“What an amazing night.”The positive online comments keep pouring in!
There were several people in Lincoln today meeting about trying to organise a state chapter of the SCA in Nebraska.Organising people over in Omaha and Lincoln (the state capital) is not too hard, the…Continue
This organization is a very serious threat to a "Secular Nation." These people are using our tax dollars to go into school buildings after hours and teach this garbage to our children! I'm sure…Continue
I live in Southern, Ohio and the Bible-Belt runs strong through the hills in our community. I frequent many city council meetings because of the corruption that has been within our tiny city for…Continue
Presented this month by the American Humanist Association.
Supplemental Reply Briefs filed with Supreme Court in religious employers’ challenge to the ACA contractive coverage mandate
On April 20, 2016, petitioners and respondents each filed Supplemental Reply Briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court in Zubik v. Burwell, the case challenging the government's accommodation for religious non-profits that object to providing contraceptive coverage in their employee health insurance plans. There is no agreement between the parties regarding the alternative compromise proposed by the Court
The petitioner's brief says in part:
If petitioners were truly exempt from the mandate, and those companies were to offer their employees the kind of truly separate coverage that petitioners have described—i.e., “a separate policy, with a separate enrollment process, a separate insurance card, and a separate payment source, and offered to individuals through a separate communication”—then petitioners would no longer have a RFRA objection.
The government's brief counters:
[P]etitioners assert that it is not enough that insurers provide that coverage entirely outside petitioners’ health plans and without their involvement, as the accommodation already requires. Petitioners also insist that the coverage must consist of contraceptive-only insurance policies, not direct payments for contraceptives. And they add that women must take affirmative steps to enroll, and cannot be covered automatically. RFRA does not give petitioners the right to insist upon those new conditions. The statute simply does not entitle them to dictate the terms of insurers’ separate dealings with women.
SCA has previously reported on the case and similar challenges to the mandate, which you can find:
Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) renews IRS challenge of clergy housing allowances
On April 6, 2016, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) renewed its challenge against a housing allowance in the tax code that uniquely privileges clergy.
Gaylor et al v. U.S. Treasury (3:16-cv-00215) was filed in the Western District of Wisconsin, and names Jacob Lew, U.S. secretary of the treasury, and John Koskinen, IRS commissioner, as defendants.
The clergy allowance is an exemption that allows housing allowances paid as part of clergy salary to be subtracted from taxable income. The plaintiffs are FFRF itself, as well as FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor, who've been allocated a housing allowance by FFRF as part of their salary. In 2013, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb ruled in FFRF's favor.
In November 2014, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that victory—not on the merits but on the question of standing—arguing that Barker and Gaylor hadn't yet sought a refund of their housing allowance from the IRS.
Accordingly, Barker and Gaylor sought refunds last year, as did FFRF's president emerita, Anne Gaylor, whose retirement payout included a housing allowance. The IRS refunded the housing allowance to the married couple for the year 2013, but denied the refund request for 2012. Similarly, the IRS held up the refund request for the senior Gaylor, who subsequently died in June. Ian Gaylor, her son, is additionally named as a plaintiff in the lawsuit on behalf of the Anne Nicol Gaylor estate.
The benefit of the tax exemption to the clergy is huge. The congressional Joint Committee on Taxation has reported that the exemption amounts to $700 million a year in lost revenue. Religious News Service calculated the allowance reduces the take-home pay of some pastors by up to 10 percent. This is because churches benefit, since tax-free salaries lower their overhead. Christianity Today found that 84 percent of senior pastors receive a housing allowance of $20,000 to $38,000 in added (but not reported) compensation to their base salary.
"The manner in which our housing allowance has been used borders on clergy malpractice," William Thornton, a Georgia pastor and blogger, told Forbes magazine in 2013. "A growing subset of ministers who are very highly paid and who live in multimillion dollar mansions are able to exclude hundreds of thousands of dollars from income taxation."
Clergy are permitted to use the housing allowance not just for rent or mortgage, but for home improvements, including maintenance, home improvements and repairs, dishwashers, cable TV and phone fees, paint, towels, bedding, home décor, even personal computers and bank fees. They may be exempt from taxable income up to the fair market rental value of their home, particularly helping well-heeled pastors. The subsidy extends to churches, which can pay clergy less, as tax-free salaries go further.
The plaintiffs are asking the court to rule IRS 26 U.S.C. §107 unconstitutional as administered by the IRS and the Treasury Department because it provides preferential and discriminatory tax benefits to ministers of the gospel. The complaint alleges that the section "directly benefits ministers and churches, most significantly by lowering a minister's tax burden, while discriminating against the individual plaintiffs, who as the leaders of a nonreligious organization opposed to governmental endorsements of religion are denied the same benefit."
FFRF sues California school district over censorship
On April 12, 2016, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), with the Antelope Valley Freethinkers, sued a California school district for censoring information about the groups' scholarship opportunities.
Antelope Valley Union High School District distributes lists of scholarship opportunities to district students, but for the past two years the district has refused to publish scholarship opportunities offered by FFRF and the Antelope Valley Freethinkers. The groups’ scholarships asked college-bound seniors to write essays on secular topics, such as "Being a young freethinker in Antelope Valley.”
The District said it was rejecting the scholarships because the essay announcements would upset parents, claiming that they appeared to "promote anti-religious expression" and had "aggressive" and "argumentative undertones towards religion."
Plaintiffs note, however, that the School District’s policy is inconsistent because its scholarship lists include scholarships that solicit religious expression or contain religious elements, including one scholarship offer that requires the applicant to write "at least one paragraph . . . describing how and when you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior and what your present relationship with Him means to you."
The plaintiffs allege that the District’s censorship of the groups is government suppression of free speech in violation of the First Amendment. The district censored the secular groups’ speech because their message is nonreligious, critical of religion and controversial. Furthermore, this unequal treatment amounts to viewpoint discrimination because a public school that publishes scholarship opportunities for students offered by religious groups many not refuse to publish scholarships offered by two atheist organizations.
The plaintiffs seek a permanent injunction enjoining the School District from engaging in continued viewpoint discrimination in publishing scholarship opportunities.
American Humanist Association’s (AHA) Appignani Humanist Legal Center (AHLC) files reply in Bladensburg Cross challenge
The American Humanist Association’s (AHA) Appignani Humanist Legal Center (AHLC) continued its appeal to defend the rights of non-Christians by asserting that the Bladensburg cross monument favors Christianity.
In a reply brief filed April 18, 2016 with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in response to the American Legion and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, the AHLC stated that the Bladensburg Cross unconstitutionally promotes Christianity to the exclusion of Humanists and other non-Christian veterans and citizens. Contrary to the government’s claims, the AHLC argued that the government’s display and maintenance of an enormous Christian symbol on public property has the effect of endorsing religion and violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
AHLC requests that the Fourth Circuit reverse the lower court’s decision concerning the Bladensburg Cross and to enter a judgment in favor of the plaintiffs, AHA and three local residents.
FFRF sues to remove Latin cross in California public park
On April 20, 2016, Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), along with local member Andrew DeFaria, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, San Jose Division, against the city of Santa Clara, Calif., to remove a gigantic cross from a local public park.
The 14-foot granite Latin cross at Memorial Cross Park officially commemorates a 1777 Spanish Catholic mission and was donated by the Santa Clara Lions Club in 1953, with the city maintaining the cross and the park ever since. FFRF contends that the city's decision to accept the cross and its subsequent display and maintenance "amounts to the advancement of religion," specifically Christianity.
FFRF first complained about the cross in April 2012. The city initially indicated that it looked forward "to resolving this matter in an expeditious and responsible manner." Though FFRF has followed up on the status of the cross’s removal for the past three years (on at least 12 occasions), the cross has never been removed.
The plaintiffs are asking the court to declare the city cross in violation of Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as well as the No Preference Clause of Article I, § 4 of the California Constitution.
I grew up hearing that it was impolite to discuss in public the three most interesting topics-politics, sex, and religion.
Washington, D.C.-- The Secular Coalition for America released a statement urging Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam to veto HB 1840. The bill would allow therapists and counselors to refuse service to anyone, including children, based on a "sincerely held religious belief."
"If this bill becomes law, a child being bullied for being an atheist, a Muslim, or LGBT, living in a rural area where options for mental health care are scarce, could face the same discrimination in the one place where they expect to find support." said Sarah Levin, Legislative Associate at the Secular Coalition for America.
"Tennessee lawmakers have demonstrated a callous disregard for the health and safety of children, voting down an amendment that would have added protections for children who are victims of bullying. The legislature also struck down an amendment requiring therapists to make it known who they will and will not serve. This places an unjust burden on patients by making it nearly impossible to make informed decisions about their care. The governor should understand when making his final decision that to support this legislation would amount to state-sanctioned discrimination, harming the most vulnerable citizens of Tennessee, particularly children. We strongly urge Governor Haslam to veto this bill."
If signed into law, HB 1840 would violate the guidelines set by the American Counseling Association, which modified their code of ethics in 2014 to explicitly prohibit counselors from refusing services based on their own religious beliefs. The bill has also been condemned by the Tennessee Counseling Association, which called the proposed law unnecessary and harmful to consumers and the profession. In a statement they said; "When we choose health care as a profession, we choose to treat all people who need help, not just the ones who have goals and values that mirror our own."
Contact: Casey Brescia, Casey@secular.org, (845)-380-6201
The Secular Coalition for America is the nation's premier advocacy organization representing atheists, humanists, agnostics, and other nontheists. Its mission is to increase the visibility of and respect for nontheistic viewpoints in the United States, and to protect and strengthen the secular character of our government as the best guarantee of freedom for all. The Secular Coalition represents 18 voting member organizations.