What. In. The. Hell?

The IRS demanding to know the content of some religious groups’ prayers?

Obama’s IRS continues to look better and better. Meanwhile, even the Onion is starting to notice the stench.

At the very least, this is a spectacular failure of oversight for Obama, with whom the buck stops. What remains to be seen is how far up the command chain this stuff goes.

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  • I’ve had some prayers of the faithful at my rather confused previously heterodox now turning orthodox parish cross the line, in both ways. I think the one calling Romney a heartless bigot, and the one calling Obama a liar, were the two worst.

  • wlinden

    That is either “What in Hell?” or “What the Hell?”

  • Rosemarie


    This doesn’t surprise me. People applying for a religious exemption from vaccination in NY state are subjected to a “Sincerity Test,” in which they are grilled about their religious beliefs in order to determine whether they are “sincere” in them or just using the religious exemption as an excuse:


    I read somewhere that, under the new national healthcare law, people who claim a religious objection to health insurance may be subjected to a similar “grilling” and judging of their religious beliefs. You’d think that “separation of church and state” would mean that the state can’t run a kind-of religious inquisition, but that’s what is happening in at least one state and looks like it may go nationwide. The HHS mandate is all about the federal government deciding what constitutes a “religious institution” and what doesn’t; once again, something the state should not do if there is truly a wall of separation between it and the church. So the IRS asking prospective non profits about the content of their prayers is sadly not surprising. Absurd and wrong, but not surprising.

    • wlinden

      “People applying for a religious exemption from vaccination in NY state
      are subjected to a “Sincerity Test,” in which they are grilled about
      their religious beliefs in order to determine whether they are “sincere”
      in them or just using the religious exemption as an excuse:”

      Much as I hate to say this, there are reasons for trying to establish that someone is not just making up a “religion” off the top of his head. Even within the “body modification community”, there is dispute on whether the “Church of Body Modification” is really religious, since there is no perceptible doctrine except “thou shalt pierce at they will”, invoked as “religious” grounds. And I would rather not go into the details of the infamous case of the “Church of the Most High Goddess”, which the courts found was a front for prostitution– again, because there was no theological framework for it.

      Would you be sanguine about it if one of the purported “Jedi” around claimed a “religious exemption” for brandishing his “light saber” at people?

      • Rebecca Fuentes

        After some of my on-line discussions with them, I would be fine allowing a Church of Veganism. Aren’t there some hoops to jump through before someone can be considered a minister of a some religion or faith? I would think that having an officially recognized clergy or leader of some sort would probably be an appropriate litmus test.

        • kenofken

          The IRS has long-standing guidelines for determining whether a religion is “bona fide” for purposes of tax exemption. They’re not supposed to render judgment on the theology and practice of the religion in question, only that it does have such things. They want to see some evidence that it can articulate a theology or philosophy of life and death and has some sort of structure and services and perhaps clergy, and is something real-world people look to for spiritual guidance or enlightenment. They want to establish whether real world people take this seriously as a church or vs “The Church of Drinking Beer in Jim’s Garage ’cause he don’t like paying taxes”, with a membership of him and his carpool buddies.

          • Rebecca Fuentes

            I think my brother wants to start that church. 🙂

            I was thinking of people who receive the certification needed to perform marriages, but those aren’t always associated with a specific religion, I think. It probably isn’t handled by the IRS, either.

            • wlinden

              That is another whole can of worms, as New York found in Covenant of the Goddess vs. Dinkins, when it tried to defend its dual standard of licensing “clergy” for the self-styled-mainline religions and everyone else.

              • kenofken

                I’m not familiar with that case, though I do know a bit about CoG and was in fact married by someone with their clergy credentials. The last case I know of in which a state took heat for marriage licensing requirements was last year in Virginia, when they gave a Wiccan priestess some static, and it got resolved with a well-placed attorney’s letter.

      • Rosemarie


        We’re not talking about people making up a phony religion as a front for something else or to dodge taxes. We’re talking about ordinary parents seeking a personal religious exemption and being subjected to a grilling in which they are asked questions such as these:

        “Do you have conversations with God? Does He tell you not immunize? If God is on your side, can He be on the side of those who immunize? If God created man and man created vaccinations, how can accepting vaccines represent a mistrust in God? Have your religious beliefs changed in two years?” (actual questions from the link I provided above).

        Does the state really have the right to question a person’s religious convictions like that? I thought church and state were separate in the US. Keep in mind that most of the other states that offer a religious exemption just require a letter from the parents and then take their word for it, without putting them through such an intrusive line of questioning. Why does NY feel the need to subject people to that?

        As far as brandishing “light sabers” goes I’ve never heard of anyone needing an exemption for that so it’s apples and orange. Not in the same league as the immunization requirement.

        • kenofken

          The overwhelming majority of people who oppose vaccination do not do so on religious grounds. There are no religions of which I am aware which bar vaccination as a matter of doctrine.

          There is an anti-vaccine philosophy which recycles some elements of 18th Century Protestant theological objection, which was never even a majority consensus among them. Vaccine objection is rooted in an understandable but misguided sense of safety coupled with a body of pseudoscience like homeopathy. It’s evident that most vaccine objectors are not driven by deep religious conviction on the matter. In their online forums, they openly speak of how to gin up a religious objection letter because it’s legally bulletproof.

          That puts government in an awkward position. We want to give people room to exercise their deeply held beliefs of conscience, but if we don’t apply any sincerity test, the regulation in question is meaningless. A classic example is conscientious objector status for military service. It will get you out of combat duty, but you have to show some track record of belief and be able to articulate something about that belief system. If last-second and insincere “conversions” to pacifism are tolerated during a war and draft situation, you don’t have an army.

          Personally, I think the government ought to get itself out of the no-win business of trying to judge people’s motivations regarding vaccination. It should be very simple: No vaccination, no admission to public schools or daycare programs and no public medical coverage for people who forgo vaccination and then come down with an epidemic disease that could have been prevented. Exemptions would be allowed for one reason: A determination by mainstream medical doctors that the risk of a vaccine outweighs the benefit for THAT person. An example might be a child who is fighting leukemia or has a documented history of vaccine-induced injury etc.

          The Jedi example is fatuous, though it does highlight a principle at play here. Freedom of religion is not absolute. The government can restrict it if there is a compelling interest like public safety AND if that regulation is not drawn in such a way as to unfairly impact one religion.

          There are in fact cases which involve the intersection of weapons regulation and religion. Sikhs are supposed to carry a knife of sorts as part of their religion. Courts have tried to find ways to balance that vs safety.

          • Rosemarie


            Don’t Christian Scientists and other groups that object to medicine on religious grounds also bar vaccines as part of that?

            Re: “track record,” what if someone sincerely converts to a different religion, as so adopts a new set of beliefs and practices which she didn’t hold before? There will be no “track record” yet that doesn’t mean the person’s current convictions aren’t real.

            I think a good answer would be to allow a philosophical exemption rather than a religious one, which a few states already do. That way the state won’t have to judge a person’s religious beliefs and people with no religious faith won’t have to “gin up a religious objection.”

            As for a medical exemption, it’s not always easy to get one of those in NYS either. The school board has its own doctors who can overrule what other physicians say, even without ever personally examining the child.

            • kenofken

              Christian Scientists are tough to pin down on this issue. Apparently they don’t bar vaccination or even conventional medical treatment per se, but have a faith model that downplays their use relative to prayer and faith. I suspect Christian Scientists represent a fairly small portion of vaccine objectors.

              As to the track record issue, of course people do have changes of faith and conscience. That goes back to the “sincerity test” we spoke of earlier. You can’t ever know for sure what’s really in someone’s heart or head, and it’s not a healthy thing for government to spend too much time delving into that, but I think it’s reasonable to expect that someone who has a conversion experience at an especially convenient time should be able to at least articulate something about their new belief and what led them to it. Letting people flagrantly abuse conscience exemptions sort of cheapens it for people who really do live by those beliefs.

              Philosophical objections certainly would be easier to police, but at that point, you don’t really have a mandatory policy anymore, just a recommendation. I mean who doesn’t have a philosophical objection to having the government tell them anything? At that point, it’s all hole and no net.

              I have a decent libertarian streak in me, believe it or not, and I would leave the government out entirely but for the public safety dimension. Parents who don’t vaccinate are not just making decisions for their own kids. That being the case, I’d rather get the case out of this cat-and-mouse game of “sincerity tests” and just cut to the quick of the matter: Unless vaccination is demonstrably unsafe for your kid, get it done, or home school, and sign a waiver that assumes responsibility for all medical bills that might result from the skipped vaccine.

          • wlinden

            “It’s evident that most vaccine objectors are not driven by deep
            religious conviction on the matter. In their online forums, they openly
            speak of how to gin up a religious objection letter because it’s legally

            Which is why I brought up the “Church of Body Modfication”, which has no evident purposes other than to “gin up a religious excuse” — like some freshly created anti-vaccination “churches”. (I will not discuss the “Church of the New Song”, which appears to at least have an ideology behind it.)

            “The Jedi example is fatuous”

            Maybe, but complain to the Jedi kn-ig-its, not me.


            • kenofken

              The beauty of separation of church and state and the First Amendment is that groups like Jedi really pose no special problems. If someone can articulate some sort of coherent theology and some group of folks takes inspiration from it to help them grapple with the big questions, it’s not the government’s concern whether that theology or mythology is “real.”

              If the Jedi or whoever else wants to assert a religious right to carry lightsabers or wear hoods in public, again, no special problem. It if has status as a sincerely held belief by the claimant, weigh the issues as you would for any other religion. Don’t color the decision with any ridicule or special treatment you wouldn’t give a Catholic or a Jain, and it’s all good. If the exercise of their right is outweighed by legitimate public interests which cannot be met in some less intrusive way, and if that restriction is not drawn around this one group, the courts can tell them, in legalese, to go pound. As an aside, if contemporary Jedi solve the physics of plasma confinement and power density sufficient to produce a working lightsaber, give them a Nobel, whatever the legal outcome….

      • Billy Ten Eyck

        This is all irrelevant. NOONE has the right to question the religious conviction of others in their beliefs, ESPECIALLY for the purposes of trying to FORCE them to be vaccinated!!! I’d love to talk to one of those people…God help them if they every try that crap with me.

  • bob

    By all means, give them all the theological material you can! The Summa, in Latin, the Talmud, every text of every Catholic or Orthodox prayer EVER in the original Greek, Slavonic, Arabic, Syriac, Armenian. Make these dogs pull that sled. If they ask for it, give it to them. And DEMAND a thorough analysis of every last text. They won’t do it twice.

  • Gleichschaltung

    Would it be over reactionary or premature to be grateful that certain tax exempt organizations haven’t been made to sport an IRS issued six pointed yellow star?