Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Texas Denies Unitarians Religious Status

R.A. DYER, FT WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM - Unitarian Universalists have for decades presided over births, marriages and memorials. The church operates in every state, with more than 5,000 members in Texas alone.

But according to the office of Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, a Denison Unitarian church isn't really a religious organization -- at least for tax purposes. Its reasoning: the organization "does not have one system of belief."

Never before -- not in this state or any other -- has a government agency denied Unitarians tax-exempt status because of the group's religious philosophy, church officials say. Strayhorn's ruling clearly infringes upon religious liberties, said Dan Althoff, board president for the Denison congregation that was rejected for tax exemption by the comptroller's office.

"I was surprised -- surprised and shocked -- because the Unitarian church in the United States has a very long history," said Althoff, who notes that father-and-son presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams were both Unitarians. . .

Questions about the issue were referred to Jesse Ancira, the comptroller's top lawyer, who said Strayhorn has applied a consistent standard -- and then stuck to it. For any organization to qualify as a religion, members must have "simply a belief in God, or gods, or a higher power," he said. "We have got to apply a test, and use some objective standards," Ancira said. "We're not using the test to deny the exemptions for a particular group because we like them or don't like them.". . .

The Rev. Anthony David, lead pastor of Pathways Church in Southlake, said he is disturbed by the comptroller's decisions because it ignores Unitarian Universalists' belief that spiritual fulfillment can emerge in "different ways at different levels."

"It reflects an incredible misunderstanding of what a church needs to look like," David said.


At 9:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As the founder of the church of the perpetual orgy, i too found this type of unyielding bureaucratic thinking obstructing the tax staus of my church. Given that my bedroom is not very large, are we now going to use mere numbers of possible members as the criteria for a religion ? This is bureaucracy gone mad.


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