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Tilting at Windmills

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June 27, 2009

THIS WEEK IN GOD.... First up from the God Machine this week is the resolution of a recent controversy involving the late Jerry Falwell's college in Virginia, which no longer wanted to allow its students to organize an official Democratic student group on campus.

Liberty University's College Democrats again will be recognized by the school after the two sides reached a compromise, school and club officials say.

Controversy ensued last month after the school announced it was revoking official recognition for the chapter, citing moral beliefs held by its parent organization. Specifically, Liberty was upset with the national Democrats' views supporting abortion rights and same-sex marriage.

In an agreement announced Tuesday, whose terms begin with the fall semester, Liberty will classify all political clubs as "unofficial" -- meaning they will not receive any funding from the institution, but can use its facilities. According to the university's new policy, posted on its Web site, such groups will be able to use Liberty's name "as long as they make it clear they are not being endorsed by the university."

As compromises go, this may not sound like much of a deal for the College Dems, but Liberty will now at least treat College Democrats and Republicans equally.

"We had no policy governing unofficial clubs before all of this controversy," Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr. said in a statement. "The new policy will allow Liberty to protect its Christian mission and at the same time will allow the political clubs to achieve their objectives."

College Democrats Secretary Jan Derwish told CNN, "Our goal throughout this whole situation was to be put on the same playing field as our counterparts. I believe it is a fair compromise."

Liberty had more to consider than bad publicity and magnanimity -- the evangelical college was facing an IRS complaint because it's a tax-exempt institution that wanted to favor one political party over another. The compromise effectively ends the controversy.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* The drive to make the visitor center on Capitol Hill a little more religious is gaining steam: "The House Administration Committee has unanimously approved a resolution directing the Architect of the Capitol to engrave the National Motto -- 'In God We Trust' - and the Pledge of Allegiance inside the new Capitol Visitor Center."

* And this week, when South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R) returned to the United States and acknowledged his adulterous affair, he made an oblique reference to "C Street" in his remarks. The comment has renewed interest in a secretive spiritual haven in D.C.: "On any given day, the rowhouse at 133 C St. SE -- well appointed, with American flag flying, white-and-green-trimmed windows and a pleasant garden -- fills with talk of power and the Lord. At least five congressmen live there, quietly renting upstairs rooms from an organization affiliated with 'the Fellowship,' the obsessively secretive Arlington spiritual group that organizes the National Day of Prayer breakfast, an event routinely attended by legions of top government officials. Other politicians come to the house for group spirituality sessions, prayer meetings or to simply share their troubles."

Steve Benen 10:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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Perhaps some will see this as off topic:

"Horror of Kenya's 'witch' lynchings"

Posted by: jhm on June 27, 2009 at 10:57 AM | PERMALINK

The Fellowship, huh? Shadowy organization with lots of money and little scrutiny catering to the needs of rightwing fanatics....sounds like perfect fodder for a new Dan Brown novel. I wonder if Tom Hanks would be available for the movie version?

Posted by: Curmudgeon on June 27, 2009 at 10:59 AM | PERMALINK

Curmudgeon - Same thought I had when I read this article by Steve M. I mean these guys make DaVinci Code look tame. This is also the same group Typhoon Mary kept telling us to ignore back in the carpetbagger days, when Harpers linked Hillary to them.

Posted by: Danp on June 27, 2009 at 11:05 AM | PERMALINK


Posted by: アットローン on June 27, 2009 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

And this is the group, according to Jeff Sharlet's book "The Family", that participated in the overthrow of Chile's democratically elected president, Salvador Allende, and opened the door to the murderous scheme that brought General Augusto Pinochet to power. The same group that gave succor to the Indonesian dictator Suharto, responsible for the murder of 602,000 (though scholars estimate the death toll at two or even three times greater) of his countrymen, most notably the two hundred thousand inhabitants of East Timor - nearly a third of the island's population. Associations all mediated through the outwardly pious guise of National Prayer Breakfasts to which such unsavory characters, and many others of their ilk, were invited and participated. The same group whose leader, Doug Cole, frequently alluded to Hitler, Stalin and Mao Zedong as supreme examples of the will to power. A charming group for the upright Christan to belong to, would you not say?. You should read the book.

Posted by: Goldilocks on June 27, 2009 at 11:16 AM | PERMALINK

"the Family," the organization that runs "C Street" that Steve has alluded to here, is a very shadowy, very dangerous very far right fundamentalist organization dedicated to the promotion of a theocratic dictatorship to be gained by converting "the leading men" to their idea of "Godly leadership."

For those who would like to know more, I highly recommend "The Family: The Secret fundamentalism At The Heart of American Power" by Jeff Sharlet. For those who don't wish to pay for the book, I highly recommend you google "Jeff Sharlet and The Family" - there are many articles he has written (he's the leading non-member authority on these people) and they are a very real education.

Posted by: TCinLA on June 27, 2009 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

I don't think it is a good idea to give addresses of congressmen out in blogs. There is no good that can come from this and a great potential for harm

Posted by: candideinnc on June 27, 2009 at 11:20 AM | PERMALINK

Wow - talk about GMTA! :-)

Posted by: TCinLA on June 27, 2009 at 11:20 AM | PERMALINK

Falwell and Liberty should get no credit whatsoever for the "compromise." They only did it to keep their federal funding. As far as both groups being put on a "fair footing," I'm not holding my breath that that will be true.

Posted by: karen marie on June 27, 2009 at 11:24 AM | PERMALINK

Sanford missed the new GOP instructional video: http://bit.ly/24bf6

Posted by: richard on June 27, 2009 at 11:27 AM | PERMALINK

Posting the address on a weblog is not akin to a "Loose Blogs sink Hypocrites" moment. The AP first wrote about this in 2003. Just for one of them, google Zach Wamp - In the Wiki section, there is a link to "The Family" - The address, including the various politicos living there, is posted.

Interesting that this organization was founded by a Norwegian living in Seattle, who was extremely anti-communist and anti-union. Perhaps, the great Harry Bridges stepped on his poor toes in Ballard. But, they do know how to co-opt both sides of the aisle. Gives more meaning to the last dust-up over the National Prayer Breakfast, which they sponsor.

Posted by: berttheclock on June 27, 2009 at 11:42 AM | PERMALINK

"On any given day, the rowhouse at 133 C St. SE -- well appointed, with American flag flying, white-and-green-trimmed windows and a pleasant garden -- fills with talk of power and the Lord. At least five congressmen live there, quietly renting upstairs rooms from an organization affiliated with 'the Fellowship,' the obsessively secretive Arlington spiritual group that organizes the National Day of Prayer breakfast, an event routinely attended by legions of top government officials.

Fans of Doug Marlette's Kudzu comic strip from a couple of decades back will remember Rev. Will B. Dunn's ministry to the well-to-do.

"The Fellowship" seems to be treading similar ground with their ministry to the politically powerful.

I'm sure the politically powerful need ministering to just as much as anyone, but focusing spiritual succor specifically at them seems to be at odds with the Gospels. Jesus would be spinning in His tomb, if He hadn't resurrected.

Posted by: low-tech cyclist on June 27, 2009 at 11:58 AM | PERMALINK

very dangerous very far right fundamentalist organization dedicated to the promotion of a theocratic dictatorship to be gained by converting "the leading men" to their idea of "Godly leadership."

Which was, of course, the central change and tenet of Ayatollah Khomeini's revolutionary doctrine in the late 1970s: that the concept of theocratic "guardianship" could be extended from the realms of the personal and spiritual to the operation of entire states, which would be run by "theocratic guardians" of the faith. From this expansive leap, literally a leap of faith, came the hardcore Islamic Republic born in the taking of American hostages and which continues to be a thorn to the west even today.

whats that? TC wasn't talking about Iran? oops. sorry. it sounded so similar. . .

Posted by: zeitgeist on June 27, 2009 at 11:58 AM | PERMALINK

Here's a link to Sharlett's 2003 Harper's article on "The Family": Link.

But you should really read the book.

[Warning: after reading the book I became kind of a raving conspiracy theorist for a month. I still am, sort of.]

Posted by: S.G.E.W. on June 27, 2009 at 12:02 PM | PERMALINK

Why glory be, the "spiritual haven" is a tax haven too. Praise the l*rd. The taxpayer giveth, and Youth on a Mission, (how old are these jokers anyway?), keepeth.

The comment below is from the comments section at the article's WaPo website:


vtreacy wrote:
FranknErnest, donks: The house is exempt from property taxes. The DC tax assessment files can be searched at: https://www.taxpayerservicecenter.com/RP_Search.jsp?search_type=Assessment

No tax payments are shown. Ensign lives at 133 C St SE. The property is Tax Type E1, Religious. The Members live in a tax-free property. Most of those who live in the District have to pay property taxes, or pay rent to landlords who pay property taxes. These Senators and Representatives say some prayers in the dining room once a week, claim their flophouse as a church, convent or monastery, and pay sub-market rent for their rooms. They are sponging off the taxpayers of the District, and will not even vote to give them representation in Congress.

The AP said: “The house, valued at $1.1 million, is owned by the C Street Center, a sister organization of the Fellowship. It received more than $145,000 in Fellowship grants between 1997 and 2000, according to IRS records — including $96,400 in 1998 for reducing debt. Its tenants dine together once a week to discuss religion in their daily lives.”

I asked earlier why it is exempted from property taxes as a religious property and subsidized by a tax-exempt religious organization! It is a private residence! Why? Still waiting, but not one of their defenders answered.
6/27/2009 3:43:35 AM

Posted by: burro on June 27, 2009 at 12:20 PM | PERMALINK

when fascism comes to the united states it'll be the bible wrapped in the flag... and you can bet your ass on that...

Posted by: neill on June 27, 2009 at 12:26 PM | PERMALINK

liberty's choice is actually quite obvious. they don't believe the gov't should be giving money to people for things they should do for themselves. it's the libertarian solution.

which is too bad for the students of liberty; i knew some students a liberal liberal-arts college, and they blew all their club's money on pot and beer.

Posted by: inkadu on June 27, 2009 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

Hey, Steve, try being more, ahem, BIPARTISAN in reporting on religious hypocrisy by politicians.

Just 10 days after claiming "God would deliver her," Detroit City Councilwoman Monica Conyers, wife of Rep. John, pled guilty to a federal bribery charge.

We antitheists, especially ones not beholden to the two-party duopoly, would appreciate it.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on June 27, 2009 at 1:56 PM | PERMALINK

Have Democrats reversed some egregrious religious intrusions, like creationism at Grand Canyon facilities and the militant zeal at the USAF Academy? I expect and hope so. If not, that's another failure of "change".

Posted by: Neil B ♪ on June 27, 2009 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

What? Nothing on how, in Kentacky (typo, but I like it and won't correct it), it's "If you want to talk to God, bring a gun"? I was sure it would make the cut of this week's TWIG, it's so bizarre... It was front page in yesterday's NYTimes:

Posted by: exlibra on June 27, 2009 at 3:04 PM | PERMALINK

On a completely unrelated note, C-Street is the name of the gay bar in Champaign, IL, (where U of I is located).

Posted by: ns on June 27, 2009 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

Shouldn't that read, "In the God-'s' We Trust" since the view of a God varies so widely we can't possibly be referring to the same entity.

National day of prayer is political blackmail ("Are you refusing to pray?") since it is assumed everyone is praying to the same God which might infuriate some 7th day Adventists.

Never mistake, these same people who are trying to drive the word "God" into our institutions are actually using it as a guise to drive "religion" into our government. I wouldn't trust Falwell's God to protect my son's life...he might be pissed at the gays down the street and just wipe out the whole city. My God is entirely different...doesn't get pissed.

My God is not so insecure that he needs to have his name pounded into every building we build. Hell, he's almost on every street corner now.
Keep it personal and private and out of government. The potential for corruption is glaring. We don't need a "Government God".

btw...is it true...the right wing republican party is actually cloning experiments gone awry...that entities like Coulter and Malkin and others are "products" and not "really" human. Enquiring minds etc.

Posted by: bjobotts on June 27, 2009 at 4:59 PM | PERMALINK

A pastor in Kentucky invited his flock to bring their guns to his Pentecostal church today--looks like about 200 showed up with their firearms.

Banners on the wall read "In God we Trust".

Posted by: Insanity on June 27, 2009 at 7:39 PM | PERMALINK

Insanity, @19:39:

That's what I was writing about @15:04. And just to add the cherry on top of the bizarro-pile, the pastor's name is "Pagano"... :)

Posted by: exlibra on June 27, 2009 at 11:53 PM | PERMALINK

I add my name to the read Sharlet's "The Family" group. It really explains a lot of how America got so far off the path our Founding Fathers tried to keep us from leaving. It will make you sick, furious and somewhat overwhelmed.

Then you realize that the information gives us the understanding of our enemy we have not had. That knowledge carries tremendous power - if we learn how to use it.

I may reread Drew Westin's "Political Brain".

Posted by: Ginny in CO on June 28, 2009 at 3:19 AM | PERMALINK

The Liberty University situation is typical conservative hypocrisy. They continually accuse "liberal" academia of political correctness, but when was the last time you heard of a university banning the College Republicans?

As for the C Street folks, aren't they called The Family, not The Fellowship? The former sounds even creepier, IMO.

Posted by: Nancy Irving on June 28, 2009 at 7:10 AM | PERMALINK

Several of Sharlet's pieces for Harper's are online. Google it.

Posted by: Nancy Irving on June 28, 2009 at 7:13 AM | PERMALINK

I haven't read the family, but i think everyone should go back and read Sinclair Lewis' "it Can't happen here" and "Elmer Gantry.' Also read Arendt's Origins of Totalitarianism.

Posted by: illduce on July 1, 2009 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

burro, thanks for reposting my note from the Comments at the Washington Post. Since then, I looked up the law. I think their tax exemption is illegal.

Recently, Senator John Ensign of Nevada took it upon himself to add an amendment on the Senate floor to the D.C. voting rights legislation. The amendment would have repealed virtually all gun control laws in the District.

Last Friday, Washington Post described the rowhouse at 133 C St. SE, and said at least five congressmen live there, quietly renting upstairs rooms from an organization affiliated with "the Fellowship." The Post reported that �The house, which is assessed at $1.84 million, is registered to a little-known organization called Youth With a Mission of Washington DC.� The Post did not report that the property is exempt from property taxes as a religious property E-1.

The house at 133 C St SE is exempt from property tax as religious E-1. This does not appear to be legal. The DC tax law is clear: exempt property must be used for worship, study, training, and missionary activities, or be reasonably required and actually used for the carrying on of the activities and purposes:

DC ST � 47-1002
Chapter 10. Property Exempt from Taxation
Title 47. Taxation, Licensing, Permits, Assessments, and Fees.

Only the following real property shall be exempt from taxation in the District of Columbia:

(13) Churches, including buildings and structures reasonably necessary and usual in the performance of the activities of the church. A church building is one primarily and regularly used by its congregation for public religious worship;

(14) Buildings belonging to religious corporations or societies primarily and regularly used for religious worship, study, training, and missionary activities,

(15) Pastoral residences actually occupied as such by the pastor, rector, minister, or rabbi of a church; provided, that such pastoral residence be owned by the church or congregation for which said pastor, rector, minister, or rabbi officiates; and provided further, that not more than 1 such pastoral residence shall be so exempt for any 1 church or congregation;

(16) Episcopal residences owned by a church and used exclusively as the residence of a bishop of such church;

(18)(A) Grounds belonging to and reasonably required and actually used for the carrying on of the activities and purposes of any institution or organization entitled to exemption under the provisions of �� 47-1002, 47-1005, and 47-1007 to 47-1010.

So: A property use as a residence is not exempt, unless used by the pastor. I have checked the records and found that if a church buys a private house, it stays on the tax rolls, even if a church staff member is allowed to rent it.

133 C St SE is a residence and should not be exempt from the property tax.

Why are these Representatives and Senators allowed to do this? The answer is in the Constitution itself, Article 1, section 8:

�The Congress shall have power � To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States.�

Clinton special prosecutor Ken Starr has said that this clause is a unique and sovereign power, extraordinary and plenary, majestic in its scope, national in its highest sense, and part of the Article which granted all the other great powers which make the nation So the folks in Congress have absolute power over the District.

As Lord Acton wrote in 1887, �Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.�

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