Posts Tagged ‘churches’

“The Church Will Not Lose Its Tax-Exempt Status”

Sam Brunson, a Loyola (Chicago) professor specializing in tax law, searched IRS private letter rulings and sums up the results at the Mormon website By Common Consent (via Paul Caron/TaxProf, who assembles other links). For some academics’ views on whether the Bob Jones U. precedent (exemption denied to educational institution on grounds of race discrimination) will or should be pushed further into other areas, see Inside Higher Education and Caroline Corbin, SSRN (sex discrimination).

More on the Bob Jones U. case: Regulation magazine, Jan./Feb. 1982, more via Steven Hayward. More on the parsonage (housing) allowance, one bit of the tax code that does favor religious entities over otherwise comparable nonprofits: Ronald Hiner and Darlene Pulliam Smith/Journal of Accountancy, Erwin Chemerinsky/Duke (anti), Jonathan Whitehead and Becket Fund (pro). Journalists stirring the pot recently: Felix Salmon, Fusion; Mark Oppenheimer, Time.

The marriage decision

In this half-hour Cato podcast, Caleb Brown interviews Roger Pilon and me on yesterday’s decision in Obergefell finding that states are constitutionally obliged to extend marriage to same-sex couples. I touch on some topics of wider interest (no, I don’t think polygamy is next; the Justices write and behave differently when it’s a really big case; the law’s treatment of churches mustn’t depend on whether their theology suits the government’s taste or not). And lots of more specialized points, such as Roberts’ weird demonization of the famed Lochner case in his dissent (“gay marriage and laissez-faire capitalism, peas in a pod!”), what I call Kennedy’s “gin and tonic” method of mixing Due Process with Equal Protection, and a remarkable story by Roger of getting Scalia to admit he doesn’t think the Court was correct when it recognized a constitutional right to send one’s kids to private and religious schools.

P.S. And here’s a video version of the same conversation:

The Jason Kuznicki paper I mention — on how legal practicalities undercut the idea of the government “getting out of marriage” in the sense of not attempting to certify who is married and who not — is here.

More links: Ilya Shapiro reacts at Cato (which had filed an amicus brief on the winning side urging an Equal Protection rationale, written by William Eskridge Jr. of Yale Law, Roger Pilon, Ilya Shapiro, and Trevor Burrus). David Bernstein has a lot to say about the continuity between Obergefell and the pro-individual-rights tradition of jurisprudence overthrown by the New Deal. Among those who approve of the outcome but would send the whole thing back for editing are Timothy Sandefur and Ilya Somin. Evan Bernick (writing before the decision) on the need for strong religious liberty protection. And David Boaz on how libertarians were there long, long before most others caught up. “The Libertarian Party endorsed gay rights with its first platform in 1972.” That’s not a misprint: 1972.

May 21 roundup

A new screen for religious-school tax exemption?

In 1983 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Bob Jones University in South Carolina could be denied an otherwise applicable tax exemption because of its then policy of forbidding interracial dating among its students; since then, despite much speculation, there has not been widespread yanking of exemptions from other institutions over widely disfavored or execrated but otherwise not unlawful internal policies. Now an exchange between Justice Samuel Alito and Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, at Tuesday’s oral argument in the gay marriage cases, is raising some eyebrows. Verrilli’s comments, if seen as reflecting considered Obama administration policy, might be seen as leaving the door open to wider denial of exemptions. [Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Washington Post; Michael Greve, Library of Law and Liberty]

“Pastors also have agreed… to preach environmentally focused sermons”

In exchange for relief from a state-mandated stormwater remediation fee, and direct government subsidies to pay for property improvements intended to reduce runoff, some churches in Prince George’s County, Maryland have made an unusual commitment to the authorities. I explain, and raise questions, at Free State Notes. Since when does government get the power to cut churches tax breaks in exchange for their agreement to preach an approved line? (& Bader, CEI)

Houston mayor withdraws pastor subpoenas

One instance of abusive litigation discovery down, 437,816 to go. [WSJ Law Blog, Houston Chronicle, City of Houston, earlier]

More from Scott Shackford, Reason: “Oppressive subpoenas like this happen all the time, which is probably why Houston didn’t even realize it was poking at a hornet’s nest. Cities across the country fight back like this against citizens attempting to exert their right to influence municipal policy. … If the targets hadn’t been pastors, would we even had known about the subpoenas?”

Scorched-pew litigation: Houston subpoenas pastors’ sermons

Massively overbroad discovery demands are among the most common abuses in civil litigation, and it’s hard to get judges or policymakers to take seriously the harm they do. But the City of Houston, represented by litigators at Susman Godfrey, may have tested the limits when it responded to a lawsuit against the city by a church-allied group by subpoenaing the pastors’ sermons along with all their other communications. [KTRK, Houston Chronicle; text of subpoena request; motion to quash] The city has already backed off in part, saying it will narrow the demands to focus on the issue of whether the plaintiffs were aware of petition procedures. [Jacob Gershman, WSJ]

Eugene Volokh has a useful analysis (more) of how churches, like reporters, do have some additional First Amendment protections against being asked to disclose just anything. But a way to protect litigants and third parties more systemically would be to narrow the scope of discovery generally (e.g. to information relevant to the actual claims and defenses in the suit) and shift more burdens of cost and proof to the demanders’ side.

I hope the city is shamed into calling off the fishing expedition entirely. That having been said, I find it fascinating that so much of the coverage in the conservative press downplays or omits the fact of the ongoing litigation (Todd Starnes buries it in paragraph 8, and Ted Cruz’s statement never even mentions it) thus leaving many readers with the impression that the city is using police or administrative powers to demand the information, which would pose an entirely different set of challenges for public liberty.

[Title updated 9 a.m.]

P.S.: This contentious courtroom dispute may previously have featured troublingly broad discovery demands from the other side, if one accepts as valid the comments of “Mike in Houston” at Stephen Miller’s post: “there’s no mention of the subpoenas coming from the anti-HERO side that have targeted a whole range of city employees, private citizens, nonprofits and pastors who spoke out in favor of the ordinance (and assisted with the pro-HERO organization efforts.)” Yet more: Sarah Posner, Religion Dispatches (various liberals, moderates, church-state separationists, and pro-LGBT figures critical of requests’ overbreadth).

Pastor uses copyright takedown against critics, told to pay fees

Ken at Popehat has the story on a court’s ruling for fees and costs in Ergun Caner v. Jonathan Autry, filed by a religious leader who had come under criticism for less-than-forthright descriptions of his own past. “The court ruled that Caner (1) pursued the case after Autry took the videos down, (2) demanded, as a condition of settlement, that Autry’s young children sign a non-disparagement agreement, (3) delayed the case, (4) failed to seek discovery, opposed the motion to dismiss on the grounds that he needed to take discovery, but could not articulate what discovery he needed, (5) contradicted himself, (6) made unreasonable legal arguments without any support (like the ‘you must be qualified to criticize’ argument), and most importantly (7) filed the case to silence criticism.” Under the prevailing “American Rule” on fees it’s extremely hard for the victim of a meritless suit to recover attorney’s costs, but this one was extreme enough to be an exception.

The Supreme Court looks at prayer before town meetings

Cato’s Caleb Brown interviews me about this week’s Supreme Court decision in the local-government invocation case of Town of Greece v. Galloway, discussed earlier here and here.

A few measured, non-alarmist reactions to the decision: Noah Feldman via Rick Pildes, ABC News (quoted views of Rick Garnett, Notre Dame, and Daniel Mach, ACLU), and Howard Wasserman/Prawfs. And Paul Horwitz speculates on whether Kennedy’s formula will work when invocational legislative prayer is employed in knowingly divisive ways. More: a different take on the issue from Christian syndicated columnist Cal Thomas.