A Texas-based Christian church is having trouble with its mail delivery. Insufficient postage? No. Too much snow and sleet? Unlikely, with the triple digit temperatures Texas and the Southwest have been enduring lately.
In an action that seems in total contradiction to the spirit of the United States Constitution, the United States Postal Service has refused to deliver mail posted by San Antonio's Cornerstone Church because of the type of "religious content", so says the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ).
The ACLJ, one of the foremost religious rights advocacy organizations, has filed suit in federal district court on behalf of Cornerstone Church and its Pastor, John Hagee, charging the Postal Service with violation of the most basic of First Amendment rights.
"The United States Postal Service," says Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the ACLJ, "is sitting in judgment on the 'religious content' of the mail a Christian ministry is sending out, then withholding the processing of that mail, and even censoring its content!"
The hassle began back in February of last year when, without warning or opportunity to respond or comply, the church was "notified that it had been denied use of the nonprofit postal rate because the Postal Service determined that the ministry's mail included 'impermissible travel components.'" At issue, specifically, were two ministry travel offers "mentioned in the church's newsletter: a gospel cruise and a pilgrimage to Israel."
In July of last year the Postal Service again refused delivery of church mail citing that certain content in their newsletter, specifically a promotion for "a Christian music video, a video documentary on one of the books of the Bible, and a sermon tape series by the church's pastor", contained "no religious content."
In an interview with Pastor Hagee's attorney, Kevin Theriot, The WINDS was told that the Postal Service had gone so far as to determine that particular ads were not permissible because they contained information about certain ministry tapes. Their reasoning behind why ads for those tapes should not have been included in their mailings was based solely on the title of the sermons listed--NOT the tapes' actual content. "The Postal Service," the ACLJ said, "decided the events [and tapes] were not 'religious' enough!" Perhaps a follow-up by the Postal Service will be a requirement for the pastor to take Bible studies from the postmaster to assure that no errant doctrine finds its way into their mailings.
The Postal Service determined the church's mail was unacceptable for nonprofit religious postings which qualify it for a greatly reduced postal rate. They did this simply on the basis that the titles contained no actual religious wording. They were, according to attorney Theriot, tapes on Bible-based positive thinking. What is disturbing is that if the titles of the sermons had said something like, "The Gospel of Christ and Positive Thinking" instead of "The Winning Attitude" (the actual title), the Post Office would most likely have left them alone--thus making the U.S. Postal Service, and not the churches, the ultimate, self-appointed arbiter of what is religious and what is not. One of the videos banned was a documentary on the book The Acts of the Apostles, the first book in the New Testament following the gospels.
As to the censorship of which the ACLJ accuses the Postal Service, the Cornerstone Church was required to remove all mention of "The Winning Attitude" from their mailings. "Imagine," said Jay Sekulow, "what our Founding Fathers would say about the federal government monitoring halting and censoring mail because of its religious content. The Postal Service's actions are part of an alarming trend we are seeing across the country," Sekulow claims. "Government agencies--often with the help of liberal, anti-Christian groups--are selectively targeting individual believers, churches and ministries for audits, fines and harassment." [ibid.]
"They decided also," says ACLJ's Theriot, "that the notices of a pilgrimage to Israel were not included in religious activities. If you think about that in context," he continued, "I receive notices of advertisements by the Bar Association for continuing legal education aboard a cruise ship. The Bar Association is a non-profit entity and they've never been challenged."
Why is that?--that one of the most powerful legal organizations in this country isn't challenged by the Postal Service for the same use of "non-profit" mailing rates that they heavily penalize a country church for doing? Does the idiom, "eat their lunch" come to mind?
"This comparison leads us to a concern about selective enforcement," says Theriot, referring to the equal enforcement clauses contained fifth and fourteenth amendments. To any thinking person this concept must seem to have originated in the Land of Oz--the idea that even a bureaucrat in the Postal Service who could rise in position to that degree of authority would still be capable of such utterly surrealistic thinking.
Is it not interesting how pervasive in government, even in privately operated government entities like the Postal Service, is the tendency toward arbitrary interpretation of the Constitution and federal regulations? It almost seems that if some official is in a bad mood because his wife burned the toast at breakfast, someone that day is going to lose their rights--besides his wife.
"One of the things we've alleged in the complaint," Theriot told The WINDS, "is that there is unfettered discretion--that there are no really good guidelines for these officials to administer rules so as not to infringe upon religious freedom." How about hiring federal employees with a modicum of common sense?--individuals that have sufficient native intelligence to recognize that a video documentary about a book in the Bible could actually be religious in nature. Such legal guidelines, as Mr. Theriot mentioned should, but increasingly do not, come from the grand document of this nation--and--the common sense its citizens at one time possessed.
As referred to earlier, the Postal Service took punitive action against the church without notifying its officials of intended action or offering any recourse to appeal once the action had been taken. This is a clear violation, says Theriot, of the Fifth Amendment's clause that "No person...be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law".
The concept of "due process" must have been important in the minds of the Founding Fathers and nineteenth-century Americans because it is repeated word-for-word in the Fourteenth Amendment, ratified in 1868. Due process means that the defendant must be provided with the opportunity to present his case BEFORE guilt and sentence (or assessment) are determined, yet, the Postal Service took the action anyway, fining the Cornerstone Church $30,000--thus depriving them of "property" without "due process". The fine represented the difference between the non-profit postal rate and the standard rate.
Recently, says attorney Theriot, the Postal Service indicated that "they would like a chance to reconsider their initial ruling and, so, we have allowed them to do that. We temporarily withdrew our lawsuit while they reconsidered--and they're in the process of doing that right now."
Of course, the question remains: what if the ACLJ had not instituted their pro bono action on behalf of Pastor Hagee and his church? The answer certainly is obvious, raising still another question: how many others have had their constitutional rights trampled upon in like manner, but were cowed into submitting to government demands without seeking any legal recourse?--because they did not know they had any?--or simply did not want the pain and hassle injected into their lives that any legal involvement with government results in? Like (most) occupants of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, their identities will never be known.
The only church in history to have its federal tax-exempt status revoked is a small country church in Vestal, New York called The Church at Pierce Creek. Their crime that resulted in that revocation was simply mentioning the name of then Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton in an advertisement the church placed in USA Today and The Washington Times.
Colby May, the ACLJ attorney representing the church, told The WINDS that the church "ran into trouble with the government...soon after the 1992 election" because of the "rhetorical question they ask at the very end of the newspaper piece...'how can we then vote for Bill Clinton?'
"Therein lies the thread the government used as reason to begin an inquiry into how much money did the church spend and how did it come to a decision to run this ad and who are the members and who is contributing money to the church and to the ad, etc."
This action seemed amazing to the ACLJ attorneys because of a long history in this country of such activity on the part of churches. "Does anybody in America really believe," Colby May asks rhetorically, "that churches are NOT entitled to take moral stances on the issues of the day--even though it may cross swords with somebody's politically correct agenda? Churches were used to actually raise money for Jesse Jackson's campaign--but nothing has ever been done to those churches, so you have to ask how come."
"The IRS claims that we were involved in political activities," says Daniel J. Little, Pastor of The Church at Pierce Creek. "Our question is; what is political about condoms to high schools? what is political about abortion? what is political about homosexuality? These are moral matters and the church has always exercised itself in warning people about participation in sin and immoralities."
In order to institute such action, May says, "The government must go through a two-step process." To ask a church the kind of questions the IRS is asking, they must first notify the church of examination. "Then if they think it is warranted, they proceed to the inquiry stage."
The IRS, May said, then asked for all of the church's records on "membership files, contributors' lists and many other things which I think they knew all along that they were not entitled to--the law is very clear on that." Does it sometimes seem as if the KGB is alive and well--that perhaps they have just changed real estate?
Pastor Little adamantly refused to provide the IRS with the requested information--with the exception of how much the ads cost and when they were placed. After their initial request and the church's refusal, the IRS, for a long time, was very quiet about the matter. However, just before midnight on the day in which the two-year legal deadline would have expired permitting the IRS to pursue such an inquiry, they initiated final proceedings. It was then that the IRS told the ACLJ attorneys that they really didn't need all that information they had requested and then summarily "informed the church," May said, "that their tax-exempt status was hereby revoked."
After all of the convoluted legal trails had been trod and the endless motions and cross motions were filed, the ACLJ then asked for "discovery" - a process whereby the government is required to present the evidence of their case against the accused in the form of documents, witnesses, etc.,--whatever the IRS considers substantial cause for its actions.
"The government vehemently opposed this, claiming that 'you don't have any right to get any information from us.' [Big Brother is accountable to no one--especially a small country church].
"We have filed for relief under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act [RFRA]," Mr. May said, "demanding that the government must show compelling interest in taking whatever action it was taking and that there was no other way to accomplish that interest and that there was substantial evidence to support their position."
One may recall that piece of legislation--RFRA--as the Constitutional Trojan Horse that Congress passed which many predict is one of the gravest threats to the First Amendment ever enacted. [See: "Religious Freedom Guaranteed! (on condition)" and ""Religious Freedom Restoration Act Challenged by Catholic Church"
Is it not indeed ominous that the religious institutions of this nation now find it necessary to appeal to an act of legislation for redress of grievance rather than to that founding document that so clearly delineates the "guaranteed" freedoms of its First Amendment? Is this not their intention?--that the nation shall, more and more, look to its present leadership rather than the principles upon which it was instituted, thus obviating the Bill of Rights?
When a federal court, according to May, finally ruled that the IRS must submit to discovery, "we found out, as we had thought, that the government had never before revoked the exemption of a church--we're talking about a bona fide, brick-and-mortar church--a 501(c)(3) organization. Not just an exempt organization such as an educational group or animal protection society, or whatever. We're talking about a real church that marries and buries and has worship services and Bible studies and so on.
"Along with this we found that the government had engaged in some very disturbing activity. They were doing drive-bys where surveillance was conducted by the IRS of the Church at Pierce Creek to photograph the church building and Pastor Little's residence at various times.
"The excuse the government used was 'Well, we had to know exactly where the church was." Will someone please send the IRS a telephone directory and a road map? It certainly must be cheaper than dispatching agents with cameras. "This was ironic," May added, "because discovery also showed that they had the tax records of the property" (which, of all documents, contains the most precise legal description and location of any piece of land), "and a phone listing along with the exemption the church had filed almost fifteen years ago."
"It also turns out that according to IRS investigator notes taken during the inquiry, that they had actually begun this action due to an editorial in the New York Times questioning as to whether running such an ad violates the church's political speech restriction clause in their tax-exempt agreement.
"As a result of the Times editorial the IRS included pejorative language in their reports, such as 'militant right' or 'radical Christian right' to describe the church--terms that were never used in the actual New York Times editorial.
"To us this revealed that the government really had an ill motive in picking on this church."
The actions that embroiled The Church at Pierce Creek in its battle with the government, the ACLJ claims, could just as easily have come from the pulpit or the appearance of some politician presenting a "guest sermon."
The most self-damning statements made by IRS officials, May said, were those in which the government lawyers suggested that "'if you just had not used the words 'Bill Clinton,' if you had just said, 'How can you vote for candidates that don't believe like this,' well, maybe, we wouldn't have had this problem'"
If they ever had a valid justification for their action, May explained, it certainly could not have been predicated on the "mere use of the President's name--especially in the context of the history of his moral activities." [ibid.]
Ironically, the IRS tax code Section 508(c)(1)(A) entitled, "Special rules with respect to section 501(c)(3) organizations" specifically exempts churches from the restrictions enumerated under 501(c)(3). "Since only in 501(c)(3) do you have the restrictions about political activity," May elaborated, "churches are exempt organizations, and don't even have to abide by the restrictions of 501(c)(3)."
Is it possible the government has an ulterior motive for its treatment of the Vestal, New York church?--other than an offended President? Quite possibly. It is from Pastor Little and his congregation that the roots sprang forth of arguably the most militant of pro-life movements, Operation Rescue.
Operation Rescue, the extremely confrontational anti-abortion organization, was founded by Randall Terry who graduated from Elim Bible Institute in 1981 and later became a lay minister at The Church at Pierce Creek under Pastor Little.
It is entirely possible that the Clinton Administration's desire to exact revenge upon a little church that opposed him is only part of the story. It seems that when this government declares the murder of unborn children to be not only legal but desirable, one's religious convictions had better not cross those purposes, or the same shredder the government uses on the Constitution will most certainly be used on any right the citizen may think he still possesses--like freedom of speech and religion.
"I don't think that it is wise for the courts to begin to connect free speech with money," Pastor Little shared with The WINDS. "--that if you are a tax-exempt church, there are certain things that you cannot say. If the courts begin to link free speech with taxes, you then create a whole new question: why are people on welfare free to say what they want?--because government money is on their table, in their homes, on their backs."
Perhaps Pastor Little is looking ahead to a chapter in the government's agenda that they haven't gotten to yet. It comes under that perverted version of the Golden Rule: Those who have the gold make the rules (including those with the power to take it).
The ad that the IRS objected to ran just prior to the 1992 presidential elections and began with bold letters warning:
Do not put the economy ahead of the Ten Commandments*. Did you know that Governor Bill Clinton...
- Supports abortion on demand? (Violates Exo. 20:13, Lev. 20:1-5)
- Supports the homosexual lifestyle and wants homosexuals to
have special rights? (Violates Exo. 20:14, Lev. 20:13. See also Rom. 1:26,27)
- Promotes giving condoms to teenagers in public schools?
(Violates Exo. 20:12, Col. 3:5. See also Rom. 1:28- 32)
Bill Clinton is promoting politics that are in rebellion to God's Laws. In our desire for change, do we really want as a president and a role model for our children a man of this character who supports this type of behavior?
But what about the economy?
Yes, we are in tough economic times, but God forbid that we sell our most sacred beliefs in a vain hope of financial gain. How can we expect God to bless our economy if we plunge down a path of immorality? (Deut. 28)
The Bible warns us not to follow another man in his sin, nor help him promote sin--lest God chasten us.
(See Deut. 13, Jer. 23, Prov. 4:14; 11:21; 16:5, 1 Tim 5:22)
How then can we vote for Bill Clinton?
*When asked about the bold citation of the Ten Commandments on the church's ad in the light of so many denominations claiming that the Law was done away with, Pastor Little explained that the moral law was never done away with. Does the Church at Pierce Creek keep the fourth commandment of those Ten, we asked? Pastor Little responded that they meet every seventh day, not necessarily the seventh-day Sabbath. "We are not Sabbath keepers in the sense of keeping a particular day. I don't believe that it falls in the same category as 'Do no murder'". Actually, The WINDS examined that Biblical document (not the original) and the one about a holy day comes before that particular one about murder--in the section that appears to deal with man's relationship to its Author.
A fitting question here would be: If a religious leader editorializes on what he confesses to be the Supreme moral Law of the universe, would it not be understandable for the Creator of that moral Law to permit a worldly government to editorialize on its own supreme law of the land--the Constitution--when defining the "rights" of that religious leader's church? Hindus call it karma, good-ol'-boys call it, "what goes around comes around" and a student of the Teacher of Nazareth called it, "whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."
It has been expressed frequently in the media that such tax-exempt organizations as churches, should be held to strict accountability as to their adherence to the codes granting such tax exemption. The majority of those in American society have been deceived into believing that the tax-paying public are essentially bearing the tax burden for churches because those religious organizations are exempt. This fallacious argument is not only fundamentally flawed, but is, in logical perspective, a non-argument--a vapor. It is much like complaining that Australian Aborigines are increasing the burden on American taxpayers because they aren't paying their fair share of U.S. taxes. American tax law has no legal power over Australian Aborigines because, as far as U.S. law is concerned, they do not even exist and, thus, are invisible to this country's tax laws. And, for the same reason, so are churches in America because according to the Constitution, they do not exist for the purpose of any taxation. This nation is forbidden to make ANY law "respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Anyone whose native tongue is English (and most whose isn't) can readily discern the word "law" in the term "tax law". This, at its very basic level, makes religions no more subject to taxes in this country than those Aborigines.
In all of the maelstrom of legal shrapnel flying about over separation of church and state, the most concise and cogent delineation of the matter ever set forth by the Supreme Court may well be in Walz v. Tax Commission. In that action a New York citizen (Frederick Waltz) sued the city claiming "that the New York City Tax Commission's grant of an exemption to church property indirectly requires [Waltz] to make a contribution to religious bodies and thereby violates provisions prohibiting establishment of religion under the First Amendment...."
Waltz lost his case. The court determined that "...the basic purpose of these provisions...is to insure that no religion be sponsored or favored, none commanded, and none inhibited. The general principle deducible from the First Amendment and all that has been said by the Court is this: that we will not tolerate either governmentally established religion or governmental interference with religion. Short of those expressly proscribed governmental acts there is room for play in the joints, productive of a benevolent neutrality which will permit religious exercise to exist without sponsorship and without interference." [emphasis supplied]
It should be easily seen that any direct assistance, financial or otherwise, given a church by the government, whether it be reduced postal rates or free water, amounts to a form of "sponsorship".
This decision by the Supreme Court also adds support to other very powerful arguments by many that to "grant" a church tax-exempt status is fundamentally unconstitutional because it insinuates that the government has some implied power to tax churches if they are not "granted" such an exemption--somewhat like the U.S. "granting" the Aborigines tax-exempt status. (Wouldn't they be grateful?)
In fact, the argument goes, a church actually surrenders a considerable portion of its constitutional protection by seeking and accepting 501(c)(3) status. By doing so, many constitutional law experts say, they give tacit admission to the government's authority to levy taxes on them if they violate any of the provisions of that tax code.
According to Kevin Theriot, himself a constitutional lawyer, this assessment is fundamentally sound. "Churches have been tax-exempt for years without applying for 501(c)(3) status. If they do not apply they are still tax-exempt. When you apply for and sign onto the government's tax-exempt clause it is somewhat making a deal with the Devil." The interpretation given by many strict constructionist constitutional lawyers is that one who signs the agreements necessary to obtain such status essentially signs away their constitutional rights in that area, thus making them, by implication, subject to a certain amount of control and taxation if they violate the provisions laid down in the clause. This is a control the government has no right to, but exercises it because few will do what The Church at Pierce Creek was willing to do.
Pastor Little also apparently sees it somewhat as a Faustian bargain. When asked what specifically he and his church had lost as the result of the revocation of their tax-exempt status, Little bluntly replied, "absolutely nothing."
The reason given The WINDS as to why The Church at Pierce Creek decided to go to the mat, so to speak, with the IRS, according to Little, was to show openly what rights the government thinks it has over churches. "We will have declared from the highest mountain that this is the kind of authority that the government sees itself as possessing over the church."
As Pastor Dan Little sees it, "Either way we win." If the church loses, Little shared, they expose the American system to be anti-Christ. "If we win, we back the camel's nose out of the tent a little."
Some lawyers have told Little that his case "may be one of the most important cases in the twentieth as well as the twenty-first century in determining where we really stand with a government whose Constitution says they can make no law over the church."
If one were to really open his eyes to the matter, he would realize that the camel has gone far beyond sticking its nose under the tent. It has replaced the legal tenants and come to occupy the master bedroom.
In Johann von Goethe's opera Faust the doctor makes his famous bargain with the Devil, in the person of the diabolical Mephistopheles, in which the doctor agrees to surrender the title deed to his soul in exchange for worldly gain. It would seem that presentation of this analogy should be sufficient, requiring no further explanation -- however...
The question being begged here is that if churches and government are to be mutually invisible, constitutionally speaking, for what purpose does any religious organization go begging the state for financial or any other manner of assistance? How many Australian Aborigines have been seen petitioning for U.S. tax dollars? Why would they? They pay none and have no right to any. Does the church have any more right to hold out its hand to the American taxpayer than those Australian natives?
How many are truly ignorant if the fact is that government never gives anything to anyone without exercising some form of control in the barter? And well the government should because they are acting as stewards of the money they hold in trust for the American taxpayer. If a church, who claims its power and sustenance are derived from God, agrees to waltz with a snake for some form of fiscal support, why then are they so surprised when the creature acts like a snake and strikes? If churches do not want government interfering in religious activities, then, perhaps, churches should consider not demanding "rights" not given them under that Constitution they seem so quick to cite when they don't get their way. The old saying, "Ya gotta dance with the one that brung ya" seems to apply. If one's ticket to the dance comes in the form of government handouts, as many churches receive, then the government has every right to play the tune.
It should be noted here, in all fairness, that The WINDS has no reason to believe that The Church at Pierce Creek has received any governmental assistance. In fact, Pastor Little seemed very much opposed to the idea of going to "Pharaoh" for handouts. There are, however, many church-sponsored charities that do receive federal monies for support of their work and it is these that are being addressed.
Benjamin Franklin once said, "When a religion is good...it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it, so that its professors are obliged to call for help of the civil power, 'tis a sign, I apprehend, of it's being a bad one."
When the spiritual DNA of the Church is amalgamated with that of the beast of government, one does not produce a slightly polluted church. One produces a nice-looking, gentle-appearing beast--but a beast, nonetheless. A beast that will still devour and consume.
A Galilean Minister once said, " My kingdom is not of this world." If that is so, why do so many of His professed followers feed at the breast of worldly kingdoms?
1. American Center for Law and Justice.
2. The Body Politic Vol. 4, No. 5 - May 1994, Page 3.
3. U.S. Supreme Court WALZ v. TAX COMMISSION OF CITY OF NEW YORK, 397 U.S. 664 (1970).
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