Category : Taxes

(CNBC) Charitable contributions take a hit following tax reform

After years of strong growth, total charitable giving rose just 0.7% in 2018, according to a new report on philanthropy by Giving USA. When adjusted for inflation, total giving declined 1.7%.

Last year was the first time the impact of the new tax law, which eliminated or sharply reduced the benefits of charitable giving for many would-be donors, could be measured.

Altogether, individuals, bequests, foundations and corporations donated an estimated $427.71 billion to U.S. charities in 2018, Giving USA said. But giving by individuals fell, while contributions from foundations and corporations rose.

“We certainly do have a pretty stark picture that tax reform took effect and charitable giving declined,” said Laura MacDonald, the president of Benefactor Group and vice chair of the Giving USA foundation board. However, a volatile stock market, which took a dive near the end of the year, may have also played a role, she said.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, America/U.S.A., Charities/Non-Profit Organizations, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Personal Finance & Investing, Politics in General, Stewardship, Taxes

(CT) Seventh Circuit rules Clergy Housing Allowance is constitutional

The October 2017 decision by Wisconsin district judge Judge Barbara Crabb had been a victory for the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), which “jeopardized the benefit for clergy in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin … and many predicted similar consequences nationwide,” wrote CT’s sister publication, Church Law & Tax(CLT) in an analysis.

In today’s ruling, a panel of three judges again refuted the claims of FFRF attorneys, deciding that the allowance passes muster according to two related Supreme Court rulings, Town of Greece v. Galloway and Lemon v. Kurtzman.

“FFRF claims Section 107(2) renders unto God that which is Caesar’s,” wrote circuit judge Michael Brennan. “But this tax provision falls into the play between the joints of the Free Exercise Clause and the Establishment Clause: neither commanded by the former, nor proscribed by the latter.”

The FFRF told the Associated Press it is reviewing its options.

CT previously reported how the FFRF challenged the same tax break in 2012 with the same initial success, but ultimately lost on appeal in November 2014. Today’s ruling was essentially a rematch over whether the tax benefit unfairly benefits religious Americans.

“This ruling is a victory not just for my church but for the needy South Side Chicago community we serve,” said Chicago Embassy Church pastor Chris Butler in a Becket press release. He intervened in the case because his church “can’t afford to pay him a full salary, but it offers him a small housing allowance, so he can afford to live near his church and the community he serves,” noted Becket, which represented a group of pastors appealing the FFRF’s initial victory.

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Posted in Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Ministry of the Ordained, Religion & Culture, Stewardship, Taxes

(WSJ) Russell Moore–Stop the Tax on Houses of Worship

A little-noticed provision in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 now looms over faith communities in America, raising serious questions about religious freedom and the First Amendment. While this provision is a relatively small piece of the overall package, the effect of the policy it created will be felt by the faithful around the country.

This change is a new policy to tax nonprofit organizations—including houses of worship, like the Southern Baptist churches I serve—for the cost of parking and transit benefits provided to employees. This effectively creates an income tax on churches. As Michael Martin of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability has noted, that has never happened in U.S. history.

The imposition of a tax burden on churches, religious schools and other charities is a shocking change in the federal government’s orientation toward these organizations of goodwill. The new tax requires institutions to file federal Form 990-T and possibly pay taxes every year—regardless of whether they engage in any unrelated business activity. In addition to the new federal requirements, many nonprofits will then face the requirement to file state returns and possibly pay state income tax.

Further, in the name of taxing parking lots, the new regulations created a new tax liability. In turn, this creates new operating costs for proper accounting and regulatory compliance at every nonprofit organization. For many nonprofits, these operations costs could exceed the amount of money actually collected by the Internal Revenue Service.

This new tax would extract $1.7 billion from the charities over 10 years….

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Taxes

(Forbes) Religious Organizations Rally To Preserve Current Tax Treatment Of Clergy Housing Allowances

The wonderful thing about this litigation is how it brings different faith communities together in their desire to protect their cherished tax benefit. Not yet available is the brief from the following amici – Christian Legal Society, Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations, National Association of Evangelicals, Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, Council of Churches of New York City,  and Queens Federation of Churches.   Last time around there was a brief that included The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Commission (Southern Baptists, the second largest denomination in the United States probably have the most skin in this game) and   The International Society for Krishna Consciousness and The Islamic Center of Boca Raton.

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Posted in Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Housing/Real Estate Market, Inter-Faith Relations, Law & Legal Issues, Personal Finance, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Taxes

(Post-Gazette) Religious institutions wait to see what tax reform does to their place in people’s budgets

The conventional thinking is that most people who donate to places of worship are not primarily motivated by tax benefits.

For many, giving is a core value based on religious teachings and a sense of gratitude.

This could be the year when those assumptions are put to a test.

The new federal tax law has cut taxes for working American families, but it also could have the unintended consequence of reducing the financial incentive for many people to donate to religious and charitable organizations.

The Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy estimates roughly 30 million households earning between $50,000 and $100,000 will be less likely to itemize deductions on their taxes due to the new law. With less incentive to donate, researchers predict the amount those households give will decline.

“Tax incentives do affect how much people give,” said Una Osili, associate dean for research. “If it is more expensive to give, they give less.”

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Ethics / Moral Theology, Personal Finance & Investing, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Stewardship, Taxes

(NYT) A $76,000 Monthly Pension: Why States and Cities Are Short on Cash

A public university president in Oregon gives new meaning to the idea of a pensioner.

Joseph Robertson, an eye surgeon who retired as head of the Oregon Health & Science University last fall, receives the state’s largest government pension.

It is $76,111.

Per month.

That is considerably more than the average Oregon family earns in a year.

Oregon — like many other states and cities, including New Jersey, Kentucky and Connecticut — is caught in a fiscal squeeze of its own making. I

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Posted in City Government, Ethics / Moral Theology, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, Pensions, State Government, Taxes

(BBC) Archbishop of Wales: Better services must come from ‘people’s pockets’

The Church in Wales may have to argue that better public services require people to pay “a bit more tax”, the Archbishop of Wales has said.

The Most Rev John Davies warned there were “dwindling services” and a “disintegration of communities”.

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Posted in --Wales, Church of Wales, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Taxes

(Christian Today) Holy Sepulchre closed because Israel’s Christians believe they are under threat, says Bishop of Southwark

The Bishop of Southwark has called on Christians around the world to show ‘solidarity’ over the indefinite closure of Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre in protest at a bill affecting church lands and new taxes on churches that are ‘unfair, inappropriate and arbitrary’.

Speaking to Christian Today from Galilee on the final day of a pilgrimage with 84 people from the south London Anglican diocese, Bishop Christopher Chessun also expressed his disapproval of a bill in the Knesset, or Israeli parliament, supported by Israeli settlers, that would allow the state to expropriate land in Jerusalem sold by churches to private real estate firms in recent years.

‘The bill going through the Knesset is of course at the instigation of particular groups and it is very important that the powers that be recognise the significance of the status quo which governs the relationship formally between the church and the state,’ Chessun said.

‘So if there are actions taken by different groups of settlers or whatever else and that leads to poor leadership by the powers that be then there will be massive consequences.’

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Posted in Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, Ethics / Moral Theology, Israel, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Taxes

(eNCA) South African Anglican bishops slam VAT increase

In a terse statement, the Synod of Bishops of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa said the Anglican Church of Southern Africa was very concerned about the one percent VAT increase, announced by finance minister Malusi Gigaba in his budget speech on Wednesday.

“It is distressing to us that the ordinary citizens of South Africa are being called upon through increased VAT to fill the gaps in government finances which are partly a result of massive maladministration and corruption, especially in state-owned enterprises,” said the statement….

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, Ethics / Moral Theology, Religion & Culture, South Africa, Taxes

(US News) Clayton Rose–Colleges Make America Stronger–Selective universities aren’t too elite, they are the key to career preparation

Yet, there is growing skepticism about the value of this model here at home. The recent tax reform bill was a wake-up call that our strongest colleges and universities are under assault by some in government. The initial proposals would have made education unaffordable for many by taxing tuition waivers for graduate students and ending deductions for student loan interest. Thankfully, these provisions were ultimately stripped from the bill, but lawmakers let stand a new excise tax on the investment income of a select group of colleges and universities. None of these provisions were designed to raise much revenue. They were intended to make a statement.

While these attacks are motivated by misguided ideas, those of us in higher education need to do a much better job of explaining why these claims are not true and why what we do is valuable to our students and society. We cannot take for granted that any of this is obvious.

The data are clear: a liberal arts education is great career preparation, both for excellent lifetime earnings and for satisfaction with the work. George Anders, business author, former Wall Street Journal feature writer, and contributing editor at Forbes, and Randall Stross, a professor at San Jose State University’s School of Management who has written extensively about technology businesses and Silicon Valley for this publication, The New York Times, Fortune, and The Wall Street Journal, among others, both have new books that underscore these points. This education develops the skills of critical thinking, rigorous analysis of data and facts, communicating with the written and spoken word, understanding of cultural differences and issues, and the ability to keep learning. The fact is that liberal arts graduates do extremely well in every imaginable field, and I know this from personal experience. Before entering higher education, I was a senior executive in the private sector; I saw that this education provides skills and knowledge that are in high demand, and I know how well it prepares students for long-term professional success.

On the issue of free speech, without question there have been incidents on campuses where speakers were impeded or prevented from delivering their views, or worse. I have consistently made the point that the ability to express and engage all manner of ideas, even offensive ones, is central to our mission, and I find these incidents deeply troubling. But they are the exception.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Education, Ethics / Moral Theology, Taxes, Theology, Young Adults

(The State) Cindi Ross Scopp–South Carolina Needs Thoughtful Overall Tax Reform not Simplistic Tax Cuts

Like a good stock portfolio, a good tax system relies on a balance, with different types of taxes behaving differently throughout the economic cycle, and affecting different types of people in different ways. For both stability and fairness, economists agree that the best state tax system relies about equally on the income tax, the sales tax and the property tax. South Carolina already relies less on income taxes than the sales or property tax. Cutting income taxes by more than 15 percent would further unbalance our tax system.

Our sales tax, by contrast, is the 16th highest in the nation. The main reason it’s so high is that it’s all about mollifying special interests by giving them special tax breaks. We exempt more than we tax: We have around 120 exemptions written into law, and on top of that we tax far fewer services than most states. House members say they can cut the state sales tax from 6 percent to 3 percent if they address both of those problems, and technically that’s true. The problem is that they’re not going to tax all goods and services, and they probably shouldn’t, because some prevent taxing the same thing twice, and some of the biggest exemptions (think electricity and groceries) serve primarily to make the sales tax a little less regressive than it otherwise would be.

Still, any effort to eliminate some exemptions and tax more services — and use the additional revenue to cut the tax rate — would be a smart step toward a lower, flatter tax system, one that is less volatile and more fair. Which is the opposite of where cutting the income tax rates — and creating yet another large tax exemption — would take us.

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Posted in * South Carolina, Ethics / Moral Theology, State Government, Taxes

(Chicago Tribune) Chicago-area clergy defend housing allowance as it faces legal challenge

Chicago clergy are fighting a federal judge’s recent ruling that tax-free housing allowances for clergy violate the separation of church and state.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago will be asked to weigh in on the challenge to the so-called parsonage allowance — an Internal Revenue Service benefit that allows clergy to exclude from their tax returns the compensation earmarked for mortgage payments, rent, utility bills or maintenance costs.

The ministerial tax break has been on the books for more than 60 years and is cited by many houses of worship, particularly smaller, independent ones, as an important financial underpinning to carrying out their mission.

But it has become the latest target of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a self-proclaimed guardian of church-state separation based in Madison, Wis., that challenged the tax break, and won, in a Wisconsin court.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture, Stewardship, Taxes

(CT) Evangelical leaders warn of ‘devastating’ impact of GOP tax plan on the charitable deduction.

Evangelical leaders have raised concerns that the current reform bills in the House and Senate would reduce the incentives that compel givers to donate to churches and other nonprofits.

Currently, taxpayers must itemize their deductions in order to take advantage of the tax breaks for charitable giving. Since the proposed GOP tax reforms would increase the standard deduction, fewer Americans are expected to itemize as a result—dropping from 30 percent of taxpayers to just 5 percent, according to the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation.

Doubling the standard deduction means 30 million Americans would no longer benefit from a deduction for their charitable giving, a change that is predicted to reduce giving by $13 billion annually, according to Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Ethics / Moral Theology, Evangelicals, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Stewardship, Taxes

A Picture is Worth 1000 words–The baby Boombers are Reaching Retirement

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Aging / the Elderly, America/U.S.A., Budget, Children, Economy, Health & Medicine, History, Marriage & Family, Medicaid, Medicare, Pensions, Personal Finance, Politics in General, Social Security, Taxes, Young Adults

(CT) A federal judge (again) has declard that the longstanding clergy housing allowance violates the 1st Amendment

Once again, a federal judge has declared that the longstanding clergy housing allowance violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

Offered only to “ministers of the gospel,” the 60-year-old tax break excludes the rental value of a home from the taxable income of US clergy. It’s the “most important tax benefit available to ministers,” according to GuideStone Financial Resources.

It’s also the biggest: American ministers currently avail themselves of the tax break to the tune of $800 million a year, according to the latest estimate by the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation.

Wisconsin district judge Barbara Crabb first ruled against the housing allowance in 2013, finding that the second part of Section 107 of the IRS tax code provides “a benefit to religious persons and no one else, even though doing so is not necessary to alleviate a special burden on religious exercise.” Her ruling “sen[t] shockwaves through the religious community,” the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability stated at the time.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry, Personal Finance & Investing, Religion & Culture, Taxes

(AP) South Carolina Gas Tax Increase Becomes Law After Senate Overrides Vet

The South Carolina Senate has voted to override Gov. Henry McMaster’s veto of the gas tax that raises money to fix roads, meaning the measure will now become law.

The final vote was 32-12. It came nearly two hours after the House also overrode the veto by 95-18 vote.

The move means the measure is now finally approved, and will officially become law on July 1

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Posted in * South Carolina, Economy, Energy, Natural Resources, State Government, Taxes

(Local Paper Front Page) Some bet on casinos to fix South Carolina’s crumbling infrastructure

With the chances of a gas-tax increase to pay for road repairs dwindling, advocates of bringing casinos to South Carolina think they have found a winning hand.

Republican Gov. Henry McMaster declared last week that he would veto raising the state fuel tax for the first time in 30 years to fix crumbling roads and bridges. He favors a plan to borrow $1 billion, which would cover a small portion of the state’s repair tab and comes a year after lawmakers already agreed to borrow $2 billion for roads.

But there’s another roads-funding plan, one favored by a majority of South Carolinians, that’s on the table.

Casinos in the Myrtle Beach area and along the borders of North Carolina and Georgia could have South Carolina cashing in a potential $500 million a year while not raising gas pump prices or adding to the state debt load, legalized gambling backers say.

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Posted in * South Carolina, Gambling, State Government, Taxes, Travel

(NHPR) New Hampshire Supreme Court Ruling: Church's Parking Profits Are Taxable

Churches are generally tax-exempt, but New Hampshire’s highest court ruled the parking spaces are taxable because they were rented to students for “their own private and secular purpose.”

Todd Selig, Town Administrator of Durham, said “this was not in any way an effort on the part of the town to bring in more revenue. It was simply an issue of equity and fairness.”

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Anthropology, City Government, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Taxes, Theology

(C of E) The Bp of Birmingham responds to the Chancellor's Autumn Statement

The Bishop of Birmingham, Rt Revd David Urquhart, has issued the following response to the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement:

Bishop David said: “The political turbulence of the past year and lower growth forecasts have meant the Chancellor has been given limited economic room for manoeuvre. But I welcome the emphasis in the Autumn Statement on long term stability, investment in innovation, in our national infrastructure and on supporting regional growth. To be a nation living within its means is an aspiration worth keeping, even if the revised figures for deficit reduction mean that the goal of its achievement has been moved slightly further away.

The Government is to be commended for wanting to address the situation of those who are ‘just managing’ and for its emphasis on work as being an important route out of poverty. The increases in the National Living Wage and a partial reversal of planned cuts to Universal Credit announced in today’s Autumn Statement are welcome and will offer some help. But at a time when the cost of living is set to rise, more on the lowest incomes will still struggle to get by and they might benefit from more targeted assistance than further increases in the tax free personal allowance, which mostly benefits better off families, as the recent report by the Centre for Social Justice points out.

As the Joseph Rowntree Foundation have highlighted, the four-year freeze on working-age benefits is looking increasingly out of date, especially with rising inflation.

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, Anglican Provinces, Anthropology, Children, Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, Marriage & Family, Personal Finance, Politics in General, Taxes, Theology

(WSJ) Charles Murray–Replacing the welfare state with an annual grant to revitalize America

A key feature of American exceptionalism has been the propensity of Americans to create voluntary organizations for dealing with local problems. Tocqueville was just one of the early European observers who marveled at this phenomenon in the 19th and early 20th centuries. By the time the New Deal began, American associations for providing mutual assistance and aiding the poor involved broad networks, engaging people from the top to the bottom of society, spontaneously formed by ordinary citizens.

These groups provided sophisticated and effective social services and social insurance of every sort, not just in rural towns or small cities but also in the largest and most impersonal of megalopolises. To get a sense of how extensive these networks were, consider this: When one small Midwestern state, Iowa, mounted a food-conservation program during World War I, it engaged the participation of 2,873 church congregations and 9,630 chapters of 31 different secular fraternal associations.
Did these networks successfully deal with all the human needs of their day? No. But that isn’t the right question. In that era, the U.S. had just a fraction of today’s national wealth. The correct question is: What if the same level of activity went into civil society’s efforts to deal with today’s needs””and financed with today’s wealth?

The advent of the New Deal and then of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society displaced many of the most ambitious voluntary efforts to deal with the needs of the poor. It was a predictable response. Why continue to contribute to a private program to feed the hungry when the government is spending billions of dollars on food stamps and nutrition programs? Why continue the mutual insurance program of your fraternal organization once Social Security is installed? Voluntary organizations continued to thrive, but most of them turned to needs less subject to crowding out by the federal government.

This was a bad trade, in my view.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Anthropology, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, Personal Finance, Politics in General, Taxes, The U.S. Government, Theology

([London] Times) Richard Murphy–The Church of England has failed to meet its promises on tax

What should the church commissioners, who are responsible for its £7 billion investment portfolio, do? They are charity trustees. They have a duty to make a return on the funds entrusted to them. And every penny they can raise means another pound from the collection plate can be used for something else. The answer is, of course, that they must exercise judgment.

The good news is that they are already allowed to. The church commissioners do not, as a result, invest in pornography, tobacco, gambling, non-military firearms, high interest rate lending or human embryonic cloning. But on tax abuse, surely the clearest measure of a company’s social responsibility, they’re not so clear.

Their advisers stated three years ago that “tax ethics should be a subject for investor engagement where it appears that a company’s approach is blatantly aggressive or abusive”. In other words, investment in such companies is permitted so long as the church makes clear that it expects high ethical standards on tax. In this respect, the commissioners have clearly failed.

Read it all (requires subscription).

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, Anglican Provinces, Church of England (CoE), Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Globalization, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Taxes, Theology

(RNS) German politicians suggest taxing Muslims to fight radicalization

In American politics, raising taxes is seen as a sure way to provoke a voter revolt. But in Germany, some politicians see taxing Muslims as a strategy to keep them from becoming radicalized.

The standard-bearer for this unexpected idea is a politician from the Christian Social Union, the folksy right-wing party known for desperately wanting to keep Muslim immigrants from the Middle East from pouring in to its traditionally Catholic southern state of Bavaria.

Strange as it might seem, there are Muslim leaders in Germany who think a religious tax might be a good idea, too. If they can get over the grumbling, mosque-goers may agree.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Europe, Germany, Islam, Other Faiths, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Taxes, Terrorism, Theology

(W Post) Dominic Bouck–A country without churches

After the Obergefell decision, Time magazine writer Mark Oppenheimer was quick to declare that the state should “abolish, or greatly diminish” property tax exemptions for churches that “dissent from settled public policy on matters of race or sexuality.”

Punishing “dissent” seems a strange new role for the American government. In the mid-twentieth century, the Catholic church was a leading advocate against anti-miscegenation laws. The church was able to take a stand contrary to the state on marriage and not be penalized for it, a position now almost unquestionably supported by Americans. And despite the confidence of those like Oppenheimer, the dissenters aren’t even a minority in the more recent marriage controversy. Most Americans favor religious liberty, and a plurality oppose Obergefell.

Allowing conscientious objection is an acknowledgment that the state does not have all the answers. The state has an obligation to make laws, but the state has no obligation to be correct. The independent voices that critique the state make the state better, and should not be silenced. Lose churches, lose the independent voices that prevent the state from having an absolute say in complicated moral matters.

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Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, --Civil Unions & Partnerships, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Marriage & Family, Parish Ministry, Politics in General, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Sexuality, Supreme Court, Taxes, Theology

(WSJ) Charles Moore–Western countries must honestly face The Middle-Class Squeeze

Since the financial crisis of 2007-08, which Western leader could boast of spreading ownership in any important way? In the U.S. and Britain, the percentage of citizens owning stocks or houses is well down from the late 1980s. In Britain, the average age for buying a first home is now 31 (and many more people than before depend on “the bank of Mom and Dad” to help them do so). In the mid-’80s, it was 27. My own children, who started work in London in the last two years, earn a little less, in real terms, than I did when I began in 1979, yet house prices are 15 times higher. We have become a society of “have lesses,” if not yet of “have nots.”

In a few lines of work, earnings have shot forward. In 1982, only seven U.K. financial executives were receiving six-figure salaries. Today, tens of thousands are (an enormous increase, even allowing for inflation). The situation is very different for the middle-ranking civil servant, attorney, doctor, teacher or small-business owner. Many middle-class families now depend absolutely on the income of both parents in a way that was unusual even as late as the 1980s.

In Britain and the U.S., we are learning all over again that it is not the natural condition of the human race for children to be better off than their parents. Such a regression, in societies that assume constant progress, is striking. Imagine the panic if the same thing happened to life expectancy.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Anthropology, Consumer/consumer spending, Corporations/Corporate Life, Credit Markets, Currency Markets, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Federal Reserve, Foreign Relations, Globalization, History, House of Representatives, Housing/Real Estate Market, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, Office of the President, Pensions, Personal Finance, Politics in General, Senate, Taxes, The U.S. Government, Theology

(Telegraph) UK's £2.7bn in aid to countries where Christians are persecuted

Taxpayers in the UK donate £2.7 billion a year in aid to countries where Christians are suffering some of the most extreme religious persecution in the world, figures show.

Analysis of official aid statistics shows that four out of five countries listed on a global human rights watch list, charting attacks or official suppression against Christians, receive money from the overseas development budget or through other official agencies.

David Cameron said last year that Christianity is now the “most persecuted religion around the world” and said Britain should be “unashamed” in standing up for religious freedom.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, Economy, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Globalization, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Taxes, Theology

IRS commissioner promises not to revoke tax-exempt status of colleges that oppose same-sex marriage

After the Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage, religious leaders feared that religious universities, nonprofits and other institutions could lose their tax-exempt status. IRS Commissioner John Koskinen has promised the Senate Judiciary Oversight Subcommittee that his agency would not go after the tax-exempt status of religious colleges and universities that oppose gay marriage.

During a hearing Wednesday conducted by the Senate Subcommittee on Oversight, Agency Action, Federal Rights and Federal Courts, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) asked Koskinen whether the IRS would “not, in the absence of a directive by Congress or by the courts,” take action to remove religious schools’ tax exemption.

“I can make that commitment,” Koskinen said, explaining that “we see no basis for changing our examination criteria as a result of this Supreme Court case.”

Read it all from the Washington Post.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Church/State Matters, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Law & Legal Issues, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Taxes, Theology

More from Owen Strachan on Mark Oppenheimer's Deeply disturbing Time piece

What does this show us? Three things, I think.

It shows us that tolerance is over. I’m not breaking new ground here”“but this must be said. Tolerance is dead. Oppenheimer’s piece ran all of two days after the SCOTUS decision on same-sex marriage. He wants to crush those who dare to stand against the fullest possible acceptance of what Harvard professor Harvey Mansfield has called “samesexuality.” Sexuality liberated from any constraints is now a full-blown worldview. This is paganism, 21st-century version. The body is all; sex is all.

The hippies now wear steel-toed boots. The earlier “free love” movement was all about doing what you want”“live and let live. Today’s version of this pagan impulse is militaristic”“live and you better approve. There’s a menace, a fury, in this cultural momentum. There will be no tolerance. There will be no dissent. Churches and organizations that stand bravely against the rushing tide of the late stages of the sexual revolution will be crushed.

It shows us that churches and organizations doing much good are imperiled.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, --Civil Unions & Partnerships, America/U.S.A., Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Marriage & Family, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Sexuality, Taxes, The U.S. Government, Theology

Chicago’s "cloud tax" makes Netflix and other streaming services more expensive

Today, a new “cloud tax” takes effect in the city of Chicago, targeting online databases and streaming entertainment services. It’s a puzzling tax, cutting against many of the basic assumptions of the web, but the broader implications could be even more unsettling. Cloud services are built to be universal: Netflix works the same anywhere in the US, and except for rights constraints, you could extend that to the entire world. But many taxes are local ”” and as streaming services swallow up more and more of the world’s entertainment, that could be a serious problem.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Blogging & the Internet, City Government, Consumer/consumer spending, Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Movies & Television, Personal Finance, Politics in General, Taxes, Theology

Owen Strachan–A Weapon Against the Churches: Mark Oppenheimer Wants the Government to Tax Them

…we should call Oppenheimer’s arguments what they are: societally destructive. He seems to think that churches losing their privileged positions will be just peachy for society, because the government will then step in and execute the same work with extreme competency. His faith in big government is touching, but naive. Consider how the Great Society programs have fared. The government often does a much worse job of distributing funds and targeting local needs than community-specific outfits that must give local account for their operations.

[Also]…we should challenge Oppenheimer on the way he makes his case. He dislikes Scientology. He’s fit-to-be-tied that the group was given a tax-exemption as a religion. But Scientology is quite different from the vast spectrum of American churches. Oppenheimer has used a tiny group at the margins to deny an obvious truth about the myriad groups at the center. Oppenheimer would nuke a thriving continent to vanquish an unwanted mouse.

He also notes the awkwardness of the IRS determining what is and isn’t a church. But instead of dealing with that problem, he doubles down on it, and encourages exponentially greater government involvement to regulate congregations. A most vexing solution, this. His comments on Yale and universities are in truth a screen to hide his real target: churches, particularly those “that dissent from settled public policy on matters of race or sexuality.”

Here we behold the Oppenheimer Project with unveiled face. It isn’t really about redirecting a few odd dollars and cents currently going to religious nutjobs. It’s about smashing into oblivion those who dare to resist the late stages of the sexual revolution. They no longer deserve to thrive, or perhaps even exist, in this country.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, --Civil Unions & Partnerships, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Law & Legal Issues, Marriage & Family, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Sexuality, Taxes, The U.S. Government, Theology, Theology: Scripture

(Time) Mark Oppenheimer–Now’s the Time To End Tax Exemptions for Religious Institutions

Defenders of tax exemptions and deductions argues that if we got rid of them charitable giving would drop. It surely would, although how much, we can’t say. But of course government revenue would go up, and that money could be used to, say, house the homeless and feed the hungry. We’d have fewer church soup kitchens ”” but countries that truly care about poverty don’t rely on churches to run soup kitchens.

Exemption advocates also point out that churches would be squeezed out of high-property-value areas. But if it’s important to the people of Fifth Avenue to have a synagogue like Emanu-El or an Episcopal church like St. Thomas in their midst, they should pay full freight for it. They can afford to, more than millions of poorer New Yorkers whose tax bills the synagogue and church exemptions are currently inflating.

So yes, the logic of gay-marriage rights could lead to a reexamination of conservative churches’ tax exemptions (although, as long as the IRS is afraid of challenging Scientology’s exemption, everyone else is probably safe). But when that day comes, it will be long overdue. I can see keeping some exemptions; hospitals, in particular, are an indispensable, and noncontroversial, public good. And localities could always carve out sensible property-tax exceptions for nonprofits their communities need. But it’s time for most nonprofits, like those of us who faithfully cut checks to them, to pay their fair share.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Taxes, The U.S. Government, Theology