The Pulpit and the IRS



Patrick is a mid-40 year old geek with an undergraduate degree in mathematics and a master's degree in Information Systems. Nothing he says here has anything to do with the official position of his employer or any other institution.

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89 Responses

  1. Avatar North says:

    Oh no, you had to end it that way didn’t you? Palin is on the case and she’s pissed. She’s probably on her way to your house/place of employement on a four by four as we speak. Run Patrick RUN!!!Report

  2. Avatar Jaybird says:

    The letter of the law, again as I understand it, is that you are welcome to make pulpit speeches about whatever you want, but if you cross the line from “about matters of conscience” into “baldly political statements” you’ve crossed the line from “teaching your flock about your church’s principles” to “telling people they need to sign this petition”.

    This is, I believe, the Johnson Amendment.

    It passed in 1954. Apparently, there were a bunch of churches out there agitating for something or other and Johnson was upset that those people were using churches for talking about agitation (“justice”) instead of talking about the Word of God and Christ’s Resurrection.

    Personally, I’m one of those “if you can say it, it’s speech” nutballs, myself.Report

    • Avatar Patrick says:

      The tricky widget here is that I’m not sure that it’s really a limitation on speech for the government to treat you like everybody else. In fact, that seems to be the reasonable default.

      It’s a privilege that some folks get and some don’t… they can engage in speech without having to pay a vig on any of the money involved.

      As long as we’re going to say, “You can say whatever you want, but if you limit yourself to just talking about these things we give you a tax break”, we have to expect that folks will want to break those limits and they’ll complain that we’re putting limitations on their speech if we come down on them for it.

      The alternative is either not to tax anybody or to tax everybody the same.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        Though the tax break as I understand is not for the organization itself (i.e. I don’t think any PACs or political campaigns actually pay taxes), it’s for contributors to that organization.Report

      • Avatar Patrick says:

        I can state for the record that political contributions given to a candidate/issue are certainly not tax deductible.

        Political contributions given to a Church that will turn around and give them to a candidate/issue certainly are.

        Of course, you have to believe that the Church will in fact pass-through your wishes and fishes.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Let’s just say that if you get this benefit from the government, you must be drug tested.

        If you don’t want to be drug tested, stop taking the benefit.Report

      • Avatar Patrick says:

        I see a sliver of light between the two. YMMVReport

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        No, wait. That’s a different argument.

        Anyway, one thing that I wonder is this: Are there any other countries that have removed the tax-exempt status of churches? Like, any?

        What happened in those countries?

        I mean, I might be down with this sort of thing happening. I’d just like to know what happened in other countries when this happened.

        (I’m not looking forward to the day when Southern Baptists start visiting Unitarian Universalist churches and writing down whether the pastor says that we should institute this or that policy in efforts to remove the UU tax exemption.)Report

      • Avatar Patrick says:

        That whole “equal protection” thing, granted, might be getting into the ineffable range here.Report

      • Avatar Mo says:

        @kolohe AFAIK religious organizations are exempt from paying property taxes and also can pay pastor’s living allowances (to a certain point) tax free.Report

  3. Avatar Kolohe says:

    “First, how do you publicly shame people for saying things that they publicly said from a rather privileged position? Doesn’t that seem to be a weird complaint”

    How? you force them to spend money on a good lawyer; money spent on that can’t be spent on other things. (after all, we’re going after ISIS by defunding them)

    And if they don’t get a good lawyer (and sometimes even if they do), you track any errors they may make in fulfilling the requirements of the subpoena, then hit them with obstruction of justice and perjury charges. Afterwards, it’s just a matter of a perp walk, and/or the mug shot followed using the full weight of the judicial system to crush your political enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentation of their women.Report

    • Avatar Patrick says:

      The implication, as I read it, in the RedState piece is that of course the church isn’t doing anything wrong, and this isn’t about whether or not the City of Houston is looking for scoundrels, it’s that the secular left as embodied by the City of Houston is looking for the text of pulpit speech so that they can hold up the Reverend Foo as saying, “Reverend Foo hates gays because he said (whatever)”.

      If Reverend Foo is willing to stand in a pulpit and say (whatever), and that (whatever) can be construed as being anti-gay, I’m not sure why Reverend Foo isn’t willing to stand behind those words.

      You know, the whole idea of preaching in the Christian tradition is bearing witness to everybody.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        I’m taking ‘harass’ as the first and more controlling word. I would also say that what a person says in a semi-public (but not full public) forum is not the same thing as what a person says in a full public forum.

        Use the common settings of social media, for instance. If someone sets ‘public’ for their Facebook posts, well, then, dissemination and retransmission is a complete done deal. If someone has just set their post to ‘friends’ however, then putting the content out there for maximum distribution is normally considered rude.

        I see a similar thing for a church pastor who is not simulcasting on TV/radio/internet (which many of them do these days)Report

      • Avatar Patrick says:

        I am having a very difficult time squaring “preaching from the pulpit” as also being a “semi-private” activity.

        This might be the whole Catholic-raised thing and/or a Christianist perspective, but the mandate coming from The Guy Upstairs is pretty much “be a public exemplar”. I don’t know of a religious tradition where a preacher isn’t more or less required to preach to everybody equally as kinda of the job description.

        This isn’t a Unitarian businessman in a Mormon town kinda deal.Report

      • Avatar notme says:


        Maybe you’ve forgotten about the IRS harassment of the tea party group?Report

    • Avatar morat20 says:

      Maybe you’ve forgotten about the IRS harassment of the tea party group?
      Well, being entirely imaginary is a knock against recalling it.Report

  4. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    This is something the right-wing especially evangelical Christians/Moral Majority have been chomping at the bit for years to have this fight.

    It is about the Johnson Amendment which grants a tax-exempt status to religious institutions as long as they don’t engage in political advocacy and stuff like “Thou shall burn in hell if thou art a Democrat.”

    I am not fully up on the issues and complexities of the Johnson Amendment but I know that this is fight that right wants to have and they think they can win because of Citizens United and subsequent decisions.Report

    • Avatar Patrick says:

      If this is the agenda, then they blew it.

      They should have vociferously supported All-Saints, gotten it into the courts, and amicus briefed it to death.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

        Well that would mean supporting liberals which is just a bridge too far.

        Another point for Tod Kelley’s ideology is the enemy is that the religious left and the religious right (mainly the religious right) have a hard time understanding how someone can be religious and a liberal especially if said person is christian.*

        *Written with a lower case because I hate how Evangelicals have co-opted Christian to mean Evangelical.Report

  5. Avatar Chris says:

    Simple, non-discriminatory solution: get rid of the tax exempt status for religious organizations altogether. That way everyone’s happy, right?Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      Get rid of 501(c) organizations altogether.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      Simple, non-discriminatory solution: get rid of the tax exempt status for religious organizations altogether.

      How is making religious orgs the only non-profits without that status non-discriminatory?Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        James, I’m only suggesting it in jest. I don’t care whether they’re tax exempt.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:


        Okay, remove any and everyone’s tax exempt status.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Okay, remove any and everyone’s tax exempt status.

        Would you have this bill originate in the House, the Senate, or would you see it as more appropriately done by executive order?

        Or would you hope that the Supreme Court would find that tax exempt status violates equal protection or something?Report

    • Avatar morat20 says:

      A church doesn’t have to be tax-exempt. There’s no requirement for it. Any church can happily remain a church, forgo it’s tax-exempt status, and lobby, campaign, endorse, and otherwise meddle in politics to it’s heart’s content.

      I’m pretty sure none of them have ever actually done so, preferring to create political action arms or otherwise independent entities.

      I’m sure plenty of pastors chafe under the restrictions, but not enough to forgo their tax-exempt status. Wanting it both ways is probably just human nature.Report

  6. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    I know that the Johnson Amendment was passed in the 1950s but does anybody know if Johnson was even remotely inspired by how the GOP used Protestant churches to run a crusade against Al Smith during the 1928 Presidential elections?Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      Have you ever heard how Johnson pronounced the word “negro” when he was a senator?Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        Yet, he did more than any other President for Civil Rights and knowingly put his political party in a position of electoral disadvantage for decades in order to further civil rights.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Sure. But he did those things when he was president. Not when he was doing things such as passing the Johnson Amendment.

        I mean, seriously. What was going on at the various pulpits in the 1950’s? You honestly think that he had 1928 in mind when he wrote his famous amendment?

        Do you honestly think that the other politicians who enthusiastically voted for it were thinking of 1928?Report

      • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

        C’mon @leeesq , LBJ’s a terrible human being who you can have no admiration for. I mean, I’ve been told that by my betters who are above this whole political thing, so I should shame myself.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Not my argument, Jesse. Instead, I’m arguing against the position that Lyndon Johnson was thinking of Protestants in 1928 when he wrote his Johnson Amendment in 1954.Report

  7. Avatar morat20 says:

    Stripping away all the rhetoric, and what Houston has here is a bog-standard “Ask for the moon” subpoena for discovery, wherein they’re asking for everything they can think of from everyone related to the lawsuit AND the original petition. (The petition being to repeal a new law or ordinance about transgender rights, which is hilariously attacked under ‘It allows men to use the women’s restroom!” when in fact the ordinance was designed to prevent men from being forced to use the women’s restroom, and vice versa).

    It seems they’re fishing for electioneering violations or lying about the petition or some other violation of the rules on politics and keeping your tax-exemption. (The pastors are not party to the suit, but IIRC were involved in the petition process).

    And I suspect that unless the city has some evidence already, the subpoena’s will be heavily narrowed after going through the court process.

    Which all and in all strikes me as exactly how it works for any case, except this one involves pastors which apparently means the entire legal system should work another way because Freedom. If the city was dealing with a lawsuit with Comcast, no one would blink an eye if the city tried to get access to everything Comcast had ever done, written, speculated about, thought, said, or briefly considered about everything related to the issue, no matter how strained or tangential. They’d just expect the judge in charge to laugh and narrow down any unreasonable areas, because that’s how these things work.

    But that doesn’t put eyes in newspapers or butts in pews, so I guess rhetoric and anger!Report

    • Avatar Kolohe says:

      AFAIK, the Constitution does not have a clause stating “Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of crappy cable service”. Was that one of the original bill of rights passed relatively recently, like the one regarding congressional monetary compensation?Report

      • Avatar morat20 says:

        How is responding to a subpoena impairing religion?

        Not to put too fine a point on it, but being a church — tax exempt or otherwise — does not actually shield it from basic laws. If your church doesn’t meet the local building codes, is closing it a First Amendment violation?

        I suppose you could assume the subpoena’s were retaliatory in nature, which could be considered an impingement, but you’d need to show it — not assume it. Especially since the “ask for the moon” list is standard practice for discovery, and if the people gather petitions had been average joes, seeking copies of any communications or public comments about the petition would be standard fare. (To see if they were suborning forgery, lying about the contents of the petition, gathering signatures under false pretenses, etc).

        I suppose under RFRA you could claim you didn’t have to make the contents of your communications available in response to a lawsuit, if you had religious objections to lawsuits or something.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        “How is responding to a subpoena impairing religion?”

        How is asking for a photo ID impairment of the right to vote? Yet, there we are.

        Regardless, you acknowledge that the discovery process will be narrowed down by a judge to remove unreasonable areas. How is the judge going to do that? By passing judgement if and only if the plaintiffs filing a motion – which they have. So your problem is, what? Their actions to publicize their case? The fact that they are whiners?

        It’s especially vexing because these circumstances almost hit for the cycle in the first amendment – speech, religion, assembly, and petitioning the government.

        So yeah, I think litigation must meet a much higher bar, regardless of the content of their speech and what I think about think about it. Because it’s when its pretty easy to bring lawfare against people you think are clowns, it becomes easy to bring it against people that are better and with fewer resources at their disposal.Report

      • Avatar Morat20 says:

        How is asking for a photo ID impairment of the right to vote? Yet, there we are.
        Actually, I can draw you a logic chain there.I can point out things like the difficulty in acquiring photo ID, and the fact that this represents a burden.

        So no, they’re not comparable. Because I STILL don’t see why a church shouldn’t have to comply with routine discovery the way a company would. Or I would.

        And my point? I made my point. You then went “something something first amendment freedom of religion something something” and I asked what you meant, and then you didn’t answer. So what’s YOUR point?

        This looks like bog standard discovery. If they were after transcripts of public remarks of a CEO, nobody would care. And this is how discovery works, is it not? The defense asks for everything they think might possibly be relevant, and the other side objects and claims it’s a fishing expedition/BS/privileged. And a judge sorts it out. Except we’re all angry about this, because it’s a church.

        I’ve yet to here a good reason why the church should get a free pass from this aspect of the law, except for the fact that it’s a church. Which is awesome and all, but I have freedom of speech (right there next to freedom of religion) and that won’t protect MY emails from discovery if I’m even tangentially related to some ongoing lawsuit and a lawyer thinks I might have something interesting.Report

      • Avatar notme says:


        And the voter ID requirement leads to nuclear war as well, right?Report

      • Avatar Morat20 says:

        And the voter ID requirement leads to nuclear war as well, right?
        You don’t really get how conversations work, do you?Report

      • Avatar Jim Heffman says:

        “something something first amendment freedom of religion something something”

        I love how suddenly the First Amendment doesn’t mean shit. sic transit outrage over Free Speech Zones, we got some churches to burn here!Report

      • Avatar morat20 says:

        I love how suddenly the First Amendment doesn’t mean shit. sic transit outrage over Free Speech Zones, we got some churches to burn here!
        Well, if that’s what you got then either you can’t read or I can’t communicate. I’d try again, but I can’t understand where we lost each other because your reply is so brief.

        Suffice it to say, that is not even remotely what I said, thought, or indicated.Report

      • Avatar Jim Heffman says:

        You’re acting like there needs to be a more substantial argument here than pointing at the First Amendment.Report

      • For what it’s worth, @morat20 seems to me to be exactly right here, though I’m not even sure this is necessarily “ask for the moon” type stuff. Looking at the ordinances governing referendum petitions in Houston, it looks like misrepresentations that are used to induce signatures can indeed be a basis for invalidating those signatures. Since these pastors -whether or not they’re officially plaintiffs – seem to have been very active in inducing people to sign the petition, their representations to people they induced to sign the petition (presumably their congregations) are highly relevant. Additionally, the dates of signatures are also extremely important, so if pastors were instructing their congregations to sign the petitions more than 30 days before the petitions were filed (and their congregations presumably did so), that would potentially invalidate the petitions.

        And, keep in mind, we’re only talking about one out of 17 requests contained in the subpoenas. It’s not as if this particular item was the only, or even the most important, request in the subpoena, and the other requests were the types of things that it would be malpractice not to demand in these circumstances.

        As @morat20 also suggested, the subpoena itself, particularly this request, doesn’t mean much. The pastors have every right in the world to object to the request, and demand that it be narrowed down substantially or even stricken entirely. And that’s exactly what they’ve done. This isn’t as if the government went on the attack and just started subpoenaing for no reason at all; it’s trying to defend itself, and a core basis for that defense is that the petition was based on fraudulent misrepresentations.

        Now, I think there’s a definite free speech issue to the extent that alleged misrepresentations about legislation can form the basis for overruling a referendum petition, since what constitutes a misrepresentation about legislation is inherently vague and subjective. But if the courts are going to allow the city to make that argument and raise it as a defense, then the city needs to be able to prove it, and discovery is the only way to accomplish that.

        It doesn’t even matter that it’s the city who is the defendant here – subpoenas are issued under the authority of the courts (at least in theory), and they are enforced by the courts.

        At root, the subpoena request here is conceptually similar to the feds issuing grand jury subpoenas for copies of certain of Jim Bakker’s sermons back in the 80s in order to build their fraud case against him. The only difference is that there is no doubt in the world that Bakker’s misrepresentations, once proven, amounted to criminal conduct, while there is a very real free speech question as to whether alleged misrepresentations about legislation can be used to invalidate a referendum petition.Report

      • Avatar morat20 says:

        Not that it matters, as the City has already decided to narrow the subpoena’s (and blamed them on pro-bono lawyers helping with the case).

        I expected the courts to basically force the City to show a lot more cause for this than, say, an identical request to Comcast in the end anyways.Report

      • One last thing on this – regardless of whether the pastors here have a legitimate defense (and there’s a very good chance they do), the outrage over this is all just a bit much. These pastors were not randomly selected and they’re not being singled out because of their religion or even their political views (at least with respect to the subpoena – we can debate whether the city had a legitimate reason to overrule the referendum petition).

        They organized together in a group and filed a lawsuit, knowing full well that filing a lawsuit means that you’re possibly going to wind up having to respond to discovery requests regarding the claims being made and your involvement in the allegations giving rise to the suit. They did not have a lawsuit filed against them. That they filed the lawsuit under an umbrella group’s name rather than naming themselves as actual parties does not insulate them from the expectation that they may have to testify, and to insist otherwise is too clever by half.

        They’re not using the First Amendment as a shield here, but rather as a sword. While that may indeed be their right, it’s hardly outrageous that the city is at least trying to block that sword to protect itself.Report

      • Avatar morat20 says:

        One last thing on this – regardless of whether the pastors here have a legitimate defense (and there’s a very good chance they do), the outrage over this is all just a bit much.
        Oh, it sold eyeballs. “Lesbian Liberal Socialist Mayor Tries to Shut Up Churches Over Perverted Sex Law” is basically how it was sold.

        My first encounter with the story was a Fox news piece that described the law in question as “Designed to allow men to use the women’s restrooms whenever”, and emphasized “Gay Lesbian Mayor”.

        Doesn’t that just tick off all the right outrage buttons? You’ve got the sexually deviant mayor, the sexually deviant law forcing that deviancy on everyone, the persecution of the god-fearing minority standing against such heartless evil….

        Goodness, wouldn’t you feel like such a hero if you were opposed to the law? A hero, not a bigot. Get all good and mad and feel so darn good about yourself. It’s practically made to sell to the right demographic.

        Reality has nothing to do with it. It’s just fodder for the proles.Report

      • Avatar morat20 says:

        To be specific: The “fodder for” the line was meant to be an attack on the idiots using it to gin up outrage and to push the buttons of the folks who don’t happen to know the ins and outs of a Houston regulation, a petition process, or how subpoena’s work (ie: The vast majority of people).

        I realized it sounded like I was calling them proles, when it was meant to be a bit of sarcasm indicating the folks pushing the hysteria (and writing such misleading pieces like the first one I read) viewed their readers as ignorant masses to push and pull as needed.Report

      • Avatar morat20 says:

        You’re acting like there needs to be a more substantial argument here than pointing at the First Amendment.
        Yes, there does. The First Amendment is not a blanket immunity from the law. If it was, church’s wouldn’t need to meet building codes, as a simple example.

        The Lemon test would never have needed to be invented, for another.

        Surely you have a slightly more sophisticated understanding of the First Amendment than what you’re implying.Report

    • Avatar Jim Heffman says:

      “If the city was dealing with a lawsuit with Comcast, no one would blink an eye if the city tried to get access to everything Comcast had ever done, written, speculated about, thought, said, or briefly considered about everything related to the issue, no matter how strained or tangential.”

      And if it were Comcast, they’d have a great many people whose whole job was to collect those things and provide them to the requestor. As opposed to a church that is, in the vast majority of cases, run by amateur volunteers, who wouldn’t even know how to begin complying.Report

      • Avatar morat20 says:

        You are aware that this request is in response to a lawsuit? That therefore there must exist lawyers already, who filed the original lawsuit against the city, which the city is defending itself against?

        I’m not sure we should be asking anyone to stop defending themselves because it might make the people suing work harder. And while the pastor’s are happily claiming they aren’t the ones suing, the lawsuit is on their behalf — as they were organizing the petition.

        It’s not like the city pulled these guys names out of a hat, and again — given it’s a DEFENSE against a lawsuit — there exists actual, already paid lawyers with a vested interest in handling the subpoena against the churches. (Because the evidence being sought directly impacts their case).Report

    • Avatar Gaelen says:

      I don’t see any real problem with this subpoena. A group tried to get the a referendum put on the ballot to challenge the new non-discrimination ordinance in Houston. The city refused to put the referendum on the ballot, and cited irregularities as the reason. The group sued.

      A subpoena to pastors in the area to see if they told their congregations to sign the petition would seem to be a legitimate means to discover whether there were some irregularities. Turning over these communications is just not that burdensome, the over burdensome aspects can be whittled down, and the city has a legitimate reason to request those documents. I fail to see why the rules of civil procedure shouldn’t apply to churches.Report

  8. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Allow me to act as a concern troll on behalf of the Democrats for a brief moment:

    Don’t go after a church’s tax exempt status for reals. Seriously. It’s a weapon that is useful only as a threat. Once it starts being used, its threat value is diminished and we’ve got yet another culture war on our hands and I’m pretty sure that it’s not one that you’ll win handily. I think the cultural backlash will surprise the ever-living crap out of you.Report

    • Avatar Mark J says:

      Jaybird, I’ve read your concern troll comment over a number of times and it just doesn’t make any sense.

      For reals!

      Try again, please.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Okay… Um.

        It’s all well and good to use the threat of removing a church’s tax exempt status but, seriously, don’t pull the trigger on doing so. Actually pulling the trigger on the threat will balloon into a national fight that Democrats will not win. Instead, it will result in Democrats losing elections that they otherwise will not have lost and turn easy wins into contests in their own right. This particular battle in the culture war is one that you will lose.


      • Avatar Mark J says:


        Sorry, but you were saying it was from a Dem Troll and I didn’t understand the voice you were trying to use. Seemed to switch back and forth.


      • Avatar Mark J says:

        As a political progressive, I understand your point. As an atheist, I say pull the trigger and tax those fools. Christians are heaving their last gasps of privilege as they lose the culture wars.Report

    • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

      Don’t worry, @jaybird. We’re going to wait ’til we’ve appointed 2 or 3 more Supreme Court members, then we don’t have to wins elections any more. The GOP can pass whatever they want, only for it to be thrown out by the Obama/Hillary/Castro dominated federal courts.Report

    • Avatar notme says:

      The IRS has already been after conservative groups and no one seemed to object. Why shouldn’t churches be next?Report

      • Avatar Mark J says:

        The IRS has also been after liberal groups and no one objected. So what exactly is your point?Report

      • Avatar Morat20 says:

        The fact that the IRS went on a witch hunt for tea party groups is to be taken as a given, despite the fact that it didn’t happen. Reality gets no vote, just like the plain reality here — defense lawyers ask for everything they can think of, like usual — gets no play here.Report

      • Avatar notme says:


        I didn’t realize that the IRS has gone after liberal groups in the same organized manner they went after the TEA party groups.Report

      • Avatar Road Scholar says:

        That’s because you’re literally incapable of incorporating information that conflicts with your worldview. This isn’t just snark. We’re all susceptible to it and the only real cure is to recognize that problem and deliberately struggle against it to see the other side. Of course you have to actually want to experience reality and illusions are so much more comfortable.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        The IRS Inspector General has confirmed it.

        You won’t learn these things reading Breitbart, because that’s such an excessively biased source.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        The “in the same manner” qualifier is not unimportant here.Report

      • Avatar Wardsmith says:

        I can be every bit as confident as @morat20 that there is nothing to see here with the IRS except of course for the pesky missing emails, the whole pleading the 5th business ( only to be used to protect from self incriminating ILLEGAL activities), a president claiming there was nothing to see here Before the investigation was finished, I could go on but liberals are sticking their fingers in their ears and jumping up and down already. LolReport

      • Avatar morat20 says:

        I think the problem is the IRS didn’t go with “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” on these groups. Actually trying to determine if a group is non-partisan (as required for their tax status) is just too much like persecution. They IRS should just believe it.

        Unless they’re progressive groups, then no one will raise a stink. 🙂Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        I am exercising my 5th amendment right to not raise a stink that may incriminate me.Report

    • Avatar Morat20 says:

      Don’t worry. Nobody is. Frankly, I get the impression some churches are actively daring the IRS to do so and they’re remarkably reluctant to do it.

      One reason I’m fairly certain this will get squashed, even though if it was anything but a church it’d fly. Well, maybe a newspaper. Then again, a lot of this is like asking for back issues of the paper so the judge might just laugh at the newspaper fighting over releasing copies of things it distributed publicly.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe says:

      “Don’t go after a church’s tax exempt status for reals. Seriously. It’s a weapon that is useful only as a threat. ”

      Speaking of nuclear optiona, this is pretty much one. It’s easy to think that it would only be used to defenestrate the (mostly white) suburban evangelical megachurches from their role in in Republican party politics, but it is far more likely, due to the way things actually work in this country, to attack the predominantly African American churches at their nexus with Democratic Party politics.

      It’s telling that no subpoena’s (as far as I can tell) have been served on Pastor Willie Davis who has been part of this fracas every bit as much as Steve Riggle and Dave Welch and their ilk. A white Democratic mayor dare not cut a seam in the African American religious establishment larger than it already appears to be.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        The Megachurches, ironically, are best positioned to take the hit.

        It’s the dinky (poor) churches that primarily cater to the lower classes that won’t be able to handle the change. I don’t have any numbers, of course, but I’m pretty sure that the demographics of these churches are different from the megas.Report

  9. Avatar morat20 says:

    Just as a random note:

    I’ve been an atheist for decades. Had you asked me a dozen or so years ago I’d have been far more concerned with chilling effects, and whether church’s in general should require a little more in the way of evidence and effort than, say, Comcast to accomplish the same thing — no matter how secular the issue was. Just in case, you know?

    The whole Catholic scandal thing kind of ended that. Then the Boy Scouts. Then Penn State (it was Penn state, right?). And heck, toss in Ferguson too. Not because petition shenanigans = pedophilia, but because I’m coming to the very cynical conclusion that if you offer shelter, exemptions or even informal “You gotta be really sure” cover from the law — whether it’s because it’s a religious organization or police or a beloved organization that surely wouldn’t do that, so why would you suspect them — people can and will take advantage of it.

    I find myself doubting that any of the pastor’s subject to the subpoena did anything wrong (still, I have a big bit that says “Surely a pastor would never. Maybe an accident, at worst!”), but I’ve also come to view that it shouldn’t protect them from purely secular legal norms. Because when you carve out these little niches, predators of one sort or another will exploit them. Whether they hide under priest’s collar or behind a badge.

    But hey, it’s bad PR up until you can prove it. So you don’t go after it unless you’ve already proved it, and you basically don’t need it. Such is life.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      Penn State ain’t a quarter of the problem, ya know. (and that’s the Known About problems).
      Nobody exactly needed to go after Palin… just letting her know that the other side knew about some of her more questionable activities…Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      I’m coming to the very cynical conclusion that if you offer shelter, exemptions or even informal “You gotta be really sure” cover from the law — whether it’s because it’s a religious organization or police or a beloved organization that surely wouldn’t do that, so why would you suspect them — people can and will take advantage of it.

      I’m sure you don’t intend this, but this argument is not only applicable to the 4th Amendment, but has precisely been the argument for letting police skirt it.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        It always starts as “something ought to be done” and ends with “I didn’t mean for it to screw up the lives of minorities more than anybody else”.Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        Always? Everything done to help minorities always ends up hurting them?Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        No, it’s ‘we must do something about this general societal problem’ often winds up trapping poor and/or minorities.

        “We got to do something about these drug kingpins” winds up with the government taking cash at traffic stops from the unbanked, who lack the resources to fight that taking in court

        “We got to do something about seat belt use” winds up with a black guy getting shot by a cop at a gas station.

        “we got to do something about this financial fat cat fraudsters” winds up with convicting a dude who threw away a couple of groupers.Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        Got it, simple ideological statements make things easy and simple. I’m sure any good from seat belt laws are nonexistent and there weren’t such laws that cop couldn’t have found something else. Seat belt laws are the problem. And of course it follows that no intervention has actually helped minorities or poor people. That should be easy to remember and wrong. Of course some things have helped and some haven’t, but that is a harder conversation to have.

        Threw away a couple of groupers????Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        You seem surprised that in a system, that, since time immemorial, has been stacked against poor and/or minorities – and especially poor minorities – any systemic changes tend to have a disproportionate negative effect on those populations.

        “World Ends, Women and Minorities Hardest Hit” is an old joke, but gets at an underlying truth.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        Hmm, my point was just that the logic of Morat’s position–a logic I understand–may be problematic in its extension to other areas. And if we find it problematic in other areas, then logic requires that we figure out whether there really are differences between the two areas, so that we can favor its application over here, disfavor its application over there, and still remain logically consistent.

        Although I’m dubious, I’m not asserting that we can’t. I’m only asserting that it’s an important task.Report

      • Avatar morat20 says:

        I’m sure you don’t intend this, but this argument is not only applicable to the 4th Amendment, but has precisely been the argument for letting police skirt it.
        I’m not sure I’m following. Could you elucidate?Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        Kolohe wrote: “it’s ‘we must do something about this general societal problem’ often winds up trapping poor and/or minorities.” (emphasis added).

        greginak wrote: “it follows that no intervention has actually helped minorities” (emphasis added)

        It’s been a few years since I took a logic course, but I’m not seeing how none follows from often.

        “I often wake up at 6:00 a.m.”
        “So you never sleep in?”
        “No, that doesn’t follow.”Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        Seems simple to me. Something actions taken to help poor people and minorities have helped poor and minorities, somethings haven’t. The interesting questions are how to do more of the good stuff and less of the bad stuff. There is no simple ideological “stuff always hurts” or “stuff always helps”

        Yes James did point out an inaccurate “no.”

        But what happened to the Groupers?Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:


        Sure, that was a bit cryptic.

        I agree that when you provide people with cover, they will take advantage of it. Criminals take advantage of the 4th Amendment. And the basic argument against the exclusionary rule that excludes illegally seized evidence from being used in court, as well as the basic argument in favor of loosely interpreting the 4th Amendment so as not to constrain police searches, is that criminals are able to take advantage of the 4th Amendment’s protections to continue their illegal activities and avoid prosecution.

        And that argument is correct. Nonetheless, many of us here don’t find that truth compelling enough to support limiting 4th Amendment rights.

        Your argument is also correct. These churches use 1st Amendment protections as a cover, they take advantage of it. But is that truth more compelling in these cases than it is in search and seizure cases? If we say it’s compelling enough here that we’d want to override the church’s 1st Amendment claims, can we consistently claim it’s not compelling enough to override criminals’ 4th Amendment claims?Report

      • Avatar morat20 says:

        Ah, I’m talking informal carveouts from otherwise applicable laws.

        I’m not talking explicit exceptions (say, the First Amendment), but procedural stuff — things that technically apply, but in practice don’t.

        It’s one thing to have a specific, stated rationale — one can discuss trade-offs. It’s another to simply…not fully apply the law.

        Say, the difference between ambulances with their lights on not being required to obey the speed limit — and not ticketing someone pulled over because they’re an off duty cop. (As a very small example).

        Anytime, whether by amendment, exception in law, or just common practice — there’s a carve-out to a law for a specific group, there’s a potential for abuse. Sometimes that potential’s worth the gains, sometimes not. But I suspect “informal/common practice” is more easily abused than something decided on through a public process.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        I’ll need to chew on that for a while, but it’s certainly a reasonable position; one I think is a good basis for your argument.Report

      • Avatar Wardsmith says:

        @morat20 I’m not really hounding you today (really) but as a point of case law ambulances are Not allowed to ignore speed limits. The fact that they are so rarely ticketed had more to do with personal choice (and thankfully common sense) on the part of the officers than rule of law. Same goes for fire trucks. I happened to be in the traffic court when the volunteer firefighter With official painted vehicle and light bar was found guilty of speeding even though he was responding to an emergency. Colfax gave a ticket to an ambulance with a patient in the back and it made national news, but everyone said “that’s the law”.Report

  10. Avatar Damon says:

    Simple solution. End the tax breaks.

    Oh wait, you want the tax breaks and to say anything you want? Sorry, whore yourself out for money and that money comes with limitations.Report

  11. Avatar notme says:

    Bully pulpit: Houston subpoenas pastors’ sermons, then backs off amidst outcry

    Glad to hear that people stood up against this.Report