Jay Sekulow fleeces donors for big money

“Blessed are those who pretend to be persecuted, for they shall reap truckloads of cash and live like Hollywood stars.”

No, that’s not from the Bible. It’s my paraphrase of Bob Smietana’s scrupulous piece of investigative journalism for The Tennessean:Christian crusaders cash in: Sekulow’s family, firm collect millions.”

Jay Sekulow is the head of the American Center for Law and Justice. The legal charity was founded in 1990 by televangelist and former Republican presidential candidate Pat Robertson to be a kind of sectarian variation on the ACLU. The ACLJ has since become a kind of organizational embodiment of the weird persecution complex that drives the behavior of much of America’s privileged majority religion.

Sekulow also runs the closely associated charity CASE (“Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism”). According to The Tennessean’s Smietana:

Since 1998, the two charities have paid out more than $33 million to members of Sekulow’s family and businesses they own or co-own, according to the charities’ federal tax returns, known as form 990s.

One of the charities is controlled by the Sekulow family — tax documents show that all four of CASE’s board members are Sekulows and another is an officer. …

Over the past two decades ACLJ has argued for legitimate cases in defense of the free exercise of religion, including the 1993 Lamb’s Chapel case. That case involved equal access to public facilities for religious groups. A school in New York state allowed outside groups use of the premises when school was not in session, but sought to deny the Lamb’s Chapel group that same access.

The ACLJ joined the ACLU in defending the religious group’s right to equal access. That alliance illustrates the difference between the ACLU and the ACLJ.

The ACLU, as its name indicates, exists to defend the civil liberties of anyone in America. In 1993, that meant defending the right of a conservative evangelical church group to show a series of James Dobson films in a public facility that was supposed to be open to all. That same year it also meant defending the religious freedom of a congregation of Santeria practitioners in Hialeah, Fla.

Here’s the summary of the Hialeah case from Oyez.org:

The Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye practiced the Afro-Caribbean-based religion of Santeria. Santeria used animal sacrifice as a form of worship in which an animal’s carotid arteries would be cut and, except during healing and death rights, the animal would be eaten. Shortly after the announcement of the establishment of a Santeria church in Hialeah, Florida, the city council adopted several ordinances addressing religious sacrifice. The ordinances prohibited possession of animals for sacrifice or slaughter, with specific exemptions for state-licensed activities. …

The ACLU fought to defend civil liberties and religious freedom in both Lamb’s Chapel v. Center Moriches Union Free School District and Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah because that is what the ACLU does: It defends civil liberties and religious freedom.

The ACLJ fought for religious freedom and civil liberties in Lamb’s Chapel because the plaintiffs were evangelical Christians. The ACLJ did not fight for religious freedom and civil liberties in Hialeah because the plaintiffs in that case were not evangelical Christians. This is what the ACLJ does: It defends the interests and privileges of evangelical Christians in legal disputes.

The ACLU, of course, is much larger than the ACLJ, and it might just be that the smaller group took a walk on Hialeah in order to preserve its limited resources by focusing only on particular cases involving a particular sort of plaintiffs.

But that’s not what’s going on with the ACLJ. It’s not just focused on protecting the rights of one particular religious sect — it actively opposes the free exercise of those rights by other sects. The ACLJ, for example, has been at the forefront of efforts to bar Islamic congregations from simply purchasing private property for their own use — such as the Manhattan cultural center that ACLJ mischaracterizes as “the ground-zero mosque” (it’s neither a mosque nor at ground zero).

This distinguishes the ACLJ not just from the ACLU, but from most religious groups here in America. Most religious groups recognize that a threat to the religious liberty of any sect is a threat to the religious liberty of all sects. That’s why a host of religious groups filed amicus briefs in Hialeah in support of the Santeria church. All of the major Christian denominations did so, as well as several different Jewish groups, the Mormons and a wide assortment of groups representing those who usually have to check the box marked “other” on surveys asking about their religion. Hialeah’s statute, they all said, clearly restricted the Santeros’ free exercise of religion and therefore clearly violated the First Amendment.

The Rehnquist Court agreed, emphatically — ruling 9-0 in favor of the Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye. The decision was celebrated by all those other religious groups as a victory. None of them was directly affected by the statute or directly relieved by its being overturned, but they recognized that a threat to the religious freedom of Santeros was also a threat to their own religious freedom and that defending their own rights also entails defending those rights for others.

Sekulow & Co. don’t seem to understand that. Or else they understand it, but just don’t care. That’s why I say that the ACLJ doesn’t exist to defend civil liberties and religious freedoms, but rather that it exists to defend the interests and privileges of evangelical Christians.

Or that’s what I used to say about the ACLJ before reading Bob Smietana’s excellent reporting in The Tennessean.

After reading that, I no longer believe that the ACLJ’s reason for existence has anything to do with the sectarian interests of the evangelical Christians it nominally defends. I now believe it exists only to keep Jay Sekulow and his relatives rolling in cash and luxuriating in the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed.

Since 1998, the two charities have paid out more than $33 million to members of Sekulow’s family and businesses they own or co-own, according to the charities’ federal tax returns, known as form 990s. …

Among the payments since 1998:

  • $15.4 million to the Constitutional Litigation and Advocacy Group, a law firm co-owned by Jay Sekulow. According to the 2009 tax form, he owns 50 percent of CLAG. The firm was known as the Center for Law and Justice when it received some of the payments.
  • $5.7 million to Gary Sekulow, Jay Sekulow’s brother. He is paid for two full-time jobs — as CFO of both the American Center for Law and Justice, or ACLJ, and Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism, or CASE. In 2009, his combined compensation topped $600,000.
  • $2.74 million in private jet lease payments to Regency Productions, a company owned by Jay Sekulow, and PFMS, a company owned by his sister-in-law, Kim Sekulow.
  • $1.78 million to Regency Productions for leasing office space and media production.
  • $1.11 million to PFMS for administrative and media buying services.
  • $1.6 million to Pam Sekulow, Jay Sekulow’s wife, including a $245,000 loan from CASE, which she used to purchase a home from the charity. The balance of the loan was later forgiven over several years and reported on the 990s as income.
  • $681,911 to Jay Sekulow’s sons, Logan and Jordan, for media work and other duties at CASE. …

A donor to ACLJ wouldn’t know how much Sekulow is earning from his work with the organization, even though he is described as CEO, chief counsel and board member on its tax forms. ACLJ reports that Sekulow has taken no salary since 2002.

However, ACLJ’s 2009 tax form shows it paid $2,382,770 to the law firm 50 percent owned by Sekulow — Constitutional Litigation and Advocacy Group. The fact that the law firm is half-owned by Sekulow is not found in ACLJ’s tax filings. Hoover confirmed that the law firm pays Sekulow, but the firm does not disclose how much Sekulow is paid. The firm’s office address is in a building owned by CASE.

In addition, Sekulow was paid $85,747 by CASE in fiscal year 2009. …

In a phone call, Ronn Torossian, a public relations executive serving as ACLJ’s spokesman, portrayed Sekulow as a great lawyer getting by on modest pay.

“You are asking about one of the most successful lawyers in the country whose income is very small and owns a very small home,” he said.

Property records show Jay and Pam Sekulow own three homes, including one they bought in 2008 in Franklin for $655,000 and another in Norfolk, Va., bought in 2005 for $690,000. Their third home, which once belonged to CASE, is in Waynesville, N.C., and is assessed at $262,800, according to Haywood County, N.C., tax records.

  • Kevin

    It never ceases to amaze me that most Christians critical of the ACLU haven’t the slightest idea how many Christians they’ve defended. Hell, they defended Jerry Falwell once. 

  • LL

    Hey, everybody! Look over here! It’s personal injury attorneys fleecing hard-working corporations with bogus lawsuits! Pay no attention to that Sekulow guy, he’s small potatoes! It’s plaintiffs’ attorneys who are bankrupting American business with their business-killing “pain and suffering” awards!

    Works best if you imagine one of the anchorbots on Fox News saying it … 

  • Anonymous

    Not to mention the fact that the biggest supporters of tort reform tend to overlap with people who think we don’t need government regulation because the courts will settle everything.  Needless to say, that would be a double-whammy for victims of corporate negligence should both goals be realized.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    LOL small home

    He loves them so much he bought three!

    Wish I could buy houses like fucking potato chips, man.

  • Mr. Heartland

    You know, the insistence that wealth is proof of virtue just might encourage corruption. 

  • Tonio

    One interfaith website carries entries by Jordan Sekulow. I thought having Cal Thomas as a commentator was bad enough, but somehow the moderators managed to find the one theocrat who infuriates me even more than Thomas. One Sekulow piece even attempted to hijack the legacy of Martin Luther King, when the movement he represents is the spiritual legacy of hateful men like Rev. Bob Jones.

  • Randy Owens

    Houses: Betcha can’t buy just one!

  • Anonymous

    To them, helping a minority is an assault on their rights. The ACLU’s assistance is like getting a glass of water from  the guy who cut off your left arm. The gesture is nice but hardly makes up for their failure to embrace sectarian hegemony.

  • WingedBeast

    Welcome to the expression of Magic Line Sociological Theory.

    Magic Line Sociological Theory states that there is border or barrier between what can be done to one person in one category and what can be done to another in another category.  This barrier isn’t made of any specific characteristics that we can observe.  Simply put, some people are just in a category that cannot be treated poorly.  That category can be a very tight venn diagram, for instance, white conservative heterosexual Christians… but only the Real True Christians.

    Other expressions of Magic Line Sociological Theory are expressed when someone expresses excited concern over the possibility of Sharia Law enforced in America in the same breath that they endorce Old Testament Law enforcement, when someone claims that only the lazy can ever be poor in America, whenever anybody suggests that any group of people should “just shut up”.

    Adherants of Magic Line Sociological Theory also argue against minority rights on the basis that the majority is not, yet, ready.  Examples include Women’s Sufferage, ending Segregation, and Gay Marriage.

    It’s not like there isn’t evidence to support this.  Consider the favored poem by Martin Niemoller

    When the Nazis came for the communitss, I remained silent; I wasn’t a communist.When they locked up the social democrats, I remained silent; I was not a social democrat.When they came for the trade unionists, I did not speak out; I was not a trade unionist.When they came for the jews, I remained silnet; I wasn’t a Jew.When they came for me… they couldn’t come for me.  That kind of thing can’t happen to me!

    There may be a different version floating around.

  • http://www.bawdyhouse.wordpress.com James Hanley

    Not entirely on point but The Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye v. the City of Hialeah, Florida is the most euphonious Supreme Court case title in our country’s history.

  • Tom S

    When they came for me, they couldn’t find me, because it turned out I had been them all along

  • Anonymous

    But not the best; that would have to be United States v. Forty Barrels and Twenty Kegs of Coca-Cola, 241 U.S. 265

  • MaryKaye

    The Supreme Court decision on _Hialeah_ is quite fun to read; the Court mocks the Hialeah law ruthlessly, calling it a “legal gerrymander” for its frantic attempts to make Santerian animal sacrifice illegal without making animal euthanasia, kosher and halal butchers, or animal experimentation illegal–all without mentioning religion.  (Kosher butcher:  someone says a prayer over an animal, kills it and sells it to be eaten.  Santerian animal sacrifice:  someone says a prayer over an animal, kills it and hands it out to be eaten.  Good luck drawing that line!)

    I know of at least two other cases where mainstream Christian denominations came in to support a minority religion.  A Pagan worship group in Florida got a lot of help (regarding their right to home worship meetings) from the Baptist Womens’ Association; and a Pagan church here in Washington State got some unexpected help from the Catholic Archdiocese after film of their stone circle was shown as backdrop for an unrelated story on Satanism.  Many Christians are very supportive of religious freedom.  It’s too bad about these other bozos.

  • Anonymous

    That’s plain old tribalism, just with a larger in-group.

  • Tehanu

    No, no.  The best case ever is Boring
    v. Buncombe County Board of Education, 1998

    I only wish the San Francisco law firm of Low, Ball, and Lynch had been among the attorneys.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    Now, now – you’re just not reading with enough precision! If real estate prices in NC are anything like prices around Philadelphia, Sekulow’s $262,800 house probably isn’t a mansion. So he does own “a” smallish home (and we just won’t talk about the two big ones, okay?). [/sarcasm]

  • Anonymous

    I am a big fan of organizations such as the ACLJ.  They present a perfect win-win scenario. 

    Even rich Republicans have a limit on how much they are willing to donate to promote odious causes.  The more of these donations that get directed to hucksters, the better.  If said hucksters use it for stuff like private jets, that means that these funds are paying wages for pilots, mechanics, and so forth:  a much better use for the country than buying congress critters. 

    Then when a scam like this gets exposed, it discredits odious advocacy groups in general.  If some rich Republican reads about the ACLJ, the next time some group hits him up for a donation he might decide to buy a bigger boat instead.  If the group was honestly odious, then this is a clear net positive.

    The best possible outcome would be the ACLJ’s donors circling the wagons and throwing yet more money at it.  But that might be too much to hope for.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    I still don’t like the fact that hucksterism in the ACLJ exists to begin with. People like Sekulow pander to artificially created feelings of persecution and retrenchment among USA Christians who woefully misunderstand what their Constitution does and does not permit, and who also do not understand that for all the Hollywood LOL CHRISTIANS stuff that they like to wail on about, society as a whole has given secular succour and support to their professed faith.

    So people like Sekulow try to rip people off and try to use the courts to legally alter the fabric of American society in ways which disadvantage non-Christians.

    Win-win for only a very select portion of the populace. >_>

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Welcome to the expression of Magic Line Sociological Theory.

    Wanting to know more about it, I tried Googling “Magic Line Sociological Theory”.  

    This comment page was the first link.

  • Nightsky

    Who won? And what did the Coca-Cola have to say in its own defense?

  • Viliphied

    You know, this comment made me think of something.  These groups all view responsibility as binary, exclusive and competitive, and they view rights the same way.  Someone else having more rights means that they have fewer.

  • Mathbard

    The 40 barrels and 20 kegs won. And pretty much nothing. The government was arguing that Coca-Cola “contained an added poisonous or added deleterious ingredient: caffeine, which might render the product injurious to health” and that the name was misleading because there’s not much, if any, coca or cola in the soda. Supreme Court basically told the government that they were being stupid and sent the case back to the lower court.

    One result was the Pure Food and Drug act was amended to include caffeine in the list of potentially harmful or addicting substances, so it has to be listed on anything that includes it.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_v._Forty_Barrels_and_Twenty_Kegs_of_Coca-Cola

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    But not the best; that would have to be United States v. Forty Barrels and Twenty Kegs of Coca-Cola, 241 U.S. 265

    You know, I thought this was an asset forfeiture case at first.

    Discussed here or here.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    But not the best; that would have to be United States v. Forty Barrels and Twenty Kegs of Coca-Cola, 241 U.S. 265

    You know, I thought this was an asset forfeiture case at first.

    Discussed here or here.

  • Anonymous

    But not the best; that would have to be United States v. Forty Barrels and Twenty Kegs of Coca-Cola, 241 U.S. 265

    You know, I thought this was an asset forfeiture case at first.

    My thought was that this was the case that made them stop putting cocaine in Coke.  Because the barrels and kegs were convicted of drug trafficking.

    But apparently they’d already stopped putting the cocaine in Coke by then.

  • Anonymous

    But not the best; that would have to be United States v. Forty Barrels and Twenty Kegs of Coca-Cola, 241 U.S. 265

    You know, I thought this was an asset forfeiture case at first.

    My thought was that this was the case that made them stop putting cocaine in Coke.  Because the barrels and kegs were convicted of drug trafficking.

    But apparently they’d already stopped putting the cocaine in Coke by then.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    It’s dated 1916, so it’s from an era well before the practice of suing people’s houses and cars to seize them without the bother of the burden of proof demanded by criminal trials. I’m getting away from the thread, though.

    It’s still an interesting study of how those that have some money and political power sometimes try to use the courts not for righting injustices, but purely to grind axes or to perpetuate new injustices.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    It’s dated 1916, so it’s from an era well before the practice of suing people’s houses and cars to seize them without the bother of the burden of proof demanded by criminal trials. I’m getting away from the thread, though.

    It’s still an interesting study of how those that have some money and political power sometimes try to use the courts not for righting injustices, but purely to grind axes or to perpetuate new injustices.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    It’s still an interesting study of how those that have some money and political power sometimes try to use the courts not for righting injustices, but purely to grind axes or to perpetuate new injustices.

    Like Fox almost suing itself.

  • WingedBeast

    Sorry about that.  I just made the name up.  Be sure to credit me with the internet meme.

  • Green Eggs and Ham

    I like your juxtapositioning of Hell and Jerry Falwell.

  • Joe Pineapples

    When they came for me, there was no one left to speak. It was just silence. I was taken and disappeared like all the others. Didn’t stand up for anyone else, so no one was left to stand up for me… 

  • Anonymous

    the coca-cola did, actually, by arguing that it wasn’t misnamed and that caffeine wasn’t an “adulterant” within the meaning of the pure food and drug act 


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