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Craig Parshall, General Counsel

 

Non-Profits & "Crazy" Christians Targeted

September 30, 2009

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) is mounting another attack against non-profit groups and religious ministries, this time in an amendment to America’s Healthy Future Act of 2009, the bill proposed by Senate Finance Committee chair Max Baucus (D-MT). Senator Grassley’s amendment asks Congress to give the IRS specific authority to demand detailed information from non-profit groups about their internal “governance and management practices.” Yet once again, the Senator has not recognized the unique constitutional protections for religious non-profits, which have a First Amendment right to autonomy from intrusive government oversight.

In 1970 the Supreme Court noted that exempting religious groups from taxation was an effective way to avoid unconstitutional government “surveillance” over faith-based organizations. Senator Grassley’s amendment, which uses tax-exempt status as a lever to force unconstitutional disclosures, would squeeze religious groups into a Catch 22: keep your tax exemption but give up your First Amendment rights by yielding up excessive information about your internal policies, or demand your constitutional liberties but forget about your 501(c)(3) status.

On the broader political and media landscape, conservatives and Christians are in the proverbial cross-hairs again. Last week I testified before the House Education and Labor Committee in opposition to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), the bill that would require employers, including some Christian organizations, to hire homosexuals, lesbians and transgender persons. Repeatedly, supporters of the bill used buzz words like “irrational” and “fear” to label those of us in opposition (like NRB) as blinded by bigotry and emotions. And also, last week Dr. Frank Wright, our President & CEO, told NRB’s Washington, D.C., Media Summit attendees that the liberal culture tries to kill good ideas by marginalizing the opposition – sometimes viciously. Now there’s more evidence of that tactic, this time by the press. On the cover of this week’s New York magazine, opponents of President Obama’s more stunning policies were labeled as “crazies.” In the inside article by Philip Weiss, the massive Washington “tea party” (full of stroller-pushing moms, elders, and respectful citizens who, in contrast to the typical DC march, left no trash behind) was described this way: “Now the mob was back on the street in full throat …” In an editorial in last week’s New York Times, conservatives were charged with having “twisted” the health care debate to play on public fear. In Salon.com, opponents of the President’s health care plan were said to be living in an “alternate reality.” Perhaps all of this shows that the liberal media is suffering from its own brand of “fear,” namely the scary recognition that Lincoln was right after all: you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.