Don’t bring immanent evidence to a transcendent argument.
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.
The Salt Lake Tribune recently published an article called “How outdated Mormon teachings may be aiding and abetting ‘rape culture.’” While I am also concerned about ways in which Mormon culture may encourage rape culture (see here and here and here), I want to push back against one portion of the article.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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:
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.
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 sanction for same-sex marriages while not interfering with such marriages previously recognized under state law). Church members participated in the Proposition 8 campaign a variety of ways, including extensive fundraising and various publicity efforts such as door-to-door get-out-the-word campaigns. Statements by the church and its leaders were a central part of the LDS Proposition 8 strategy. The church issued three official statements on Proposition 8, which combined theological and religious content with specific political, sociological, and legal claims. For instance,…
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.
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.)
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 the end, though, what bothers me most about Cragun’s piece is that he’s taken an important topic and made it into a polemic. Those who agree with him now have “facts” to bandy about, while those opposed have a specious argument they can treat as an easily-dismissed straw man, and can ignore engaging in a valuable tax policy discussion. Before I get into my specific criticisms, though, I want to make a couple points upfront. First, although I find lots…
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.
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).
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?