A Divided Nation.

I began this blog several years ago with a post “Why We’re Divided.” The point was that our political divide is not merely the result of differing ideologies. It’s the result of differing “facts.”

Never has that been more clearly demonstrated than by two competing advertising campaigns running on this Independence Day. In my state’s largest newspaper, there is an ad bearing the headline “In God We Trust.” Paid for by a company that is owned by a religious zealot, the ad uses a variety of quotes from our Founding Fathers to support the claim that our nation was founded on Christianity.

A few pages later, there is an ad bearing the headline “Celebrate Our Godless Constitution.” Paid for by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, it, too, uses a variety of quotes from our Founding Fathers to support the claim that our nation was built on the principle of separation of Church and State.

This is a classic example of proof-texting – selectively choosing quotes that support a particular point of view. This technique is often used by the religious to justify actions or beliefs. Religious leaders use verses from the Bible to justify war, to rationalize genocide, to discriminate against gays and others, to ignore – indeed blame – the poor for struggling as the result of policies they didn’t create, etc.

No matter how ugly your point of view, you can find a verse in the Bible, the Torah or the Qur’an to justify an action or inaction.

The same is true when it comes to quotes by our Founding Fathers. As Michael Austin writes in his book That’s Not What They Meant! Reclaiming the Founding Fathers from America’s Right Wing, the Founders were so diverse, you can find a quote from one of them to support almost any point of view. Among the Founders were Protestants, Catholics, Quakers, Jews, Deists, Agnostics and Atheists. There were idealists and slave owners. There were farmers, plantation owners, printers, attorneys, inventors, ship owners and many others.

There were Founders in favor of a strong central government and those who believed the power should reside exclusively with the states.

So which ad is correct? Both of them. And neither of them.

Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the Declaration of Independence, and James Madison, who authored our Constitution’s Bill of Rights, strongly believed in separation of Church and State. The majority at the Constitutional Convention agreed. However, many of the Founders spoke of “divine providence” and the “principles of Christianity.”

More important, the ads demonstrate the growing divide between Americans; between the Federalists and those who believe in states’ rights; between the devoutly religious and the agnostics; between science and religion; between those who trust government and those who despise it; between the wealthy and the poor; between red and blue; between black, brown, red and white; between the educated and the uneducated; and between those who believe the US is the greatest nation on Earth and those who recognize its faults and intend to change them.

I think it no exaggeration to write that our nation is at a crossroads, more divided than at any time since the Civil War. Independence Day is the perfect time to consider the consequences of such a divide. Committing to compromise and finding common ground are imperative to the future of our nation.

The Real IRS Scandal.

The IRS should be embarrassed by revelations that it singled out Tea Party Patriot groups for extra scrutiny after they applied for 501(c)4 status. Not because scrutinizing these groups was wrong. But because the IRS did not deny them such status.

That’s right. None of these groups deserve to be considered 501(c)4 organizations. Neither do liberal groups. As Lawrence O’Donnell has pointed out on his show, The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, that designation is supposed to be reserved for groups that promote the social welfare. In fact, the tax code describes qualifying organizations as “civic leagues or organizations not organized for profit but operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare.”

What in that code describes the Tea Party?

Tea Party groups that have received the designation have almost entirely devoted their money and time to attack President Obama, Democratic candidates, progressive issues and the federal government. How does that meet the criteria of promoting social welfare?

Amazingly, despite the increased scrutiny, not a single Tea Party organization was denied 501(c)4 status. The same cannot be said for progressive groups. During the same period, numerous progressive groups were also asked to submit more information (I was involved with one), and, unlike the Tea Party, some progressive groups were denied non-profit status!

Congress and the IRS need to revisit the tax codes governing political groups. They should also take a serious look at the tax-free status of churches.

The Constitution states “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion.” The tax-free status of churches flies in the face of this clause by forcing those who do not choose to belong to a church to indirectly subsidize religion through taxes. Indeed, it was because some states forced residents to subsidize churches that James Madison included the establishment clause in his Bill of Rights.

By declaring all church property (including church-owned hospitals and other income-producing businesses) tax-exempt, the rest of us have to make up for the lost revenue through increased taxes. And this amount is not insubstantial. Some reports claim that as much as 25 percent of all US property is tax-exempt for religious purposes.

If this public subsidy of churches is not bad enough, many churches intentionally involve themselves in politics contrary to IRS codes governing their tax-free status. In fact, hundreds of churches have not only campaigned from the pulpit. They have recorded their political rants and sent the videos to the IRS to show their contempt for the codes. During the last election, many churches (the Catholic Church primary among them) even told their members that they would “go to hell if they voted for President Obama.” Yet the IRS refused to enforce its own codes.

Now that’s a real IRS scandal!

Sex, Politics, Religion And Poverty.

According to a new Census Bureau report, Social and Economic Characteristics of Currently Unmarried Women With a Recent Birth: 2011, more than 6 out of 10 women who have children in their early twenties are unmarried. That number has accelerated in recent years – up 80 percent since 1980. Overall, 36 percent of all births in the United States were to unmarried mothers in 2011.

The Census Bureau attributed the increase, in part, to changing norms for sexual behavior and a decrease in marriage rates. But before you religious zealots decry the alleged decline in our nation’s moral values, you should know that teen mothers are far more common in the US than in Europe, despite the fact that, according to studies, US teens have less sex than European teens.

Obviously, there are reasons beyond the imagined moral decline. The most important is economic. Women with college degrees and higher incomes are far less likely to be single mothers. And according to many studies, the greater the gap between the poor and the middle class in any particular region, the more likely an unmarried woman is to have a baby while she’s young!

Pushing the mother to marry the child’s father often makes matters worse. It results in a variety of associated problems including domestic abuse, early divorce and children who are traumatized by parental conflict, broken households and overall instability.

Given the fact that most of those in the US who are living on public assistance are single mothers and their children, it’s in all of our best interests to find a solution to this phenomenon. In searching for answers, we should first look at sex education and contraception. Several studies have found that education on correct contraceptive use works best in preventing teen pregnancy. These studies also conclude that abstinence-only education may, in fact, contribute to an increase in teen pregnancies.

A 10-year government study found that that “students in abstinence-only programs were no more likely to have abstained from sex, had similar numbers of sexual partners, and had sex for the first time at around the same age as students not in abstinence-only programs.”

All of this shows that, instead of allowing Teapublicans to cut sex education in public schools, we should be increasing it. Instead of allowing the Catholic Church and evangelists to deny easy access to contraceptives, we should be making them more available. And instead of cutting public assistance and food stamp programs, we should be improving them. Studies prove that doing otherwise only perpetuates the problem.

As usual, the right is wrong!