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IRS targeting Jews too?: Get Religion, May 13, 2013 May 13, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Israel, Judaism, Politics, Press criticism.
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Fear not religion news reporters, you too can jump into one of the hottest news stories on the wires. Buried deep within an article reporting on the Internal Revenue Services’ harassment of conservative advocacy groups lurks  a religious liberty news story. That may not sound too exciting but you could rephrase it this way for your editor: the IRS has created a religious test defining what it means to be a loyal Jew.

On Friday a second-tier IRS official told a gathering of tax lawyers the IRS had engaged in discriminatory audits against conservative groups. The initial story from the AP wire reported that the IRS admitted its mistake, but the mistake was an innocent one:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Internal Revenue Service inappropriately flagged conservative political groups for additional reviews during the 2012 election to see if they were violating their tax-exempt status, a top IRS official said Friday. Organizations were singled out because they included the words “tea party” or “patriot” in their applications for tax-exempt status, said Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt groups. In some cases, groups were asked for their list of donors, which violates IRS policy in most cases, she said.

“That was wrong. That was absolutely incorrect, it was insensitive and it was inappropriate. That’s not how we go about selecting cases for further review,” Lerner said at a conference sponsored by the American Bar Association. “The IRS would like to apologize for that,” she added. Lerner said the practice was initiated by low-level workers in Cincinnati and was not motivated by political bias. After her talk, she told The AP that no high level IRS officials knew about the practice.

The story expanded exponentially over the weekend as further details emerged. By Sunday morning it had reached the level of Watergate allusions. The Daily Callerreported that on Sunday’s broadcast of ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” commentator George Will raised the specter of impeachment.

Now the question is, how stupid do they think we are? Just imagine, Donna Brazile, if the George W. Bush administration had an IRS underling, he’s out in Cincinnati, of course, saying we’re going to target groups with the word ‘progressive’ in their title. We’d have all hell breaking loose.”

Will noted that one of the items in the 1973 impeachment articles of then-President Richard Nixon, which ultimately led to his resignation, described the Nixon administration’s use of the power of income tax audits in a “discriminatory matter.”

“This is the 40th anniversary of the Watergate summer here in Washington,” Will said. “’He has, through his subordinated and agents, endeavored…to cause, in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens, income tax audits or other income tax investigation to be initiated or conducted in a discriminatory manner,’ — Section 1, Article 2, the impeachment articles of Richard Nixon.

Other outlets developed collateral stories on the IRS enemies list. The Jewish Press reported that along with the tea party pro-Israel lobbying groups had been subjected to enhanced IRS scrutiny.

… There is evidence the IRS also targeted pro-Israel groups whose positions were potentially inconsistent with the administration’s. For example, in 2010, the passionately pro-Israel organization Z STREET filed a lawsuit against the IRS, claiming it had been told by an IRS agent that because the organization was “connected to Israel,” its application for tax-exempt status would receive additional scrutiny.  …

Breitbart developed this story, adding historical context and suggesting  there was a “common thread: opposition to Obama, and instigation or support of these IRS inquiries by left-wing groups and mainstream media institutions devoted to defending the administration.”

What has not been developed yet is this paragraph in The Jewish Press story:

And at least one purely religious Jewish organization, one not focused on Israel, was the recipient of bizarre and highly inappropriate questions about Israel.  Those questions also came from the same non-profit division of the IRS at issue for inappropriately targeting politically conservative groups. The IRS required that Jewish organization to state “whether [it] supports the existence of the land of Israel,” and also demanded the organization “[d]escribe [its] religious belief system toward the land of Israel.”

The implications of this paragraph are profound. Is the state seeking to control religious doctrine for political ends through the coercive power of its tax authority?  There are some red flags in The Jewish Press story. Though it is characterized as a news story, the article is a one-sided advocacy piece written by an individual closely associated with one of the organizations under IRS scrutiny. No names, dates or details are given though a powerful quote is supplied. Absent a name, it is difficult to judge its veracity.

But … Here is an opportunity for religion reporters to add their expertise to the IRS audit scandal. Let it not be said that religion reporting is a cul-de-sac – – the hints inThe Jewish Press story open the door for an energetic reporter to explore allegations of political malfeasance and corruption, separation of church and state issues, foreign policy, and perhaps a dose of good old-fashioned anti-Semitism. This is going to be fun.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

First printed in Get Religion.

Normalizing nihilism – Euthanasia in Holland: Get Religion, December 9, 2011. December 10, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism.
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It has been almost ten years since the Dutch parliament voted to legalize euthanasia.  While the Netherlands became the first country to grant state sanction to a mercy killing, doctors the world over have long quietly colluded in the “good death” of the terminally ill or those in extreme suffering.  The BBC reported that the 1 April 2002 — April Fool’s Day — law set the following parameters for Dutch mercy killings:

Patients must face a future of unbearable, interminable suffering

Request to die must be voluntary and well-considered

Doctor and patient must be convinced there is no other solution

A second medical opinion must be obtained and life must be ended in a medically appropriate way

The patient facing incapacitation may leave a written agreement to their death

However, the march of progress has not stopped here.  Last month the Daily Caller reported that the Dutch Medical Association sought to “expand the definition of who may qualify for assisted suicide — including for the first time such nonmedical factors as loneliness and financial struggles.”  The article entitled “Netherlands looks to expand euthanasia grounds to include lonely, poor” printed by Washington-based news website stated:

“Many older people have various afflictions that are not actually life-threatening but do make them vulnerable,” wrote the KNMG in a ten-year study report published in October.

“Vulnerability stems not only from health problems and the ensuing limitations, but also the measure in which people have social skills, financial resources and a social network. Vulnerability has an impact on quality of life and on prospects for recovery, and can lead to unbearable and lasting suffering.”

Prior to publishing the study results, the KNMG polled its members online. More than 68 percent agreed with the statement that doctors should be “permitted to factor in vulnerability, loss of function, confinement to bed, loneliness, humiliation and loss of dignity” when determining whether a patient is a good candidate for euthanasia.

This was followed by an article in the 7 Dec 2011 issue of the Telegraph that reported the Dutch government was considering allowing doctors to kill patients in their homes. The article entitled “Mobile euthanasia teams being considered by Dutch government” reported:

In a written answer to questions from Christian Union MPs [Health Minister Edith Schippers] said that mobile units “for patients who meet the criteria for euthanasia but whose doctors are unwilling to carry it out” was worthy of consideration.

“If the patient thinks it desirable, the doctor can refer him or her to a mobile team or clinic,” the minister wrote.

In her written answer Ms Schippers suggested that “extra expertise” could be summoned in complicated cases involving mental health problems or an inability to consent to euthanasia because of dementia.

In the space given to the story, the Telegraph’s reporter does a nice job in raising the moral issues, providing comments from anti-euthanasia activists as well as a government promise that euthanasia will not be abused. It is disquieting though to read:

Dutch medics have been accused of practising euthanasia on demand.

A total of 21 people diagnosed as having early-stage dementia died at the hands of their doctors last year, according to the 2010 annual report on euthanasia.

The figures from last year also showed another year-on-year rise in cases with about 2,700 people choosing death by injection compared to 2,636 the year before.

This is extraordinary. A patient at home whose doctor will not kill him, will be sent another doctor by the government to put them down — and if the patient has dementia and therefore is incapable of meeting the second Dutch death criteria, the request to die must be voluntary and well-considered — an expert will decide. Added to this the Dutch doctors demand that they be allowed to kill those who are unhappy, poor or lonely — I’m very tempted to play the Nazi card.

One of the unofficial rules I have picked up over the years is that whoever plays the Nazi or Hitler card looses the argument. They are no longer making a reasonable argument but making an appeal to sentiment and horror. And when the topic is euthanasia, the murders by Nazi doctors of 75,000 people including 5000 children deemed racially, mentally or physically unfit, is apt to arise. However, I think playing the Nazi card is wrong in this case too, as it detracts from the moral issue at hand — the problem of euthanasia is not that it might be abused, but that it will be used.

By allowing the killing of people who are not considered fit to live, we are adopting a view of humanity that reduces existence to the balancing of pain and pleasure. Life is worth living when pleasure is greater than pain. This view of life makes irrelevant many of the traits and characteristics of our humanity.  Virtue, duty, courage, honor and even love play no part in this animalistic calculus. It is moral nihilism.

What struck me as I read the Daily Caller and Telegraph articles was that although the story arc and tone of the pieces evidenced a dislike of the Dutch way of death — there was little attempt at raising moral or faith objections. It was as if these issues were irrelevant to the story. I am loathe to fault these two stories for this gap in their coverage as I believe Western society is fast reaching the point where moral nihilism is the norm.

These two pieces bring to mind P.D. James 1991 novel The Children of Men — which describes a world where no children have been born for 25 years because men have become infertile. It brings home the terrible implications of this world where mankind has no future.  Violence increases as life grows meaningless. “Freedom from fear, freedom from want, freedom from boredom,” these are the goals of life. Euthanasia is achieved through a paid incentive program and to the sound of violins, the aged and infirm board ferries that sink in the sea.

How did mankind come to such a place? The protagonist, Theo Faron, writes in his journal:

Much of this I can trace to the early 1990s: the search for alternative medicine, the perfumed oils, the massage, the stroking and anointing, the crystal-holding, the non-penetrative sex. Pornography and sexual violence on film, on television, in books, in life, had increased and became more explicit but less and less in the West we made love and bred children. It seemed at the time a welcome development in a world grossly polluted by over-population. As a historian I see it as the beginning of the end.

And what does  religion say to this sterile world? Faron writes:

During the mid-1990s the recognized churches, particularly the Church of England, moved from the theology of sin and redemption to a less uncompromising doctrine: corporate social responsibility coupled with a sentimental humanism. [The Churches] virtually abolished the Second Person of the Trinity together with His cross, substituting a golden orb of the sun in glory .. Even to unbelievers like myself, the cross, stigma of the barbarism of officialdom and of man’s ineluctable cruelty, has never been a comfortable symbol.

No, I am not asking for a treatment of the problem of pain from the Telegraph. I am bemoaning the state of our culture such that the world painted in James’ dystopian novel appears to be quite like our own — and that the killing of the aged, unfit and infirm by the state has become regrettable, but unremarkable.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

First printed in GetReligion.