Justice Sunday, all dressed up
Esther Kaplan printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Jan 02, 2006 at 06:10:50 PM EST

Well, confirmation hearings on Samuel Alito's Supreme Court nomination begin next week in the Senate, so it must be time for  Justice Sunday III, a January 8 Christian right confab to rally support for Bush's campaign to remake the federal courts. You may recall the first Justice Sunday, last April, when Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist took heat for appearing on a program that accused Democrats of being "against people of faith" for filibustering some of President Bush's most conservative judicial nominees. This time around, faced with defending a nominee who doesn't believe most racial discrimination cases deserve their day in court, the Family Research Council has stacked the program with black conservatives such as former Georgia state rep Alveda King, Bishop Wellington Boone of Atlanta, and Rev. Herbert Lusk of Philadelphia.

FRC identifies Alveda King as the "daughter of the late slain civil rights activist Rev. A. D. King," Martin Luther King Jr.'s brother, in order to burnish her civil rights credentials. The only problem is A.D. died by drowning in a swimming pool accident.

In contrast to Martin Luther King's widow, Coretta Scott King, and King's son, Martin Luther King III, Alveda is a fierce opponent of gay unions, who has declared that the only purpose of sex is "procreation." Once a progressive Democratic state rep in Georgia, Alveda caught the eye of conservative activists in the 1990s for her support of taxpayer-funded vouchers for private schools; it was Alan Keyes' presidential campaign manager who helped her form her nonprofit organization, King for America. Her rightward turn--including switching her party affiliation in 1998--spelled the end of her political career (she badly lost a bid for City Council President in Atlanta), but the beginning of a new career as a far-right hanger-on. She was named a fellow at a conservative think tank, appeared side by side with the likes of Newt Gingrich, worked with the American Family Association to boycott Disney for featuring gay characters in some programs, and has attended meetings of the Republican National Committee. She's also become a prominent spokesperson for the pro-life cause, claiming that abortion is destroying black culture.

Wellington Boone, a clergyman from Georgia, is best known for his regular appearances at Promise Keepers rallies. But he, too, has cultivated GOP connections, appearing last May, for example, at a press conference with Bill Frist to support the president's nomination of anti-abortion right-winger Janice Rogers Brown to a federal judgeship. In his book Your Wife is Not Your Mama, he characterizes masturbation as "sex with demons" and at one televised rally against gay marriage in 2004, where he shared the platform with Focus on the Family's James Dobson, he brought the crowd to its feet with his rousing anti-gay rhetoric: "If God says in Leviticus for mankind to lie with mankind and womankind with womankind...is an abomination, I'm going to tell you, I'm in agreement with God!... We're standing with God on this one!"

Rev. Herbert Lusk, known as the "Praying Tailback" when he played football for the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1970s, is playing host for the event. Lusk was an associate of John DiIulio, the short-lived first director of President Bush's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, and has served as an important booster of Bush's pet program and of Bush himself, even risking his church's nonprofit status to endorse Bush from the pulpit on a live video feed to the 2000 GOP convention. Lusk's church, Greater Exodus Baptist, is also the recipient of at least $1 million in federal faith-based grants.

The Christian right is an overwhelmingly white movement, but its leaders have exerted tremendous energy in recent years to create a very different public image, especially by means of courting conservative African American clergy who oppose gay marriage. Pronouncements and publications such as Concerned Women for America's "Homosexuals Hijack Civil Rights Bus" accuse gay rights advocates of exploiting the history of the civil rights movement to advance their cause. Justice Sunday III's African American-heavy lineup is the product of years of careful cultivation and spin.

Most of the other speakers at Justice Sunday III--Tony Perkins, James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, and Senator Rick Santorum--are more than familiar to readers of this blog, though they promise to be in fine form. In promoting the event, Perkins has declared war on "militant atheists and their judicial activist allies," and Santorum may use the opportunity to repair relations with the Christian right, damaged by his loyalty to Sen. Arlen Specter during Specter's last, tough reelection campaign and his battle to remain chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee--Specter having been targeted for defeat as a RINO (Republican in Name Only) by the far right for his pro-choice views.

as long as they're the "right" kind. In fact, quite a few of them are even paying $30 apiece to have breakfast with her later this month.

Democrats for Life of America
Hosts its annual
Pre-March for Life Breakfast
with Dr. Alveda King
Monday, January 23, 2006
9:30 am - 11:30 am
served in the Sky Room

Hotel Washington
15th and Pennsylvania Ave, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20004

$30 a plate might mean it'll be a heavy breakfast -- with ham, sausage and bacon -- but no matter. They'll walk it all off on their leisurely stroll to the Supreme Court, right alongside the Army of God.

It's most little-D democratic of all of them, I'm sure.

by moiv on Tue Jan 03, 2006 at 01:25:29 AM EST

...or, for that matter, make a complaint regarding certain non-profit "godcasters":

Yes, as per usual, Dominion Satellite dba Sky Angel will be broadcasting Justice Sunday III on Sky Angel Two starting at 7pm on 8 January.

(Among other things, this may be a chance to actually get videotaped evidence of lobbying, which can cause MOST of these groups to lose their tax-exempts.)

Sky Angel, for those unaware, is the dominionist-run DBS network that has carried the previous two Justice Sunday events on their in-house channels to churches and religiocasters; normally, Sky Angel will broadcast it live and then TBN will play the taped meetings.

Again, this may be a good chance for someone with connections, or who knows a nearby satellite store that carries Sky Angel (I am hesitant to recommend anyone actually subscribe to it, as this DOES give dominionists money, but it may be worth it on an intelligence angle for groups like Media Matters or Defcon America that actively monitor religious right programming).

by dogemperor on Tue Jan 03, 2006 at 08:15:54 AM EST

except possibly for the sponsoring church, but even then it is a judgement call.

I am not up on the current regs, but some public advocacy has always been allowed. It is measured in how instutions expend their resources, not in what events are held. The line is far more strictly drawn on candidates.

Before anyone expends any time looking for violations of the 501(c)(3) tax code, it is good to know enough about it to be able to make a reasonable judgement. Americans United for Separation of Church and State has historically been the most active on these issues. DefCon has joined in more recently.

Since Justice Sunday is a very high profile event, I would guess that these outfits will have it covered.

It is the far less prominent institutions and events that merit grassroots monitoring for tax code violations.

by Frederick Clarkson on Tue Jan 03, 2006 at 11:29:36 AM EST

It may not just be an issue for the church--most dominionist groups are actually registered as 501(c)3's, and dominionist groups outside of churches have in fact been busted in past (most notoriously the Christian Coalition, which ultimately had to reorganise as a 501(c)4 and even then lost its tax exempt status for the better part of a decade, and more recently Focus on the Family (which lead to Family Research Council's existence, ironically enough; FRC was originally 501(c)4 but has since changed its status to 501(c)3).  Whilst some lobbying on general causes is allowed, explicit promotion of a political party or of a candidate for a political position is supposedly forbidden, though.

There are actually only a very few groups--Eagle Forum and Traditional Values Coalition, as well as some state affiliates of Focus on the Family and state branches of the National Right to Life Convention--that are legally organised in such a way that they can legally lobby on behalf of specific candidates (notably, those groups are tax exempt but donations to them are not tax deductible).

I do agree, though, that Defcon American and Americans United will probably cover this thoroughly (as will People for the American Way).

I also agree that it is the lesser-known groups we also need to watch out for.  (Most people know about the Justice Sunday stuff--far fewer know about stuff like the Ohio and Texas Restoration Projects, or how the Kentucky AFA is effectively run from a pentecostal church in the Louisville area.)

One thing too--this sort of stuff is worthy to note because--especially in a church with a definite hierarchial structure like the Southern Baptist Convention--one could make the argument this is showing a pattern of misbehaviour.  (One of the things people generally aren't aware of re the first church participating in Justice Sunday--Highview Baptist (in Louisville) is effectively the "home church" of the Southern Baptist Seminary (where much of the dominionist hijacking of the church was spearheaded) in that pretty much both students attending and the leaders of the seminary preach there--Al Mohler, among others, is a head pastor.  I also have to wonder if the Nashville church where Justice Sunday II was held is linked to the SBC's headquarters (the SBC annual meetings, and the SBC's headquarters, are in Nashville).)

In the cases of entire religious denominations that are explicitly dominionist, I do think that care needs be taken in documenting abuses in churches affiliated--especially because, in some cases, all churches in a denomination get their tax exemption from a parent church.  (I know this is the case with churches with firm hierarchies--less so in the case of the AoG, Calvary Chapel or Vineyard churches (as the requirements for those churches merely require signing of a statement of faith and paying money--in some ways, those denominations operate almost as a hybrid between conventional denominations and parachurch groups).

My main reason for noting we may want to monitor this is to not only note where they may be crossing the line but--notably--also have documented evidence on file if and when they do cross the line.

Also, it should be noted that a lot of smaller churches (not just the church doing the broadcast) tend to participate in Justice Sunday, so one of the areas that needs monitoring is churches that are participating outside of the SBC churches actually holding the conference.  (Again, this may be an area where general misbehaviour throughout a denomination may be discovered.)  

I'll admit I'm coming from a viewpoint of someone who was formerly involved in these groups and knows all too well that there tends to be very much of a "public face" and a "private face" that these organisations show--the "private face" being to their own members, of course.  I may be excessively paranoid, but I have a gut feeling that the whole Justice Sunday, and in particular Justice Sunday III, is very much a "private face" affair, so to speak. shrugs

by dogemperor on Tue Jan 03, 2006 at 12:40:15 PM EST

But your history is incorrect. The Christian Coalition was never a c3, was always a c4, and had to reorganize because it was in violation of its c4 tax status.  Having written the original expose article raising questions about the CC's behavior, I think I am in a good position to say.

That said, I am not particularly an advocate of the approach you suggest. It takes a lot more knowledge about the relevant laws and regulations, and a good sense of what constitutes good evidence to make this an effective tactic.

I see a lot of advocacy for this kind of activity, but not a whole lot of action.

Whats more, the IRS has revoked only one church tax exemption -- ever.

More relevantly, the IRS closed in on a precessor to the Christian Coalition known as the Freedom Council, which was a c3 and in flagrant violation of the tax code. The Freedom Council shut down in the run up to the 1988 presidential primaries as the IRS was closing in.

If anyone is interested in this general area, I would advise contacting Americans United for Separation of Church and State which nationally has done more actual monitoring than anyone else, and actually filed formal complaints with the IRS. Their expertise would be useful to draw upon.

by Frederick Clarkson on Tue Jan 03, 2006 at 02:39:24 PM EST

For starters, thanks for the correction--I had seen a source that claimed the Christian Coalition was originally a 501(c)3.  My apologies for the error and confusion there.  (I'm still amazed they did get their 501(c)4 yanked, though; as it is, the Christian Coalition only has a 501(c)4 now due to a consent decree that states their voter's guides must be unbiased.  In other words, they're on double-secret probation with the IRS.)

In regards to the "one church that had its tax exempt yanked", I'm curious on this, and if you mean federal or state yanking.  (I know locally here that Southeast Christian--the largest megachurch in Kentucky and one of the "Unholy Trinity" of churches heavily involved in dominionist movements in Louisville--has had its tax exempt status stripped for a six-month period before.  Not sure if that's federal or state suspension, though.)

Regarding going after tax exempt statuses in general...no, I don't think it should be the main approach.  I do think it can be a useful tool to a) keep churches from getting themselves involved in dominionist activity and b) as a stick to use against those dominionist groups that are completely unrepentant.  (A huge part of the funding of the dominionist movement comes from churches that encourage their members to donate to the AFA and similar groups.  In some cases, dominionist organisations--like state AFA branches, or Vision America--are actually run from churches that sympathise with the dominionist movement.  These are the churches and groups you are likely to be unable to even have a dialogue with because they're already demonising your group and calling its members the literal spawn of Satan.)

I do understand where you're coming from, though. :3  I'll admit a lot of where I am coming from on this is, well, as a walkaway from a spiritually abusive dominionist church that is part of a denomination with a very long history of both spiritual abuse and involvement in the dominionist movement (and can legitimately be stated as having founded some important aspects of dominionism).  My concern is making sure that the country isn't hijacked by these folks and I'm not forced back to the group on pain of death.  (And yes, they do preach in their churches that is pretty much what will happen.)  For me, it is sadly deeply personal, and I'll admit I get panicky at times about it.

Regarding AU and their experience with this--yes, they have a lot of experience with this because, well, AU is just about the only group that has gone after egregrious abuses of tax-exempt status in an organised manner.  I'm saying we may well need more watchdogs, so to speak.  (Defcon America's report line is a welcome step in this direction.)

I can see your concern--basically the real worry with this is that we'd be essentially playing "whack-a-mole".  I'm coming from this with the perspective of trying to deny a major source of funding for dominionism (the abuse of tax-exempt status for what are essentially partisan lobbying efforts--especially in churches themselves).  I'm sort of coming from the "starve the beast as one of many, many ways to make sure they don't take over the country" angle of things.

The specific reason I suggested recording this is that one of the real stumbling blocks with groups trying to prove violation of 501(c)3 status is showing hard proof of it.  (Generally the one way that AU has been able to do this is by people reporting distribution of voter's guides in churches and showing the IRS examples of these--even then, it's difficult to establish the chain of evidence, so to speak.)  This is a rare opprotunity to have, on videotape, evidence of illegal lobbying.  That was my point, and I apologise if I wasn't all that clear on it.

(And yes, I myself do report violations of tax-exempt status when I can.  This includes cases where I've literally found AFA Kentucky members deliberately leaving the partisan Freedom's Heritage Forum guides in poll booths on election day (yes, this was reported to the voting board, and yes, Simon's group did get warned--in fact, what got Southeast Christian's tax-exempt pulled for a short time was finding Freedom's Heritage Forum voting guides being distributed by the church along with other electioneering).  If AU would likely act on the info I've sent to Defcon America, I'd be glad to send it their way too. :3)

Just to note where I'm coming from on this, and yes, I do understand where you're coming from, really.  (If I'm being panicky, let me know, please.)  

(And my apologies for not responding earlier.  I've been feeling positively bletcherous for the past few days :P)

by dogemperor on Wed Jan 04, 2006 at 08:13:29 AM EST

I think one of the keys in talking about these kinds of things are the stories, like the one you told about electioneering. It is helpful for people to know what specific groups did, and what was done about it and to what end.

The only chuch to lose its federal tax status was the Church at Pierce Creek, where Randall Terry was formerly an elder. The complaint was filed by AU; I wrote about the case in Eternal Hostility, but it was resolved long after the book was published. I don't know what happened at the state level. But you raise an interesting point about state regulations. It may be that there are advantages in filing complaints with state authorities. But the relevant laws and regs will probably vary greatly state by state.

One of the things I hope we can all try to do more of here is to evaluate the efficacy of the various things we do. What works, what doesn't and why. What is the best use of our limited time and resources? Particularly as individuals and small groups.

by Frederick Clarkson on Wed Jan 04, 2006 at 10:46:39 AM EST

According to a piece by Laurie Goodstein in today's New York Times, Lusk's church and associated charities have received more than $1.7 million from Bush's faith-based initiative. The piece also notes that Lusk claims the IRS dropped its investigation of him for violating his 501(c)(3) status in endorsing Bush from the pulpit, on behalf of his church.

by Esther Kaplan on Thu Jan 05, 2006 at 11:59:01 AM EST

Family Research Council announced today that "Christian nation" advocates David Barton and D. James Kennedy have been added to the Justice Sunday III lineup.

by Esther Kaplan on Fri Jan 06, 2006 at 12:23:55 PM EST

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