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Tony Perkins / November 4, 2017

GOP Tries to Stop IRS After Years of a Tax

There’s a reason Washington hasn’t had major tax reform in 30 years — it’s not easy! At more than four million words, the tax code is a nightmare of complexities.

There’s a reason Washington hasn’t had major tax reform in 30 years — it’s not easy! At more than four million words, the tax code is a nightmare of complexities. As Rep. Dave Camp once joked, it’s twice the size of the Bible — with no good news! In most people’s minds, bringing a serious plan to the table to fix the system is half the battle. Thursday, Republicans were the latest to try, introducing their much-anticipated Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) to get the ball rolling on one of the president’s biggest priorities.

The goal, leaders say, is to plow through the bill by Christmas, giving families a little extra jingle in their pockets at the holidays. That’s a tall task, say most experts, who greeted the proposal with mixed reviews. President Trump, who made slashing the corporate tax rate to 20 percent a condition of supporting the bill, says the plan is a great first step. Calling the cuts “the rocket fuel our economy needs to soar higher than ever before,” he welcomed the plan — but made it clear that this is just the beginning of the debate. Like most Republicans, White House officials warn anyone from making snap judgments about H.R. 1. “We are just getting started, and there is much work left to do.”

That’s certainly true where families and faith-based groups are concerned. Although the bill checks off key parts of the conservative wish list, there are certainly ways we think the House can make the plan stronger. The child tax credit, for example, got a boost under TCJA — which was not only a request of FRC but also Ivanka Trump. The First Daughter has been campaigning for a jump in the credit before her father was even the official GOP nominee. And while House Republicans did raise the amount from $1,000 to $1,600, Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) agree with us that it doesn’t go far enough. Initially, the Senate duo had pushed for $2,500 — or at a minimum $2,000 per child. After Thursday’s roll out, the pair released a joint statement reminding Congress that the next generation of taxpayers is the future of our economy.

“The best way to provide real relief to working families is through a straightforward, significant, and permanent expansion of the child tax credit,” they said. “We wish the House draft had done more on this front — preferably doubling the credit to $2,000 per child and expanding its applicability to payroll taxes. We look forward to working with our colleagues to make sure working families are moved to the front of the line in the Senate bill.”

When they are, let’s hope that they’ll also be able to ease the burden for married couples. Under this plan, couples aren’t penalized for saying “I do,” unless they’re in upper-income tax brackets — 35 percent and 39.6 percent. As far as we’re concerned, marriage penalties should be scrapped from every area of the tax code. And we’ll do everything we can to make that a reality with our friends on the Hill.

One area where conservatives won a tremendous victory is in the 529 education savings accounts. For the first time in history, the bill recognizes the personhood of the unborn child by letting parents contribute to their kids’ ESAs while they’re still in the womb. “Nothing shall prevent an unborn child from being treated as a designated beneficiary,” the text explains. It defines an unborn child as a “child in utero” which “means a member of the species homo sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb.” Finally, pro-lifers cheered, the tax code — which hasn’t minded incentivizing abortion in health care — is taking a giant step forward in acknowledging that every child should be recognized.

Republicans also took aim at one of their biggest pet peeves: the death tax. After years of hurting family owned businesses, the GOP is trying to phase out the government’s double-dipping when a family member dies. Every time an estate is transferred, the government takes a slice of the money, income, or property — hitting ranches and farms the hardest. It’s especially outrageous when you consider this is money that’s already been taxed when it’s earned! In H.R. 1, Congress would phase out the “tax on success,” as some have called it, in six years.

Although we’re happy it took a stab at it, the biggest disappointment, at least where faith-based groups and churches are concerned, is the GOP’s weak attempt at repealing the Johnson Amendment — the portion of the tax code that’s been twisted to threaten pastors and other religious nonprofits over their tax status if they talk about politics. Donald Trump has been railing against the Johnson Amendment for two years, but even he can’t be happy with the narrow language in the bill. In the current draft, only churches and other houses of worship would have the freedom to speak openly about candidates and elections — and even then, only from the pulpit. In an interview with reporters, FRC’s David Christensen explained that he’s glad Congress is starting to tackle the issue but thinks a lot more could be done.

“We think that this language may be entirely too narrow in the context of churches. A newsletter, being interviewed on a radio program or a TV program, it’s not clear to us if any type of campaign speech would be protected in that context.” Meanwhile, 501(c)(3) organizations would still be twisting in the wind, vulnerable to the IRS’s attack. What FRC has advocated — and what faith-based groups and churches deserve — is the language of the Free Speech Fairness Act.

As The Wall Street Journal has explained, “The Free Speech Fairness Act would get the IRS out of the speech-police business while prohibiting political expenditures or contributions by tax-exempt organizations. It would provide a relief valve for speech by allowing all charities to speak on political issues, as long as the speech is done in the course of carrying out the group’s regular activities. Because the [proposal] doesn’t allow for political contributions or expenditures, dark money can’t flow through exempt organizations to campaigns.” In other words, churches and nonprofits would still be barred from acting like a political PAC or directly influencing elections, but they could talk openly about the values and positions of certain candidates or campaigns.

Free speech should be for everyone. And until the bill protects all faith leaders, it’s difficult to see how this does much to change the status quo. Fortunately, GOP leaders understand our concerns. Let’s hope they move to do something to address them — soon.

Originally published here.

Stop, in the Name of Love Saxa

What’s so controversial about Catholics believing Catholic teaching? A lot, according to some students at Georgetown University. In a clash that’s gotten nationwide attention, the campus’s liberal wing has been fighting to defund a conservative club that’s dedicated to ending the hook-up culture, fighting promiscuity, and defending natural marriage. And while these should be no-brainers for a Catholic institution, the forces of political correctness have been hard at work, trying to marginalize the Love Saxa group for upholding the school’s own beliefs.

In the wee hours of Friday morning, the majority of the Student Activities Commission seemed to recognize the ridiculousness of calling the club a “hate group,” voting 8-4 to keep the modest $250 stipend flowing. Prominent Catholic and Protestant leaders have weighed in on the absurdity of the Left’s crusade, including Robbie George, a friend of FRC’s and law professor at Princeton University. “The illiberal — even authoritarian — spirit infusing the effort to defund Love Saxa at Georgetown ought to be a matter of grave concern for honorable people across the ideological spectrum,” he argued. After the vote, Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) applauded the students’ common sense. “Good decision by @Georgetown Student Activities Commission. Academia should welcome diversity for ALL student groups.”

And while the victory was a relief, it’s not the end of the debate. “The decision by SAC not to recommend further action against the group punts the final decisions into the hands of Georgetown’s administration,” FRC’s Kelly Marcum explains.

Speaking as a graduate of Georgetown, and as a founding board member of Love Saxa, I wish I could say that I had more trust in my alma mater to handle this matter in a manner befitting our nation’s oldest Catholic university… Love Saxa won its hard fought battle for recognition in 2015, but now it is on trial once again, though it won the first stage with the vote of SAC earlier today. However, what is really being tested is the ability for Georgetown students to participate in a group whose mission seeks to defend what for many of its members are closely held moral and religious beliefs.

Originally published here.

From Ancient Pyramids to Ancient Principles

“Pray for us! Pray that we’ll seize the opportunity that we have right now.” That was the message of about 50 leaders of various Egyptian Protestant denominations to our delegation to take back to America. The courage and determination of these Christian leaders, who have seen two revolutions since January 2011, including the destructive and oppressive reign of the Muslim Brotherhood, is a testament to true faith. Rather than letting their faith be shaken by the trials of the last seven years, they are more resolved in their stand for the gospel and focused on the potential opportunities than ever.

These Protestant pastors, representing over 1,000 churches across Egypt and led by Dr. Andrea Zaki, president of the Protestant Community of Egypt and General Director of the Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services, see the new government, which has pledged to protect religious freedom for all Egyptians, as a game changer. They also see the influx of refugees coming from the war-torn countries of the Middle East as tremendous opportunities to share the gospel by helping them put their lives back together.

I assured them we would pray for them, and I asked them in return to pray for Christians in America, that we would have courage similar to theirs to stand up for religious freedom in America so that the rest of the world would know that our First Freedom remains a priority at home and abroad.

Before spending the afternoon with the Protestant church leaders, our delegation met with Minister of Religious Affairs and Endowments, Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa and Egypt’s Grand Mufti Shawqi ‘Allam. Minister Gomaa is heading up the Islamic reform effort under President Sisi to moderate Islam and the messages of the Egyptians Imams. Minister Gomma is also a friend of one of our hosts, Dr. Zaki, and according to him, Gomma has been a friend to the Protestant churches in Egypt.

While peaceful co-existence based on mutual respect and religious freedom was a recurring theme in our conversations, one of the other areas of unity among the Protestants and Muslims is a concern over the dangers of the Muslim Brotherhood and the threat that they continue to be in Egypt and elsewhere. There is a desire among Christians and Muslim leaders to see the United States declare the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, which would further drive them from the political stage internationally.

Seeing the needs and opportunities first hand here in Egypt and the Middle East underscores our responsibility to pray and act on behalf of our brothers and sisters here. Join me in praying, especially as this Sunday is the Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Let’s join the Christians here in Egypt in praying that they would indeed seize this moment. Let us also pray that we will seize the moment we have in the United States and use our religious freedom, living boldly for Christ so that we will preserve and strengthen that freedom for others.

Additional, we also need to call upon the U.S. Senate to confirm President Trump’s nominee for Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Sam Brownback. Confirming Gov. Brownback soon will ensure the opportunity for religious freedom that is opening in the Middle East with the retreat of ISIS and rejection of the Muslim Brotherhood will not be lost.

Originally published here.

This is a publication of the Family Research Council. Mr. Perkins is president of FRC.

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