Since the 1950s, a provision of federal tax law championed by then-Senator Lyndon Johnson has provided that 501(c)(3) organizations, including churches, charities, and other sorts of non-profits, endanger their tax-exempt status if too much of their activity is devoted to supporting or opposing candidates for office. Some churches and conservative groups have campaigned to relax or repeal this rule, an idea now endorsed by presidential candidate Donald Trump. Paul Caron at TaxProf has a link roundup. More: Benjamin Leff.
Making the rounds, on Mental Floss and elsewhere, a story of how an overzealous lawyer for the Quaker Oats company sent a cease/desist letter to the Quaker Oaks (that’s “Oaks”) Christmas Tree Farm in Visalia, California, led by actual members of the Society of Friends and named after the tree under which religious services had been held for a time. The letter provoked this amusing and not un-peaceful response from William Lovett (“Our business is 100% owned and operated by Quakers. I suspect that your firm employs considerably fewer, if any, Quakers.”)
While the Deseret News sets the tale in 2012, it seems to have been in circulation longer than that, as seen in this 2006 posting. But since names in the story, including that of a lawyer for the food company, do check out as names of real persons, my guess is that the story is genuine.
- How the courts came to extend First Amendment protection to art, music, movies, and other expression not originally classed as “press” or “speech” [new Mark Tushnet, Alan Chen, and Joseph Blocher book via Ronald Collins]
- Cato amicus: church enterprises should be eligible for recycling program on same terms as secular businesses [Ilya Shapiro and Jayme Weber]
- “A Political Attack On Free Speech And Privacy Thwarted — For Now” [George Leef, Forbes on AFP v. Harris, earlier] Bill filed by Rep. Peter Roskam would keep IRS from collecting names of donors to nonprofits [Center for Competitive Politics]
- Newly enacted Tennessee conscience exemption for psychological counselors and therapists avoids some of the dangers of compelled speech [Scott Shackford, Reason]
- Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart, benchslapped by Judge Richard Posner after sending credit card companies letters urging them to cut off dealings with Backpage.com, now seeks Supreme Court certiorari review [Ronald Collins, earlier here, here, and here]
- One problem with that Mississippi law: it gives extra protection to some religious beliefs about sex and marriage but not others [Popehat; my guest appearance on Mike Slater show, San Diego’s KFMB]
Notwithstanding its critics, religious arbitration has a role to play in a liberal legal order — in fact especially there, suggest John Corvino and Katherine Kim. “An important feature of liberal (i.e. free) states is to protect citizens’ moral agency, allowing them to align their actions with their moral convictions. Many citizens base their moral convictions on their religious beliefs. For these citizens, religious arbitration may provide an important opportunity to resolve disputes in accordance with shared values.” [University of Colorado philosophy blog What’s Wrong?, more on recent attacks on arbitration]
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.
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.
- “To the public, a car’s status is binary: it is either broken or working, flawed or functional.” But to an engineer… [Malcolm Gladwell, New Yorker; our coverage of autos and sudden acceleration]
- Canadian court awards special costs, akin to sanctions, for bad litigant conduct in “Real Housewives of Vancouver” divorce case [CBC]
- As IRS scandals grind on, lawyers defending agency meet with less than favorable reception before D.C. Circuit panel [Scott Johnson, Power Line, our earlier takes here, here, etc.]
- Gov. Larry Hogan signs Tesla bill, okay. But Maryland auto buyers should be demanding more freedom than that [my Free State Notes, related Peter Van Doren, Cato and Nick Zaiac, Maryland Public Policy Institute]
- Why one victim of Washington, D.C.’s peeping-Tom rabbi isn’t suing [Bethany S. Mandel]
- After Illinois Supreme Court rules that state constitution forbids lawmakers ever to cut public pensions for any reason, Moody’s slashes Chicago bond rating to junk status [Daniel Fisher; David Skeel, On Labor]
- Panel on Capitol Hill tomorrow (Fri., 5/22) on lessons of Baltimore with Cato’s Tim Lynch, Matthew Feeney, Michael Tanner, moderated by Peter Russo [register or watch online] Richard Epstein on Baltimore with a critique of both 1) police unions and 2) Ta-Nehisi Coates’s apologia for violence [Hoover “Defining Ideas”]
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]
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)