coverage that women could purchase with their own money—are claiming, incredibly, that the Obama administration’s ruling that birth control should be covered by health insurance without a co-pay infringes on their freedom of religion.

Santorum, a Catholic, pitched a fit over the contraception rule in Colorado on the campaign trail this week, calling Obama “hostile to people of faith, particularly Christians, and specifically Catholics.”

And Mitt Romney, whose church explicitly permits birth control, nevertheless had to get in on the fun, writing an op-ed for theWashington Examinerclaiming Obama is trying to “impose a secular vision on Americans who believe that they should not have their religious freedom taken away.”

The Catholic bishops fought Obama’s decision to provide birth control coverage at all, and then demanded an exemption that would have given religious institutions sweeping rights to deny coverage. As Amanda Marcotte noted at RH Reality Check:

“Sensibly, the Obama administration did not grant the exception, following federal tradition of protecting the religious freedom of individual employees over claims from employers that their rights trump those of employees. You can’t cut someone’s salary because they don’t share your religious belief, after all, so why should you be able to cut their benefits?”

Not only that, but NPR reported that many Catholic hospitals and universities already do offer contraceptive coverage as part of their health insurance. And a new poll shows that a majority of Americans — and a majority of Catholics – think Catholic hospitals and universities should indeed have to offer co-pay-free birth control coverage.

So how, exactly, is this a war on religion? If anything, it’s another symptom of the war on workers—employers claiming that they have the right not to provide the same coverage mandated for other employees, because of their personal beliefs. (Note that the Catholic bishops never speak out on behalf of workers’ rights, though the Pope has spoken out for economic justice issues many times. They’re only interested in defending the rights of the boss to impose his religious beliefs on his female employees.) The only way it becomes an attack on religion is when right-wingers lie about it.

So what is a mandate for birth control becomes, in the words of Congressman Jim Jordan, “free contraceptives, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs.”

There’d be nothing wrong with this if it were true—abortion is in fact a legal healthcare procedure in the United States. But the fact is that it’s not even close to true – it’s just another dangerous elision between contraception—which prevents pregnancy—and abortion, which terminates an existing pregnancy.

While most pro-choicers would like to see abortion covered by health insurance, that’s simply not the case and was a big enough point of contention in the fight over healthcare reform that the bill nearly went down. The fact that the right is continuing to lie about it simply shows that they know the American public isn’t actually on their side when they tell the truth.

2. Catholic Charities shut down adoption services rather than allow same-gender couples to adopt.

The bishops aren’t just mad about contraception, though.

In an NPR story about the “war on religion,” Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, CT, head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, complained that Illinois-based Catholic Charities was “forced” to shut down its adoption services because it would otherwise have had to start placing orphaned children with same-gender couples.

“…[W]e do have a constitutional right not to be discriminated against because we’re following our own convictions,” he said.

Other people’s convictions—for instance, that no child should go homeless because of antiquated prejudices—don’t seem to hold the same weight for the bishops.

A pesky Illinois state law demands that couples joined under the state’s civil union law be considered just as valid as male-female couples married by a church—and that includes being able to adopt children. Catholic Charities wanted state money to fund its services, but didn’t want to obey the state’s non-discrimination law.

Of course, the same right-wingers who call for personal responsibility for struggling Americans don’t see anything wrong with government funding for religious organizations.

Just for the record—the Obama administration continues to fund faith-based groups, with $140 million from the stimulus bill alone making its way into the coffers of religious organizations.

3. Tony Perkins whines after Air Force apologizes for promoting an explicitly Christian charity.

Oh, Tony, Tony.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, says that Obama has “created an atmosphere that is hostile toward Christianity.”

How’s that, exactly? Well, Perkins told James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, that the Air Force Academy‘s apology for promoting Operation Christmas Child, an explicitly Christian ministry, on campus, was creating such an atmosphere.

Operation Christmas Child is not just any Christian ministry, though—it’s a subsidiary of Franklin (son of Billy) Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse. And Graham? His concern for religious liberty is pretty specific, and certainly doesn’t apply to Muslims. As Sarah Posner at Religion Dispatches noted, Graham thinks the Muslim Brotherhood has also infiltrated the government. (The complaint that got the Air Force Academy to apologize was filed on behalf of 132 Academy personnel, including two Muslim families.)

Graham is also a notorious birther—and that gets to the heart of these charges that Obama is opposed to religion. As noted above, the claims that Obama doesn’t respect religion are deeply connected with the claims that he is a Muslim, or that he is not an American citizen.

So let’s get this straight. When the Air Force Academy, a government entity, respects the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and refuses to endorse an explicitly evangelical Christian charity, that’s a war on religion. But if the Air Force Academy supports the charity of a man who calls Islam “a very evil and wicked religion,” it’s…protecting religious freedom?

Sorry, Tony, Franklin, James. If you want to stand up for religious freedom, you have to stand up for everyone’s religious freedom. That means even those scary Muslims.

4. Justice Department defends a teacher who claims religious discrimination after being fired from a Lutheran school.

In a case before the Supreme Court, the Obama justice department took the side of a teacher who did double duty at a Lutheran school in Michigan, teaching secular subjects and also leading students in prayer and teaching religious courses. Cheryl Perich took a medical leave for an illness, and when she was better, the school declined to take her back. She sued, claiming discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Chicago Tribune explained what happened next:

“A federal district court rejected the claim. It said that because of her religious duties, she was covered by the long-recognized ‘ministerial exception’ — which says the government may not interfere in the relationship between churches and their clergy. An appeals court agreed on the exception, but said Perich wasn’t covered because she wasn’t a minister.”

The Supreme Court heard the case, with the Justice Department arguing that Perich should be treated like any other employee—but the whole court ruled against them, saying that protecting Perich’s job was tantamount to telling the church who was qualified to be a minister.

Once again, a position that religious folks are calling anti-religious is actually a pro-worker position. Perich wasn’t claiming that she had a right to teach Lutheran children the tenets of Judaism; she claimed that she was fired from a teaching job because she had been ill. Yet (Catholic) Justice Alito compared the school being required to give her job back to forcing Catholics to allow women to become priests, saying, “under the administration’s logic…there would be no obvious reason to prevent women from suing the Catholic church for sex discrimination because it bars them from the priesthood.”

While of course the government shouldn’t tell religious organizations who they can choose as ministers, the Justice Department hardly made that case (and indeed, has been willing, as shown above, to accommodate all sorts of religious organizations). Instead, it argued that a church, no less than Wal-Mart, doesn’t get to discriminate against a worker because of a disability or illness. Wrapping attacks on workers’ rights in religious clothing doesn’t make them OK, and it certainly doesn’t make Obama guilty of disrespecting religion.

5. Obama administration refuses to defend the Defense of Marriage Act.

No list of lies about religious faith and the Obama administration would be complete without the histrionics about marriage.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan (see a pattern here?), president of the Conference of Catholic Bishops, claimed in September that Obama’s opposition to the Defense of Marriage Act, that Clinton-era compromise which, like most Clinton-era compromises, pleased and helped no one, would “precipitate a national conflict between church and state of enormous proportions and to the detriment of both institutions.”

Who’s creating conflict here again?

The Defense of Marriage Act is a federal law that prevents states from having to recognize same-gender marriages granted in other states. It has very little to do with religion in the first place—because no law can force an institution of religion to carry out a marriage ceremony for any reason. Instead, the law applies to the legal institution of marriage, and means that a married couple in one state can lose all the rights and benefits of that marriage by crossing a state line.

Obama’s Justice Department declared last spring that they would no longer defend DOMA in court; over the summer, the department released a brief arguing that the law should be rejected as it is a kind of “sexual-orientation discrimination.”

The religious right doesn’t like that—but it has absolutely nothing to do with them. And just this week, the California Supreme Court agreed, noting in its ruling overturning that state’s Proposition 8 (the law banning same-gender marriage) that the law did not have “any effect on religious freedom or on parents’ rights to control their children’s education; it could not have been enacted to safeguard those liberties.”

Members of the religious right likes to claim that their opposition to gay marriage and adoption, to contraception and abortion, is a matter of deeply held moral conviction simply because it comes from religious teachings. And no one has tried to prevent them from clinging to their outdated beliefs.

However, it is also a moral belief that discrimination is wrong, that women have the right to control their own bodies and choose when they will or will not have children, that gay and lesbian couples have the same rights as heterosexual couples and should be able to be married and adopt children.

As John Fea, chair of the history department at Messiah College in Pennsylania, wrote, “Obama’s vision for America is just as moral as the vision espoused on the campaign trail by Rick Santorum. It may also be more Christian.”

Sarah Jaffe is an associate editor at AlterNet, a rabblerouser and frequent Twitterer. You can follow her at @seasonothebitch.

Emphasis Mine

see:http://www.alternet.org/story/154059/5_Big_Lies_About_the_Phony_%27War_on_Religion%27/

Morning Mix: GOP Won’t Quit Attacking The Pill

From: Care2

By: 

President Obama’s announced “accommodation” of the birth control mandate in the Affordable Care Act was like chumming the waters for CPAC attendees. Mike Huckabee rallied for solidarity proclaiming “we are all Catholics now!” and Rick Santorum swung hard against science and common sense. Meanwhile Mitt Romney had white supremacists warming up the crowd before his address where he highlighted his “severe” conservatism while Governor of Massachusetts. CPAC is getting so strange I’m feeling wistful for a primary or caucus. Good thing there’s Maine!

Conservatives really believe campaigning against contraception is a winning issue, so much so they’ve already started producing ads targeting pro-choice women on the issue.

Maybe conservatives should check out the latest poll numbers if they’re so sure this is a good move. (N.B.: or Not!  I want this to be our year!)

CPAC may be the last gasp of the Gingrich campaign. The former Speaker of the House painted himself as the “anti-establishment” candidate who is “terrible” at gold.

This is what I’m talking about–CPAC exists in some kind of alternate universe where Gingrich can insist he’s a man of the people and birth control is the issue of the season.  And the sad thing is, I think it’s only going to get crazier the closer we get to the convention”

Read more: 

Read more: http://www.care2.com/causes/morning-mix-gop-wont-quit-attacking-the-pill.html#ixzz1m5hvV7H7

Emphasis Mine

see: http://www.care2.com/causes/morning-mix-gop-wont-quit-attacking-the-pill.html

no-birth-control-part-II-Romney-wants-to-eliminate-title-X

From:care2

“Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has recently come out in favor of “Personhood,” the idea of granting full legal rights to fertilized eggs, a plan that would not only eliminate abortion but could outlaw most forms of contraception, too.

But that’s not Romney’s only attack on birth control.  Numerous presidential candidates agreed to sign the Susan B. Anthony pledge, one of the platforms of which was to agree to defund Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest birth control and reproductive health provider.

Romney did not sign the pledge.  However, now he’s going even further than the anti-choice group itself has tried to reach.

He wants to eliminate Title X funding all together.

As Sarah Kliff explains: “Created in 1970 during the Nixon years, Title X covers reproductive health services like birth control, STD screenings, and cervical-cancer exams. In 2008, the program reached about 5 million Americans, mostly women. While the program does provide funds to abortion providers, such as Planned Parenthood, federal law bars the program from covering abortion procedures.”

Romney’s plan to eliminate federal funding for all family planning services can be seen by fiscal conservatives as a sign that he is ready to take a hard line on budget cutting, and sends a subtle message to the social conservatives so wary of him that he can be the champion for ending abortion, and even support for birth control.

The House Republicans desperately tried to eliminate funding in the first government shutdown battle.  It was only the president’s refusal to allow that to occur that saved the program.  If that president were Mitt Romney, that would be a very different story.

Emphasis Mine

see:http://www.care2.com/causes/no-birth-control-part-ii-romney-wants-to-eliminate-title-x.html