Is this Bible legislation legal? Quick, call and ask my pastor!

No fooling, the following lede comes not from the satire publication The Onion but from a real newspaper — the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

Legislation that would make the Holy Bible the official state book of Louisiana cleared the House Committee on Municipal, Parochial and Cultural Affairs with a vote of 8-5 Thursday afternoon. It will now head to the full House of Representatives for consideration.

Rep. Thomas Carmody, R-Shreveport, originally filed a bill to declare a specific copy of the Bible, found in the Louisiana State Museum system, the official state book. But by the time he presented the proposal to the committee, he changed language  in his legislation to make the generic King James version of the Bible, a text used worldwide, the official state book.

Um, the generic King James version? Is there a non-generic King James version?

But peel back the layers, and this story just keeps getting more Onion-y:

Carmody said his intention was not to mingle religion with government functions. “This is not about establishing an official religion,” he said.

Still, Legislators became concerned that the proposal wasn’t broad enough and did not reflect the breadth of Bibles used by religious communities. In particular, some lawmakers worried that singling out the King James version of the Bible would not properly reflect the culture of Louisiana. The Catholic Church, for example, does not use the King James text.

“Let’s make this more inclusive of other Christian faiths, more than just the ones that use the King James version,” said Rep. Stephen Ortego, D-Carencro.

Read on, and see if the quote below makes your jaw drop like it did mine:

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Where’s the other side in atheist lawsuit story?

Religion News Service had an interesting story recently about atheists challenging Uncle Sam over nonprofit financial reporting.

It’s a pretty straightforward account:

Nonbelievers are challenging the Internal Revenue Service’s special exemptions for religious organizations in a federal court in Kentucky, saying churches and other religious groups should have the same financial rules as other nonprofit groups.

If they prevail, it will change the tax-exempt status of churches and other religious organizations, and require the same transparency of donors, salaries and other expenditures that secular nonprofits must currently meet.

So far, so good.

Then comes this quote:

“This is a very strong case,” said Dave Muscato, public relations director for American Atheists, a national advocacy group and lead plaintiff in the case. “It seems to be straight-up discrimination on the basis of religion.”

Wow, the public relations director and lead plaintiff thinks it’s “a very strong case.” I’m sorry, but that made me chuckle. He’s not exactly an unbiased source.

I kept reading:

The case centers around who must file IRS Form 990, an annual reporting statement that provides information on a group’s mission, programs and finances.

Current tax law requires all tax-exempt organizations to file a Form 990 financial report — except churches and church-related organizations. A few state, political and educational organizations are exempt as well if their annual revenues fall below certain amounts.

This means the IRS treats religious organizations differently than it does all other organizations, the suit holds. It claims the IRS policy is a violation of the First Amendment and the due process promised under the Fifth Amendment.

The deeper I got into the story, the more I wondered if RNS would quote anyone besides the atheists.

The answer: Not really.

Perhaps RNS felt like it satisfied its journalistic responsibility with this note:

IRS spokesman Anthony Burke said the agency’s policy is not to comment on pending litigation.

But given the broad complaints made about churches and church-related organizations, why not quote a religious source?

Earlier this year, Bob Smietana wrote a piece for USA Today about the federal government trying to give a tax break to Annie Laurie Gaylor, head of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

From that story:

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Religion ghost in school voucher story?

School vouchers aren’t exactly a new concept.

In my education reporting days — before I ascended to Godbeat heaven — I covered the Oklahoma City school system for The Oklahoman.

In a front-page Sunday story in 1999, I highlighted the opposing viewpoints in Oklahoma at that time:

In a nation that cherishes separation of church and state, talk of publicly funded religious schools stirs emotional debate.

“School vouchers are just another way that the religious right wing is attempting to destroy our school system,” said Everett Ernst, 54, a Democrat who lives in Oklahoma City.

Indeed, the 35,000-member Oklahoma Christian Coalition is pushing for vouchers.

But Kenneth Wood, the coalition’s executive director, said the only motive is fairness.

The way Wood sees it, every child already has a full-paid scholarship to receive an education.

“Right now, they can only use the scholarship at one designated school,” Wood said.

Later in that piece, I boiled down the debate this way:

When the legislative session starts Feb. 1, Oklahoma lawmakers will debate school-choice issues ranging from parent-run charter schools to open transfers between public school districts.

No school-choice issue, though, inflames the public — or the politicians — like vouchers do.

Savior for the poor or welfare for the rich? Needed competition for a government monopoly or a move to destroy public education?

God-given choice for all taxpayers or an unconstitutional mingling of public dollars and religious entities? So goes the debate.

Vouchers made a cameo appearance in a 2004 episode of “The West Wing,” when the White House lobbied the Democratic mayor of Washington, D.C., to reject a voucher pilot program approved by Congress. But instead, the mayor insisted that he wanted the money, to the chagrin of President Bartlet:

BARTLET
You start handing out tuition vouchers for private school, you’re sending the message that it’s time to give up on public schools.

MAYOR
With all due respect, Mr. President, no one gets to talk to me about giving up on public schools. I assume I’m the only person in this room who actually went to public school.

BARTLET
And you couldn’t be a better advertisement for them.

MAYOR
Kids weren’t bringing guns to school in my day.

BARTLET
Republicans want to spend more on D.C. education, they should spend it on public schools.

MAYOR
We spend over $13,000 per student. That’s more than anywhere else in the country, and we don’t have a lot to show for it.

BARTLET
But if we start diverting money away from public schools, that’s the end of public education.

If you happened to catch that episode, some of the arguments in a front-page New York Times story today will sound familiar.

In fact, the lede reads almost as if the Times reporters and editors just landed on Earth from outer space and discovered this strange new phenomenon:

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