Commission to Study Religious Financial Structures Excludes All But Evangelical Christians

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A commission formed at the request of U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) to “spearhead an independent national effort to review and provide input on major accountability and policy issues affecting [religious] organizations” today announced that all of its 15 members are evangelical Christians, provoking criticism from church-state watch groups who cited the lack of independent and non-evangelical representatives as evidence of the commission’s bias.

“Stacking this so-called ‘independent’ commission with people representing only one narrow religious viewpoint is entirely inappropriate,” said Sean Faircloth, executive director of the Secular Coalition for America. “There is an epidemic of flagrant tax abuse by certain religious organizations in this country. True reform cannot come if we’re receiving guidance only from those who are directly benefitting from tax loopholes and other inequalities in our system. Who on this panel represents the average American taxpayer?”

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housing; whether the current prohibition against political campaigning by churches and other nonprofits should be repealed or modified; and, whether legislation is needed to clarify tax rules covering “love offerings” received by some clergy.

“In order for this panel to be considered a trustworthy arbiter of standards for all nonprofit organizations, it absolutely must include representatives from other religious denominations and secular nonprofits,” said Bonnie Cousens, executive director of the Society for Humanistic Judaism. “Evangelical Christian organizations are not the only groups affected by tax laws, nor should their leaders be given the only official platform to recommend reforms.”

“It’s bad enough that scores of religious leaders in this country continually abuse our tax codes to line their own pockets,” said David Silverman, president of American Atheists, “now we’re allowing some of these same people to monopolize the only opportunity given to examine church financials and expose the malfeasance we all know exists. The conflict of interest is obvious.”   

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

The Secular Coalition for America is a 501 c(4) organization that serves as the national lobby for atheists, humanists, freethinkers, and other nontheistic Americans. Composed of ten diverse member organizations, SCA works to protect and strengthen the secular character of our government as the best guarantee of freedom for all. For more information, please visit www.secular.org.

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