Should ministers have to pay taxes?

IRS.svgIRS logo

Churches in the US are given a lot of benefits by the government, including tax exemptions on property tax, donations, social security taxes, and sales tax.

But did you know that preachers also personally receive hefty tax breaks from the IRS at everyone else’s expense? According to ABC News Sacramento, a lawsuit filed this week in Sacramento against the IRS, Timothy Geithner, & the state of California will help determine whether it’s legal for preachers to get a free pass on taxes that other citizens must pay.

According to the Freedom from Religion Foundation:

“Ministers, who are paid in tax-free dollars, also may deduct their mortgage interest and property tax payments. Under both Federal and California law, allowances paid to ‘ministers of the gospel’ are not treated as taxable income, unlike the situation for other taxpayers. Only ‘ministers of the gospel’ may claim these benefits”.

No matter what your stance is on whether churches should get tax exemptions, these ministers-only tax exemptions go even further. Unlike charity laws which give tax benefits to both secular and religious organizations, these laws give benefits only to ministers. In some cases, clergy even “double-dip“: they “deduct their mortgage payments and real estate taxes from income tax, even though they paid for these with tax-exempt dollars, amounting to a government subsidy solely for clergy,” according to FFRF.

In a secular nation, which has a constitution prohibiting the establishment of religion, it seems both illegal and unjust that ministers of any income get a free ride on taxes everyone else has to pay. Just like everyone else, some men and women of the cloth make little money, while others are multi-millionaires. So why shouldn’t they be taxed at the same rates as everyone else? The rest of the country shouldn’t be made to pay more taxes to make up for this unfair exception.

Freedom of religion should allow ministers to worship, not to cheat the tax system at taxpayer expense.

Site is back up
Image retrieved from “

My site is finally back up, in (nearly) the same state it was a little over a month ago. I apologize for any inconvenience to my vistors during this period.

My blog was hacked because my hosting company refused for over a month to upgrade WordPress to the most current version, even though a well-known exploit was out there and I asked them on several occasions to upgrade their installation. When I was hacked, because of their outdated version of WordPress, they refused to help me in a timely manner to get my site back to normal.

I was able, mostly on my own, to get my site back up and running. This took a while since Google needed to be convinced that my site was safe, and I needed to figure out how to install WordPress on my own. I am running my own installation now so I do not need to rely on my hosting company’s (lack of) upgrades to ensure the security of my site and its visitors.

My site is now safer than ever, and I should be able to do what my host is unable or unwilling to do: keep WordPress up-to-date. Now that I’m back online, I hope to post tomorrow with some new Atheist/Freethought news, and post links and articles regularly from here on out.

Memphis council ready to go to court over prayers

Official city emblem on the Memphis City Council website. The Council gives cufflinks with this official emblem to Chaplains of the Day.

The Memphis City Council, under fire for allowing prayers “in Jesus’ name” and giving gifts to preachers at its public meetings, would be willing to take the matter to court if challenged, according to an article in Memphis’ top-selling daily newspaper, The Commercial Appeal .

The Commercial Appeal article fills in some of the details of the situation, including the fact that these invocations have been occurring for “almost 18 years” and that the goody bags given to each officially- appointed Chaplain of the Day includes “city emblem cufflinks and necklace pendants for spiritual leaders”.

On the one side is the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), whose co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor said “They’re not separating their personal faith with their governmental duty. It’s really crossing the line.”

On the other side is Memphis City Council chairman Harold Collins, who defended the practice, saying “It does not alienate people who are not of faith […] They don’t have to participate in the prayer.” He states that the reason invited chaplains are Christians is because council members are Christian. If FFRF challenges the practice and threatens to sue them, Collins said “We’d have to see them in court.”

The Pro Tem Mayor, Myron Lowery, who is also a former council chairman, has decided not to step into the fray except to say that “I am not going to stop the council from doing what it’s been doing for years and to which I feel is to their benefit.”

I believe the case is even more clear-cut than I originally thought. In addition to the fact that most of the prayers are clearly Christian in nature, and the councilman admits that they invite mostly Christians, it also appears the Council gives these Chaplains cufflinks with the city’s emblem on them. This certainly could be interpreted as city approval of these chaplains, unless they give the cufflinks to anyone who comes by. There are also the “necklace pendants”. I wonder what these “necklace pendants” look like. A cross is a type of pendant, but no mention is made of this in the article.

In any case, it sounds like these gifts are specially given to the chaplains. The Council is using city money to reward preachers from one religion, Christianity. If that isn’t government endorsement of religion, what is?

In general, FFRF diligently pursues cities who make illegal sectarian prayers at town meetings. As I mentioned earlier , such official endorsement of religion has been found to unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court. The initial reaction of the council chairman does not sound like they are willing to find a compromise or re-evaluate the council’s practice in light of the allegations. If they’re unwilling to even attempt to fall into constitutional guidelines, it looks like they’re headed for a lawsuit.

My favorite reverend

Source of image :

If you’re from the New York area, or keep up on political news, you may be aware that a Reverend is running for New York mayor.
Billy Talen, the genius behind the funny yet serious movie “What Would Jesus Buy?”, is running against Michael Bloomberg. He’s not a real preacher, but does a hilarious sacrilegious impersonation of one. As the title and picture of his film suggest, Rev. Billy speaks out against rampant consumerism and the impending “Shopocalypse”.

Although most people think he doesn’t have a chance running as a Green against the immensely rich and power Bloomberg, I think it’s great that Rev. Billy’s raising some important issues about the economy, the environment, and people’s quality of life.

He also is poking fun at (tele)evangelists along the way, which makes it even better for me. Before running for mayor, he would go everywhere preaching and singing to people asking them to stop splurging on unneeded gifts, backed by his Stop-Shopping choir.

Although his main point has nothing to do with religion, I’ve often wondered what religion, if any, Rev. Billy himself. He can’t take religion too seriously if he’s been storming Disneyland, Starbucks, Wal-Mart, and other store chains dressed up as a too-slick preacher for 8 years now! If you haven’t seen him in action, here’s an interview he did a couple years ago. He mentions Jesus “trespassing”, which doesn’t sound like a very Christian thing to say!

Child “witches” made to suffer

Exodus 22:18 tells believers that they cannot "suffer a witch to live" (KJV). From medieval Europe to the Salem witch trials and beyond, there have been witch hunts. The most recent front is in Nigeria and other countries in Africa, where children are being abandoned, tortured, mutilated, and sometimes killed because they are believed to be witches.

This isn’t news, unfortunately: it’s been occurring for years now, but the situation appears to be worsening. Not only are adults called out as witches, but more and more children are being called witches and being punished by their parents, who believe witches can bring about bad fortune: "divorce, disease, accidents or job losses ", according to the Guardian . And what is even more deplorable in my opinion is that according to the BBC , even in 2009 the Pope is still campaigning against witchcraft instead of clearly coming out against these witch hunts.

The crusade against witches in Nigeria and other parts of Africa is being led by people who call themselves Christians, from the pastors who are scaring people out of their minds with stories of witches, and charging handsome fees to perform exorcisms, to the parents and community who are shunning, torturing, or killing the witches when they can’t afford an exorcism.

People who do not buy into the witch nonsense are accused of aiding and abetting witches. According to Sam Ikpe-Itauma from the Esit Eket area of Nigeria:

For every maybe five children we see on the streets, we believe one has been killed, although it could be more as neighbours turn a blind eye when a witch child disappears.

Some people will argue that witches and witchcraft have existed in Africa for ages. Yes, but the open and merciless pursuit of witches in the name of Christianity is a much more recent phenomenon. According to the Guardian:

Although old tribal beliefs in witch doctors are not so deeply buried in people’s memories, and although there had been indigenous Christians in Nigeria since the 19th century, it is American and Scottish Pentecostal and evangelical missionaries of the past 50 years who have shaped these fanatical beliefs. Evil spirits, satanic possessions and miracles can be found aplenty in the Bible, references to killing witches turn up in Exodus, Deuteronomy and Galatians, and literal interpretation of scriptures is a popular crowd-pleaser.

Pastors openly admit that they are fighting against witchcraft.

Pastor Joe Ita is the preacher at Liberty Gospel Church in nearby Eket. ‘We base our faith on the Bible, we are led by the holy spirit and we have a programme of exposing false religion and sorcery.’

Although he denies charging for exorcisms, reports of pastors doing so are widespread.

The problem is not limited to Nigeria, but is occurring in a number of African countries, including Angola. Here is what Pope Benedict XVI had to say in March of this year

In today’s Angola, Catholics should offer the message of Christ to the many who live in the fear of spirits, of evil powers by whom they feel threatened, disoriented, even reaching the point of condemning street children and even the most elderly because – they say – they are sorcerers

At first view, this seems positive: Benedict seems to be speaking out against people who are going after kids and others because they are believed to be witches. Benedict did also say that Catholics should "live peacefully" with animists, according to the Huffington Post (a liberal political commentary site). So what’s the problem?

What’s missing is Benedict speaking for the Catholic Church condemning pastors who, in the name of Christianity, are attacking witches. No admonishment to the local church leaders who are spreading the fear of sorcery, who are tearing families and communities apart, making money off exorcisms, and exploiting the fears that they, as alleged men of God, are helping to create.

Speaking out against "sorcery" while asking for "peace" does not do this; it sends a mixed signal. Instead of clearly telling people to stop attacking witches, his solution to the problem was urging people to convert to Christianity! It’s not enough to say that people should just get along. There should be a call to hold the people responsible for these crimes accountable and to get the word out that such violence is not condoned. In my opinion, until he and other leaders launch a clear public campaign against what pastors are doing to alleged witches in Africa, they are complicit in what is happening.

Please read the articles from the Guardian and the BBC if you want to find out more. The Guardian site also has heartbreaking footage of some of the mutilated children and parents who are telling people to take their children away because they are witches (but often not being able to explain why they know they’re witches, or how to make them not witches). What is happening to these kids is too sad for me to even describe here; hundreds of them huddling up after their parents scald them, burn them, or chase them away from their homes.

Furniture has surpassed Christianity as world religion (IKEA overtakes INRI)

My parody of an INRI cross I found on

Well, it’s official — furniture has surpassed Christianity as the most important religion in the world. Specifically, according to a number of sources (Business Week , mental_floss , Wikipedia etc.), there are more IKEA catalogues printed every year than there are bibles. So I guess IKEA is in and INRI (the initials seen on many crucifixes) is out.

This apparently isn’t exactly news, as it’s been the case since at least 2006, but I hadn’t heard about it until now. (Thanks to Twitter users amiable84 and mental_floss for pointing this out.) The Bible still holds the all-time record apparently, and it would take IKEA some time to catch up considering the Bible’s over 500 year head start .

Based on the Business Week article, IKEA seems to have been the one to have publicized their achievement originally, but I can’t find this information on their site now. Maybe they remembered what happened what happened to John Lennon when he said the Beatles were more popular than Jesus was.

I have mixed feelings on this. While I’m glad that the Bible is no longer the most printed book in the world, couldn’t something else besides a catalogue have surpassed it? We’ve gone from worshiping God to worshiping furniture. I guess it’s a step up, since furniture actually exists.

I might have preferred something else overtake the Bible in number of copies printed: a science book, a freethought book, a work promoting peace, or pretty much any (other) work of fiction besides the Bible (since the Bible is, of course, largely fictional). Maybe in another 500 years?

Oops! Atheist bus ads allegedly run by accident, then withdrawn

This sign was never supposed to have been on a bus. Or was it??
Image source:

As many people in the atheist/freethought world have probably heard, one of the new battlefronts in a number of cities has been public bus signs. In Des Moines, DART (Des Moins Area Regional Transit) approved the sign pictured above, and they went on buses.

Suddenly, after numerous complaints came in, DART realized the ads had allegedly been put there by mistake. According to DART’s Kirstin Baer-Harding:

Drivers said people weren’t getting on buses or getting off the buses because of it. So with all the calls, it wasn’t something we wanted. […] The ads mistakenly got put on buses.

Supposedly, even though the Iowa Atheist and Freethinkers group had been told it was approved, the ads were turned down at the last minute (even though the group placing the ad wasn’t informed of this), and because of a new hybrid bus and a crash, it still slipped through anyway. And coincidentally, since people were refusing to get on the bus (which I assume would cost DART revenue), the ads had to come off.

It would be one thing if they just didn’t realize there’d be a backlash and changed their mind. But to claim the ads were put there accidentally? Sounds fishy to me, ads accidentally appearing on buses. But then again, I’m a skeptical person by nature.

Thanks to for the link to the article.

Share and share alike

More behind-the-scenes stuff: I’ve added the ability to share posts (Twitter, Facebook, email, etc.). You’ll find the links for this below each post.

I’m working on a "Save as PDF/Print this post" option for individual posts. If you’re like me, I like saving stories I find locally to my hard drive. If and when my hosting service fixes an issue they created (which has slowed down several things), I should hopefully be able to add this.

As usual, when giving a site update, I also like to include a little something extra. Here’s a YouTube of Susan Werner performing one of my favorite freethought songs, "(Why Is Your) Heaven So Small".

Pat Condell speaks out against “appeasement monkeys” (on burkas, women’s rights)

Pat Condell ‘s latest video "Apologists for Evil" takes people to task, especially politically-correct liberals, who defend the sexism of Islam (including in the recent burqa debate ) because they are either too afraid to speak out against it or because they say that it is "racism" to criticize Islam and Muslims.

I agree with Pat Condell: standing up for women’s rights against a religion or a culture that wants to subjugate women is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s not racist to support equal rights for women. It’s crazy that people would even suggest this, since Islam isn’t even a race! But it’s not the first time I’ve heard criticism of Islam wrongly linked to racism.

Expecting women to cover their faces or to obey men (among a myriad of other sexist things supported by the Quran, the Bible, or many of their followers) are misogynistic cultural and religious practices which are against values laid out by the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and those held by most people in Western societies. It has absolutely nothing to do with race, since people of any race can be Muslims and people of any race can, unfortunately, discriminate against women.

A person should be able to support a woman’s right to equality and dignity without being labeled a racist. Atheists and others should not be afraid to speak out when religions, and their proponents, support things which are clearly dehumanizing or discriminatory.

In smears we trust

The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent an email noting several recent articles railing against their move to sue to keep "In God We Trust" and the god-filled Pledge of Allegiance out of the Capital Visitor Center (my take on the issue here ).

One article that caught my eye in particular was in the Examiner , a site I had recently quoted from. (See a few quick notes at the end about the Examiner and sources in general). The author directly addresses FFRF and its co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor directly, saying:

you are wrong about something… there are not 15% of Americans who identify themselves as non-religious. At best, (or worst, depending on your point of view) only 5% of our population claims atheist/agnostic status.

The Examiner article by Doug Billings cites no source refuting the claim, only makes an unsupported counter-claim about atheists and agnostics (making it seem like that’s the same as non-religious, which it’s not). I can (and did, in the comments) cite a well-publicized source identifying 15% of Americans identifying as non-religious. The ARIS (American Religious Identification Survey) data was collected by Trinity College in Connecticut. Although their charter prohibits discriminating based on religion, they were founded by Episcopals  and have "Trinity" right in their name, so they don’t on the surface appear to be anti-Christian, and yet they still claim 15% of Americans self-identify as non-religious.

The majority of the rest of the article/opinion piece is just a name-calling rant against non-believers, including this image:

and referring to Annie Laurie Gaylor’s point about the country not being founded on Christianity by saying "In another gleaming example of her intellectual shortcomings […]". Everyone has a right to their opinion, but they should not pull statistics and alleged facts out of the air on a site run by a news agency, where such items are accepted by some as news articles.

Although they openly call for people from around the country to apply to be examiners to submit local news, and did have some atheist-related news on them, it is important to note that they have as their owner Philip Anschutz , funder and proponent of the Discovery Institute .

This does not mean that all information on the Examiner site is false or slanted, just that it’s important to remember for all information you get, to consider where it’s coming from, including from my site and blog. I’m obviously going to pick stories that are related to atheism, freethought, etc., but I do attempt to be as unbiased as possible when it comes to presenting facts. I also cite my sources, and when it’s not obvious from the name of the source if they have a slant, I point it out when I’m aware of it, and normally try to find out and report on it when I’m not.

We all, including myself, should be careful about the information we use: not to limit where we look, but to judge its worth and try to verify when possible. Otherwise we might be like the author of the Examiner article who may actually believe he is telling the truth, when it instead comes out as an unjustified and inaccurate smear against those who aren’t religious.