WorldPeace absolutely objects to tax exemptions for Godless groups
Religion has to do with spiritual issues and all religions acknowledge a God: whether it be an anthropomorphic supreme being as in Judaism, Islam and Christianity or an all inclusive undefinable essence as in Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism. Confucianism only obliquely acknowledges God because it is more a humanist philosophy like the Ethical Society of Austin.
Tax exempt status must be reserved for religions and religion must be defined as holding a belief in God.
In addition, in today's society where tele-evangelism has shown us just how corrupt and perverted religion can be (Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggert) I am not sure that allowing these giant tele-evangelism businesses tax exemption for all their activities is justified but I will continue to support that tax exempt status.
As governor, I will do absolutely everything I can to redefine the law to restrict tax exemptions to religious organizations which acknowledge God.
The next governor of Texas
December 20, 2001
Court alters what state calls religion
Humanist group in Austin wins tax-exempt status reserved for deity-based religious organizations
By Ken Herman
Thursday, December 20, 2001
A judge in Austin, playing traffic cop at the precarious intersection of church and state, on Wednesday gave the green light for religious tax exemption to a local group that does not require its members to believe in a supreme being.
State District Judge Paul Davis' decision, 11 months after he heard the case brought by the Ethical Society of Austin, said former Comptroller John Sharp erred by denying the exemption to the small group.
"The court finds that ESA, in its pursuit of the 'Ethical Ideal,' acts like a traditional religion and functions as a traditional religious organization for its members," Davis said in a six-page order.
The case is largely a symbolic one. The group owns no property and pays very little in state taxes.
Groups that get the religious exemption do not have to pay any levies, including the sales tax and local property taxes.
State Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander, who became the defendant in the case when she replaced Sharp in 1999, said the decision could have dire consequences.
"I absolutely am going to appeal that decision as far as we have to appeal it," she said. "Anyone who dresses up and parades down Sixth Street on Halloween will be applying for an exemption."
Austin lawyer Peter Kennedy, who represented the Ethical Society, welcomed the decision and criticized Rylander's reaction.
"The ruling poses no threat to Texas taxpayers and opens no door to fakes," he said, adding that the society "plays the same central role in its members' lives as do other religions for people of other faiths."
"This time of year, and this year particularly, it is a shame to see politicians publicly trivialize the depth and variety of human religious experience," he said.
The case began in June 1997 when the Ethical Society, which meets on alternate Sundays in rented space at the Senior Activity Center in Central Austin, was briefly granted tax-exempt status by Sharp.
A day later, after reading about the decision in the newspaper, Sharp undid it, claiming it was improperly granted by his staff.
Sharp said he was adhering to a long-standing principle of denying the exemption to groups that do not require their members to profess belief in a supreme being.
Sharp declined to comment on Wednesday's court ruling.
At the time of the June 1997 rulings, Sharp was preparing to run for lieutenant governor, a race he lost by a slim margin to Republican Rick Perry, who became governor when George W. Bush became president.
Sharp, a Democrat, is running for lieutenant governor again. He is expected to face Republican David Dewhurst, now the land commissioner, next November.
Rylander filed for re-election on Wednesday. Democrat Marty Akins also is seeking the job.
The Ethical Society of Austin, affiliated with a movement that traces its roots to 1876, describes itself as "a humanistic religious organization that espouses the doctrine of ethical culture, which is inspired by the ideal that the supreme aim of human life is to create a more humane society."
In his order, Davis said Texas law provides little guidance in determining what is a religion and what isn't.
"It is agreed that there is a line; it is not clear as to where to draw the line, or which organizations fall within the line and which organizations fall outside the line," he wrote.
After reviewing conflicting textbook definitions of religion — and noting that Ethical Society groups have been granted religious tax exemption in other states — Davis decided that the Austin group is a religion for state tax purposes.
He pointed out that its members hold regular meetings, offer Sunday school classes and celebrate "life-cycle rituals."
"The search for something beyond the power of humankind is exactly how ESA treats its pursuit of the Ethical Ideal.
"The 'ideal' is a goal to strive for, it is a mystery, an ultimate concern, a power beyond an individual," Davis wrote. "The evidence before the court indicates that ESA acts like a traditional religion in its pursuit of this ideal."
You may contact Ken Herman at firstname.lastname@example.org or (512) 445-1718.