Commission on Religious Financial Structures Reveals Christian Bias in Panel Appointments

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On Tuesday, the Secular Coalition for America criticized the Commission on Accountability and Policy for Religious Organizations, for appointments to its panels reviewing financial accountability of tax-exempt religious organizations, including churches.

The commission was formed at the request of U.S. Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) to “spearhead an independent national effort to review and provide input on major accountability and policy issues affecting [religious] organizations.” They announced the names of the panelists, Thursday, September 8, 2011, revealing that two-thirds of the 66 members of three panels have connections to Christian organizations or churches.

“By selecting a majority of Christian-affiliated members for so-called independent panels, this commission cannot possibly arrive at any respectable or objective conclusions about the fiscal and political responsibilities of churches and other houses of worship,” said Herb Silverman, president of the Secular Coalition for America.

 The Commission on Accountability and Policy for Religious Organizations was designed to investigate issues including whether churches should be required to file similar tax paperwork to other nonprofit organizations, including Form 990; whether legislation is needed to curb flagrant abuses of tax breaks for clergy housing; whether the current prohibition against political campaigning by churches and other nonprofits should be repealed or modified; and, whether legislation is needed to clarify tax rules covering “love offerings” received by some clergy.

The commission released the names of members selected for three panels; the Panel of Nonprofit Sector Representatives, the Panel of Religious Sector Representatives, and the Panel of Legal Experts. These panelists will give their recommendations to the commission, which has already been condemned by church-state watch groups for its all-Evangelical membership.

“How religious organizations and churches are taxed and how they account for their money is not a religious issue,” said Amanda Knief, government relations manager of Secular Coalition. “If the commission wants a true evaluation of current law and practices an independent commission and panels would include a more diverse cross-section of faiths and experts.”

Background information on the Grassley commission and IRS exemptions for religious organizations can be found here: http://secular.org/issues/IRS_factsheet

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