Mitt Romney, the Expanded EITC and Marriage Penalties

On Thursday, Utah Senator Mitt Romney sent a letter, signed by him and 34 of his Republican colleagues, to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden. In the letter, he objects to marriage penalties built into the House’s reconciliation bill, marriage penalties, he claims, that are exacerbated by the changes made to the earned income tax credit (the “EITC”). He concludes his letter saying, “We believe that marriage is a vital social good. It is misguided and unfair for the government to build bigger barriers for couples to marry.”So is Sen. Romney right? Does the reconciliation bill (available here) increase marriage penalties and disincentivize marriage?

[Read more…]

James Huntsman Lawsuit Dismissed

A quick follow-up to one of my previous posts: a federal judge dismissed James Huntsman’s fraud lawsuit against the church on Friday.

This may not have been an absolutely forgone conclusion, but it comes pretty close to one. Remember, Huntsman was suing to get his tithing money back from the church. That’s a tough ask in the first place because, other than conditional gifts, US law treats charitable donations as belonging to the recipient. Just because you later regret having made the donation doesn’t mean you can rescind it.

So Huntsman alleged that the church had fraudulently induced him to pay tithing. He relied, he said, on several statements from the church that it did not using tithing money to build City Creek when, in fact, it did use tithing money to build City Creek.

[Read more…]

The Texas Abortion Ban and the Death of Constitutional Rights

Got your attention? Great!

As I’m sure you’ve heard, the Supreme Court didn’t stop a Texas law that bans abortions performed by Texas physicians after six weeks from going into effect.

The Texas law is clearly unconstitutional. Whether or not you think the right to abortion should be a constitutional right, there is no question under Supreme Court jurisprudence that it is. And the Supreme Court has never allowed a six-week abortion ban to go into effect before, even temporarily.

So what’s different about this Texas ban? Enforcement. Usually statutes that prohibit abortion are enforced by the state government. That means that procedurally, pre-enforcement challenges are straightforward: you sue the government, which would enforce the law, and your case works its way through the court system. If the courts think you have a reasonable chance of winning, they can issue an injunction, preventing the law from going into effect until there has been a full hearing.

[Read more…]

I Want It Back

There are two recent lawsuits filed against the LDS church that are worth taking a look at. Both lawsuits demand that the church return donations to the donor (or the donor’s heirs).

And both face a major impediment: as a general rule, if you make a charitable donation, you can’t get that donation back. And that’s the case even if the you have a falling out with the charitable organization. In fact, that’s the case even if the charitable organization uses your gift in a way that you, personally, find offensive. (In that case, you can certainly stop making charitable donations in the future, of course. But you don’t get your prior donations back.)

There are exceptions to this general rule, of course. And the plaintiffs in the two cases try to get around the rule by using two different exceptions.

[Read more…]

Let’s Talk About Money

I don’t have any idea if $100 billion is a good amount for the church to have in its endowment. Personally, I tend to think, given its revenue and expenditures, that the number is high. At least as long as it continues to bring in a significant amount of tithing annually, it feels to me like it doesn’t need a cushion quite that big.

But the thing is, I don’t know. Church leaders are completely opaque in how they’ve made their investment/spending decisions. And to be honest, I suspect that it has been a decision only in the loosest sense. Inertia is a powerful force and decisions made 20 years ago carry a lot of weight.

But arguably the church should communicate its financial thinking better. And I don’t mean that the church needs to tell members exactly how much it has in assets (though it certainly could). But I believe that if the church viewed members as stakeholders, it could and would communicate its thinking to us. What considerations has it made in deciding whether to spend or invest? How did it decide how much it needed for current expenditures and for future expenditures.

[Read more…]

Masks and the First Amendment

Photo by Kyle Austin on Unsplash

Effective today, the city of Chicago has reinstituted an indoor mask mandate. And we’re not alone: Washington state and Washington, D.C. have them. Dallas appears to have one. Benton County in Oregon has one. And I’m sure there are others and, in light of the Delta variant and the U.S.’s not-so-impressive vaccinate rate, there will be others.

A week ago, the First Presidency sent a letter to all members of the church encouraging us to get vaccinated and wear masks at indoor meetings where we couldn’t social distance.

What does this mean for our church meetings? Well, in light of the First Presidency’s guidance, I would have thought it would be uncontroversial: we’ll return to requiring masks in our meetings, at least in places that have implemented mask mandates.

[Read more…]

Regrading the Church’s Pandemic Response

Or maybe: awarding the Church’s pandemic response some extra credit.

Last week I wrote that the church had done a poor job encouraging members to get vaccinated against Covid. While leaders had shared posts of themselves getting vaccinated and had put out language encouraging vaccination broadly, it had not been as direct as it is capable of being.

But I’m always happy to offer extra credit to bring a struggling grade up and today the church has earned some extra credit. In a message sent to members around the world[fn1] and posted on the Newsroom website, the First Presidency “urge[s]” members to get vaccinated against Covid, pointing out that the vaccines “have proven to be both safe and effective.”

And it goes further: it also urges the use of face masks in public meetings where members can’t distance.

Now it’s on members; the church leadership has made a clear and unequivocal statement that it takes Covid seriously and that, through vaccination and mask-wearing, we can beat Covid back. Will we respond to their clear guidance?

I certainly hope so.


[fn1] It hasn’t hit my inbox yet, but I trust that, at the very least, it’ll be there soon.

HIPAA and the Church

Just to be clear, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”)[fn1] does not prevent your bishop from asking you about your vaccination status. It doesn’t prevent your ward from doing contact tracing and informing people who attended church that someone had Covid at a meeting you attended. It doesn’t prevent the ward from asking (or requiring) attendees to wear masks.[fn2]

And look, I guess it’s fair to be a little scared. HIPAA does provide that a “person who knowingly and in violation of this part … discloses individually identifiable health information to another person[] shall be punished” with fines and potential imprisonment.

[Read more…]

The Child Tax Credit and You

The American Rescue Plan, signed by President Biden in March, includes a lot of things. For many U.S. readers of this blog, perhaps the most notable and salient is that it increased the child tax credit and, starting next month, will send monthly checks for a portion of the credit to taxpayers.

I wrote about the details over on the Surly Subgroup, but wanted to highlight a couple things about it for a specifically Mormon audience. It isn’t, of course, particular to Mormons but, falling birthrates[fn1] notwithstanding, we still tend to have (marginally) more children than the average American. Which means that the child tax credit, and its prepayment, are going to be relevant to many of us.

Of course, to understand what’s going on, we need to answer a couple questions.

[Read more…]

Believing in the Big Lie

Almost exactly a month ago, the Public Religion Research Institute released a survey looking at partisan and religious belief in the lie that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump.

To be clear, the assertion that the election was stolen is stupid. The only basis for the assertion is that people can formulate the concept in a (grammatically) coherent way. Donald Trump’s attorneys had dozens of opportunities to assert that there was something illegal about the election in court but were unable to convince judges of any political persuasion. State Attorneys General support the fairness of the election. The Big Lie is, precisely, a lie.

And who believes it? According to the PRRI survey, 61% of white Evangelical Christians. But not that far behind them?

Mormons. Forty-six percent of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (in the United States) mostly or completely agree that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump.

This represents an existential threat to the future of Mormonism.

[Read more…]

About Critical Race Theory

Yesterday morning, my wife came upstairs and told me that NPR had a story about taxes. She also mentioned that it would probably annoy me. (She gets me.) But I decided to turn it on just to see who would be guesting.

One of the guests was Professor Dorothy Brown. Prof. Brown is a friend and a mentor, so I left it on and I’m glad I did. The episode of 1A focused on the racial wealth gap and, to my interests, the place of the federal income tax in causing and exacerbating the wealth gap.

That the tax law treats Black and white taxpayers different isn’t immediately obvious. After all, it’s written in race-neutral language (or, better, it doesn’t mention race at all). And, in fact, it has taken at least two decades of pioneering work by Prof. Brown (and others) to highlight the ways in which the tax law, while facially neutral, has a disparate impact that benefits white taxpayers and harms Black and brown taxpayers.[fn1]

Figuring out ways in which the tax law affects Black taxpayers differently from the ways it affects white taxpayers is no easy task, though. Among other things, the IRS doesn’t collect taxpayers’ races. So Prof. Brown’s research truly requires detective work.

[Read more…]

Two Reflections on Korihor

“And this Anti-Christ, whose name was Korihor, (and the law could have no hold upon him) began to preach unto the people that there should be no Christ.”Alma 30:12

Korihor was the third of three people in the Book of Mormon explicitly designated as an “anti-Christ.” And probably everybody reading this knows the rough outline of Korihor’s life and death: he shows up in Zarahemla about 75 B.C. and preaches that there will be no Christ. The Nephites (we’re told) have no law against a person’s belief but, notwithstanding its putative religious freedom, Korihor eventually ends up on trial in front of Alma, the chief priest of the people, and the chief judge.

Korihor continues to deny the coming Christ, asks for a sign, and is struck dumb. He confesses in writing that he was deceived by the devil, asks that the curse be removed, and Alma declines. Korihor ends up panhandling until he’strampled to death by the Zoramites (themselves a group of religious dissenters). The life and death of Korihor end up being a didactic morality tale, wrapped up comfortably by editor and narrator Mormon.

[Read more…]

IRS Whistleblowers Revisited

Photo by adil113. CC BY 2.0

Has it really been nearly a year and three months since Lars Nielson released his brother’s whistleblower complaint against the church? What felt like the story that would dominate news of Mormonism in 2020 was quickly buried by Trumpian scandals and then worldwide pandemics.

Like most people, I’ve only thought about the $100 billion endowment fleetingly over the last year or so; I’ve been more wrapped up in translating my job to my home, helping my kids become at-home students, and playing the saxophone.

Monday, though, a court decision came across my desk that made me think of Ensign Peak Advisors and Lars Nielson. See, one reason his brother filed a complaint with the IRS was in hopes of getting a whistleblower award. Statutorily, whistleblowers are entitled to receive between 15 and 30% of the amount the IRS collects as a result of their complaint.

[Read more…]

Mark Hofmann and Taxes

In anticipation of watching Netflix’s Murder Among the Mormons,[fn1] I started rereading Victims: The LDS Church and the Mark Hofmann Case.[fn2]

And right at the end of chapter two something leapt out at me: in addition to searching for (and forging) rare documents, Hofmann engaged in tax planning! Chapter two discusses Hofmann’s attempts to sell the Anthon Transcript to the church. Initially he asked for a set of six Mormon gold pieces in exchange. Why the gold pieces rather than cash? In part, he said, because he wanted a “tax-free exchange” (Turley, 38). (Note that, after negotiation, the church gave him one five-dollar gold coin plus some historic Mormon notes and a first edition of the Book of Mormon missing its title page.)

Now if you’ve read much of my blogging, you know these three words leapt out at me, a virtual technicolor attention grabber. So what was Hofmann trying to do?

[Read more…]

Accomplishing God’s Work of Leading Out Against Prejudice

I wish the Church would tackle racism and nationalism with the same energy it devotes to sex. 

It’s not difficult to envision.  Just take every resource the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints currently spends defending chastity and reallocate them to anti-racism.  When we’re inevitably challenged for being too “political,” emphasize the great moral need for social policies which recognize the divine worth of every soul.    

We have the foundation to accomplish this.  In October 2020 President Nelson pleaded with us “to promote respect for all of God’s children.”  The Prophet “grieved that our Black brothers and sisters the world over are enduring the pains of racism and prejudice.”  He then called “upon our members everywhere to lead out in abandoning attitudes and actions of prejudice.” 

[Read more…]

No More Disposition to Speak Evil: A Lesson Plan to Address Racism in the Church

Here is a lesson plan for BCC readers who need a Sunday School or Relief Society/Elder’s Quorum lesson to address white nationalism. I welcome constructive feedback and will update this lesson plan periodically to incorporate it, so that it can be a living resource for the future.

Opening Hymn: I’m Trying to be Like Jesus

Objective: Teach members how to use the peaceable doctrine of Christ to confront concrete examples of racism in their everyday lives.

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Reflections on Heartbreak and Choice

Dear Brother Givens,

I came across your post on abortion today.  I confess that I did not read it carefully because I am trying to be kinder to myself.  From what I did read, you quote several writers and statistics, and ultimately ground your opinions in your own visceral reactions to abortion and especially the procedures used in the second and third trimester.  I wonder, though, did you try to speak directly to any women who have had abortions?  Did you read any firsthand accounts of abortions by women who do not regret them?  Did you send out a call to your general female acquaintance to share their experiences with you?  I guarantee that you personally know some women who have had abortions, though, given what you wrote, I am not sure they would have trusted you with their experiences.

Here is what I would have told you.  I have been a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from childhood.  I served a mission.  I have held many callings.  I remained chaste until marriage and remain faithful in my marriage.  And I had an abortion a few years ago on the first day of my fifteenth week of pregnancy.  

[Read more…]

On Terryl Givens and Abortion

Yesterday Terryl Givens published what he characterized as “A Latter-day Saint Defense of the Unborn” at Public Square Magazine. He ultimately concludes that Latter-day Saints are obligated to oppose abortion and that there is basically no room for personally opposing abortion but supporting its legality and availability.

Givens seems completely sincere in his revulsion for abortion. But that sincerity has led him to pen (type?) a deeply misleading and unchristian jeremiad against his fellow citizens and fellow-Saints who take the opposite tack.

I’m not going to detail all of the factual and legal problems with his piece, though I will highlight a couple of what I consider to be the big problems. I’m also want to point out that the way he’s framed his argument undercuts any assertion that he makes it in good faith and that it demonstrates a huge lack of moral imagination.

[Read more…]

#TrumpTaxReturns on The Surly Subgroup

As far as I know, the only news in the U.S. since Sunday has been the New York Times‘s investigation of leaked Trump tax returns. I certainly know that the first article Sunday evening definitively changed my work schedule for the week.

There’s a lot of information in the article, but there’s also a lot of additional context that tax people can bring to it. I’ve done a bunch of tweeting about the context, and just put my tweets together into a single blog post. (I’ll note that the tweets are better because they are GIF-filled, but the blog post is easier and, as a bonus, links to all of the tweets).

There’s nothing even remotely Mormon-y about this but, to the extent you’re interested in some further content and tax-y goodness, check out the Surly Subgroup.

Whiteness and Jesus

Over the last couple weeks I’ve been reading The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race In America. Without going into too much detail, the book traces the development of Jesus as white in the United States and the contested place of His whiteness. Broadly speaking, when the Puritans came here, they eschewed images, including pictures of Jesus. And in the early days, when Jesus appeared to people, He appeared as light, not as racialized.[fn1]

Little by little, Jesus began to be more embodied in the American imagination; His embodiment emerged roughly (though not entirely) with technology that allow the mass production of pictures and pamphlets. And embodied Jesus began to be depicted as racially white.

Especially after the Civil War and into the first half of the 20th century, His whiteness was often (not always, but often) pressed into the service of white supremacy. Jesus was white because white was better, white was purer, white was worthier.

Again, this outline is very surface-level; the book provides a lot more detail and nuance. But overall, it represents the book’s outline (at least through the Civil Rights movement and the creation of Black Liberation Theology, which is where I currently am in the book). [Read more…]

Uyghurs, the Church, and Religious Freedom

Uyghur girls. Xinjiang. Photo by kpi. CC BY 2.0

About a week ago, Disney released its live-action Mulan for rent on Disney+. As people watched it, they noticed something: in the closing credits, Disney gives “special thanks” to eight government entities in Xinjiang, where parts of the movie were filmed.

This has led to calls to boycott the movie in the U.S.[fn1]

Why? It’s a long(ish) story, told better by others, but the short version: Xinjiang (in western China) is home to about 12 million indigenous Muslims. The largest of these groups are the Uyghurs.[fn2] Since at least 2017, the Chinese government has been aggressively detaining its Uyghur population in concentration camps (which it calls “re-education camps”). Today, an estimated 1 million Uyghurs (which represents more than 8% of the Muslim population in the region) are detained in these concentration camps. Moreover, Buzzfeed has determined that China has recently built 268 new compounds in which to detain its Uyghur population. [Read more…]

Conspiracy Theories, Ritual Abuse and the Rise of QAnon in Mormondom

We live at a time when conspiracy theory is spreading. This is my second post on its particularly Mormon manifestations. See the first here

In 1983, Judy Johnson accused her estranged husband, Ray Buckey, of molesting their young son at the preschool where he worked. The McMartin Preschool, in Manhattan Beach, California, was a family business founded by Buckey’s grandmother Virginia McMartin, and operated by her children and grandchildren.

The police found little evidence for Buckey’s guilt, but as a precaution they sent a long form letter out to hundreds of parents whose children attended the school. The letter stated that Buckey was being investigated and asked parents to question their children if employees of the preschool had committed any of a series of detailed acts. The Children’s Institute International, a child abuse therapy clinic, was brought in to consult and by 1984 staffers had interviewed more than 400 children. They received dozens of reports. The McMartins were mutilating animals; they were dressing in robes and digging up corpses in front of children; they were holding satanic rituals in secret rooms and tunnels under the preschool accessed through a variety of methods, including down the toilets. [Read more…]

Republicans render unto Trump that which is God’s

Photo by Brad Dodson on Unsplash

Scripture is replete with warnings about placing faith in political leaders above God.

God repeatedly calls the faithful to reject kings and idols, to disperse power away from any singular charismatic personality.  “Ye shall have no king nor ruler, for I [God] will be your king and watch over you.”  (D&C 38:21). 

Why?  Because we know from sad experience that as soon as men “get a little authority, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.”  (D&C 121:39).  Kings, with their greater authority, wreak greater unrighteousness.  

[Read more…]

Rep. John Lewis and Religious Freedom

Yesterday and today, the late Representative John Lewis is lying in state at the Capitol. Thousands of people lined up to pay respects to the Congressman yesterday and I’d be surprised if thousands more don’t today.

They may know Rep. Lewis from his days as a Freedom Rider, fighting for racial justice. They may know him from the graphic novels about his civil rights career. They may know him from his 40-ish years representing constituents as an elected official.

I was reminded that Rep. Lewis was a deeply religious man and advocate of religious freedom last week when I got a call from Amy Lee Rosen, a reporter for Law360. She was doing a story about tax bills sponsored by Rep. Lewis.

One of the bills Rep. Lewis sponsored? H.R. 4169: the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Act.

I was familiar with the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Act; I wrote about it in chapter 4 of my book. [Read more…]

Religious Freedom vs. Public Interest (Working Women)

I dissent.

Let me start off by being clear that I am not a lawyer (on a blog with many lawyers). I have multiple decades of experience as a business executive in large corporations, overseeing the employment of thousands of people. As an executive, I understood very well what the applicable anti-discrimination laws were. Now that I’m a small business owner, I also recognize that many of those laws are not required for me, but based on my personal conviction and principles, I still run my business as if they do.

In a 7-2 decision, SCOTUS recently upheld a completely discriminatory ruling to allow employers (that are not directly affiliated with any church) to refuse to cover birth control in their employee healthcare plans. This decision rests firmly on a few shaky foundational assumptions: [Read more…]

Faculty Demographics at BYU

A couple weeks ago, President Nelson issued a joint statement with the NAACP condemning racial injustice. Toward the end of that statement, they said:

We likewise call on government, business, and educational leaders at every level to review processes, laws, and organizational attitudes regarding racism and root them out once and for all.

(Emphasis mine.) It occurred to me that, while at BYU-P, very few of my professors were people of color. (It’s been a couple decades, so my memory isn’t perfect, but as best I can remember, I had two Brazilian professors, which is probably the closest I came.) I wondered what BYU faculty looks like today.

It isn’t pretty.  [Read more…]

On Masks

A couple weeks ago, I was going to write a quick fun post asking whether, in a post-pandemic world, the church would start letting people wear masks to church Halloween parties.[fn1] After all, in the phased resumption of sacrament meeting, members can be encouraged to wear facemasks. And if at sacrament meeting, why not at Halloween?

To write the post, I did a quick Google search to see if the internet had any explanation of the origins of the church’s ban on masks. And you know what? If you Google “mormon no masks,” you get a lot of hits about the church’s mask-making activities and, right at the top, Elder Cook’s 2012 BYUI devotional titled, of all things, “Don’t Wear Masks.” [Read more…]

#JusticeForGeorgeFloyd Revisited

A little more than a week ago, I posted some religious leaders’ reactions to the murder of George Floyd. While the church hadn’t responded when I posted, it responded shortly thereafter, and I update the post to include the church’s response.

Today, Pres. Nelson released a joint statement with the NAACP. The original post has dropped far enough below the fold that I decided it’s worth a new post. As with the other statements, I’m only going to excerpt it. It’s absolutely worth reading the whole thing.

President Russell M. Nelson, president, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; Derrick Johnson, president and CEO, NAACP; Leon Russell, Chairman, NAACP; and The Reverend Amos C. Brown, Chairman Emeritus of Religious Affairs, NAACP wrote: [Read more…]

Justice for George Floyd [Updated 6-1, 8-20]

I’m sure that you, like me, have seen the shocking murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis. That you are aware that this isn’t the first time, the second, or even the third time this type of senseless killing has occurred. You’ve seen the protests demanding justice. Maybe you’ve participated in them.

Religion has things to say about justice, about how we should treat each other, and how we should treat the poor and vulnerable and the stranger. The Book of Mormon is basically 500 pages of God’s chosen people getting it wrong.

So I thought I’d look to see whether religious leaders are speaking out about this moral issue and, if so, what they’re saying. Unsurprisingly, they are speaking out about both our unjust society and the just society that we should aspire to create. The following is a sampling, undoubtedly incomplete but critical nonetheless in this moment of deep sorrow and introspection: [Read more…]

Sheep and Goats in a Pandemic

Sheep and goats in corrals. The Field Museum Library. No know copyright restrictions.

Yesterday my family and I took a bike ride to downtown Chicago. (Under Illinois’s stay-at-home order, biking for outdoor activity is an essential activity.)

It was stunning, in this usually-vibrant city, how empty the streets were. We passed a handful of people out for exercise, air, or to walk their dogs. The buses we passed, which should have been full to overflowing at rush hour, held a driver and one or two other people. The storefront businesses were dark, as billboards and electronic signs at bus stops reminded Chicagoans to stay home to avoid spreading Covid-19.

It occurred to me on that ride how hard it is to be truly Christian during a pandemic like this one. Not hard because our hearts are in the wrong place—I believe that everybody who’s sacrificing to protect the health and lives of their communities is being deeply Christian—but because being truly Christian requires physical communion. [Read more…]