REFUNDING TITHES AND OFFERINGS
Don't get your hopes up but some churches are getting worried about this. Seems like, right now, you have to declare bankruptcy to have a chance of getting your creditors some of your hard earned money back from a church. But, considering all the money that the Worldwide Church of God blackmailed out of us, there are probably a lot of us really close to declaring bankruptcy. So, if you do declare bankruptcy, give your creditors a hint of who is holding your "treaure in heaven" for you, and let them know that this precedent has been set.
From The Christian Century magazine, page 388, April 15, 1998
When Creditors Come Calling
By Oliver Thomas
"In a startling assault on the First Amendment, creditors of a bankrupt parishioner have successfully sued his church for a full refund of his past tithes and offerings In Cedar Bayou Baptist Church V. Gregory Edwards, a Texas court has ordered repayment of some $50,000 in contributions, some of which were received and spent ten years ago. The case is the latest of a rash of decisions in which churches have been forced to return past tithes and offerings to third party creditors. A store cannot be held liable by the creditors of a regular customer who goes bankrupt store owner sells his product and receives the customer's money in exchange. Yet churches are told that in exchange for their contributions their members receive nothing that would constitute "consideration" under the bankruptcy code. The contributions are therefore considered fraudulent and subject to being set aside.
"Unlike most decisions adverse to the interests of organized religion, this one has implications for every church and synagogue. And, depending on the donor and the size of his gifts, the impact on a local congregation could be devastating.
"The right of churches to carry out their mission and ministry without undue interference from the government is fundamental to the free exercise of religion. Nothing could be more essential to the exercise of this right than the knowledge that when gifts are given in good faith, churches can share them in good faith. Without this assurance, churches are paralyzed. The Cedar Bayou decision casts a pall over the legitimacy of every contribution made to a church.
"Whether it be the widow's mite or the corporate executive's millions, churches should not be forced to return past tithes and offerings. Otherwise no church will feel secure in giving its resources back to the community in acts of Christian service. Instead, a chill will descend upon this most fundamental exercise of faith as churches begin to hoard funds in order to protect themselves against the likelihood that creditors of a member might sue. After all, virtually every church has one or more members who have filed for bankruptcy, and most of these members have contributed to the church.
"Most congregations have a single paid staff member (the pastor) and a budget of less than $100,000. For many church groups, such as the Baptists, each of their congregations is on its own and is unable to draw on a central fund to satisfy its legal obligations. A judgment of the size rendered against Cedar Bayou Baptist Church could easily bankrupt a church, resulting in severe infringement on the free exercise rights of an entire community. Ironically, it is the larger community that ultimately will suffer If this decision is allowed to stand, there will be less child care, less marriage counseling, fewer soup kitchens and shelters, fewer youth programs arid, ultimately, less religion.
"On its face, the case would seem to contravene even the crimped interpretation of the free exercise clause set forth in the Supreme Court's 1990 decision Employment Division V. Smith. Yet a number of bankruptcy judges have ruled against churches under similar circumstances. Even if it could convince a judge that such claims are an unconstitutional burden on religion, what church wants to be forced to defend such a case in court? A Presbyterian pastor revealed that it cost his congregation $200,000 to litigate a religious liberty case even though they won. A far better solution is to amend the bankruptcy code so that contributions made to a church are not considered fraudulent conveyances.
"Senator Charles Grassley (R., Iowa) and Representatives Helen Chenoweth (R., Idaho) and Ron Packard (R., Calif) have introduced legislation that would correct the problem. Up to 15 percent of a person's gross income given in good faith to a church would he shielded from the claims of creditors under their Religious Fairness in Bankruptcy Act.
"Unfortunately, the bill doesn't stop there but also protects church contributions made after a bankruptcy has occurred. In other words, creditors would be forced to subsidize a debtor's religious obligations by having their remuneration reduced by the amount a bankrupt parishioner wishes to give to his church. The bill's proponents argue that since the bankruptcy code allows a debtor to set aside a reasonable amount of his future earnings for living expenses such as food and clothing, the same privilege should extend to the tithe.
"But by forcing creditors to underwrite a debtor's future tithes and offerings, the bill "establishes" religion, which is prohibited by the First Amendment. A better approach was devised by a judge several years ago. When, confronted by a bankrupt parishioner who wanted to tithe, the judge permitted him to do so but extended the number of payments so that the creditors received the same amount of money they would have received had the debtor not chosen to tithe. This is the only way to ensure that the debtor and not innocent third parties pays for his own religions commitments.
"In the meantime, Cedar Bayou Baptist Church pursues its appeal. A number of ecclesiastical bodies, including the Texas Conference of Churches, the Catholic Conference and the Christian Life Commission of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, have filed an amicus brief on behalf of the church. Hopefully a higher court will recognize the mischief that lies in this obscure decision and set it aside."
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