We get revenge: the FFRF sues the IRS for failure to enforce tax laws on churches

Two days ago I wrote about how the U.S. government has been ignoring political activities by churches and pastors, activities that are illegal under our laws and punishable by revoking the tax benefits of churches. (Churches pay no property taxes and get other benefits as well, such as tax-free housing allowances for pastors.) Apparently it has been the government’s unofficial policy to overlook blatant electioneering by churches. This autumn that electioneering largely took the form of conservative and anti-abortion pastors denouncing Obama from their pulpits and urging parishioners to vote for Republicans.

I’m thus immensely pleased to see that, as reported by Isthmus, the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) has just filed suit against the tax people (Internal Revenue Service, or IRS) for their indolence on this issue:

Filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, the lawsuit charges that Douglas Shulman, the commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, “has violated, continues to violate and will continue to violate in the future, the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States by failing to enforce the electioneering restrictions of 501(c)(3) of the Tax Code against churches and religious organizations.”

This section of the tax code prohibits nonprofit organizations and organizations that are exempt from federal income taxes from being involved in political campaigns.

The lawsuit cites “open and notorious violations” of these electioneering restrictions by churches since 2008, including “blatantly partisan full-page ads” from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association that ran in papers throughout the country leading up to the Nov. 6 election.

In the ad, Graham urges people to vote “for those who protect the sanctity of life and support the biblical definition of marriage between a man and a woman.”

Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, says, “Everybody knows what he was talking about: Obama endorsing same-sex marriage.”. . .

The lawsuit also charges that the IRS’s failure to enforce these electioneering laws violates the equal protection rights of other nonprofits barred from engaging in political activity.

“The non-enforcement of the electioneering restrictions … against churches and other religious organizations constitutes preferential treatment to churches and religious organizations that is not provided to other tax-exempt organizations, including the FFRF, which are required to comply with the electioneering restrictions…”

The FFRF’s own announcement of the suit is here, and I’ve embedded below the whole lawsuit that they filed.

I’ve been really impressed with the FFRF, headed by Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker, and now consider it the most effective secular organization in the U.S.  That’s largely because instead of hosting endless ineffectual meetings with the same speakers, or navel-gazing about internal divisiveness, the FFRF actually does something: through scrupulous monitoring of the government and judiciously filing lawsuits, the FFRF fights an endless battle against the brushfires of religious enthusiasm that threaten to incinerate our Constitution.

That’s not to say that other secular organizations are completely ineffectual, though some of them approach that, but simply that the FFRF stands out as the one that best keeps religion at bay. (Remember their anti-Catholic ads in the New York Times?).

We need more lawsuits, not more atheist conventions!

Do consider becoming a member of the FFRF. Membership comes with a great and meaty monthly newspaper, Freethought Today, detailing their legal activities and other fun stuff (e.g., crazy things that the faith-ridden say), and at the same time supports lawsuits like this one. (As Annie Laurie told me, not all of the legal activity is pro bono.)

To join, simply go here and fill in the form along with a contribution of $40. And, to sweeten the deal, put your name below, saying you’ve just joined. I’ll pick one name at random from those who do (and provide proof when asked), and send them an autographed copy of WEIT including a hand-drawn First Amendment Cat. This offer expires Nov. 28 at 5 p.m.; please leave any notice of donations in the thread below rather than by emailing me.

(p.s., for those of you still expecting books from donating to Doctors without Borders, I haven’t forgotten. I have a list of everyone along with their requests [e.g., “draw my turtle!”], and books will be sent out after I return from Scotland Nov. 28.)

h/t: Mark

120 Comments

  1. Greg G
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    I had been thinking about joining for a long time. I met Dan Barker in Cleveland last month and decided I would join but didn’t get around to it until reading this post.

  2. Sarah Lawson
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    I’m not sure how he can be sued for something he is deemed to be going to do in the future.

    • Posted November 15, 2012 at 7:59 am | Permalink

      As short as possible:

      When a government body continually fails to act and shows no plans to act, you can sue for future failure to act in order to compel action. In many cases, even if the government body makes a quick change to a law or rule, or even starts to comply with the rule now that filed a suit, that doesn’t mean the plaintiff (and the Courts) can’t proceed because at any time you can go back and change the law/action (inaction).

      You see this a lot in school board actions with creationism. They’ll make a big run-up on the holy roller then drop the creationism when they get sued. But the cases go forward (despite school boards asking for dismissal because they’re no longer offending) because everyone knows the second the case is dropped, they’ll go right back to their bad behaviors.

      • Sarah Lawson
        Posted November 15, 2012 at 10:39 am | Permalink

        Many thanks for the explanation.

      • Diego
        Posted November 15, 2012 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

        I know that various agencies (I’ll refrain from citing examples) are not infrequently sued for not promulgating standards or acting in a timely manner.

    • Greg G
      Posted November 15, 2012 at 8:05 am | Permalink

      If I hadn’t paid my taxes for a few years, do you think the IRS would accept it if I said I was probably going to pay them someday?

      • gravelinspector
        Posted November 15, 2012 at 9:10 am | Permalink

        If you told them that Ghod was telling you not to pay … well, it’s worth a try?

  3. Posted November 15, 2012 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    Navel gazing and internal bickering, yeah, I know who you’re talking about. And, yes, I agree they’re all close to worthless. At this point in time I’ve lost all respect for them and I look at them as Athiest Movement carpetbaggers and grifters who are using blog-popularity to advance their own personal and economic interests.

    I’ll join FFRF, too. Until your endorsement I really just thought it was a website that did nothing but complain. However, seeing as they’re taking actual, postive action against the religious BS that paralyzes America, I’ll support the figh.

    Hopefully they’ll be as worthwhile as the ACLU. And if they’re not… We’ll I’ve pissed that much money away on a bad dinner without blinking..

    And, no, I don’t want your book. Already have it. So don’t add me to your random ‘winner’ list opportunity. Let someone else win it.

    • Posted November 15, 2012 at 8:01 am | Permalink

      *fight. Not figh. Sigh. Need a usage checker.

    • Posted November 15, 2012 at 8:31 am | Permalink

      Not entirely, but mostly, true so I gave you the Shout Out:

      How Did You Hear About FFRF?

      Other

      Why Evolution is True blog.

      • Posted November 15, 2012 at 9:36 am | Permalink

        “blog”?!!

        :-o

        /@

        • whyevolutionistrue
          Posted November 16, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

          Since he/she joined, I’ll give moseszd a one-time pass on the word “blog”!

    • Posted November 15, 2012 at 9:39 am | Permalink

      Well, if you think advocating social justice within the atheist movement is only “bickering” …

      /@ 

      • Diane G.
        Posted November 15, 2012 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

        + 1

        Another thing I’ve always liked about FFRF is that it’s always been pro-feminist, again thru actions rather than debate. In addition to Annie Laurie, there is her mother, Anne Nicol Gaylor, who established the foundation in the first place, and tirelessly advocated for both secularism and reproductive rights.

        I was going to urge anyone with the time to go to the FFRF website & watch the tribute Annie Laurie put together for her mother, but that page seems to be down, now! I do hope that’s only a temporary glitch. Meanwhile, there are other tributes to her there. Talk about a hero!!

        Also highly recommended: Annie Laurie’s book “Women Without Superstition.”

  4. Posted November 15, 2012 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    Only 25 bucks for students!

  5. Posted November 15, 2012 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    That should cause a ripple of unease among the pompous freeloading uncompromising zealots of superstition and bunkum. WELL DONE indeed!!!

  6. eric
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    My initial thought was that this case is going to go nowhere. The courts will find some inventive reason to claim the conduct doesn’t violate law. Either that or they’ll just outright say that the restriction violates the first amendment.* I really think this is a siuation where the courts would rather change the law than restrict the behavior.

    But THIS is a good argument:

    The lawsuit also charges that the IRS’s failure to enforce these electioneering laws violates the equal protection rights of other nonprofits barred from engaging in political activity

    IANAL but IMO the FFRF needs bang on this point loudly and often. I.e., that whatever the courts say about church conduct will apply equally to nonreligious nonprofits. If Graham’s organization can endorse candidates, so can any other nonprofit NGO.

    *I think in fact that the IRS could make a decent case that enforcement would excessively entangle them in the question of what is protected religious speech vs. political endorsement. But again, this does not fix the problem of the IRS applying different standards to religious and nonreligious nonprofits.

    • Greg G
      Posted November 15, 2012 at 9:07 am | Permalink

      The tax-exempt status for all organizations requires that they not be political in any way. To allow churches to be tax-exempt and political would be an obvious violation of respecting the establishment of religion.

    • NoAstronomer
      Posted November 15, 2012 at 10:05 am | Permalink

      “…what is protected religious speech vs. political endorsement…”

      Easy.

      ‘women shouldn’t have abortions’ is free speech.

      ‘vote for a candidate that wants to pass legislation to make abortions illegal’ is political endorsement.

      Mike/

    • Jeff D
      Posted November 17, 2012 at 2:39 am | Permalink

      I haven’t scrolled down through all the comments yet, and perhaps someone else has mentioned this, but as a lawywer who studies cases of this type, I offer this . . . .

      In the context of Establishment Clause / Equal Protection cases, government lawyers who need to defend indefensible misconduct (or, here, egregious failure to act) regularly use a favorite defense, and it works much of the time. Instead of presenting adfense on the merits, on the substantive issues (are the Treasury Department and IRS unconstitutionally favoring churches and religious organizations with their selective enforcement?), the government argues that the plaintiff(s), as citizens or taxpayers, have not suffered a significant particularlized “injury in fact,” and therefore do not have standing to sue. Many plaintiffs’ victories at the District [trial] Court level have been reversed by Circuit Courts of Appeal on “lack of standing” grounds. It’s a somewhat gutless way of defending what really can’t be defended directly, but hey, it’s what the defense lawyers are paid to do.

      My favorite example of this: The 7th Circuit’s reversal (Hinrichs v. Bosma, 506 F.3d 584 (7th Cir. 2007)) of a plaintiffs’ victory (400 F.Supp.2d 1103 (S.D. Ind. 2005) in a case attacking the Indiana General Assembly’s use of explicitly sectarian Christian prayers to open legislative sessions. In the 7th Circuit case, the dissent by Judge Diane Wood is very good and illustrates what the FFRF is up against. The FFRF itself has lost before on “lack of standing” grounds, in Hein v. Freedom from Religion Foundation, Inc., — U.S., 127 S.Ct. 2553, 168 L.Ed.2d 424 (2007).

  7. Posted November 15, 2012 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    and you can watch the FFRF Crank mail from most issues of the newsletter right here:

    Definitely not safe for work. Those Christians have such foul mouths. :)

    I’m a happy FFRF member.

  8. The Stolen Dormouse
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    I remember that the IRS was active just before the 2004 election, but primarily warning liberal chuches such as All Saints Church (Episcopal) in Pasadena, CA. An article about this (“IRS Warns Churches to Stay Neutral on Politics”) in the Los Angeles Times during the run-up to the 2006 midterm elections says, in part:

    … Two days before the 2004 presidential election, the Rev. George F. Regas, the church’s former rector, delivered a guest sermon that pictured Jesus in a debate with then-candidates George W. Bush and John Kerry.

    Although Regas didn’t endorse a candidate, he said Jesus would have told Bush that his preemptive war policy “has led to disaster.”

    The IRS sent the church a letter June 9, 2005, stating that “a reasonable belief exists that you may not be tax-exempt as a church.”

    A month later, the church drew national attention when the Rev. Ed Bacon, rector of All Saints, disclosed the investigation during a Sunday sermon.

    Despite leaving voicemail messages and sending letters seeking an update, church leaders have not heard from the IRS since October, when the agency told them that they were in violation and that it was taking the investigation to a higher level, Regas said. The IRS won’t confirm or deny whether the investigation is still open.

    Marcus Owens, a former head of tax-exempt organizations at the IRS and now an attorney representing All Saints, called the agency’s silence “deafening and extraordinary.”

    Asked why the agency is not responding, Owens said, “The IRS is uncertain how to proceed — maybe confused, maybe wishes everything would just go away.”

    Owens also represents — in what is possibly the most prominent case — the NAACP, which drew the IRS’ attention in July 2004 after the organization’s chairman, Julian Bond, criticized the Bush administration’s policies on civil rights. The NAACP also has not heard from the IRS about its investigation.

    Owens says the IRS’ actions have had a chilling effect on the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People. The speech from Bond was removed from the organization’s website shortly before the election.

    All Saints, though, has not fallen silent. There is a long history of social activism at the church, one of Southern California’s largest and most liberal. Since the 1940s, the church has championed civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights and, most recently, has launched an interfaith coalition against the war in Iraq. …

    • eric
      Posted November 15, 2012 at 9:02 am | Permalink

      Asked why the agency is not responding, Owens said, “The IRS is uncertain how to proceed — maybe confused, maybe wishes everything would just go away.”

      I expect “uncertain and confused” is a very accurate description. I had a tricky tax issue in 2002. It got resolved to everyone’s satisfaction – mine, the government’s, the lawyers, everyone. But the IRS has a lot of turnover and every year or two a new agent comes along and decides it wasn’t resolved to their own personal satisfaction, and I get a letter.

      The tax attorneys who handled the case (and who get the unenviable job of dealing with these later letters pro bono) say this is typical and they see it all the time: one tax agent does not know what some other agent did, what rule was applied, etc., etc.

      90% of people don’t see this – taxes go in, refund or nothing comes back, end of story. But I think a lot of people who have had to deal with tax officials in a more in-depth manner will tell you that they are often confused about the regulations they’re supposed to be enforcing, and that one hand regularly does something different and inconsistent with the other hand.

      • John Scanlon, FCD
        Posted November 17, 2012 at 8:11 am | Permalink

        Not just tax agencies, but several other kinds of govt depts I’ve worked in or dealt with. You might think when an issue is ‘settled’ the file is just closed, but it often ain’t so.

        And sometimes that’s a good thing, and therefore not to be bitched about in general.

  9. evilben
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    hey jerry, i just became a member of the FFRF!
    (you should get them to add you as one of the options on ‘how did you hear about us’)

  10. SimonSays
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    Will be curious to see how they plan to show they have standing. This is the typical stumbling block in a case like this.

    • jpetts
      Posted November 16, 2012 at 11:10 am | Permalink

      Did you read the doc? It explicitly deals with this in paragraph 34 et.seq.

      • SimonSays
        Posted November 16, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

        I did. I am not a lawyer, however my limited knowledge of the concept of standing is that one of the requirements is that a plaintiff needs to show actual harm which a court ruling can redress. Of course FFRF will claim they are at a disadvantage as they did there and some other places (otherwise why even bother with the suit?).

        However in their case they are neither spelling out exactly what harm is being done to them by the ban in concrete terms nor are they stating how an IRS enforcement will improve this.

        • SimonSays
          Posted November 16, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

          Also, please add “my reading of this is that…” to the beginning. I’m also certainly NOT a judge!

  11. Theo Bromine
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    Kudos to the FFRF, but I disagree with the assertion that
    “we need more lawsuits, not more atheist conventions”
    I think we need both.

    • David Neff
      Posted November 15, 2012 at 8:39 am | Permalink

      I think we need LESS lawsuits, and more atheist conventions. The lawsuits I feel make atheists look like they are dictating everything and want to take away religious freedom. However, this has gone too far — I am totally in compliance with the FFRF and I will be supporting them on this lawsuit.

      • Greg G
        Posted November 15, 2012 at 9:26 am | Permalink

        The lawsuits are opposed to religion actually “dictating everything”. The lawsuits seem out of place because there haven’t been enough of them.

      • Posted November 15, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

        how else can you get people who don’t want to change, to change? It took lawsuits to get companies to stop polluting. It took lawsuits to get civil rights. It unfortunately always seems to take lawsuits to get idiots to change.

      • Kurtis Rader
        Posted November 15, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

        You’re wrong; although I’ll allow that some atheist lawsuits have been stupid from a tactical perspective (I’m looking at you Michael Newdow). But if you look at the types of lawsuits the FFRF brings you’ll find they’re quite reasonable and they rarely lose. Furthermore, they go out of their way to avoid lawsuits by giving the offending party every opportunity to cease and desist.

        Which is why I paid my $1000 to become a lifetime member.

    • Posted November 15, 2012 at 8:41 am | Permalink

      Thank you Theo, I agree. I will make lawsuits a topic of conversation at Eschaton November 30 – December 2: http://eschaton2012.ca/

      There will be a captive audience with whom to discuss “more lawsuits.” Thank you Jerry for the suggestion.

      • Newish Gnu
        Posted November 15, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

        Slightly OT:

        A lcoal teabagger with a radio show was ranting about abolishing the EPA. (The proximate discussion was water pollution). I called in nd asked how, in the absence of the sort of interstate regulation that the EPA provides, people in my state could get polluters in the neighboring upstream state to stop polluting our water. He was stumped for a while but finally came up with this: Sue them (blah, blah, 11th Amendment, blah, blah).

        So evidently church-going, tea party republicans (he meets that description) have no problem with lawsuits.

  12. gbjames
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    “Do consider becoming a member of the FFRF.”

    I’ll put it more directly…

    Join FFRF. It is by far the most effective use of membership dollars to advance the interests of secular government in the United States.

    And sign up for the daily “Freethought of the day” emails. They are a most interesting way to start your day.

    • DTaylor
      Posted November 15, 2012 at 11:33 am | Permalink

      I’m a member too, and I strongly agree. And if there are any here who are squeamish about joining (which I doubt), the newspaper even comes in a plain white wrapper. You won’t be outed by it on your coffee table.:)

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted November 15, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

      Yes, do join.

      But I’ll point out again that “by far the most effective” overlooks the efforts of the ACLU, which has an excellent track record in this area going back 90+ years, as well as a nationwide network of pro bono lawyers on the ground in every state.

      • whyevolutionistrue
        Posted November 15, 2012 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

        Sorry, I appreciate the ACLU a lot (I worked for them as a volunteer once); I just didn’t include it among atheist/secular organizations.

      • Explicit Atheist
        Posted November 16, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

        The ACLU does not file the lawsuits that the FFRF does probably because there may be a substantial number of ACLU members who favor establishments of monotheism. Also, the ACLU has a broader focus. Americans United For has a secular government focus similar to the FFRF but it is also not particularly good at targeting establishments of monotheism. FFRF is the best, but I would keep an eye on the Secular Coalition of America, they appear to be building themselves up and I think they may be on their way to being aggressive actors also.

        • Diane G.
          Posted November 16, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

          I see the SCA & FFRF as having slightly different agendas, both necessary, the former concentrating on developing a lobbying front on the Hill.

        • SimonSays
          Posted November 16, 2012 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

          The ACLU does not file the lawsuits that the FFRF does probably because there may be a substantial number of ACLU members who favor establishments of monotheism. Also, the ACLU has a broader focus. Americans United For has a secular government focus similar to the FFRF but it is also not particularly good at targeting establishments of monotheism.

          Um, NO. You know who filed the lawsuit for Jessica Ahlquist? The ACLU. As for AU, here is there wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Americans_United_for_Separation_of_Church_and_State

          I challenge you to show me even a single case where either of these orgs have worked to “establish monotheism”.

        • Gregory Kusnick
          Posted November 16, 2012 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

          The ACLU routinely puts out brushfires relating to creationism in the classroom, school prayer, religious symbols on public property, and so on. If they don’t often end up in court, that’s because the mere suggestion of an ACLU lawsuit is usually enough to get the job done.

  13. Posted November 15, 2012 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    Jerry – I assume you are a member of FFRF and receive their newspaper, Freethought Today. If not, you really must subscribe. The other informative newsletter I read cover to cover is from Americans United. These two publications are the best way to keep informed about State Church separation, as I am sure you already know.

  14. Randy
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    Proud to say I have been a member of this organization for several months. I am very impressed with their aggressive bulldog approach to church/state separation violations. Also pleased to let you all know that a new chapter of FFRF was just announced last week. The Northern Ohio Freethought Society will be having an organization meeting this Saturday. This new local FFRF chapter was organized by Marni Tiborsky, who also founded the Cleveland Freethinkers some 5 or 6 years ago.

  15. Posted November 15, 2012 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    Concerning the potential lawsuit against religious organizations that politicize issues from the pulpit and still accept public handouts: I am not sure the Obama administration wants to get sidetracked with this issue at this time but I’m sure they will be sympathetic.

    • tomh
      Posted November 15, 2012 at 9:42 am | Permalink

      I’m sure they will be sympathetic

      What makes you sure of that? The administration has shown little antipathy towards religious influence, witness the expansion of faith-based grants. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been poured into the faith-based programs since 2008.

  16. Posted November 15, 2012 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    After-life membership?

    :-D

    Does the FFRF welcome non-US members?

    /@

    • gbjames
      Posted November 15, 2012 at 10:08 am | Permalink

      I went to the annual convention last month. There were members from 5 different countries, if I remember correctly. So yes, non US people are welcome.

      http://ffrf.org/get-involved/membership

  17. dhart52
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Until the “nons” can afford lobbyists like the NRA uses to uphold the Second Amendment, we have to use lawsuits to uphold the First Amendment. We need billboards, media ads, conventions, lawsuits, AND lobbyists. Join FFRF! I’ve been a member for years.

  18. Mark Phillippi
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    I can’t afford to join right now but I pitched in $15.

  19. Greg Esres
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    the FFRF fights an endless battle against the brushfires of religious enthusiasm that threaten to incinerate our Constitution.

    True, but this route can only be effective as long as there are laws and Supreme Court rulings on which they can base their lawsuits. If the SC becomes increasingly pro-religion and legislatures change laws to favor religion, then the FFRF will eventually be left without ammunition. Considering this, I think that the efforts by secular organizations to change society may be more effective than FFRF in the long run.

    • gbjames
      Posted November 15, 2012 at 10:13 am | Permalink

      Don’t fall for the false choice view. These strategies are not mutually exclusive. FFRF has become a major force in changing society in many ways. One of them is legal action. They also broadcast a weekly radio show (also via Internet) and they have been very successful in “consciousness raising” with billboards and advertising. For example: http://ffrf.org/news/news-releases/item/2901-nyt-ad

      • Greg Esres
        Posted November 15, 2012 at 10:17 am | Permalink

        Agreed.

    • NoAstronomer
      Posted November 15, 2012 at 10:19 am | Permalink

      “I think that the efforts by secular organizations to change society may be more effective than FFRF in the long run.”

      Personally I would say that (US) society has to change if we are to remove the influence that religion has over it. Secular organizations, such as FFRF, are leading that effort (obviously!).

      Lawsuits are necessary to hold on to the progress already made and to remove obstacles to change, but they’re not going to change society by themselves.

      Mike.

  20. multiphant
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    I’ve been meaning to join FFRF for some time. This lawsuit was the final push, then I saw this post. I just joined, after having to wait a bit for a snafu at the FFRF web site to be resolved. Noodlespeed, FFRF.

  21. multiphant
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    I have been meaning to join FFRF for some time. This lawsuit provided the final push. Then I saw this post. I just joined, after having to wait a bit for a snafu at the FFRF web site to be resolved. Noodlespeed, FFRF.

  22. Posted November 15, 2012 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    Heard of this suit last night and looked into FFRF for the first time. I joined immediately. I’m in Milwaukee and as their base of operations is in Madison they are somewhat local. I plan to see what I can do to get more involved.

    • gbjames
      Posted November 15, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

      Welcome, fellow Milwaukee WEIT reader and FFRF member!

  23. Posted November 15, 2012 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    You talked me into it! I joined the FFRF.

  24. Roux Brownwell
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    I also joined, & everything moseszd said applies to me as well (that is, I already have your book, I have no use for navel-gazers & I wrote ‘WEIT’ in the space where they ask how you found out about them.)

  25. DKeane
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    This post reminded me to re-new my membership today

  26. Ronald A. Lindsay
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    I’m not necessarily opposed to using lawsuits to make a point, including embarrassing the government, which may be what FFRF has in mind. However, even acknowledging that one can never predict with certainty the outcome of litigation, the fact is this lawsuit has little chance of success. It will likely be found foreclosed by longstanding precedent, namely Allen v. Wright, 468 U.S. 737 (1984). FFRF, under current case law, does not have standing to bring this claim. The IRS’s refusal to enforce the law against churches that endorse candidates is appalling, but a better way to try to move the IRS on this issue might be a coordinated, united lobbying effort and PR campaign by the various secular organizations.

    • Posted November 15, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

      Except that the FFRF isn’t a private citizen, trying to sue; they’re also a 501(c)3, subject in theory to the same rules on political conduct. The failure to enforce the rules on churches is in effect discriminatory, having an inequitable chilling effect on irreligious speech, etc.

      But IAmNotALawyer.

    • abrotherhoodofman
      Posted November 15, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

      I think the esteemed Ronald Lindsay just volunteered to lead this lobbying effort!

      Can I get a second?
      ;)

    • gbjames
      Posted November 15, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

      And what better way to encourage a lobbying effort than to have a lawsuit/cause to rally around?

      What makes you think that coordinated united lobbying efforts aren’t also taking place? FFRF is a member of Secular Coalition of America which is a specifically lobbying-oriented organization.

  27. Mike McCants
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    I have just joined FFRF.

  28. Posted November 15, 2012 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    Butter Kitteh and I just joined FFRF, putting “Jerry Coyne’s WEBSITE: ‘Why Evolution Is True'” as the way we heard about it. We’re both American’s United members, but your post tipped the scales to join FFRF as well.

  29. Gregory Kusnick
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    …the FFRF stands out as the one that best keeps religion at bay.

    Not to take anything away from FFRF (of which I am a member), but they’re hardly the only group out there taking effective action. The ACLU has been successfully defending the First Amendment (and other Amendments too) for nearly a century now.

    • Posted November 15, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

      But they also take cases from religions. I would say that the FFRF is the best organizations that atheists can always trust to keep religion at bay.

      • eric
        Posted November 15, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

        Do you see defending religious peoples’ first amendment rights as a bad thing? I don’t. The ACLU is reliably secular. Its a little disturbing to hear someone imply that we can’t trust them because they sometimes defend and support the civil rights of religious Americans.

        Both are good. Everyone support both. And yes, please do defend the legal rights of Americans of all religions and none to practice free speech and religion without government interference or preference.

        • Posted November 15, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

          I do see defending religious people’s rights as very bad thing, when it encourages them to attack others’ rights. A group that wants nothing but hatred and fear does not deserve some idyllic “equal rights”. It’s the same when the ACLU defends the KKK or some such group, which it has. Does the KKK deserve to spread its nonsense? In a perfect world, perhaps, when everyone on equal footing. As it stands, no. Defending such nonsense is allowing vermin to have a soapbox.

          • Gregory Kusnick
            Posted November 15, 2012 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

            So to be clear, you’re saying that First Amendment rights shouldn’t apply to everyone, but only to people whose beliefs you approve of. And you think it’s legitimate for government to discriminate against people on the basis of their beliefs, so long as you’re not the one whose beliefs are being discriminated against.

            Have I got that right?

            • Posted November 16, 2012 at 7:17 am | Permalink

              I said what I meant. Please do not try to put words in my mouth or be cutesy in trying to show just how wondeful and tolerant you are. I do not hold with the idea that free speech is some sacred cow that “everyone” should have no matter what they say or do. Sorry, I am not going to sacrifice human decency on some altar where you want to pretend the world is a place full of unicorns and kitten farts, where it is a good thing to ignore a problem because you hide behind the skirts of an idea. That is what I have to say on the subject.

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted November 16, 2012 at 11:01 am | Permalink

                Seems to me I summarized your position accurately then. You think speech that offends your sense of decency should be suppressed.

                Do you really not see that this is the same argument used by religious extremists to suppress speech that offends their sense of decency?

              • Posted November 16, 2012 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

                I said I have said what I’ve intended to on this matter.

        • Posted November 15, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

          also, in case you didn’t realize, I’m a member of the ACLU. I just don’t agree with all they do.

        • Diane G.
          Posted November 16, 2012 at 11:05 am | Permalink

          Nowhere did clubetcetera say “we can’t trust” the ACLU. You’re not the only ACLU member. This thread is not about the ACLU.

          FFRF concentrates on a more defined area of constitutional violations, thus drawing more attention to the secular cause itself.

          • Diane G.
            Posted November 16, 2012 at 11:06 am | Permalink

            “…the only ACLU member here…”

    • Explicit Atheist
      Posted November 16, 2012 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

      The ACLU rarely defends against establishments of monotheism.

  30. Strider
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    I might have to sue the WEIT website based on its discrimination against those of us who’ve been members of the FFRF for years! I’ll be rich!!

  31. Posted November 15, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    I had been waiting for a good reason to join, and I just did.

  32. abrotherhoodofman
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    I just joined, and below is the reason why:

    That’s largely because instead of hosting endless ineffectual meetings with the same speakers, or navel-gazing about internal divisiveness, the FFRF actually does something: through scrupulous monitoring of the government and judiciously filing lawsuits, the FFRF fights an endless battle against the brushfires of religious enthusiasm that threaten to incinerate our Constitution.

    QFT

  33. Posted November 15, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps they might add Geitner in his office of SecTreas to the suit, since he is the only official presently with the authority to make the requisite determinations, but has not evaluated any complaints.

  34. Benjamin Bastin
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    I just joined. I think I may have been a member a few years ago because I remember getting a few issues of their newsletter. I don’t remember actually joining back then, though, so who knows. Anyway, I contributed $40 and am a member for sure now.

  35. Lauren
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    I joined!
    -Lauren

    • gbjames
      Posted November 15, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

      As an old member of FFRF (in both senses), I can’t tell you how great it feels to see all of the “I joined” posts on this page.

      (Well… I haven’t been a member THAT long! And I’m not THAT old! ;) )

  36. Posted November 15, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    In a number of EU countries, they’re not ‘just’ tax exempt, they get public funding- which is outrageous and certainly immoral considering their bigoted policies against a number of sectors of the tax-paying population. We fund them so they can attack us.

  37. Newish Gnu
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    I joined.

  38. Kassul
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    Would like to become a member, but I see they add an extra $20 charge if you’re from Canada.

    Surely they should welcome international support? Americans get more direct benefits from the FFRF, my return on the donation is somewhat more nebulous as it is.

    It’s not like it’s to compensate for the exchange rate or anything >_> Just want to discourage foreigners from sending them $40 to keep the FFRF more by-Americans / for-Americans?

    blergh. Don’t really want to lie and say I’m from the US, but nor do I want to toss $60 their way just because I’m a Canuck. I’d have probably not even blinked it was just a straight $60, but now I feel slighted for my nationality.

    Maybe I’ll just give a donation of $40 and not be a member? eh, I’ll think about it for a bit and respond to this if I decide to go ahead. I don’t see anything in their FAQs to explain this, if anyone knows what’s up please respond and let me know!

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted November 15, 2012 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

      I don’t have any inside knowledge but I’m guessing it costs them more to mail the newspaper internationally. There may be other administrative costs as well. I don’t know what that adds up to, but it seems reasonable that non-US members should bear the cost of whatever additional burden they place on the organization beyond their primary mission of US lobbying and litigation.

      • Kassul
        Posted November 15, 2012 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

        eh, but I don’t want the physical newsletter. I checked off the “send it to me via e-mail as a pdf” button.
        Doesn’t cost any more to e-mail a pdf to me than it does to someone that lives in New York.

        • Gregory Kusnick
          Posted November 15, 2012 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

          Perhaps your best bet then is to ask them directly what the extra fee is for, and report back here what you learn.

          Or you could just make a donation of whatever amount you’re comfortable with, and don’t sweat the details.

          • ForgotMyOrange
            Posted November 15, 2012 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

            $85 minimum if you’re in Australia (where the dollar is equal to US)
            Just a little too step, in that case.
            I need to find a “donate” button instead.

  39. jpetts
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

    I see a potential problem with this: the language is incorrect in the PDF. In para 22 the suit talks about “flaunting the electioneering restrictions” when it means “flouting” them. This is likely enough to get the suit summarily dismissed.

  40. Posted November 15, 2012 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been very impressed with FFRF since meeting Dan Barker recently. That’s when I also found out about student scholarships they offer. I’m working to finish my Master’s in teaching and entered the essay contest.

    I don’t mean to toot my own horn too much, but I just found out I got third in my category! All of the essay contests are generously funded by donors. You can check it out here:

    http://ffrf.org/outreach/ffrf-student-scholarship-essay-contests

    If you know any students be sure to tell them about it for next year.

    If I have anything left when I finally get employed, I’ll be sending in a donation too! I’ve just got one more semester.

    • Diane G.
      Posted November 15, 2012 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

      Congrats, Lynn! I’ll look forward to reading it.

  41. Dave
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

    Fantastic – I just received my renewal notice and will be sending a nice check to aid the cause! Keep up the great work, FFRF!!

  42. Kelton Barnsley
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

    Just joined! Thanks for letting me know about the great work this organization is doing.

  43. phar84
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

    Just became a member.

  44. Diane G.
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

    This is the one membership I make sure to never let lapse. I also buy a membership for a friend cannot afford it on her own.

    Even managed to make it to one of their conventions–the year Dan Dennett got the “Emperor Has No Clothes” award. Of which JAC, of course, is also a recipient.

  45. Scott G
    Posted November 16, 2012 at 5:59 am | Permalink

    I am now a member of the FFRF.org.

    In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve joined for several reasons:

    1) I would like a copy of WEIT
    2) it is time for me to get involved with, and not just think about atheism
    3) The power of the kitty is undeniable!

    Thank you, Jerry, for the blog, and your recent post “Phraseology”. What a simple and effective response!

  46. Bruce S. Springsteen
    Posted November 16, 2012 at 7:25 am | Permalink

    Love FFRF. Of all my annual memberships, it’s the one I pay with the most satisfaction and confidence.

  47. Carlos del Solar
    Posted November 16, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    Joined! Thank you for the straw that broke the procrastination’s back.

  48. Deborah
    Posted November 16, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    Been a member for several years. These people are for real. Go join. Now.

  49. RebeccaW
    Posted November 16, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    Joined at the Household level – good for two votes.

  50. gypsyken
    Posted November 16, 2012 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    FFRF does great work and my support for it is evidenced by the fact that I’m an After Life Member. However, American Atheists (of which I’m a Life Member) is also a very dynamic organization that seeks to maintain separation of church and state and when necessary undertakes law suits for that purpose that it rarely, if ever, loses. It publishes an excellent magazine that is now sold on newstands. And unlike FFRF, it is a sponsor of the Secular Coalition for America, the lobbying organization for secularism.

  51. Posted November 17, 2012 at 4:27 am | Permalink

    Jack Van Impe is a great example of someone doing this. Leading up the election he did a few shows on how Obama is the Anti Christ and future Dictator of the New World Order, etc etc. You can find him on Youtube. He has a fairly large following as well. (Televangelist, has several ministries, and lives in a tax exempt home.)

  52. Joseph
    Posted November 17, 2012 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    Just signed up for a household membership! Hoping for the book! :) Keep up the good fight FFRF!

  53. Ben
    Posted November 30, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    I joined back when you ran this post, but forgot to add my name in the comments until now. I hope I’m not too late!

  54. Dave Ricks
    Posted December 12, 2012 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

    This thread reminded me to join the FFRF, which was on my to-do list since I attended the Reason Rally earlier this year, so this week I joined the FFRF at the Afterlife level.

    But I must compare –
    • Churches promoting Mitt Romney for President,
    • AHA Executive Director Roy Speckhardt promoting Herb Silverman for Senate.

    According to the IRS –

    Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity.  Violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.

    I’m still happy I belong to the AHA, but they say they’re a 501(c)(3) organization, which seems inconsistent with promoting Silverman for Senate. For now I’ll just say I cannot in good conscience deduct my AHA membership on my taxes.


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