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Does a Religion Need to Worship a Supreme Being? New Hampshire Supreme Court Considers the Question

"Church of the Sword," run by associates of the Free State Project, sues over the state's right to define religion.

Some folks associated with the Free State Project in New Hampshire are suing the town of Westmoreland over what they see as an illegitimate effort on the town's part to declare their church not a real church, roughly because it doesn't worship any supreme being. As per that decision, church founder Kevin Bloom tells me "We disagree, naturally, and so do Taoists and Buddhists, among others."

COTS websiteCOTS website

The church is called the Church of the Sword (COTS). The church had a pastor living in some property it had been gifted, and when they filed to remove it from property tax rolls as a parsonage, as church's do, back in April 2014, their filing was denied. (The annual tax due would be around $3,200.)

COTS lost its suit in round one at Cheshire County Superior Court earlier this year in a summary judgment declaration for the city that COTS was simply not a real religion, and tomorrow oral arguments are scheduled in COTS's appeal to New Hampshire's Supreme Court.

During a written interview, Bloom defends the COTS status as a religion:

On its face, COTS qualifies as a religion as the IRS defines it via the 14 point test. More importantly, a religion should consist of three elements.

It should do good works. By that I mean charity, and visiting members who are prisoners and members in the hospital. We keep track of each other. In fact, the impetus for putting CotS together was the suicide of a new mover, who came here directly after seeing combat in Iraq. He just disappeared, and we later learned he'd shot himself. While we can't keep in touch with 2000 people, we can hopefully keep track of our congregation. We solemnize marriages and perform memorial services. We provide counseling and help where we can.

The second element is largely social, we're a place where friends can see each other once a week. 

The third element is the philosophical and religious component. Our beliefs are strongly influenced by Taoist thought; we do not believe in one revealed religion. Rather, we seek to find the good in all religions. Lao Tse famously said, (paraphrase) "I also teach people about their religions". The sword use is the first part of the church service. Other religions don't usually feature armed combat as part of the service, but we do! 

Here are the IRS's 14 points for consideration, about what they think qualifies as an exempt church, for your own judgment.

The Church's filings in the case to be heard tomorrow at the New Hampshire Supreme Court quote the town declaration that won them summary judgment, that COTS is not

"1. A regularly recognized and constituted denomination, creed, or sect. 2. A religious organization, and 3. Is more properly described as a debating society or a philosophy discussion group" and that the Superior Court agreed, noting “the Church of the Sword offers no evidence that it is ‘regularly recognized’ as a religious denomination as required under RSA 72:23, III. It is not part of any larger religious organization and it has been holding services for only four and a half years.” 

The court further went on to state the “Church of the Sword also does not qualify for a tax exemption under the statute because it is not a church or other religious group.”  However, the court goes on to state, “The Court recognizes that there is no concrete definition of ‘church’ or ‘religious."

To sum up the (complicated, as in most court cases) arguments made by COTS on this appeal, from their filing:

Summary judgment can only be granted if no genuine issue as to any material fact exists....

In the present case, one issue before the court is whether the Church of the Sword is a “regularly recognized” and constituted denomination, creed, or sect within the meaning of RSA 72;23, III.  The court noted the Church of the Sword offers no evidence that it is “regularly recognized” as a religious denomination as required under RSA 72:23, III.  It bases this on the fact that it is not part of a larger religious organization and it has been holding services for only four and a half years....

The court defeats its own argument in footnote 1 where it acknowledges “there may be constitutional concerns in denying a property tax exemption to a newly formed religious group solely because it has not yet become “regularly recognized.”  The US Court of Federal Claims has held that “[a] new religious organization should not be held to a standard only an established church can satisfy.” Church of the Visible Intelligence that Governs the Universe v. United States, 4 Cl. Ct. 55,65 (1983); see also United States v. Meyers, 906 F. Supp. 1494, 1509 (D. Wyo. 1995) (suggesting that the First Amendment forbids governmental discrimination against new religions)...

In its Memorandum in Support of its Motion for Summary Judgment, the Town quotes from the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. The common and ordinary meaning of religion is “a set of beliefs, values and practices based on the teachings of a spiritual leader.  It is also defined as a particular variety of such belief, especially when organized into a system of doctrine and practice and its first meaning is the belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers, regarded as creating and governing the universe.” ...

Therefore, the Town of Westmoreland’s definition of religion excludes all non-theistic religions such as Daoism (also spelled Taoism) which does not have “a single founder, such as Jesus or the Buddha, nor does it have a single key message, such as the gospel or the four noble truths.  Rather Daoism bears witness to a history of continuous self-invention within a vast diversity of environmental contexts.”....

The Town chose to define “religion” very narrowly to those having a single spiritual leader and giving reverence to a supernatural power regarded as creating and governing the universe.  They have ignored another definition of religion provided within the same definition quoted above in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language which defines religion as “[a] cause, principle, or activity pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion.”  In so narrowly tailoring its definition of “religion” the Town of Westmoreland discriminates against all non-theistic religions.

The court’s granting of Summary Judgment, without first affording the Church of the Sword, through discovery, the ability to ascertain the aforementioned information, as well as additional information regarding the process by which the Town of Westmoreland made its decision, violates the Church of the Swords due process rights.

The Concord Monitor reported on the ongoing case back in July. They nicely summed up the shape of the controversy as seen through the eyes of the doubting:

At the Church of the Sword, where belief in a god or gods comes secondary to espousing principles of self-sufficiency and arming oneself...one of the holy texts of the 5-year-old, nontheistic, New Hampshire-born religion is Sun Tzu’s Art of War.

“We believe in an active struggle against those who would deprive us of life and liberty. We believe in studying and applying the martial path in the judicial and legislative arenas, as well as in self-defense,” says a sampling of the church’s statement of beliefs......

"We’re going to win, and we’ll go to federal court immediately following, win or lose in New Hampshire,” said Kevin Bloom, the church’s senior pastor.

The Monitor reports 263 church members, with an average of 25 showing up at any given weekly meeting, which happen in a variety of locations, both indoors and out. For some flavor of COTS style:

Their hymns are called “jams,” and in the case of the July 12 service, for lack of instruments, it was a reading from a manual on safe food preparation set to bongo drums. Their communion was hard cider, during the Ritual of Disobedience, which became a tradition after they held an early service in an East Concord park that forbade alcohol, cigarettes and firearms. “We had all those things,” Bloom said.

“We only have one ritual that we borrowed from the established religious organizations, and we call it begging for money,” Bloom said as he produced a pail to serve as a collection plate.

At the end, there’s the Ritual of Pie, a tasty signal that the service is ending. In this case, the pie took the form of small, round lemon and raspberry tarts.

“Other religions transform wine and grape juice and bread into flesh and blood, we transmute other baked products into pie,” Light said.

But above all, there’s the Ritual of Combat. It’s a series of sword fights with foam-covered weapons. Everyone at the service participates in at least one bout, and if they don’t, they’re tagged anyway in the ceremonial “slaughter of the innocents.” The most challenging feat on the way to becoming a pastor is to win six of 10 duels with fighters hand-selected by the pastors.

The Monitor goes on to report on other ongoing cases of similar self-styled church's in New Hampshire with Free State Project connections whose tax position could be improved by a COTS victory in this case.

The Monitor editorialized on the case in August, and provided some interesting and relevant legal background:

Last month in Indiana, a church devoted to smoking dope, the First Church of Cannabis, won tax-exempt status from the IRS. In 2010, the Church of the IV Majesties, a Satanist group, did the same....[But the Monitor insists] The church, whose practices mimic and mock those of traditional religions, is an amusing, if sophomoric, comment on organized religion but not a church under IRS rules.

Disclosure: I have met in friendly communion with many COTS members in 2011 and interviewed them when working on my book Ron Paul's Revolution, attended a service, and was gifted with a COTS T-shirt, which I still wear occasionally.

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  • Plàya Manhattan.||

    Is the federal government a supreme being?

  • Free Society||

    Well it is an object of worship.

  • MJGreen - Docile Citizen||

    It giveth us mighty roads, and in its benevolence allows us to traverse its hills and valleys upon those roads with but little hassle.

  • Free Society||

    In the beginning the State created the society and the economy. [...] And the State said, Let there be roads: and there were roads. And the State saw the roads, that they are good: and the State divided the property from the owners.

  • Almanian's Rusty Woodchipper||

    (11)....and Satan was cast into Somalia, where there are no roadz. (12) And God saw that it was just, since Satan is a libetartian. And God said unto Satan, "You are now PWND in my sight, and smote as if by Agile Cyborg's words." (13) And the people said, "Well, I can tell you we're all impressed down here, Lord."

  • Almanian's Rusty Woodchipper||

    Amen

  • F. Stand By Ion Control, Jr.||

    "You are now PWND in my sight, and smote as if by Agile Cyborg's words."

    AC's Book of Revelation is pretty much the Platonic ideal of awesome.

  • Citizen X||

    It's actually not that much different from the original.

  • gaoxiaen||

    Except there are Three Horsemen of the Apocalypse, named Mexican, Ass-Sex, and Pot. The fourth guy rides a donkey.

  • Citizen X||

    It is a massively powerful entity that makes rules about what is good and what is forbidden, and can fuck up your life completely for the most arbitrary reasons, so yeah.

  • ||

    Good one, Citizen.

  • ant1sthenes||

    Look, statists don't want a god, they just want to create an entity that
    1) claims sole right to determine and execute justice,
    2) is credited with providing all things to its people, particularly food, security, and health,
    3) metaphorically thinks of said people as sheep,
    4) sees everything from far above, and constantly monitoring everyone, in order to punish the wickedness in their hearts
    5) smites its enemies by shooting fire from the sky
    6) is served by a class of clerical devotees who create and vigorously enforce a plethora of rules covering all aspects of life, in the name of morality and hygiene.
    7) seems to enrich kings and priests a lot more than it does the peasants/laity

  • Citizen X||

    Can we wear robes, though?

  • AlmightyJB||

    Toga! Toga! Toga!

  • sarcasmic||

    No. Government is not a being. It is a collection of individuals who either use violence to get their way, or who can call upon individuals to employ violence to get their way. But no, it's not a being. It's just a bunch of assholes who spit on the NAP.

  • Zeb||

    Yeah. Not all belief systems or things taken on faith are religions. And very few actual leftists really hold government up as the sort of perfect entity that a lot of people here seem to think that they do. They just can't imagine anything working without someone in charge.

  • sarcasmic||

    Leftists love to collectivize individuals into groups and treat them like entities. It's one of their favorite fallacies.

    But yeah. Someone needs to be in charge. Can't allow anyone to act without asking permission and obeying orders. Liberty is chaos.

  • AlexInCT||

    The right credentialed people make all the difference!

  • ||

    Well, the Christians (the trinitarian ones, anyway) believe in that 3-on-one god.

  • Almanian's Rusty Woodchipper||

    So Christians believe in the Wishbone? Barry Switzer must be proud....

  • R C Dean||

    that 3-on-one god

    Sounds . . . airtight? Paging anime Warty . . . .

  • ||

    Oh, crap. Unintentionally hilarious typo. "3-in-1," obviously. Derp.

  • SusanM||

    1 more for a holy DVDA.

  • Dan S.||

    Sounds like a can of oil.

  • ||

    I worship Warty. I rape at least once a day. Twice if I catch an old lady in a crosswalk.

  • Pan Zagloba||

    I'm sad to tell you that The Land of Rape and Honey is no more.

  • ||

  • geo1113||

    Canola oil...is that a nice way of saying cornhole oil.

  • sarcasmic||

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Put your faith in property taxes.

  • ||

    There might also be certain mystery religions which cannot reveal their tenets to uninitiated outsiders. Those are neither more nor less valid than faiths like Methodism. I realize that this gives a pass to Scientology, which I'm not a fan of, but either anything is a valid religion, or nothing is.

  • ||

    but either anything is a valid religion, or nothing is.

    What about the Church of Climatology?

  • geo1113||

    Of course it is. All heretics will be charged with RICO crimes.

  • Doctor Whom||

    If religious organizations didn't get special privileges from government, this issue wouldn't arise.

  • ||

    ^This. Any group of like-minded people can have a property declared tax-exempt.

  • robc||

    This icludes government itself. Iny preferred single land tax solution, there are no exemptions. The feds would have to pay the state and local portion of the slt for all that property they own.

  • ||

    Fine with me. Now, I'm also willing to allow non-profits (incl churches and governments) to opt-out of fire and rescue if they certify that they provide their own services and make it clear that "this property not protected by [jurisdiction] Fire and Rescue services."

    Don't know how to handle roads and police.

  • gaoxiaen||

    And raise taxes for it. I don't think the government would oppose that.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Simpler solution: eliminate tax breaks for churches by abandoning the fiction of non-profit organizations.

  • Notorious UGCC||

    So...impose new taxes on the Reason Foundation?

  • Hugh Akston||

    If you're gonna tax income, tax income.

  • Notorious UGCC||

    I'm just sayin', I'd like Reason's take on this.

  • Free Market Socialist $park¥||

    I knew you couldn't possibly be all bad, Hugh.

  • Hugh Akston||

    You just don't know me well enough yet.

  • Long Woodchippers||

    I am against taxing income. It's much less invasive to tax spending

  • Hugh Akston||

    That would be even more easier because you wouldn't have to worry about who's profit and who's non profit, nor who's married or has kids or whatever.

  • In League with the Dark Ones||

    No taxation without representation!

  • Notorious UGCC||

  • Hugh Akston||

    Oh yeah, also eliminate tax deductions.

  • Notorious UGCC||

    I guess you're not angling for an internship!

  • AlmightyJB||

    How about we just eliminate taxes.

  • ||

    Or, at a minimum, tax their property at a lower rate that covers roads, fire, police and rescue.

  • Notorious UGCC||

    Bear in mind that the nonprofit sector delivers services which would otherwise get paid for out of the public treasury - think of the Salvation Army and church soup-kitchens helping the poor, the job-training programs and networking, etc.

    For every soup kitchen taxed out of existence, some of the road money you mention will be diverted to the federal Department of We Can Help The Poor Just As Much As Those Sky-Daddy Bleevers!

  • ||

    I'm aware of that, Eddie. No perfect solutions. And that is a better solution than taxing them at the same rate as every other business, as some others here would do.

    But, as always, your whining is of a most particular quality.

  • Notorious UGCC||

    You're a beleaguered moderate, Tonio, on the one hand fighting off the theocrats who support the religious exemption, and on the other hand battling the extremists who want to increase taxes higher than you would.

  • Notorious UGCC||

    And defending the roadz!

  • ||

    The middle of the road is the place where one gets hit from both sides.

    And I don't want to increase taxes, I simply want those extended equally to all. You know, just like if government was involved in the marriage business I wanted that extended to everyone, too.

  • Notorious UGCC||

    In the middle of the road
    Just try and find me
    Sitting in the middle of life
    With my pants behind me

    [I may have misheard the lyrics]

  • R C Dean||

    If we just removed the automatic grant of exemption to state-recognized churches, those who are truly doing good works should be able to qualify as charitable organizations just like the innumerable non-religious tax-exempt charities, no?

  • Notorious UGCC||

    If you don't like laws protecting religion as such, what about the First Amendment and its singling out of the "free exercise of religion" for protection?

  • Hugh Akston||

    I would eliminate tax exemptions for all non-profits. Anything, person, household, or organization, gets taxed at the same rate. Progressively, if you like, but with no deductions for behaving in ways that the government likes.

  • ||

    ^This

  • Hugh Akston||

    I would also add a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, which would prevent Congress from spending more in a year than it collects in revenue, except in cases of war or national emergency as declared by 2/3 of Congress.

    If people want a government that regulates every aspect of their lives and supports them from cradle to grave while blowing up other countries and deporting people who talk funny, they should have pay for it.

  • ||

    My church has 52 saints. Yup, guaranteed 3-day weekend every week if you join up.

    We are also pretty flexible on most church doctrines. Let us know what you are looking for and we can probably come up with a policy that allows you to force your employer to accommodate your particular needs.

    About the only thing my church is strict on is tithing. Don't try to skimp on the collection plate. Is Pope Jimbo going to have to choke a sinner out?

  • Almanian's Rusty Woodchipper||

    Your church interests me. Is there a....newsletter to which I might subscribe?

  • geo1113||

    Can we substitute cannabis for the body and blood?

  • Loki||

    How about cannabis for the body and a double shot of the hard liquor (80 proof minimum) of your choice for the blood.

  • geo1113||

    Now that I think of it, I have been to that church.

  • Je suis Woodchipper||

    “We only have one ritual that we borrowed from the established religious organizations, and we call it begging for money,” Bloom said as he produced a pail to serve as a collection plate.

    “Other religions transform wine and grape juice and bread into flesh and blood, we transmute other baked products into pie,”

    I see no material difference between this church and all the others that receive tax-exempt status.

  • MJGreen - Docile Citizen||

  • ||

    This movie gets better as it ages.

  • Almanian's Rusty Woodchipper||

    "Anyone ELSE wanna negotiate??!!!"

  • MJGreen - Docile Citizen||

    I am VERY DISAPPOINTED.

  • kinnath||

    I love that movie.

  • Rhywun||

    Me too.

  • AlmightyJB||

    I would kneel before her.

  • Microaggressor||

    Damn, that sounds right up my alley. If I lived in NH I'd consider joining.

  • Juice||

    You're supposed to move to join. That's the point.

  • IndyEleven||

    That picture is only lacking a trilby and possibly a Han Shot First t-shirt.

  • SugarFree||

    Han Shot First t-shirt

    The first schism.

  • ||

    Did you all know that NutraSweet is on TEAM GREEDO? It's true.

  • Paul.||

    When you fuck with the state's revenue, they'll come up with all kinds of bright lines and definitions for things.

  • toolkien||

    We shouldn't complain that churches get tax-exempt status, we should be complaining about why there those in tax status.

    The separation of Church and State was to avoid the establishment of a State religion (though we ended up with on any way in the form of Mother Earth). The plan by Statists was to Force people to pay INTO the Church, or at least the most dominant one within a district. Individualist types blanched at this notion, and got the separation of Church and state included in the Constitution. But then, rationally, Churches said if we are to be separate, then we shouldn't have to pay OUT (of course this was back when there was much less public infrastructure on the backs of taxpayers). And so now we're back to the question of tax-exempt status for Churches who share in the co-operative services like roads and protection. But this should simply not be corrected by striping of such status, but ask again why anyone is coerced and how these services might be peacefully conducted within a market.

  • ||

    We got freedom of religion because of Thomas Jefferson of Virginia. Before 1776 the state religion of the colony of Virginia was Church of England. And just like back in England the church got tax dollars.

  • Idle Hands||

    That's not a knife. This is a knife.

  • Rhywun||

    That's an awful lot of words for "I know one when I see it".

  • creech||

    Churches are exempt from property taxes because the majority of voters attend a church and thus support exemption. If the majority were small business owners, then small businesses would be exempt, and so on.

  • sarcasmic||

    They are exempt from property taxes because they are considered charitable organizations.

  • Rhywun||

    Then how does scientology get away with it - everybody knows they are the opposite of a "charitable organization".

  • SugarFree||

    They fight the scourge of psychotherapy. You're welcome.

  • Citizen X||

    They play hella dirty tricks and probably have a ton of dirt on any number of IRS higher-ups.

  • ||

    Have you seen the (I think it's HBO) Scientology documentary? They go into some detail about their long-lasting fight against the IRS. To be honest, I found myself rooting for the Hubbardists in that case.

  • Paul.||

    The enema of my enema is my friend.

  • gaoxiaen||

    A good friend won't run.

  • Citizen X||

    Going Clear is on my list of things to watch. It's a shame they couldn't both lose.

  • Rhywun||

    I hear you, but remember that they are fucking evil.

  • ||

    Non-profit. That's the difference.

  • R C Dean||

    They are exempt from property taxes because they are considered charitable organizations.

    See below: they qualify as charitable organizations because they are religious organizations. So, yes, churches can get tax exemptions solely because they are churches.

  • Zeb||

    Well, good for them. I've been saying for a long time that there is no such thing as freedom of religion is any court or other government agency gets to decide or define what is or is not a religion.

    I think what they really should be doing is challenging the IRS rules about what is a religious organization on 1st amendment grounds. But the courts would never let that happen, as it would really fuck things up for the government.

  • GILMORE™||

  • Notorious UGCC||

    OK, so the court rejected their claim without a hearing. So these folks ask a higher court to grant them the hearing they were denied.

    This seems eminently sensible. You can't just tell people they're not a real religion without a full hearing.

    Oh, and no later than 1961, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that people who deny God have the same rights as those who acknowledge Him:

    "We repeat and again reaffirm that neither a State nor the Federal Government can constitutionally force a person "to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion." Neither can constitutionally pass laws or impose requirements which aid all religions as against nonbelievers, and neither can aid those religions based on a belief in the existence of God as against those religions founded on different beliefs."

    Then the Court gave its famous Footnote 11: "Among religions in this country which do not teach what would generally be considered a belief in the existence of God are Buddhism, Taoism, Ethical Culture, Secular Humanism and others."

    So God-deniers have the same right as God-believers to organize churches.

  • Notorious UGCC||

    Thus, I'd suggest that the headline, "Does a Religion Need to Worship a Supreme Being?" is misleading.

    A better headline would be "can a group be denied church status without a full hearing?"

  • Trshmnstr doesn't recycle||

    *applause*

  • Crusty Juggler||

    Let's get down to what really matters: what is their stance on abortion?

  • Citizen X||

    And circumcision.

  • Rasilio||

    both acceptable if conducted with a sword in ritual combat?

  • ||

    acceptable only if a gun is used

  • ||

    And deep dish pizza.

  • RBS||

    The components of mayonnaise.

  • Trshmnstr doesn't recycle||

    The overratedness of IPAs.

  • Zeb||

    Or the great mystery of why anyone gives a shit what kind of beer other people like.

  • Trshmnstr doesn't recycle||

    #BlackLagersMatter

  • ||

    IPAs aren't overrated--okay, maybe they are. I don't know, but I'm trying to make another point; they are overwrought. There's not that much that goes into the ideal India ale. It doesn't need a magical blend of herbs and seven-noted hops in just the right fucking configuration. It's just a pale ale with a ton of hop, preferably of a more or less comprehensible flavour, rather than a brainfreezing mixture of addled extraordinaires twinkling the fuck away till it's not even recognisable as beer. One would think with everybody overfucking the thing, that there'd be a market for somebody just doing it straight, yet for years now I have rarely encountered an IPA that was a simple, straightforward IPA, which is to say an excessively hopped pale ale without any concomitant crasiness going on.

    It's like absint. The simplest fucking thing in the world, but everybody wants to do something freakish with it, to make theirs somehow so fucking different it's barley recognisable as even distally related to absint anymore. It's also baffling that absint while being one of the simplest liqueux for any half-blooded white man to whip up in a pinch is also one of the most expensive to buy commercially. Things is fucked.

  • sarcasmic||

    And Mexican ass-sex while high on marijuana.

  • geo1113||

    Banging Selma Hayek in the kiester while smoking a doobie sounds like a plan to me.

  • GILMORE™||

    Correct answers to this could have been either =

    "Its a double-edged Sword"

    or

    "Many prefer the Vom Dach/Vom Tag stance"

  • Princess Trigger||

    Church of the Sword

    NEW Religion of Peace!

  • Je suis Woodchipper||

    I bet they were weighing CotG(un) but saw the acronym for Church of the Sword and that settled it. bastards.

  • Notorious UGCC||

    Somewhat on-topic: Novelist Marilynne Robinson talks to President Obama, and their conversation is published in the New York Review of Books.

    One thing that bothers them is how all those *other* people are being exclusionary:

    "The President: How do you reconcile the idea of faith being really important to you and you caring a lot about taking faith seriously with the fact that, at least in our democracy and our civic discourse, it seems as if folks who take religion the most seriously sometimes are also those who are suspicious of those not like them?

    "Robinson: Well, I don’t know how seriously they do take their Christianity, because if you take something seriously, you’re ready to encounter difficulty, run the risk, whatever. I mean, when people are turning in on themselves—and God knows, arming themselves and so on—against the imagined other, they’re not taking their Christianity seriously."

  • Je suis Woodchipper||

    clifs notes: mostly Obama interviewing her about her boring family in Iowa, then her as sycophant, then some projectiozzzzzzzzzzzzzz

  • GILMORE™||

    I'd chalk that up to a recognition that Dems need to improve their spin on how they appeal to religious folk

    being 'holier than thou' doesn't strike me as the best approach, but its one they seem to prefer

  • ||

    Isn't "holier than thou" really the only religious approach? Isn't that the point?

  • GILMORE™||

    No. Not all religions give adherents any special hierarchical place in cosmos relative to the laypeople. Taoism / Shinto / Confucianism are examples.

    Of course there are "bennys", most of which are associated with being able to ask favors of spirits and/or the general "good luck" that is associated with showing proper respect to the Kami. But in general, just going through the motions doesn't mean you're a better person than the ones who have no idea what you're doing.

  • Rhywun||

    Taoism / Shinto / Confucianism are examples.

    Which is why we are never, ever going to see a president espousing any of those.

  • Trshmnstr doesn't recycle||

    It's funny when secular humanists go the holier than thou route and try to tell me that I Christian wrong. Of course, it all comes down to "Obviously any just god would believe exactly what I believe, so you're doing it wrong because you're not a progressive person like me!!!"

  • Rhywun||

    a recognition that Dems need to improve their spin on how they appeal to religious folk

    Ding, ding, ding

    Raise your hand if you buy Obama "caring a lot about taking faith seriously".

  • R C Dean||

    How any of this, especially the dispensation state-granted privileges (in the form of tax exemptions, etc.) to state-recognized religious organization, is consistent with the prohibition on "establishment of religion", is an exercise for the reader, I suppose.

    And, if you think there isn't a specific reference to religion in the "charitable organization" exemption, you would be wrong. Religious organizations are tax exempt because they are religious organizations, not because they otherwise qualify as a charitable organization:

    The exempt purposes set forth in section 501(c)(3) are charitable, religious, educational, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering national or international amateur sports competition, and preventing cruelty to children or animals.

    [IRS link deleted because its too fucking long for Reason's stupid fucking website]

    Its a pretty blatant and explicit grant of a legal privilege to religious organizations qua religious organizations. Textbook "establishment of religion", to my eyes.

  • sarcasmic||

    I dunno. Looks to me more like recognizing than establishing.

  • R C Dean||

    Its the grant of legal privilege that is the "establishment" of religion. You get "recognized" as a "religious organization" by the State in order to receive the legal privilege.

    Oh, and there's also special restrictions on auditing churches, as well. Another privilege that churches enjoy.

  • sarcasmic||

    I still don't see that as an establishment of religion since the government is not actively involved in the organization.

  • R C Dean||

    Here's one SCOTUS pronouncement (the Everson case):

    The "establishment of religion" clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the federal government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another.

    I have a hard time saying that a tax exemption isn't an "aid" for religion. Justice Black goes on to say:

    No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion.

    You can certainly draw a line between giving someone tax money, and allowing them to keep their own money under an exemption. But, when the exemption is facially for religious organizations, I really struggle with it.

  • Notorious UGCC||

    I'm aware of what Justice Black believed about aiding religion. When he was initiated into the Ku Klux Klan, he swore to support the "eternal separation of Church and State."

    Then again, Black's opinion for the Court in the Everson case, after all the rhetorical huffing and puffing, said that the government could use tax money to pay for transporting kids to and from school, including private religious schools.

    I would simply suggest that the First Amendment itself singles out religion for special protection.

  • ||

    "I would simply suggest that the First Amendment itself singles out religion for special protection."

    Only because, I conject, that religion had been used as a special justification for theft by the English.

  • Zeb||

    But it's a law pertaining to the establishment of a religion. Isn't that what the 1st actually forbids?

  • SugarFree||

    What is establishment? The government use taxes to signal favor (electric cars) and displeasure (booze, tobacco) all the time.

    They are already deciding what is and isn't a church after all...

  • Trshmnstr doesn't recycle||

    They are already deciding what is and isn't a church after all...

    Which is so very fucked up. However, the US is one of the most permissive when it comes to determining what a religion is. Europe is doubly fucked up. Germany requires you to form what is roughly analogous to a corporation in order to get all the rights of being a religion (as well as money from taxpayers). Greece and other Orthodox countries are really strict about what constitutes a religion. The US is the most polished turd on the turd heap.

  • Zeb||

    They are already deciding what is and isn't a church after all...

    And I contend that the fact that government does that at all is a gross violation of religious freedom rights. If anyone gets to decide if my religion is legitimate or sincere, then I have no religious freedom under the law.

  • SugarFree||

    And I agree, Zeb. All I'm getting at is that not taxing churches the same as every other businesses looks an awful lot like a benefit. That is isn't benefiting a single faith doesn't mean it isn't disfavoring certain other social clubs and associations.

    Of course, I don't think much of the idea of "non-profits" either. Either punish no one, or everyone equally.

  • Mickey Rat||

    If the government cannot by law support a religion by comission or omission, then it still has to decide what organizationa are religious.

  • Notorious UGCC||

    I would say, give that auditing privilege to *more* groups.

  • Mickey Rat||

    Which exist to remove the temptation for government to use the tax code and tax bureaucracy to persecute disfavored churches. But when was the last time something like that has happened (this decade)?

  • R C Dean||

    But when was the last time something like that has happened (this decade)?

    Umm, the application of ObamaCare's requirements to buy contraceptives to religious organizations, which are enforced by . . . wait for it . . . the IRS (among others)?

  • Rhywun||

    special restrictions on auditing churches

    In Hubbard-land, church audits you!

  • Zeb||

    I've always read the establishment clause as not only prohibiting the state from establishing or funding a religion, but also prohibiting the state from making any laws regarding the non-state establishment of religions as well. It doesn't say "congress shall not establish a religion", but "shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion". Which would rule out any rules like the IRS has that define what is or is not a religious organization. Telling someone that their religion is not a religion sounds like a law respecting an establishment of religion to me.

    Maybe that's just me.

  • Notorious UGCC||

    "Its a pretty blatant and explicit grant of a legal privilege to religious organizations qua religious organizations."

    Sure, but what does "religious" mean?

    If it means "belonging to any religion, theistic or otherwise, without regard to the religion's beliefs," then I fail to see any injustice to, say, atheists, who would be just as much entitled to their tax-exempt organizations as the bleevers.

  • Trshmnstr doesn't recycle||

    Of course, that interpretation collapses free exercise of religion into free association, which isn't necessarily a bad thing given the evisceration of free association in the 20th century.

  • Zeb||

    I really think that freedom of religion can't exist at all without complete freedom of association. Nor can it exist if special exemptions are carved out in law for religions. Religious freedom only really exists if people are generally free, iow in minarchist libertopia-land.

  • Trshmnstr doesn't recycle||

    You hit the nail on the head.

  • Notorious UGCC||

    "that interpretation collapses free exercise of religion into free association"

    Just because you recognize the Ethical Culturalists or the Confucians as a religion doesn't mean you have to recognize the Church of Bob's Diner.

  • R C Dean||

    Sure, but what does "religious" mean?

    For purposes of State-granted privileges, whatever the State says it means.

  • Notorious UGCC||

    Again, the IRS code isn't the *only* law singling out religion for protection.

    The First Amendment does so too with its "free exercise of religion" clause.

    Now, the Supreme Court has said that a law against, say, marijuana doesn't violate the free exercise of, say, the Rastafarian religion, so long as the marijuana laws weren't *intended* to target the Rasta.

    But Congress and large numbers of states have taken a better, more accurate approach to the First Amendment - that Rastafarians can smoke their dope unless repressing their religion is the least restrictive way to fulfill a compelling government interest.

    This is the better interpretation, and it shows how there's nothing inherently wrong in protecting religion, so long as all are protected by the same principles.

  • Paul.||

    Look, the real danger is that if the government can't choose for itself who gets the goodies, then that represents a greater problem then this or that group "becoming a religion".

    Sure, we're all having great fun with the new non-bright-line definition of gender/identity.

    It all makes for great fun, twitter feeds and righteous moral indignation for bloggers... but if it threatens to take away one ounce of government's power to choose who gets goodies, you'll see so many bright-line definitions come down it'll look like a Pink Floyd laser show.

  • ||

    Were you using the html tag to embed the link or just posting a naked link?

  • R C Dean||

    My links are like my women: naked, but not too big to be embedded?

  • Citizen X||

    And, uh, orange?

  • SugarFree||

    My links are like my women: broken.

  • Paul.||

    So are mine! Irrelevant and off-topic!

  • Mickey Rat||

    It is interesting how much religion is inside the heads of the atheistic that supposed libertarians will twist themselves into logical knots in order to put the necks of churches under the jackboot of government in the name of freedom.

  • SugarFree||

    Oh, Mickey. That's barely even English.

  • ||

    Let me try to translate Mickey's gibberish. I believe he's trying to tell us, "Detected! Did you know going and you tell me do things I done runnin'!"

  • ||

    What I would say, in Mickey's defense, is that if COTS is a religion, what stops Climatology/Climatologists/Gaiaists from defining themselves as a religion?

    Not that I think the gov't should be allowed to kick in their doors and seize tax money, but standing for nothing doesn't do much to prevent you from getting walked all over.

  • Zeb||

    Nothing should stop anyone from claiming anything as their religion. If I say that the religion I just made up right now is my religion, then it's my religion. Otherwise, someone has to be the arbiter of what is or is not religion. And if you have to pass some test to prove your religion is "real", then there is no freedom of religion.

  • Paul.||

    Once again, that's libertarianism talking. Who gets to be a religion when my wallet is being raided over it?

  • Zeb||

    Whether religions should get special treatment is another question. I'm just going on my interpretation of the first amendment.

  • Paul.||

    I'm just going on my interpretation of the first amendment.

    But that's just it isn't it? Funny how the first amendment gets brushed aside when government goodies are involved.

    I'm beginning to think that was the plan all along.

  • MJGreen - Docile Citizen||

    Stop all the downloadin'!

  • Mickey Rat||

    I'd simplify it down to your level but I am not sure how to write half-syllables.

  • SugarFree||

    Yes, I'm the problem here. Not your persecution complex.

  • ||

    Every comment you make is merely additional proof of your persecution of religious people, NutraSweet. You and your hordes of atheist majorities, always trying to crush the religious. You sicken me!

  • Mickey Rat||

    What persecution complex? I just find how annoyed some people get that freedom of religion is a constitutionally protected human right and about the legal conventions that exist as a result amusing.

  • ||

    That doesn't make any sense either. Have you ever considered becoming less dumb? Maybe you could read something. Anything.

  • ||

    It's also totally racist if you don't think all white people should be tax-exempt.

  • ||

    WHERE MY TAX EXEMPTION GONE?

  • Zeb||

    What?

  • ||

    I think that all non-profits should have to pay for roads, police, fire and rescue.

    Also, would you like some cheese to go with that whine?

  • Mickey Rat||

    Pot insulting a kettle again.

  • SugarFree||

    Tonio is a religion? Homosexulaity is a religion? Atheism is a church? Seriously, attempt to make even a little sense.

  • ||

    Tonio's a wino.

  • SugarFree||

    AA is the Anti-Christ?

  • ||

    Atheism is a church?

    I'm shocked that we haven't gotten the old "atheism is as much a faith as believing in god!" bullshit here yet.

  • ||

    Just wait. Seriously, just wait.

  • kbolino||

    I'm shocked that we haven't gotten the old "atheism is as much a faith as believing in god!" bullshit here yet.

    But it is...

    So is libertarianism. So is empiricism.

    They're sets of axioms, and axioms are unprovable. "There is a God" is not materially different from "there is no God".

  • ||

    "There is no god" is an axiom. "I don't believe in god" isn't.

  • kbolino||

    "There is no god" is an axiom. "I don't believe in god" isn't.

    Unless we're talking about Flat-Earth Atheism, the two statements are interchangeable. "I don't believe in god" unless shouted to god's face is just a restatement of "there is no god".

  • SugarFree||

    "I don't believe in god" unless shouted to god's face is just a restatement of "there is no god".

    Not believing in something for which there is -- by definition -- no proof is not a positive statement.

  • kbolino||

    It's just quibbling about words. "There is no evidence that god exists" and "there is no god" are definitely two different statements. You interpret "I don't believe in god" to mean the former, I interpreted it to mean the latter; for most people saying it, it probably means both. Nevertheless, "there is no evidence that god exists" is predicated upon empiricism as an axiom. It's a perfectly cromulent axiom and one I happen to agree with; but it is still axiomatic.

  • ||

    A lot of folks don't believe in Santa Claus. It doesn't amount to four piles of owl manure whether they "believe in" him or not. He exists regardless.

  • SugarFree||

    So "The Swamp Thing is a fictional character" is a religion?

  • Citizen X||

    Goddammit, Sweet'n'Low, you can't just announce the mysteries of my faith like that.

  • SugarFree||

    I didn't reveal the inner mysteries. I said nothing about the dual nature of Swamp Thing and Alec Holland.

  • SugarFree||

    OH FUCK! Sorry, dude.

  • Citizen X||

    I am barely speaking to you.

  • kbolino||

    So "The Swamp Thing is a fictional character" is a religion?

    If you believe that as a core principle, then sure. Although I suspect your statement is a theorem, not an axiom. It reads as a consequence of more general principles. The religion is thus about the rules that led you to "The Swamp Thing is a fictional character" rather than that statement in and of itself.

  • SugarFree||

    That's is a positive statement. Not believing in something there is not proof for is not.

    Not accepting someone else's axiom is not an axiom.

  • Free Market Socialist $park¥||

    Why does some idiot always have to jump out and say "you believe something, therefore religion"? It really demonstrates nothing more than a deep insecurity.

  • kbolino||

    Why does some idiot always have to jump out and say "you believe something, therefore religion"?

    Why do so many people think "religion" is a bad word? It just means the set of things you believe. I'm basically saying it's by definition. We can quibble about the definition of religion, but that kind of proves my larger point. All beliefs are subject to the choice of the believer. What is the line that divides some of them--called "Christianity" or "Islam" or "Buddhism" or "neo-paganism"--from others?

    The broader point that I'm driving it as that freedom of religion is just another name for freedom of conscience. If you believe it, what difference does it make to call it "religion" or not?

  • ||

  • Rasilio||

    Even of it was that doesn't make it a religion

  • kbolino||

    Even of it was that doesn't make it a religion

    What makes something a religion, and why does it matter?

  • Rasilio||

    Organization, community, fellowship, common beliefs, common goals, basically a religion is a faith based community.

    Faith in something is pretty much a prerequisite to being a religion but it requires more than just that

  • kbolino||

    So if you don't have a fancy building and a bunch of people agreeing with you, then no freedom?

  • kbolino||

    Is property tax jackbooted? Sales tax?

    If it is for churches, then it is for people and businesses, too.

  • Citizen X||

    It's jackboots all the way down.

  • ||

    Not a real church? That's blasphemy.

  • Free Market Socialist $park¥||

    Fuck churches and any other dodgy bastards who think they don't deserve to be raped like everyone else. Seriously, fuck them all.

  • Loki||

    Considering progressives worship the state, enviro-wackos worship the climate, and atheists worship... I don't know what, with every bit as much blind faith as any religious person, then I'd say the answer is no.

  • ant1sthenes||

    "cause, principle, or activity pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion"

    Oh, please let's get some case law recognizing religion like this. Then we have a precedent to apply separation of church and state to statism, causing government to disappear in a poof of logic.

  • Voros McCracken||

  • Zeb||

    I'm guessing Time Bandits.

  • Zeb||

    Woo.

    Best depiction of a supreme being ever.

  • ||

    Ahahahahaha...I saw that in the theater as a kid. I loved it but the end freaked me out a bit. Which of course I enjoyed. Plus, Sean Connery cameo!

  • Zeb||

    The end is just awesome. I hate fantasy movies that end with some "or was it all a dream?" bullshit. Instead the awful parents get blown up. Perfect.

  • ||

    They didn't get blown up. They got turned into pieces of coal or something, right? In the toaster oven?

  • SugarFree||

    No, they explode when they touch the chunk of evil in the toaster oven.

  • ||

    Oh right, right, now I remember. The suspense came from them looking and then deciding to touch.

    "Of course I'm gonna explode. You think I'm not gonna explode?"

  • Zeb||

    AS I recall, the kid tells them not to touch it because it's evil. So of course they immediately touch it. I love Terry Gilliam.

  • ||

    Yeah, I was floored my parents took me to see it. I'm pretty sure it was because my dad is (and was from as soon as it aired in the US) a massive Monty Python fan.

  • Citizen X||

    Whoa, spoiler alert!

  • Free Market Socialist $park¥||

    What's so freaky about a merry-go-round of death coming out of some dude's head?

    Yeah, creeped me out too.

  • Je suis Woodchipper||

    Evil: God isn't interested in technology. He cares nothing for the microchip or the silicon revolution. Look how he spends his time, forty-three species of parrots! Nipples for men!
    Robert: Slugs.
    Evil: Slugs! HE created slugs! They can't hear. They can't speak. They can't operate machinery. Are we not in the hands of a lunatic?

  • Je suis Woodchipper||

    Evil: If I were creating the world I wouldn't mess about with butterflies and daffodils. I would have started with lasers, eight o'clock, Day One!
    [zaps one of his minions accidentally, minion screams]
    Evil: Sorry.

  • ||

    Played by David Warren, of course.

  • Je suis Woodchipper||

    He's classy. I'll have to rewatch Cable Hogue for him.

  • ||

    Also, Straw Dogs.

  • JPyrate||

    Thanx !!!! Now I have to watch Time Bandits again. =)

  • ||

    Get rid of the religious tax exemption, get rid of the corporate income tax. Problem solved. But that's too easy, isn't it?

  • R C Dean||

    Where's the graft in that? Sheesh.

  • Paul.||

    Exactly. If we can't raid people's bank accounts and deliver goodies, then how will pols get elected?

  • Mickey Rat||

    Like we could have gotten rid of the problem of the partners of gays being subject to the estate tax by getting rid of the estate tax?

  • JPyrate||

    Get rid of the estate tax ? Sounds like a plan to me. Mickey Rat. If you want to pass anything down to your offspring after you die, you might want to put everything you own into a trust. Otherwise the only people who profit are lawyers, and the state.

  • JPyrate||

    Honestly Warty it is pretty easy. Religious Organizations would just become Non-Profits.

  • JPyrate||

    Also the religious tax exemption provides a loophole that a person can exploit, and make the state choke on it's own load. =)

  • Sevo||

    Mickey Rat|10.14.15 @ 3:22PM|#
    "It is interesting how much religion is inside the heads of the atheistic that supposed libertarians will twist themselves into logical knots in order to put the necks of churches under the jackboot of government in the name of freedom."

    Bleevers will go to great lengths in the hopes of defending their stupidity. Unfortunately, it requires the reader to be as stupid as they are.
    Fail, Mickey; you're welcome to your superstition, but don't presume the rest of us are so pathetically tied to imaginary friends.

  • Mickey Rat||

    Your open bigotry is refreshing.

  • Sevo||

    Mickey Rat|10.14.15 @ 4:41PM|#
    "Your open bigotry is refreshing."

    Your *choice* of stupidity makes you the object of bigotry?
    Tell that to your skydaddy; maybe he'll make you all happy again!

  • JFree||

    You intolerant moron atheist libertarians do not have a freaking clue. The 1st Amendment is the only serious restriction on government. And by choosing to go along with a sociologists definition of religion - that it only involves some guy in the sky after death - your type of libertarian essentially unleashes government to do whatever the fuck it wants.

    There is a reason that Social Security and Medicare both explicitly exclude the Amish and a couple of other religious groups. Because that way, those groups are unable to gain standing to challenge those programs on 1st Amendment grounds.

    In the same vein - every single university/college that existed when the Constitution was written was created by different religious denominations. Eliminate that as a 1st Amendment restriction on government - and government can now spend hundreds of billions by taking over education

    Most hospitals in the US were created by religious denominations. But hey - redefine religion into meaninglessness - and you have just paved the way for government to take over healthcare as well.

    If you think that religions are the only thing that involves 'belief' then who is the stupid one here.

    Stupid meet Sevo. Sevo meet stupid

  • JPyrate||

    Show me on the doll where mean ol Sevo touched you.

  • GILMORE™||

    Speaking of Kooky Churches....

    Here's one where people Beat a Kid to Death during a so-called “counseling session"

    "Some who live near the mysterious Word of Life Church near New Hartford, N.Y., call it a “cult,” telling the Syracuse Post-Standard that they often hear members singing and chanting in the middle of the night. The men, they say, walk around in “long, black trenchcoats.”'...

    It was inside the building where, police said, a couple allegedly beat one of their teenage sons to death and seriously injured another, with help from parishioners."

  • Paul.||

    there is “cold coffee still in Styrofoam cups and a half-eaten pork sandwich sitting on a counter.”

    So definitely not Jewish...

  • ||

    Interesting. Far more of that goes on than is generally admitted - the beatings and coercive "counselling" that is. And often the victims are gay teens.

    I'm surprised there wasn't more outrage that the police executed a warrant on a church.

  • kbolino||

    I'm surprised there wasn't more outrage that the police executed a warrant on a church.

    Eh, being on the wrong side of public opinion means the police can fuck with you quite a bit. See: Branch Davidians, Muslims, polygamist Mormons, etc.

  • Rhywun||

    Yeah, and I get a sense the neighbors know what's going down there.

  • ||

    It's exclusion of the Dao is not much of an argument, since Daoism is not in fact a religion.

  • Notorious UGCC||

    Don't tell these guys.

  • crufus||

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taoism
    "Taoism is one of five religions officially recognized in China"

  • OldMexican||

    Does a Religion Need to Worship a Supreme Being?


    Does the State count as a supreme being? Because the Church of Marx of Later Day Proletariat would probably say "yes" under that premise.

  • Agammamon||

    And its splitter group (which still maintains close ties with the mother church) the Cult of Global Warming.

  • widget||

    It's kind of interesting that the personality cult of North Korea has been successful. Yes, it has been successful! Don't even try to argue with me about that, NK has endured.

  • In League with the Dark Ones||

    Westmoreland could get out of this by simply saying that a religion is anything the IRS says is a religion…

  • In League with the Dark Ones||

    Westmoreland could get out of this by simply saying that a religion is anything the IRS says is a religion…

  • Sigivald||

    They have ignored another definition of religion provided within the same definition quoted above in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language which defines religion as “[a] cause, principle, or activity pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion.” In so narrowly tailoring its definition of “religion” the Town of Westmoreland discriminates against all non-theistic religions.

    While I agree with the overall thesis [they're as much a religion as anyone else is], and most of their argument... the above quote is ludicrously inappropriate.

    Religion has multiple meanings, as a word, sure.

    But that one has nothing to do with the First Amendment or New Hampshire law, in a pretty obvious way. That definition is by analogy on the meaning that actually is relevant; an organized set of metaphysical beliefs and associated activities.

    (This reminds me of an internet argument where someone tried to claim that the Constitution's text meant exactly and only whatever each word currently meant, such that if e.g. "arms" stopped meaning "weapons" in normal use, the Second Amendment would only protect you from having your upper limbs removed by the State.

    That's so ludicrous a principle I found it hard to believe it was sincere, but it - evidently - was. I guess that's the natural endpoint for people who think such texts are magic assemblages with no authorial intent or inherent meaning.)

  • Rockabilly||

    I worship the almighty hot babe though my bong.

  • J. Gravelle||

    The people offer Buddhism as Exhibit "A".

    The people rest...

  • Thomas Huynh||

    "At the Church of the Sword, where belief in a god or gods comes secondary to espousing principles of self-sufficiency and arming oneself...one of the holy texts of the 5-year-old, nontheistic, New Hampshire-born religion is Sun Tzu’s Art of War."

    Having written The Art of War (a 2500 year old book that is still relevant today), Sun Tzu is rather supreme for a human being.

  • Brian||

  • JPyrate||

    As far as I am concerned we all deserve that sweet, sweet ta exempt status. Go Agorism. =)

  • JPyrate||

    * tax

  • Agammamon||

    Does a Religion Need to Worship a Supreme Being? New Hampshire Supreme Court Considers the Question

    All this could have been avoided right from the beginning if the government hadn't felt the need to tweak the tax code to support certain favored activities over others.

    Get rid of the non-profit exemptions (all of them) and go to a single, unified, tax code for every entity.

    If the court rules 'poorly' then the state could stand to start losing a lot of revenuetribute.

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