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Topic: Texas denies Unitarian Church tax exempt status

  1. #1

    Texas denies Unitarian Church tax exempt status

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    I found this decision to be stupefying. Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and John Quincy Adams were Unitarians.

    The government should neither fund favored religions, nor tax unfavored ones.

    And status should be determined by belief-neutral objective means, such as having a low, minimum membership and being open to the public. Basing status on the content of the belief systems puts government smack dab in the middle of the religious belief business.


    Religious freedom: you are all free to believe in my religion.

  2. #2
    Moderator/Developer Brian2112's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2003
    Out of my Mind

    Re: Texas denies Unitarian Church tax exempt status


    There goes the show!

    I used to be proud to be a Texan. [img]/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/frown.gif[/img]

    Knowing Texas, they will probably GIVE tax exempt status to the KKK.


    I belong to no church. I don\'t even agree with tax exempt status for any of them. But to single one out is CLEARLY Unconstitutional. I hope they take it to the Supreme Court...oh ...wait...those are the same bastards!

    Brain [img]/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/mad.gif[/img]

  3. #3

    Re: Texas denies Unitarian Church tax exempt status

    I don\'t have an account at that site and I probably won\'t sign up for one since I\'m trying to keep spam to a minimum, but can you summarize the reasons they made this decision?

    Just from the sound of it so far, it sounds pretty terrible to me. I\'m already opposed to the idea of churches getting their tax-exempt status revoked when they espouse a particular political view (to me, religious beliefs and political philosophy or difficult to separate), but to revoke it based upon their actual doctrine (as you say they have) is beyond the pale!

    But as Layne said in an earlier thread, let this be an object lesson to all who would see government grant selective benefits. It is a subtle (or not-so-subtle) means of control. That\'s why Bush\'s \"faith-based initiative\" is so dangerous.

  4. #4

    Re: Texas denies Unitarian Church tax exempt statu


    Here\'s the full text. When I first heard about this I was skeptical. I wondered if it was because of paperwork, or some technicality. But according to the article, the decision is based on the claim that the organization \"does not have one system of belief\" and that it\'s members do not have \"simply a belief in God, or gods, or a higher power\".

    -Jon Fairhrust


    AUSTIN - Unitarian Universalists have for decades presided over births, marriages and memorials. The church operates in every state, with more than 5,000 members in Texas alone.

    But according to the office of Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, a Denison Unitarian church isn\'t really a religious organization -- at least for tax purposes. Its reasoning: the organization \"does not have one system of belief.\"

    Never before -- not in this state or any other -- has a government agency denied Unitarians tax-exempt status because of the group\'s religious philosophy, church officials say. Strayhorn\'s ruling clearly infringes upon religious liberties, said Dan Althoff, board president for the Denison congregation that was rejected for tax exemption by the comptroller\'s office.

    \"I was surprised -- surprised and shocked -- because the Unitarian church in the United States has a very long history,\" said Althoff, who notes that father-and-son presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams were both Unitarians.

    His church is just one of several Unitarian congregations in North Texas, including churches in Fort Worth, Arlington and Southlake.

    Strayhorn\'s ruling, as well as a similar decision by former Comptroller John Sharp, has left the comptroller\'s office straddling a sometimes murky gulf separating church and state.

    What constitutes religion? When and how should government make that determination? Questions that for years have vexed the world\'s great philosophers have now become the province of the state comptroller\'s office.

    Questions about the issue were referred to Jesse Ancira, the comptroller\'s top lawyer, who said Strayhorn has applied a consistent standard -- and then stuck to it. For any organization to qualify as a religion, members must have \"simply a belief in God, or gods, or a higher power,\" he said.

    \"We have got to apply a test, and use some objective standards,\" Ancira said. \"We\'re not using the test to deny the exemptions for a particular group because we like them or don\'t like them.\"

    Traditional faiths

    Since Strayhorn took over in January 1999, the comptroller\'s office has denied religious tax-exempt status to 17 groups and granted them to more than 1,000, according to records obtained by the Star-Telegram. Although there are exceptions, the lion\'s share of approvals have gone to groups that appear to have relatively traditional faiths, records show.

    But of the denials, at least a fourth include less traditional groups, the records show. In addition to the Denison Unitarian church, the rejected groups include a Carrollton group of atheists and agnostics, a New Age group in Bastrop, and the Whispering Star Clan/Temple of Ancient Wisdom, an organization of witches in Copperas Cove.

    Some of the denials occurred because of missing paperwork or other problems, according to the comptroller\'s office. A few, like the denial for the New Age group and the witches group, were decided because their services were closed to the public, according to documents.

    But the denials of the Red River Unitarian Universalist Church in Denison and the North Texas Church of Freethought in Carrollton, as well as an earlier denial by Sharp for the Ethical Culture Fellowship of Austin, were ordered because the organizations did not mandate belief in a supreme being.

    The disputed tax dollars don\'t amount to much, but the comptroller has taken a stand on principle, Ancira said.

    \"The issue as a whole is, do you want to open up a system where there can be abuse or fraud, or where any group can proclaim itself to be a religious organization and take advantage of the exception?\" he said.

    Those who oppose the comptroller\'s \"God, gods or supreme being\" test say that it can discriminate against legitimate faiths. For example, applying that standard could disqualify Buddhism because it does not mandate belief in a supreme being, critics say.

    Opponents note that the federal government applies less stringent rules for federal tax exemptions, yet manages to discourage fraud and abuse. They also question whether the comptroller\'s office has formulated excuses to discriminate against nontraditional groups, such as those that include witches and pagans.

    But Ancira says it\'s up to the comptroller\'s office to interpret state law, which he describes as rather vague. He insists the comptroller never favors one religion over another.

    \"This comptroller, in particular, wants everybody on a level playing field,\" he said.

    \'Creedless\' religions

    The comptroller\'s office has not always barred \"creedless\" religions from tax exemption, said Douglas Laycock, a University of Texas law professor who specializes in religious liberty issues.

    That standard first came up in 1997, when then-Comptroller Sharp ruled against the Ethical Culture Fellowship of Austin. In making that decision, Sharp overturned the recommendation of his staff.

    The Ethical Culture Fellowship sued, claiming that Sharp overstepped his authority. Allied with the group in the ongoing lawsuit are pastors from a broad range of faiths, including Baptists, Lutherans and Mennonites.

    Both the lower court and the Texas Supreme Court have ruled against the state\'s decision. In one opinion, an appeals court said the comptroller\'s test \"fails to include the whole range of belief systems that may, in our diverse and pluralistic society, merit the First Amendment protection.\"

    Strayhorn vows to continue the legal fight to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary. \"Otherwise, any wannabe cult who dresses up and parades down Sixth Street on Halloween will be applying for an exemption,\" she said in a April 23 news release.

    The Red River Unitarian Universalist Church, the 50-member congregation whose tax application was rejected by Strayhorn\'s office, has held services in Denison for the seven years. Althoff said his group includes \"hard-core atheists\" as well as \"New Agey-type people.\"

    But the lack of a single creed is a hallmark of Unitarianism, Althoff said. Instead, Unitarian Universalists have seven guiding principles, including \"respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part,\" according to the Unitarian Universalist Web site.

    The group also draws from various religious and philosophical traditions, including Jewish, Christian, humanist and Earth-centered teachings, but promotes individual freedom of belief, according to the Web site. It notes that Unitarians and Universalists have operated in the United States for at least 200 years, although the two groups did not merge until 1961.

    It now includes about 40 congregations in Texas, and more than 1,000 in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

    Despite its lack of a specific creed, Unitarian Universalism is as much a religion as any other, Althoff said. From his perspective, religion is not just about the answers to life\'s big questions, but also calls on people to evaluate the questions themselves.

    \"It seems to me that any [group] that is specifically organized to address and explore the issues of what constitutes the good life, both here and perhaps in the afterworld, would qualify\" as a religion, Althoff said.

    The Rev. Anthony David, lead pastor of Pathways Church in Southlake, said he is disturbed by the comptroller\'s decisions because it ignores Unitarian Universalists\' belief that spiritual fulfillment can emerge in \"different ways at different levels.\"

    \"It reflects an incredible misunderstanding of what a church needs to look like,\" David said.

    Pathways teaches that God is a term that describes the source of ultimate meaning and purpose, but the church does not advocate a one-size-fits-all theology, David said.

    \"Creedlessness doesn\'t mean no belief or anything goes,\" he said.

    Craig Roshaven of Fort Worth\'s First Jefferson Unitarian Universalist Church said he has followed the comptroller\'s decisions with growing dismay.

    His group has tax-exempt status, but he wonders what\'s to prevent Strayhorn from revoking it.

    \"The comptroller\'s logic could be applied to any of us,\" he said.

    Ancira said the comptroller\'s office has no plans for such reversals. But then again, said Ancira, \"There\'s nothing preventing us from doing so.\"

    Staff Writer Darren Barbee contributed to this report.

  5. #5

    Re: Texas denies Unitarian Church tax exempt statu

    I\'m not a very good Christian, but I LOVE the Unitarian church; and I love Texans too, actually, probably because I\'m always being confused for one. So this is really sickening. Smacks of partisan politics.


  6. #6

    Re: Texas denies Unitarian Church tax exempt statu

    There are lots of wonderful Texans, and lots of wonderful Christians. But things can get weird when people with certainty in their beliefs get power.

    The other night I watched part of the new PBS series Colonial House. The Governor was selected. He happened to be a Baptist Minister from Waco, Texas. He struck me as a kind person, but his smugness about being able to preach to the flock (and the cameras) from a position of power really bothered me. I don\'t think he was aware of his own arrogance. I ended up turning off the tube.

    It\'s funny. I wouldn\'t mind just sittin\' and talkin\' with the guy about kids and baseball and fireworks at a neighborhood 4th of July party, but my feelings about him in a position of power (symbolically, over me) physically turned my stomach.

    My gut feeling was that the members of Colonial House would grow to resent the Governor. But I didn\'t want to stick around for that either. Like I say, he wasn\'t a bad guy. He was just a little too anxious to exercise power for my tastes.

    It seems like the Texas Comptroller likes power too.

  7. #7
    Moderator/Developer Brian2112's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2003
    Out of my Mind

    Re: Texas denies Unitarian Church tax exempt statu

    [ QUOTE ]
    And to think my old man just sold his house in Michigan to permanently live in Texas!

    [/ QUOTE ]

    Don\'t worry Ernstinen. Texas is still a wonderful place to live. I\'ve travelled the world, and lived in many places, but I always come home. Texas is infamous for stupid Laws. But I think (and hope) he will be happy here. He will be welcomed (One old fashioned Texas tradition that I don\'t mind holding on to.)


  8. #8

    Re: Texas denies Unitarian Church tax exempt statu

    A group has to mandate belief in \"a higher power\" to be considered a religion?! What a bizarre definition.

  9. #9

    Re: Texas denies Unitarian Church tax exempt statu

    [ QUOTE ]
    But things can get weird when people with certainty in their beliefs get power.

    [/ QUOTE ]

    The problem isn\'t with certainty. The problem is a lack of respect for the rights of others. That\'s a problem that surfaces with equal frequency among the certain and the uncertain.

  10. #10

    Re: Texas denies Unitarian Church tax exempt statu

    [ QUOTE ]
    [ QUOTE ]
    But things can get weird when people with certainty in their beliefs get power.

    [/ QUOTE ]

    The problem isn\'t with certainty. The problem is a lack of respect for the rights of others. That\'s a problem that surfaces with equal frequency among the certain and the uncertain.

    [/ QUOTE ]

    But I\'m certain that I\'m right about this. [img]/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/wink.gif[/img] [img]/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/wink.gif[/img] [img]/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/wink.gif[/img]

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