Religion and the Law

The Pro-Lesbian Anti-Transgender "Pussy Church of Modern Witchcraft" Recognized by IRS as Church

"The IRS recognized it as a 501(c)(3) organization and went the extra step of recognizing PCMW as a church, the most enviable of all tax statuses. exempt not only from income tax but also from the transparency that filing Form 990 creates. A church does not have to apply for exempt status, but it is a prudent step particularly for an innovative organization like PCMW."

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

A very interesting post by Peter J Reilly (Forbes), quoted also by Dean Paul Caron (TaxProf Blog); I'm not an expert on this area of the law, but Dean Caron is. The Reilly post is chock full of details both on the underlying political controversy between pro-transgender and anti-transgender radical feminists and on the tax issues; read the whole thing. Note also that an organization doesn't have to be recognized as a church to be tax-exempt, or for donations to it to be tax-deductible for the donor—many ideological organizations are tax-exempt 501(c)(3)'s; but, as the post points out, being recognized as a church does give one some extra benefits.

I would quibble a bit with one item in the post:

So a cynical bastard might think that this enterprise is a clever way to end run around existing and proposed anti-discrimination laws, because religious liberty trumps those sorts of things which the Supreme Court recently confirmed in Masterpiece Cakeshop v Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

Masterpiece Cakeshop decided only that deliberate targeting of people because of their religiosity violates the Free Exercise Clause, and that the particular facts in the case sufficed to show such deliberate targeting. The case that holds that religious institutions—both churches and other institutions, such as schools—have a First Amendment right to discriminate in choice of leaders (and others, such as teachers, who are closely involved in propagating religious beliefs) is Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. EEOC (2012). But beyond that, though Hosanna-Tabor does focus on the Religion Clauses, nonreligious ideological groups are also entitled to exemptions from antidiscrimination laws when their discrimination in choice of leaders and speakers (and likely in choice of members as well) is closely tied to their ideological belief system; that's what Boy Scouts of America v. Dale (2000) held. That, though, is just one detail; again, the rest of the post struck me (and, more importantly, Caron) as very interesting.

UPDATE: Reilly also has a follow-up post.

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61 responses to “The Pro-Lesbian Anti-Transgender "Pussy Church of Modern Witchcraft" Recognized by IRS as Church

  1. So when and where are services held?

    And with a headline like that, I’m the first to comment? You have brought shame upon your families.

    1. It sure puts Kirkland’s “Church of Exalted Reason” to shame.

      1. It puts the Church Of Exalted Reason in business.

        The expanding legal privileges for religious claimants, coupled with the profound tax advantages, made it predictable that many Americans and American organizations would aspire to churchiness.

        Using the attributes of churches to advance progress, tolerance, science, inclusivity, education, modernity, and reason — sometimes in a ‘fight fire with fire’ battle against those using religion to promote or defend backwardness, intolerance, ignorance, and insularity — is a just and divine calling.

    2. They might not let men in unicorn.

      And even if you are a girl, you still have that big horn.

  2. The Pussy Church of Modern Witchcraft? If it was the name of a rock band, I’d go see them.

    On the other hand, I don’t think much of ANY religious organizations. It doesn’t matter to me whether it’s the Roman Catholic Church, the First United Methodists, Lutherans, Baptists, the Seventh Day Adventists, the Church of Latter Day Saints, Santeria, Wiccans, or the Pussy Church of Modern Witchcraft, they are all either deluded nuts or con artists selling false hope and silly mythology. The IRS might just as well grant church status to the local psychic, palm reader, Tarot Card reader, astrologer or phrenologist.

    1. No love for the church of the flying spaghetti monster?

      1. No, that one is real.

    2. Church status allows churches to use money for charitable purposes which might otherwise disappear down the bottomless maw of the federal tax authorities.

      While churches aren’t legally *required* to help the poor and needy, statistically a church is more likely to have initiatives in that direction than some other organizations.

      On average, the money possessed by churches is going to be better used if they’re left to spend it themselves than if the government spends it.

      Naturally, the previous paragraph applies to more than just churches, but it’s a start, isn’t it?

    3. I think I saw Pussy Church if Modern Witchcraft open for Coven.

  3. I noticed this hypothetical in the Forbes link:

    “President Elizabeth Warren (finally) has appointed Chelsea Manning, whose 2018 senatorial bid did not go so well, to DOJ which now has a project on hate groups disguising themselves as churches and getting cover from the IRS. PCMW is a good target, because the Alliance Defending Freedom might not back them.”

    That’s a bit of a slur at the ADF, isn’t it? They are fairly militant in favor of religious freedom. I think they’d even defend religious freedom if their fellow-conservatives attacked it, they’d think it was a short-sighted attack on their cause by former allies. And I certainly think they’d defend a church attacked for denying transgender dogma.

    There would be more of a risk that the “pussy church” would turn down help from the ADF than that the ADF would turn down the pussy church.

    1. What’s more likely? Warren becoming POTUS, or Manning still being alive at that point?

    2. ADF is quite overtly interested in discrimination against Christians, and specifically conservative Christians. Have they ever defended a non-Christian? I did a quick google search and can’t find any examples, and certainly can’t remember any examples.

      1. If they turned down a chance to oppose transgenderist censorship, they’d be really short-sighted.

      2. They also seem to be interested in discrimination against homosexuals, but are on the “pro” side of that one.

        1. In the sense that people who believe marriage is between a man and a woman should not be forced to pretend otherwise, even if they happen to run a small business?

      3. Wait, you used Google, and expected accurate results about conservative Christians?
        Next you will start citing the New York Times as an authoritative source.

        1. Funny.

          Also funny, you didn’t bother doing a search of your own on your preferred search engine, or if you did, you didn’t bother reporting any counter-examples.

          But since you object to Google, I went ahead and used DuckDuckGo as well. A lot more irrelevant results, but the ones that were about the ADF all agreed with Google: they only defend Christians and push pro-Christian agendas.

          There is no reason to believe they’d defend a non-Christian religious group.

          1. I checked their site, and they seem to represent Christians.

            But the Forbes article speculated about a scenario where the feminist witch church got persecuted for denying transgenderism, making them objectively allies of people like the ADF leaders, whether either party likes it or not.

            It would be an odd couple alliance, but not inconceivable.

  4. Wait ’til you find out what’s in the communion wine.

    1. But they are anti-grapes!

  5. Back in the mid 70s a group of inmates at the federal pen in Leavenworth filed to be recognized as a church. They called themselves the Church of the New Song. A federal judge ruled that they had to be treated the same way other religious groups were by the prison authorities. And that was even tho he said in his opinion that he believed it was just a scam being run on the prison, but there was no solid evidence to prove it.

    I do not believe they ever filed for any status with the IRS. It was mostly a hard core group of jailhouse lawyers who seemed to specialize in causing problems for the prison system.

    They were eventually found not to constitute a religion by the 7th Circuit in 79 or 80.

    Had any church members not been currently in prison, the decision may have gone differently.

    1. That’s interesting, especially the point that they were found not to constitute a religion at some point. I am reminded of the Scientology case, which turned out differently of course, but only because — Church of the New Song notwithstanding — we don’t really have a legal definition of “religion” or “religious” that I am aware of, and there may be good reasons not to give any governing body the power to decide what is or is not a “religion” for legal/tax purposes.

      1. Of course, if we remove all charitable contributions as tax deductions, the problem goes away.

        1. …and creates new problems.

          There will be fewer private charitable contributions, for one thing, hence more articles about how the private sector doesn’t do enough to help the poor and the government needs to do more.

        2. Gifts aren’t taxable up to the annual exclusion amount, so unless you’re going to classify church as a literal service, which would be difficult considering the voluntary nature of tithing (and yes this varies among religions), you’re probably creating a bigger mess than you’re solving.

      2. New Song members in the federal system had histories of violence and defiance of prison rules. They repeatedly responded of denial of accommodations with violence and threats. This was in spite of their claimed belief in peace and love.

        Interestingly enough, a judge in Ohio recognized the New Song members in state prisons as a religion. But they were also not violent and had members both inside and out.

        Haven’t heard anything about this church since about 82 or so. I think it just sort of faded out.

        1. I’m not sure what violence has to do with the issue of whether any organization is a “religion” — presumably religions can be extremely violent (and the god of the old testament seems to have been a fairly violent guy….), and one thinks immediately of cultures such as the classic Maya that seem to have been fairly violent, human sacrifice, etc…

  6. I’m all for feminism being treated as a religion as long as it gets the full force of the downsides as well as the upsides. It IS a religion after all, at least in all the negative aspects that people claim characterize these things. Why should the label ‘religion’ be limited to just a handful of ideologies from iron age middle east and south east asia? Their opposition to the rival transgender supremacist cult is also understandable given that thinking logically about it for a minute will make you realize that the concept of feminism becomes superfluous in a world where you can click your ruby slippers and magically transform from biological man to woman at will then go on to crush the women’s 100 meter dash.

    1. Traditionally, when the government gets into the business of discriminating against religions it considers false, it discovers that religions opposed to the government are false religions. A convenient coincidence!

    2. As a physician I can assure you that any male-female or female-male transition is much more complex than clicking ruby slippers. Try it, you’ll see.

  7. Well, the TERFs who want to have a lesbian-only club have a really strong reason to want this, so it might work out

  8. Freaks.

    https://youtu.be/sFBOQzSk14c – Monty Python Life of Brian – I want to be a woman.

  9. There’s got to be a good baptist bootleggers Coalition joke/pun to be made here.

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  11. You had me at “Pro-Lesbian.”

    1. They are rebooting “The L Word.”

  12. I think Professor Volokh’s analysis significantly diminishes the differences between religious and non-religious institutions. A religious institution gets a blanket exemption from anti-discrimination laws. But a non-religious institution gets no such exemption. If the teacher in Hosanna-Tabor had taught at a secular institution, the institution would have lost.

    Relationship to message propagation is construed broadly and deferentially for a religious institution. But for a non-religious institution, it is interpreted quite strictly and narrowly. More fundamentally, religious institutions get protection as institutions, continuously and permanently, regardless of what they are doing at the moment. But no secular institution gets any protection as such. Rather, Boy Scouts only applies to individuals who are in the middle of sending a message at the moment. The minute the message ends, so does the protection Boy Scouts confers

    1. “A religious institution gets a blanket exemption from anti-discrimination laws. But a non-religious institution gets no such exemption.”

      Hosann-Tabor does not go that far. It only decided that anti-discrimination laws did not apply to called teachers, who were ministers under the rules of the church. It did not decide whether the same exception applied to the lay teachers, who were not ministers.

      “If the teacher in Hosanna-Tabor had taught at a secular institution, the institution would have lost.”

      If she had taught at a secular institution, she couldn’t have been a minister as well as a teacher.

      1. Many colleges and universities with a religious affiliation engage in open discrimination with respect to hiring and admissions. In the context of hiring, the discrimination occurs with respect to professors, cafeteria workers, janitors, basketball coaches, administrators, and every other (or nearly every other) employment position. I am familiar with one circumstance in which an applicant — who had regularly attended a Catholic church for more than four decades — for a position at a Catholic university had to fight to prove that he was ‘sufficiently Catholic’ to be hired for an academic position.

        1. Arthur,

          Discrimination on the basis of religion by religious organizations is explicitly permitted by federal law. However, discrimination on the basis of other protected classifications is generally not permitted.

          1. Don’t bother Artie with facts, his Church of Exalted Reason deals explicitly in feelings, thought crimes and faith in the liberal orthodoxy.

            1. My point responded to the observations of jph12 and ReaderY.

              I agree that recently expanded privileges for (certain) religious claimants provide great advantage to (certain) religious institutions. I also believe that the necessarily elastic nature of legally recognized “religion” will provide opportunity for nontraditional uses of the legal benefits of religious status, some of which may be disfavored by traditional beneficiaries of religious privilege.

              1. Arthur,

                What recently expanded privileges are you referring to?

    2. The Synod won in Hosanna-Tabor because their teachers are considered ministers. Had the janitor been treated similarly, the Synod would have lost.

      I don’t understand what you mean by “Boy Scouts only applies to individuals who are in the middle of sending a message at the moment.”

    3. ReaderY: “More fundamentally, religious institutions get protection as institutions, continuously and permanently, regardless of what they are doing at the moment”

      Interesting, and not necessarily correct.

      Look to Obergefell v. Hodges. During the SCOTUS oral arguments, Justice Alito asked Solicitor General Verrilli about whether a decision in favor of Obergefell would affect the tax-exempt status of religious institutions that would not recognize same-sex marriage (particularly religion-affiliated colleges)

      Verrilli replied: “You know, I ? I don’t think I can answer that question without knowing more specifics, but it’s certainly going to be an issue. I ? I don’t deny that. I don’t deny that, Justice Alito. It is ? it is going to be an issue.”

      Whether or not the final answer will be “no” (and I’ll argue that it’ s still up in the air) numerous writers have argued that the exchange itself helped give us Donald Trump by mobilizing evangelicals (on the right) and weakening progressives’ hold on First Amendment absolutists (once largely on the Left: full disclosure — that would include me).

      1. Pox,

        Are you saying you are a First Amendment absolutist who voted for Trump because you felt Democrats wouldn’t allow religious organizations to discriminate against married gay couples?

        1. JoshR: “Are you saying you are a First Amendment absolutist who voted for Trump because you felt Democrats wouldn’t allow religious organizations to discriminate against married gay couples?”

          Yikes! No, I didn’t vote for Trump. And I didn’t mean to imply that 1-A types would vote for him.

          That’s what happens when I don’t think through a snippy addition at the the end of a post.

          My main point was that religious organizations may not have the protections we often think they have. Then I went to a not completely relevant point that the Verrilli reply may have helped dump Donald Trump on us. Then I added the little “personal” snippet.

          I believe a number of strong adherents of freedom of expression and freedom of religion have been turned off enough by the progressive Democrats’ disdain for both that they voted in some numbers for (most likely) the Libertarian Gary Johnson. Concerning them (as opposed to the religious conservatives), the Alito-Verrilli dialogue “effect” was largely not-very-well-thought-out supposition, and I withdraw it.

    4. ReaderY,

      I don’t disagree that the distinction exists, but I’m not sure that this really apropos of the post. Yes, Jaycees probably goes a different way if “no woman allowed” is “no woman allowed because God says so.” But the point of the post is that Masterpiece is definitely the wrong citation. I’d be more inclined to go into Hosanna-Tabor vs Bob Jones than I would be Freedom of Religion vs Freedom of Association.

    5. In University of Pennsylvania v. EEOC, the Supreme Court clarified that the First Amendment gives secular speech-oriented organization – universities and schools, newspapers and book publishers, bands, etc. – no special privileges whatsoever in the application of employment discrimination law. They can’t get out of them under any corcumstances. But a religious institution can be fully priveleged, actually exempt, at least under some circumstances. This means a religious institution has significant rights a non-religious speech-oriented institution, however speech-focused its activities, simply doesn’t have. It’s an example of how big the difference can sometimes be.

      1. But a religious institution can be fully priveleged, actually exempt, at least under some circumstances.

        Yes, but those circumstances are limited. Again in the hiring of ministers religious organizations are fully exempt, and in the hiring of anyone else they can discriminate on the basis of religion.

        1. Hosana-Tabor clarifies the definition of minister is quite broad. The 4th Circuit held that that a kosher food supervisor is a minister, for example. But no secular institution can select its leaders, spokespeople, and key skilled workers with anything like the freedom from government interference that a religious institution has with its leaders, spokespeople, and key skilled workers.

          1. I agree that religious organizations get automatic exemptions from anti-discrimination laws in selecting their leaders, spokespeople and likely skilled workers. I also agree that secular organizations do not. However, as Eugene pointed out they do when they have an ideological message. I’m good with that rule.

  13. Hrm. Maybe it’s time to found the Church of John Moses Browning for real.

  14. I am founding the Church of Platonic Bondage

    1. Is that some Marcel Marceau crap with pretending to be trapped behind fake walls?

      1. Or maybe it involves thinking of the Ideal Form of Bondage.

        Like in this illustration

  15. Why is this church’s name placed in quotation marks? I do not recall similar treatment of other church names by this publisher.

    1. It’s a (((conspiracy)))

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