Congressional Hearing as Farce

I covered yesterday’s House hearing on the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” which, if passed, would ban abortions after 20 weeks nationwide. The ranking Democrat on the subcommittee holding the hearing, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (NY), called the hearing a “farce.” Read why at RH Reality Check.



Supreme Court Takes Important Church-State Separation Case

It involves a challenge to the constitutionality of legislative (Christian) prayers in the Town of Greece, NY. Eric Segall, a law professor at Georgia State University and a First Amendment expert, discussed the case with me on bloggingheads. Bonus: I also got to make a Parks and Recreation reference. Watch here.

Headline Doesn’t Match the Content, But…

I had a piece in the Guardian this week about the history of conservative grievances against the Internal Revenue Service:

For anyone who knows the history of the religious right, the possible revocation of tax-exempt status for claimed religious belief is a potent flashpoint. In his book, Thy Kingdom Come: An Evangelical’s Lament,religion historian Randall Balmer argues that contrary to conventional wisdom, which Balmar calls the “abortion myth”, evangelical voters were not propelled to political activism by the supreme court’s 1973 decision in Roe v Wade.

Instead, the issue that mobilized these voters was the IRS’s 1975 revocation of the tax-exempt status of the segregationist Bob Jones University. Rightwing religious architect Paul Weyrich told Balmer that it was “the federal government’s moves against Christian schools” that actually “enraged the Christian community”.

Now some pro-life groups — none of whom were deprived 501(c)(3) status — are complaining that the IRS harassed them with questions. In the piece, I also discuss why, under the law, some of the questions might have been appropriate.

(And the writer doesn’t write the headlines, you know.)



Harassment, or the IRS Doing Its Job–Inconsistently?

Over at the National Memo, I have a piece about how evangelicals and anti-abortion groups are now claiming they’ve been harassed and intimidated by the IRS:

Even before the ink was dry on the Treasury Department Inspector General’s report on the IRS, Franklin Graham, son of evangelical icon Billy Graham, wrote a letter to President Obama, demanding that the president “take some immediate action to reassure Americans we are not in a new chapter of America’s history—repressive government rule.”

Graham contended he was in possession of proof of this dire scenario: Last year, he says, the IRS conducted an audit of two tax-exempt organizations he runs, Samaritan’s Purse and The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. To Graham, this is no coincidence. “[P]rofiling by the IRS,” he lectured the president, “was not limited to conservative organizations; indeed, it extended to religious charities—Jewish and Christian—as well.”

Since Graham’s letter hit the pages of Politico on Tuesday, a number of religious right organizations and individuals have claimed that the IRS targeted them for audits, held up their tax-exempt applications, or subjected them to intrusive questioning, all of which they claim amounts to orchestrated anti-Christian bias.

In Graham’s case, though, the IRS was doing exactly what it is supposed to do. His ministries, both 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations, are barred from attempting to influence the outcome of elections, the precise activity for which Graham admits the agency audited them.

If Graham is right, he’s one of the very few religious organizations audited for electioneering, as the IRS has suspended such investigations owing to its own failure to promulgate the required regulations governing them. There’s more, though: what about the anti-abortion groups who got all the attention at last week’s Ways and Means Committee hearing? Read about that and more here.


Another Watergate? Um, no.

That’s the question I was asked to discuss at the Guardian. Here’s a snippet:

When the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities held its first Watergate hearing 40 years ago today, it was, by most accounts, a dull affair. Describing five hours of “mostly colorless and snail’s-pace testimony,” the Washington Post observed that Senate investigators did not seem inclined “to sacrifice thoroughness – or, when necessary, even boredom – for sensationalism, just to hold the TV audience”. The New York Times characterized the first day as “low-key,” noting that the committee “took pains today to assert dedication to a careful, undramatic search for facts”.

You can read the whole thing here.

Women Praying Versus Fundamentalist Men

Earlier this week on my bloggingheads program, I discussed the Israeli group Women of the Wall, and their confrontations with ultra-Orthodox Jews over praying at the Western Wall, with Open Zion’s Sigal Samuel. She has argued that this was a watershed moment for Israeli feminism. We discussed, among other things, the background of this controversy, including the brutal arrest of the Anat Hoffman, group’s leader, last year and whether American Jews will be able to play a role in resolving this issue? You can watch the whole video here.

Coming soon!

Blog at