WEEK IN REVIEW: The IRS isn't investigating churches
Jehovah’s Witnesses charged with sex abuse, a bad Democrat endorses Creationism, a book burning fail, and more!
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Go vote. That’s it. The election ends on Tuesday, and the stakes are obviously huge. If you’re reading this newsletter, you already know that. But even if you don’t live in a major battleground state, there are undoubtedly down-ballot Democrats who need your support and who would likely support church/state separation, civil rights, and religious neutrality. They would support evidence-based curricula in public schools, push back against right-wing takeovers of city councils, and actually give you hope for statewide office. If nothing else, show your support for the decent people out there with the courage to run for something.
In Brazil, the narrow defeat of Jair Bolsonaro and his evangelical Christian base isn’t just a victory for anti-fascists. It’s huge for the country, the environment, and democracy. Even large religious cults of personality can be defeated by decent people who don’t want their country to run like a de facto theocracy.
Don’t sit this one out.
As always, I appreciate your support through Patreon and Substack, which allows me to pursue these efforts while working on articles and other projects.
The Texas Tribune and ProPublica published a lengthy article this week confirming what atheist activists and white evangelicals have known for decades now: The IRS isn’t doing a damn thing to enforce the Johnson Amendment and stop churches from endorsing political candidates from the pulpit—even though that violates the terms of their non-profit status.
The reporters found 18 churches over the past two years explicitly violating the Johnson Amendment (though I would argue there are many more), all of which avoided penalties from the IRS… so far.
In response to a Freedom of Information Act request from ProPublica and the Tribune last year, the IRS produced a severely redacted spreadsheet indicating the agency had launched inquiries into 16 churches since 2011. IRS officials shielded the results of the probes, and they have declined to answer specific questions.
Just. 16. It’s absolutely pathetic.
Ultimately, this all boils down to one question: If the IRS isn’t going to enforce its rules, then what’s the point of having them?
It’s also interesting to note that a supporter of Democrats, Rev. Jamal H. Bryant, gave one hell of a sermon trashing Senate candidate Herschel Walker that you *need* to hear:
(Before you crown Bryant your new hero, you should know he’s preached against homosexuality in the past and gotten rightly criticized for it.)
During the Freedom From Religion Foundation convention last weekend, there were two speeches from sitting members of Congress (which is a good kind of coup we’re not used to seeing). Reps. Jared Huffman and Jamie Raskin talked about the importance of church/state separation and the threat of white Christian Nationalism.
Four members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, all in Pennsylvania, have been charged with sexually abusing a total of 19 kids (including some of their own) over the course of several years. It’s the result of “hundreds of hours of grand jury testimony” and three years of investigation, and the charges were announced by the state’s Attorney General Josh Shapiro (who’s currently running for governor).
One of the men who was charged took his own life before police arrested him. The others could be locked up for the rest of their lives.
Remember that the Jehovah’s Witnesses have a long disturbing history of ignoring or downplaying sexual abuse claims. Some of that stems from their own awful policies, like the “Two-Witness rule,” which says church elders shouldn’t take a victim’s account of abuse seriously unless another person witnessed it… even though the only other person around may have been the abuser himself.
Yolanda Flowers, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Alabama, made a surprise appearance this week at Dinosaur Adventure Land, the bargain-bin Creation Museum knockoff run by convicted tax cheat and Creationist Kent Hovind.
You may be wondering: How badly must a candidate be polling in order for the candidate to think that’s a good idea?
It was an embarrassing few minutes that was still revealing for what it said about Flowers’ beliefs as well as Hovind’s desperate attempt for relevance.
The Kroger supermarket chain has agreed to a settlement of $180,000 after two Christians who worked at a store in Conway, Arkansas claimed they were fired for religious discrimination after refusing to wear a work uniform with a pro-LGBTQ symbol on it… even though the symbol had absolutely nothing to do with LGBTQ anything.
It was just a multi-colored heart symbolizing their corporate values.
That’s not a rainbow flag. That’s not even a damn rainbow. That’s just a heart in multiple colors.
In response to a viral campaign ad showing (fictional) police arresting a woman who obtained an abortion, Christian hate-preacher Joe Jones said he hoped that hypothetical situation became a reality, adding that he wanted abortion doctors to be mutilated and executed.
All in the name of Jesus…
Mark Ronchetti, the Republican running to become governor of New Mexico, has spent the past few months insisting he’s not an anti-abortion zealot, saying he only wants to ban the procedure after 15 weeks, with “exceptions for rape, incest, and [the] life of [the] mother.” (That’s still extreme, but less so than the most extreme bans.)
You know who doesn’t believe that? Christian pastor Steve Smotherman, who has been telling his congregation that Ronchetti fully intends to ban the procedure entirely and with no exceptions. Ronchetti allegedly told him this in private meetings.
Either Ronchetti or Smotherman is lying… or they’re both liars.
Right-wing atheists are not sending their best trolls:
Jessica Katzenmeyer is running for the Wisconsin State Senate, hoping to overcome the GOP’s statewide gerrymander while also becoming only the second openly trans woman in that position in the country (and first in her state). She’s also a “proud humanist.”
In an interview with OnlySky in which she talked about being a trans candidate, what the stakes are in Wisconsin, and what gives her hope.
We also ran an interview with Pennsylvania General Assembly candidate Meg Rosenfeld, who’s openly humanist. She talked about her religious journey, why she’s running for public office, and why being pro-choice is personal for her.
A Florida family is suing leaders of Gulf Breeze Methodist Church, along with the local Methodist denomination itself, for allowing a pastor to sexually assault their little girl (who’s one of the plaintiffs). That pastor, Ryan Scott Walsh, was just sentenced to 15 years in prison.
The lawsuit says the Methodist church leaders at all levels failed to do enough to prevent the sexual assault. If the lawsuit is successful, I suspect you’ll see several similar complaints filed.
"The Unbelieving," the new off-Broadway play about current and former preachers who no longer believe in God, just got a great review in the New York Times:
"There’s a lot of anguish in 'The Unbelieving.' As it turns out, there’s a lot of courage, too."
I made a video about a Christian dad's awful parenting advice. (I mentioned this in last week’s newsletter!)
The rules are cruel. One item contradicts another. His measure of success is bizarre. The whole list is a hot mess.
Christian hate-preacher Greg Locke held a Halloween bonfire to destroy “witchcraft” artifacts, Catholic symbols, and other things he deems evil… but the rain didn’t help. (God must have been sending a sign.)
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Conservative Dennis Prager lied to the most gullible people on the internet when he claimed prisons aren’t full of religious believers.
Generally speaking, our federal prisons are not filled with atheists. But there are a hell of a lot of Christians behind bars. Here's actual data to back that up.
I probably would’ve just stuck this tweet in the section below, but I was shocked by how viral it went…
You’re going to love everything in this thread for $8/month.
The people who boast about how much they love the Bible never know what’s in it…
Why can’t evangelists just admit an outcome didn’t go their way…?
If you like Gospel music but you’re not a fan of all the religion, the Freedom From Religion Foundation hosted a “Godless Gospel” concert at its recent convention:
Fundamentalist Christian grandmother Lori Alexander, a.k.a. The Transformed Wife, wants you to love your miserable marriage:
And now for your weekly dose of fundie insanity and right-wing preaching:
This week in Atheist Bible Study? Numbers 26: You know what we haven't done in a long time? Take attendance.
(I'm sorry. I'm just the messenger.)
I spoke with my co-host Jessica Greiff about many of the stories in this newsletter during this week’s podcast:
Finally, why didn’t all of you think of this costume?
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