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.

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…]

NonBelief Relief and Church Financial Disclosure

As we’re all very aware, questions of financial transparency have recently become tremendously salient to the church and its members.

There are, of course, ways to remedy the issue of financial transparency. The church could voluntarily release financial information. Or Congress could change U.S. tax law to require churches—like virtually every other tax-exempt organization—to file a Form 990, which would then be released to the public.

NonBelief Relief wanted to help spur this second option. NonBelief Relief was a charitable organization formed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Its charitable mission was to provide humanitarian-style aid, improving the world and the situation of people here. It also had a secondary purpose: to challenge the constitutionality of the tax law requiring non-church tax-exempt organizations to file information returns, but exempting churches from that requirement.[fn1] [Read more…]

Utah’s New Tax Bill

If your Twitter feed is anything like mine, you’ve probably heard by now that the Utah legislature passed a tax bill last week in a special session. The governor has apparently said he plans to sign the bill.

The bill has been controversial, to say the least. It was even protested by an odd assortment of characters including not only Utah Legislative Watch and Alliance for a Better Utah, but also Santa Claus and the Grinch. A lot of the objections seem to be to process—the bill went from proposed to passed in less than a couple days, and was passed in a special session (though, as a non-Utahn, I don’t actually know what that means). But there has been pushback against the substance, too. A lot of that pushback resonates with me: there have been significant complaints that the changes amount to a more-regressive tax burden on Utahns, with new taxes burdening the poor, while tax cuts redounding to the benefit of the wealthy.  And that, in the words of both of Isaiah and the Twitter feed of the greatest blog in the universe, would be grinding the faces of the poor.

So is that what Utah’s doing? Not entirely, it turns out. [Read more…]

The Evils of the Dole: What Is This “Dole” Thing, Anyway?

Last week, Kristine A wrote an excellent post from last week, highlighting the BYU-I Medicaid omnishambles. In the post, she mentioned that one rumored reason for the policy was to get students “off the dole.”

Now, I’ve been meaning to write about church (and government) welfare for a while, and that comment got me thinking: variously in lesson manuals and other church contexts growing up, I’ve heard about the evils of the dole. But outside of church contexts, I can’t say I’ve heard the word “dole” very often.[fn1]

Originally, I had a long, comprehensive post vaguely mapped out in my head. But it turns out this is the holiday season, and also the writing-and-grading-finals season, so in place of the comprehensive exegesis of church welfare, I’m going to look at use of the word dole. [Read more…]

Thanksgiving: Welcome to the Adults’ Table

Image result for thanksgivingThanksgiving has long been one of my favorite holidays. There are no gifts to buy, no decorations to put up, just a big delicious meal, and a nice long weekend after a light work week here in the US.  The turkey coma is a bonus, and the leftovers are always amazing.

When we lived in Asia, because our kids attended the American school, a long holiday meant we had time to travel to other countries. Our first Thanksgiving in Asia was in Cebu, Philippines. We were on a youth temple trip, and we found a lovely German restaurant that boasted an authentic American Thanksgiving buffet. The food was mostly good, although one dish was labelled “candied potatoes.” It consisted of sliced fried potatoes covered in syrup and hard candies. It reminded me of the types of dishes we occasionally encountered in Asia that had nearly familiar names, but then were not what we expected at all. Our next Thanksgiving we were in Hanoi, Vietnam, and found a fantastic multi-course Thanksgiving dinner overlooking Halong Bay. That’s probably my favorite Thanksgiving of all time, mostly because I didn’t have to cook a thing, and the food was fantastic, even more than usual thanks to a dose of culinary home-sickeness. Plus, there was both ham and turkey. [Read more…]

Amish at the ABA Tax Section Meeting

On Friday, I was at the ABA Tax Section meeting in San Francisco. Patrick Thomas had invited me to speak on a panel entitled “The IRS Violated My Client’s Religious Liberties: When is This Unlawful and What Can We Do About It?” And, although the panel focused specifically on the Amish, its subject matter is relevant to Mormons’ interest in religious freedom, in immigrant rights, and in what it means to live as a religious individual in a secular society.

Some background before I get into the specifics of our panel. First, it turns out that talking about “the Amish” as if it described a single, unified group is misleading. There are, I’ve been told, at least 40 different Amish groups, each of which differs at least a little in its beliefs and practices. Generally speaking, though, the Amish don’t believe in insurance (government-provided or otherwise). It interferes with the familial and community support they believe the Bible demands of them, and which they value, and it demonstrates a lack of trust in God.

As a result, the Amish have largely been exempted from paying Social Security taxes. That exemption also prevents them from collecting Social Security when they would otherwise qualify, of course. (To claim and memorialize that exemption, they have to sign a Form 4029 which, through a complicated procedure, is also signed by their bishop and has to be processed both by the IRS and the Social Security Administration. Apparently, they generally sign the Form 4029 when they’re baptized, which happens in their late teens or early 20s.) [Read more…]

The Foot Shelf

About ten years ago, we were renovating our master bathroom, making the shower larger with a stone surround, and adding a big sunken garden tub (that literally has been used TWICE since we put it in, grrrr). As we discussed the options with the builder, he quoted a set amount to add a “bench” to the shower.

My husband, looking to save money perhaps, quickly said, “We don’t really need that. When do I ever sit in the shower?”

I interrupted to explain. “That’s not for sitting. I need a place to rest my foot when I shave my legs. It’s a foot shelf!” [Read more…]

On Satan’s Plan, Tax Edition

A couple days ago, I got a message from a friend, asking how I respond to people who claim that taxes are Satan’s plan. Honestly, my instinct would be to respond, “That’s stupid,” block the person on Twitter, and get on with my life.

But that doesn’t work in every circumstance. I mean, if your interlocutor is standing in the checkout line next to you, blocking isn’t really an issue. And if your interlocutor is, I don’t know, your father-in-law, calling him stupid may not be the optimal approach. (And honestly, if the person is speaking in good faith, dismissing them like that is rude and unfair.[fn1])

So how would I address a good faith assertion that taxation is Satan’s plan? Depending on the person, I’d probably take one of a couple routes: [Read more…]

Civic Process Specialists: Some Thoughts

A couple weeks ago, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that the church told Utah stake presidents to start calling “specialists who can assist church members to better understand and participate in the civic process.” Over the weekend, I listened to Ep. 82 of the Trib‘s “Mormon Land” podcast, which discussed this calling with the Hinckley Institute’s Morgan Lyon Cotti. That discussion was an excellent and substantive discussion of why the church might be interested in doing this, and the benefits of additional civic engagement.

At this point, it’s not clear precisely what being a civic process specialist will entail, though, among other things, they might help people figure out how to register to vote, figure out how, when, and where to vote, and, apparently, given them some guidance with Utah’s caucus system. The church has been clear that it will continue to be neutral with respect to candidates and parties. Still, there are people who worry that the specialists will be less nonpartisan than the church. Which brings up the question: can the church do this, or is it going to lose its tax exemption?

Spoiler alert: it’s not going to lose its exemption. [Read more…]

The Unborn

The appointment of conservative justice Bret Kavanaugh has emboldened some states to take a run at challenging Roe v. Wade by putting forward legislation to outlaw abortion that is a deliberate overreach to force the issue in front of the Supreme Court.[1] From my own conversations with fellow ward members, one reason many LDS voters chose to elect Trump in 2016 is that they, like many social conservatives, vehemently oppose abortion and would like to see the overturn of Roe v. Wade.[2] However, LDS theology is not nearly as anti-abortion as many other conservative religions. Like many other platforms, this is one where both parties’ views are potentially consistent with the church’s stance. [Read more…]

Terrorism and Hospitality

In 2012, I stayed at the Taj Mumbai Hotel. I was there on business, my third stop visiting our India offices that fell under my jurisdiction. My manager assistant who was traveling with me was raised in Mumbai (which he insisted on calling Bombay, the name the city was called until 1995 when political parties changed). The hotel is a luxurious Colonialist structure (built in 1903) with 120 rooms and several high end restaurants. The reception staff proudly mentioned (for my benefit, as an American) that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had stayed there in 2009 and pointed to the place just outside the security-walled entrance where President Obama made a statement to the press. These events were noteworthy because the hotel was among locations that were attacked in 2008 by Pakistani terrorists who landed a boat a few yards from the entrance, then went on to massacre nearly 200 citizens, wounding 300 more, at 12 locations around the city. Because I had stayed in the hotel, I was intrigued about the limited release movie Hotel Mumbai that just came out, so we went a week ago last Friday. It was a haunting experience. [Read more…]

Explainer: Utah Stealthily Raised State Income Taxes

This morning, I woke up to this Twitter notification. (Turns out that Sheldon does really know me: this was #BrunsonBait in basically its purest form.) I immediately knew I was going to write a BCC explainer, and I figured it would be a quick and easy explainer: Utah’s tax conformity to the federal income tax meant that, when the TCJA reduced personal exemptions to $0, Utah’s personal exemptions fell to the same rate.

It turns out the story is more complicated than a story of the inadvertent loss of a tax benefit: Utah legislators did this deliberately.

But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. What’s the this that is happening to Utah taxpayers? In short, according to the article, the elimination of personal exemptions meant that Utahns, with their larger-than-average family size, would face a higher tax bill in 2018 than they would have without the federal TCJA.
[Read more…]

The Church Is Going to Pay More In Taxes

In 1972, the church opened its new Church Office Building at 50 East North Temple Street. The 28-story building, built by Christiansen and Clyde Construction Company for $31.3 million, allowed scattered church employees to all work under one roof. Initially, about 1,500 employees, who had been at 16 different locations, moved into the building. It was originally slated to provide office space to over 2,000 employees. And so that those employees could make it, the Church Office Building had 1,250-spot underground parking garage.

And the existence of that 1,250-spot underground parking garage means that the church owes federal income taxes for 2018.

Because yes, the church owes taxes for last year. And, perhaps to church members’ surprise, those taxes aren’t the result of secular liberals who hate Mormons/religion/God. Those taxes are the result of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the GOP’s late-2017 tax reform that was both conceived of and passed without any input or votes from Democrats.  [Read more…]

Marijuana, Mormon Lobbying, and Tax Exemption

Scrolling through Twitter this morning, this tweet caught my eye:

Curious, I looked at the replies and, sure enough, the first three I read had some variation of, “Well, the Mormon church has to lose its tax exemption now, right?”[fn1] After replying to them, I decided that it would probably be easier to write an explainer than to reply to each one individually.

So: has the church risked its exemption by lobbying against the legalization of medical marijuana in Utah? Short answer: no. [Read more…]

The Loveloud Foundation

According to my Facebook feed, Saturday was the Loveloud Festival in Salt Lake. Now in its second year, Loveloud is meant to provide love and acceptance for LGBTQ+ kids. If you’ve followed my #MutualNight posts, you can probably guess that, even if I lived in Utah, I wouldn’t have gone. I’m 100% behind the festival’s message and its goals, but I’m not a big fan of its music.

I am, however, a big fan of charitable organizations. And guess what? The sponsoring organization of the festival is the Loveloud Foundation, a tax-exempt public charity.[fn1]

Now I don’t know a lot of details about the Loveloud Foundation; it received its tax exemption last year, and hasn’t filed a Form 990 yet. (Next year it will file the form, which is a public document.) But there are a couple broad things that we know about it just by virtue of its being tax-exempt. So let’s have a Q&A explainer! [Read more…]

On Being a Social Mormon

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Marching against the 12-hour workday, 60-hour workweek

A while back I met a friend (I’ll call him Steve) and several of his colleagues for lunch. Steve is a good member missionary and his colleagues know he’s a Mormon, and I eat often enough with the group that they know I am too. Anyway, I mentioned that I’d seen a recent article in The New York Times featuring the work they do and even a photo of someone from their department. Steve’s boss exclaimed:  “What’s a Mormon doing reading the Times?!” His jaw dropped further when I told him I’m not just a reader but a subscriber to boot.  [Read more…]

Shaming Decency

One episode from McKay Coppins’s recent profile on Stephen Miller has been haunting me since I read it. Early in Miller’s work with the Trump administration, he collaborated with Steve Bannon to craft the first version of the travel ban designed to prevent “travel to the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries” (using Coppins’s description). I’ll quote Coppins from here:

The hastily written order contained no guidance on implementation, and soon after Trump signed it—on a Friday afternoon one week into his presidency—airports across the country were plunged into chaos. Hundreds of travelers were detained, civil-rights lawyers descended, and protesters swarmed. To many, the televised disarray was proof of failure. But according to Michael Wolff’s account of the Trump administration’s first year, Fire and Fury, the architects of the ban were tickled by the hysteria; Bannon (who was Wolff’s main source) boasted that they’d chosen to enact the disruptive measure on a weekend “so the snowflakes would show up at the airports and riot.” They counted the anger on display as a political win.

What haunts me about this story is Bannon’s terrifying tactical brilliance in gaming what I’m going to call basic human decency. In the grand game of chess that is political discourse in the United States, Bannon (and Miller, who unlike Bannon still works in the White House) seem to me to have cannily outflanked people committed to the norms of civil discourse. I think it’s a commonplace at this point among people who oppose Trump to believe that his appeal lies largely in the frankness with which he expresses (or crassly manipulates) the id of his followers. But the travel ban episode suggests that Trump’s success also lies in playing the superegos of his opponents. All of the stuff that to us betokens civilization, which is to say, the very substance of any anti-Trump protest grounded in appeals to things like decency, democratic norms, basic Christianity, and the like—all of this leaves us perpetually a move behind the administration and its strategists, who stand ready to laugh the moment their provocation sends us to Twitter or to the streets, quaintly chattering about things like the place of persuasion in civil discourse. [Read more…]

Iftar Against Islamophobia

Yesterday I was asked to give a two-minute speech at the protest iftar in front of the White House.  The entire event featuring Muslim and interfaith leaders was livestreamed.  (My speech alone is here.)  The protest iftar’s purpose was to highlight that the Trump Administration had intentionally excluded American Muslims from its contemporaneous iftar. 

carolyn1

As-Salaam Alaikum and Ramadan Mubarak.  My name is Carolyn Homer.  I am a Mormon and a civil rights attorney at CAIR.

When Donald Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” the Mormon Church responded by proclaiming that we are “not neutral in relation to religious freedom.”  I took action by joining CAIR.  It is my faith that compels me to defend the Constitution against this Administration.  [Read more…]

Of Mormons, Baptists, and Liberty of Conscience

Given the recent revival of the kerfuffle between Robert Jeffress and Mitt Romney (see Mike’s recent post), along with Jeffress’s appeal to “historical Christianity” in his rebuttal to Romney, I am reposting here something I wrote back in 2011 at State of Formation. Plus ça change…

On 7 October [2011], Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, was speaking to reporters outside the Values Voter Summit in Washington, DC, where he had just introduced Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry. Taking aim at Perry’s rival for the nomination, Mitt Romney, Jeffress said that Romney, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “is not a Christian.” Jeffress went on to say, “This idea that Mormonism is a theological cult is not news…. That has been the historical position of Christianity for a long time.”

Jeffress has a point: evangelicals have long been uncomfortable with Mormonism, and significant theological differences—most notably over Christology—exist between the two groups. I’m not going to attempt to resolve those differences here, or to defend the proposition that Mormons are in fact Christian (even though I, as a Mormon, affirm my own faith in Christ).

Rather, I wish to seize on an opportunity inadvertently opened by Jeffress’s overly broad invocation of “the historical position of Christianity” to argue that Mormons and Baptists ought to make common cause in opposing the use of such appeals as tests of religious orthodoxy, let alone as de facto religious tests of fitness for political office.

[Read more…]

Immigration and the Twelfth Article of Faith

In the last couple days, an apparently Mormon Twitter user claimed to have reported someone in his ward to ICE, which started deportation proceedings against the family. I’m dubious of the claim, frankly: this person has a history of acting as trollishly as possible to get reactions. (And, for that reason, I’m not going to name him or link to his tweets—if you really want to see it, it’s not hard to find.)

However, in the last couple of days, we at BCC have verified instances where Mormons have called ICE on their ward members. I assume they claim they’re doing it because of the Twelfth Article of Faith, and especially that part that says that we believe in “obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.”

Upfront: those people are lying. They’re calling ICE because they’re racists, xenophobes, or otherwise un-Christian-like.[fn1] [Read more…]

Stand with Muslims as they fight against bigotry

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Carolyn at the impromptu Muslim Ban protest march on January 29, 2017

The Supreme Court hears arguments on the Muslim Ban tomorrow.  I’ll be in the courtroom, and with hundreds of civil rights supporters at the rally on the courthouse steps.  Join me.  As the Fourth Circuit has declared, the Muslim Ban violates the Establishment Clause and is “unconstitutionally tainted with animus towards Islam.”

Everytime I talk to Muslim friends, colleagues, and even taxi drivers, I hear the same themes over and over again – children bullied as “terrorists” at school, women harangued for wearing headscarfs (with aggressors sometimes forcibly yanking religious headcoverings off), graffiti and vandalism to businesses, threats and firebombs at mosques.

 

[Read more…]

Taxsplainer: How the Utah Legislature Is Raising Taxes By Doing Nothing

The Salt Lake Tribune is reporting that the Utah legislature has just enacted a large tax increase on many Utah families, in spite of its putative 0.05 percentage-point tax cut. How can that be? [Read more…]

We Must Do Better On Violence Against Women

I am sick of Mormon women not being believed about abuse.

I can’t even count the number of first-hand accounts I’ve heard at this point, and I only started paying attention a few years ago.  Easily dozens.  Probably hundreds.

But they all go the same way.  A Mormon woman is a chaste, obedient, temple-worthy, nurturing woman.  She gets married in the temple, moves in with her brand-new husband, and desires to start her eternal family. Within mere weeks or months, it becomes obvious her husband is angry, controlling, and abusive.  He usually quotes Church authority about men presiding and women hearkening to justify the behavior.

She doesn’t like it, but she tries to accept it.  She has been taught that she must protect her temple marriage above all else.  She has been taught that her husband is the leader of the home, and she needs to respect his authority.  She has been taught that if she just prays harder, submits harder, follows traditional gender roles harder, the problems will go away.  

They don’t go away.  They get worse. [Read more…]

Mormons and the Tax Bill

Five and a half weeks ago, I posted about a couple ways that the House tax bill would impact Mormons and the Mormon church. Since that time, the House passed its tax bill and the Senate passed its bill. The bills differed, so they went to a conference committee, where (GOP) Senators and Representatives tried to come up with a compromise that both houses of Congress could agree on.

And this afternoon, they released their bill; the GOP wants to pass it before Christmas.

Now, I haven’t had time to go through all 503 pages[fn1] of the bill; still, given that I did a preview of changes that would affect the church and Mormons, I thought I’d revisit them in light of the new tax bill.  [Read more…]

One Cake To Rule Them All   

 24882859_10110373489206339_49640615_oWalking out of the Masterpiece Cakeshop argument at the Supreme Court this morning, I encountered a wall of sound.  The sidewalk teemed with supporters and protestors, waving placards and flags, as media cameras swarmed.  Bakery advocates chanted “Justice for Jack,” while competing chants of “Love Conquers All” erupted on behalf of Charlie Craig and David Mullins.

I love America.  What else is free speech, if not the ability to peacefully hold competing rallies on the Supreme Court steps? [Read more…]

Quick Update on Politicking at Church

On Monday, I wrote about a couple ways that the House tax bill might impact Mormons. Well, today Kevin Brady, the chair of the Ways and Means Committee, introduced an amendment to that bill. One of those ways was by carving out a small exception to the so-called Johnson Amendment for churches.[fn1] There was a lot of discussion swirling around over whether eliminating it only for churches would violate the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.

Well, apparently Brady didn’t want to take that risk. His amendment expands the exemption to all tax-exempt organizations. [Read more…]