Category: Law

The Misguided Quest for a Common Moral Framework

The Mormon Newsroom just posted a new think-y piece titled “The Quest for a Common Moral Framework.” A few years back the Newsroom posted a number of these reflective essays, such as “Approaching Mormon Doctrine“, but not so much recently. So this one is worth taking a look at. It seems like a spinoff from the intensive Religious Freedom initiative.

Mormonism at the Scopes Trial

Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan at the Scopes Trial

I read Edward J. Larson’s Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion (Harvard Univ. Press, 1997) earlier this month, and was surprised to see the Book of Mormon appear in one of Clarence Darrow’s arguments to the court. Funny how little mention there is of the Scopes Trial in LDS discourse, given how often evolution seems to come up. I have some ideas on that. But first the interesting arguments made to the court by Darrow.

Same-Sex Marriage Bans and Tax

District-Utah

The District of Utah has had a busy week. As I’m sure you heard (and if you haven’t, you ought to read Kaimi’s post first), Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage has been struck down as unconstitutional. A week ago, in the wake of the decision that didn’t actually legalize polygamy, I looked at the potential tax consequences of that decision and, fairly anti-climatically, determined that there were none. Plenty of electrons will be spilled going over this decision but, again, I suspect that the tax consequences will be underexplored.

Gay Polygamy in Utah!

By now you’ve heard the news. A federal judge in Utah just ruled that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. This follow on last week’s ruling, from a different judge, that portions of Utah’s polygamy statute were also unconstitutional. What does it mean? Obviously, it means the advent of gay polygamy!! It won’t stop until everyone is married to everyone else, in one giant gay-polygamous-mega-wedding. Let the festivities begin! Okay, maybe not. Let’s go through the rulings, piece by piece, to see what they say, and what their effects may be.

Decriminalizing Polygamy (and, of Course, Tax)

sister_wives_tv_series_logo

On Friday, December 13, the Judge Waddoups, a district court judge in the District of Utah, held that Utah’s criminalization of polygamy was unconstitutional. Partly, anyway.

More on that in a minute. I suspect that this opinion will reverberate throughout the blogosphere and the mainstream media, with the reporting displaying various levels of accuracy. The question I suspect won’t get much play, though, is, what are the tax consequences of this decision?

Happy(?) Repeal Day!

prohibition_ends_repeal_day_cocktails

The Twitters tell me that 80 years ago today, Utah became the 36th state to ratify the 21st Amendment, thus ending Prohibition.

Whatever you think about Prohibition, it’s probably worth noting the Pres. Grant was not a fan of its end. In fact, he addressed the end of Prohibition—and Utah’s role in ending it—at General Conference in 1934. Here’s an (annotated by me) excerpt of what he said:

Invite the IRS to Your Family Reunion

Over at Keepaptichinin, Amy Tanner Theriot has a wonderful post talking about family associations, and providing some guidelines for how to put together a successful association. In the post, she mentions that family associations can qualify as 501(c)(3) tax-exempt entities. At the mention of Code sections (and revenue rulings!), my ears perk up, and I thought I’d give a little more information about the tax side of such organizations. But before you read my post, you need to read Amy’s. Because everything I know about family associations I learned reading her post, then doing a little Westlaw research. Because of that, basically nothing I write here will mean much unless you’re familiar with what Amy wrote.

An Overview of LDS Involvement in the Proposition 8 Campaign

I’ve just posted my article, ‘The Divine Institution of Marriage’: An Overview of LDS Involvement in the Proposition 8 Campaign, to SSRN. The article is largely descriptive, setting out in some detail the church’s actions and statements relating to Proposition 8. It chronicles a significant amount of factual material that has not been discussed at all in the existing legal literature. It may be especially relevant to people who have an interest in Proposition 8, same-sex marriage issues, gay rights issues generally, or LDS church issues generally. The full abstract is as follows: “The Divine Institution of Marriage”: An Overview of LDS Involvement in the Proposition 8 Campaign The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS or Mormon church) was heavily involved in the passage of Proposition 8 in California in November 2008, which restricted marriages recognized under state law to those between a man and a woman (as construed by the California Supreme Court, it prospectively denied legal…

Facebook Memes and the Property Tax

18326_10152280819095307_1069468881_n

There is, I’ve been told, a Facebook meme going around, juxtaposing a decaying house and the San Diego temple to support the argument that churches should not be exempt from taxation.

And, like Facebook memes everywhere, this one is dumb. Dumb primarily because it is a tautology that doesn’t say anything. Because of course a tax-exempt organization does not pay taxes that a non-exempt individual pays. That’s pretty much the definition of tax exemption.

Of course, saying that a Facebook meme is dumb and tautological makes for a pretty short and boring post. Far more interesting, imho, is to take seriously the point that the people spreading the picture are trying to make, and complicating that rhetorical picture a little bit.

Moroni Torgan, Yeah Samaké, and Political Neutrality

As a result of its political neutrality policy, the Church is not going to endorse Mitt Romney in his bid to become President (or, for that matter, Harry Reid in his bid to be reelected to the Senate). There are probably a number of reasons for the Church’s desire to avoid endorsing a candidate but, as I’ve said previously, one reason may well be the tax consequences of such an endorsement. (Short refresher: technically, the IRS could revoke the Church’s tax exemption, meaning the Church would owe taxes on all of its income other than donations, and that Church members who paid tithing or other offerings could no longer deduct those donations in calculating their taxes.)

Taxing Churches: A Response

Oh no—somebody on the Internet is wrong while I’m on vacation! But duty calls. Recently, Ryan Cragun, a sociology professor, along with students Stephanie Yeager and Desmond Vega, argued that the government subsidizes religion by about $71 billion a year. He thinks this is wrong, and that religions should pay their fair share. I have no problem with his making this argument—tax exemption costs the government significant revenue (though his $71 billion is based on really, really poor assumptions—more on that later), and should be examined carefully and critically. But Prof. Cragun’s analysis is not the careful and critical examination that the tax treatment of churches deserves. His piece has a number of significant problems. I’m not going to address all of the problems, including the fact that he appears unaware that there is an extensive academic literature that explores the place of a tax exemption for churches,[fn1] but I am going to address a handful of his assertions. In…

Polygamy 2012

Once upon a time, family law was a marginal legal topic that didn’t make many headlines the way constitutional law or criminal law so often do. But gay marriage and Prop 8 have propelled family law and marriage to the legal center stage. In an odd parallel development, “the family” has, over the last few years, moved to the center of LDS doctrine and practice as well, with “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” being the most visible evidence of that change. We are living in an intersecting perfect storm of changing family law, family doctrine, and family practice. So we should learn some family law before the cyclone hits. Let’s start with a current case.

Taxing the United Order

UnitedOrderPlaque

The United Order appears (for now, at least) to be a relic of the 19th century; since them, the mainstream Mormon church hasn’t attempted to institute any large-scale communal economic structure based on Acts 2. And, frankly, I don’t have any reason to think that it will in the 21st century; the Law of Consecration seems to be something different than economic communalism (though economic communalism fits within the Law of Consecration).

Mitt Romney’s Tithing Problem (?)

stock certificate

ABC broke the news: Mitt Romney has donated millions of dollars worth of stock to the Mormon church. SEC filings disclose that a Bain partner donated $1.9 million of Burger King stock to the Church; in addition, the Church has received stock of other Bain holdings, including Domino’s, DDi, Innophos, and the parent company of AMC Theaters.

But why? Why would Romney give the Church equity stakes in bad fast-food chains, second-rate pizza chains, and other such holdings?

How Are You Celebrating?

No, today isn’t a national holiday. It’s not any particular religious festival. We’re more than a week away from Halloween, a month from Thanksgiving, and a couple months from Christmas. The only reason you have today off (assuming you have today off) is because today is Saturday. And yet . . . On October 22, 1986, President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Tax Reform Act of 1986, a bipartisan bill. That law, signed 25 years ago today, was the last fundamental tax reform in which the U.S. has engaged. Among other things, it broadened the tax base, reduced the number of tax brackets, and reduced the highest tax bracket from 50 percent to 28 percent. It vastly simplified the monster that the tax code had become. Since 1986, of course, the number of tax brackets has crept up, top marginal rates have crept up, and plenty of loopholes and special exceptions have been reintroduced into the tax law; we…

Background: Elder Oaks and the Charitable Deduction

Yesterday, as Marc pointed out, Elder Oaks testified in front of the Senate Finance Committee in favor of the deduction for charitable giving. He argued that the charitable deduction is vital to the nation’s welfare. Why, though, these hearings on the charitable deduction? Is it under attack? In case you haven’t been following the politics of tax and budgeting recently (of course, who hasn’t?), I thought I’d provide a little background to the hearing. The Deduction for Charitable Donations The charitable deduction is an itemized deduction (more on that later). It’s one of the older deductions in the tax law, though its run is not coterminous with the tax law. The modern federal income tax was enacted in 1913, but the charitable deduction didn’t manage to get enacted until 1917. And what is the relevance of a deduction? Basically, a deduction reduces your tax liability by the amount of your deduction times your marginal tax rate. So, for example, if…

Free Your Pulpit

pulpit

On Sunday, as we luxuriated in General Conference (however we followed it), we missed an annual tradition: Pulpit Freedom Sunday.[fn1] A quick background on Pulpit Freedom Sunday: on July 2, 1954, Lyndon Johnson proposed that Section 501(c)(3) (the Internal Revenue Code section that exempts, among other things, churches, universities, and the NCAA from tax) be amended to prevent exempt organizations from campaigning on behalf of or against candidates for office. [fn2] There’s no legislative history, and, in fact, no record of the voice vote on the amendment. But it passed. Note, though, that the prohibition wasn’t particularly aimed at churches; in fact, most people seem to think Sen. Johnson was worried that (non-religious) nonprofits were trying to unseat him. Since 2008, the Alliance Defense Fund  has sponsored Pulpit Freedom Sunday. The basic idea is that pastors flout the prohibition, deliberately supporting or opposing a candidate for office in their sermons. Which they record. And send to the I.R.S. The idea seems…

The Church and Taxes

form-990

The Church cares about taxes.[fn1] It doesn’t really seem to care about the details of tax policy, of course. I’ve never seen the Church weigh in on the appropriate tax rate, tax base, or even the appropriate type(s) of tax (e.g., an income or consumption tax, a retail sales tax or a VAT, or whatever) a government should impose.[fn2] But still, it makes explicit and implicit nods that indicate that, ultimately, it cares both about its tax position and that of its members. The Church and (Its) Taxes Like (essentially) every other church in the U.S., the LDS church is exempt from taxation. Not only that, certain U.S. taxpayers who donate to the Church[fn3] can deduct their donations. And the Church is careful to protect its tax exemption. It explicitly does not endorse or oppose candidates for office.[fn4] Church property cannot be used for doing things that would endanger the Church’s tax exemption. It organizes its for-profit businesses as separate, non-exempt…

Desert and a Just Society

The 2010 poverty level in the U.S., we learned on Tuesday, is the highest it has been since 1993. In 2010, about one in six Americans lived below the poverty line.[fn1] In June, 14.6% of Americans received food stamps.[fn2] To some extent, the high poverty rate is probably related to the high unemployment rate, which was 9.1% in August. I throw out all of these numbers to suggest that, as a society, we have a problem. That problem needs to be fixed. And we, as Mormons, undoubtedly have something that we can bring to the discussion of how to fix it. As I think about how we can fix poverty, though, I’m hugely influenced by Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill’s book Creating an Opportunity Society.[fn3] Haskins and Sawhill point out that Americans care about desert.[fn4] That is, as Americans, we want those who have the ability to work for a living. And I’m interested in this idea of desert. Because…

Mission Finances, part 3

(Note: this is the fourth part of a several-part series. You can read previous installments here, here, and here.) Quick review: prior to November 1990, missionaries and their families paid the actual cost of their missions. Moreover, parents would send money directly to their sons and daughters, with no intermediation from the Church. In May 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Davis v. United States that such payments were not tax-deductible, notwithstanding language in the Internal Revenue Code that contributions made “to or for the use of” the Church would be deductible. In November 1990, the Church announced that, going forward, it was equalizing the costs of missions; all (U.S. and Canadian, at least) missionaries would pay a set monthly amount into the Church’s mission fund; the Church would then disperse to missionaries the amount of money they needed. While there’s no indication that the decision in Davis caused the Church to change its policy, I wouldn’t be shocked…

Mission Finances, Part 2 [edited 8/26/2011]

[Note: this is the third (yes, third) part of a many-part series. You can read Part 1 here and Part 1.5 here.] [Note #2: A friend points out that I left some information out of this post that is helpful in understanding what I’m talking about. That information is in Part 1, but it’s been a long time since I posted Part 1, so I’m adding some clarifying details in bold. Thanks, SG.] Pop quiz: when you think “Mormons” and “US Supreme Court,” what do you think? (The correct answer is, of course, Reynolds.[fn1]) For many of us, though, another less-known case impacts our lives, at least while we’re missionaries or while we’re supporting missionaries, nearly as much: Davis v. United States. Brother and Sister Davis had at least two sons, Benjamin and Cecil. In 1979, Cecil was called to the New York Mission, while in 1980, Cecil was called to the New Zealand-Cook Island Mission.  In 1981, the Davis paid…

What If President Monson Endorsed Mitt Romney?

In his talk at the close of the April 2008 General Conference, President Monson talked about the blessing we had received, both as members of the Church and, specifically, over the course of the conference. He ended his talk with counsel: parents are to love and cherish their children, youth are to keep the commandments, those who can attend the temple should, and we should all be aware of each other’s needs. But what if, in closing his remarks,[fn1] President Monson had said, “My dear brothers and sisters, I feel strongly that Mitt Romney is the best person to lead our country. I encourage each of you to campaign on his behalf and to donate to his campaign. We have also established the Perpetual Mitt Fund, with an initial investment from tithing dollars for $1 million in order. This fund will go toward his election and, if any money is left over, it will be transferred to Harry Reid’s next…

The Tax Exemption and the Church’s Political Leanings

In light of the Church’s recent policy statement banning some Church authorities from endorsing candidates, and the speculation that the Church’s political neutrality derives from its desire to stay tax-exempt,[fn1] I thought I’d present a brief primer on the tax exemption.[fn2] The Revenue Act of 1894 probably represents the birth of the modern federal income tax. An inauspicious birth, to be sure–it was struck down as unconstitutional in 1895–but the birth, nonetheless. True, it was enacted 19 years before the 16th Amendment permitted direct taxation (whatever that is), but it set the stage for the income tax to come. Including, it turns out, in the world of exempting public charities from tax. It provided that the income tax would not apply to “corporations, companies, or associations organized and conducted solely for charitable, religious, or educational purposes.” [fn3] Although the list of entities that aren’t taxed has expanded (among other things, the exemption now includes groups that foster amateur sports competition–read…

The Parable of the Talented Endowment Tax

Governments impose taxes in order to raise revenue that, in turn, funds government function and services.[fn1] In designing a tax system, tax theorists generally try to create provisions that will raise revenue without significantly altering taxpayers’ economic choices. That is, ideally, taxpayers will act in approximately the same way as they would have in a world without tax.[fn2] But we can’t hit the ideal. The income tax alters people’s actions, because it alters the price calculus. One way is in our work-leisure decisions. Assume with me that I earn $10 an hour. That said, I enjoy not working, too–my leisure is worth $8/hour to me. In the absence of an income tax, if I have a choice between work and leisure, I’ll choose work. Even with a 10% tax, I’ll choose work, because I’ll bring home $9 after taxes, while my leisure is still worth only $8/hour. However, if the income tax is at a 25% rate, I’ll only bring…