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Posts Tagged ‘THE INSTITUTE on Religion and Public Policy’

Death by Stupidity

As many of you know, I have a low threshold for stupid. As a matter of fact, I had even once drafted legislation dubbed “The Kick-Me Rule” allowing each American to kick one stupid person in the head per day.

So you can imagine my joy at discovering how ridiculous the bankruptcy law situation is in the United States.

Some of you may have heard the ridiculous situation in which THE INSTITUTE on Religion and Public Policy finds itself.

For two years, THE INSTITUTE received monthly contributions from a donor based in Miami, Florida. His contributions came to nearly $30,000.00 and helped pay our rent and overhead expenses.

Recently, the donor’s business – from which he contributed to THE INSTITUTE – declared bankruptcy. One of the major loopholes in bankruptcy law is that when a corporate body (law firm, dental practice, doctor’s office) declares bankruptcy, contributions they make to houses of worship and non-profits must be returned.

In other words, THE INSTITUTE must now return to the court the entire $30,000.00 the donor contributed.

The great irony is that had the donor used that money to gamble at a casino, purchase drinks at a bar or buy a car, neither the casino owner, the bar owner nor the car dealer would have to return the money.

Only houses of worship and nonprofits are affected by these cases.

And let’s face it, People, THE INSTITUTE doesn’t have $30K. As a matter of fact, were you to review our 990s from last year, you would discover that the majority of funds (nearly $82,000.00) came out of my own pocket to run the organization.

Another great irony is that back in 1998 I worked on something known as The Religious Liberty and Charitable Donation Protection Act of 1998. That act provides important protections to tax-exempt non-profits. One of the key protections prevents a bankruptcy trustees (absent fraud) from recovering a bankrupt debtor’s charitable contributions from a not-for-profit, if the amount of the contributions does not exceed 15% of the debtor’s income or, if it does equal more than 15% of the debtor’s income, if the contributions were consistent with donation amounts in earlier years.

Unfortunately, The Religious Liberty and Charitable Donation Protection Act of 1998 only applies to individuals. It does not apply to any corporate entity, even small businesses like doctors and dentists.

Another fabulous bankruptcy ridiculousness we discovered is that one does not have to physically receive a notice and sign for it like one does in other lawsuits. According to bankruptcy law, simply using the US mail is an assumption that the suit will be received and therefore you are in receipt of it.

Yet another way in which the banks who are the great beneficiaries of bankruptcy suits sticks it to the little guy.

It isn’t enough that Lehman Brothers and Bank of America and countless other major Wall Street banks nearly caused the bankruptcy of the United States and most of Europe, but now thanks to their need to recoup every penny they ever loaned out, major Wall Street firms will be responsible for the bankruptcy and closure of THE INSTITUTE on Religion and Public Policy.

Nobel Peace Prize nominations, countless lives saved, innumerable laws changed – all to protect basic human liberties and rights. Yet all that will be gone because our friends on Wall Street think it’s more important that they get their money than that small non-profits who do the lion’s share of social and human rights work continue to function.

Well, let me say this here and now for the record: Woe to the Wall Street hot-shots if indeed THE INSTITUTE must close because of this situation. If after almost a dozen years of fighting for religious freedom, of fending off attacks from foreign governments, and of having such tremendous success in advancing religious freedom we are shut down because of loopholes in bankruptcy law and Wall Street greed, such a legislative and media fury will be unleashed that they won’t know what hit them.

Despite everything, THE INSTITUTE may well be brought down by stupid…

Obama’s Potemkin Village

March 29, 2010 1 comment

This week, I am being inducted into the Martin Luther King Jr Board of Sponsors of Morehouse College. It is indeed an overwhelming honor for me.

But besides being an honor, it is a call to action.

Morehouse states the following about those inducted:

Because of the crises of character in America requiring more ethically and spiritually oriented role models and moral examples, those inducted into the Morehouse College prophetic religious tradition, are charged and challenged to be examples for this generation of students, remembering that our vision is the creation of a global society in which the full development of each individual’s potential is the central goal. They are to use their time, talent and resources to help usher in an age of peace and nonviolence for the children of the world and to raise another generation of morally inspired leaders committed to building the “Beloved Community.”

The last eleven years have been an ongoing struggle to usher in that age of peace and nonviolence. For me, that age of peace and nonviolence has been for religious minorities, agnostics, and atheists.

But that struggle has not gotten easier; in fact has gotten much more difficult. The cause of the greater obstacles, interestingly enough, is not always an increase in discrimination and persecution, but also an increase in apathy and a decrease in attention.

The US Congress’s 1998 unanimous passage of the International Religious Freedom Act was meant to engage the United States Government in the protection of religious believers and non-believers globally. Instead, the law has been minimally followed by all three Administrations since its passage.

And while each Administration was terrible, this Administration so far is the worst.

By this point in the Bush Administration, an Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom (whose position was created in the IRFA of 1998) was nominated, confirmed, and preparing to be sworn in. The Obama Administration has not even gotten so far as to name anyone yet.

If that were the only failing of the Obama Administration on religious liberty, I wouldn’t be so critical. But the facts are far worse.

See, the Clinton State Department has decided that the Ambassador will not even manage her own staff. Instead, the Office Director and staff report to a Deputy Assistant Secretary, while the Ambassador is to report to the Assistant Secretary for Human Rights – which is a violation of IRFA. By law, the Ambassador at Large is the principle advisor to the President and Secretary of State. As such, she should report to the President and the Secretary of State, not a lowly Assistant Secretary.

That Office of International Religious Freedom staff, already overworked and understaffed, is now reporting to the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. Now it appears that the Front Office is asking the staff to focus even more on anti-Semitism and interfaith dialogue at the expense of the work that the staff is supposed to be doing under the IRF Act, and while they’re already short staffed. The IRF office has not hired a single Civil Servant in over two years.

The Obama Administration came into office with a fresh vision of new relations with the Islamic World, a commitment to human rights, and a dedication to combat religious discrimination.

Instead, the Obama Administration has created a religious liberty Potemkin Village, undermining Congressional intent and the letter of the International Religious Freedom Act.

And don’t think people aren’t noticing: religious discriminators and persecutors understand that this Administration has no interest in defending fundamental human rights. And while the president has said a lot of nice words, his actions – and lack thereof – have spoken far more loudly, far more clearly, and have been heard far more broadly.

As I prepare to be awarded in the name of Martin Luther King, I too can hear a message:

Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom.

Since the freedom of nearly 70% of the world’s population that faces religious discrimination and persecution on a daily basis is of no interest to the President or his Administration, I will straighten my back and continue to work for freedom.

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