Fight The New “Hobby Lobby” Religious Order: Get Ordained

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Like many of you, I’ve been spending much of July fuming over how to properly vent my frustration with the disturbing implications of SCOTUS’s Hobby Lobby and Wheaton College rulings. Not being a lawyer or politician, I’m inspired by the creative responses, most of which require an actual Hobby Lobby outlet: making protest IUDs out of pipe cleaners; “womb-bombing” the store with knitted uteruses (uteri?); handing out condoms at the door. Closer to my NYC home, there’s Mary Valle’s musical interpretation and Rachel Riederer’s satirical speech celebrating corporate personhood’s “Freedom Summer.”

I found an opening in scholar Winifred Fallers Sullivan’s otherwise terrifying analysis of the verdicts at The Immanent Frame. She noted the radical disconnect between the court’s conventional, “churchy” definitions of religion as applied in the Hobby Lobby case, such as “prayer, worship, and the taking of sacraments,” and the much broader, DIY religion that actually happens in America:

“Americans have always been incredibly varied, creative, and entrepreneurial in living out what they take to be their religious obligations….they find their religious community and their religious fields of action in places other than churches—including the marketplace.”

Sullivan is referring to evangelical, non-denominational Christians, but she could just as well be describing another often-neglected area of religious entrepreneurism: Internet ordination. What’s less denominational, less tied to institutions, than the vast marketplace of religions that offer individuals, for free or a small fee, the chance to officiate weddings and funerals for their loved ones?

My husband and I got married last year in Maine. We both had religiously mixed heritages, with no institutional affiliations and, in my husband’s case, atheist tendencies. So we chose a friend to officiate; he got himself ordained in the Church of Spiritual Humanism, and married us in a dashiki accessorized with a wreath of Maine bachelor buttons. It may sound slightly ridiculous, but I can tell you: the emotions involved were no less sincere. (It wasn’t anything-goes: the Church of Spiritual Humanism is very firm in not allowing its ordain-ees to perform any exorcisms, circumcision, or animal sacrifice.)

What might first appear to be a novelty has become an important resource in an increasingly de-centralized religious landscape. The Church of Universal Life, which has the same legal standing as any religious institution, has been offering this service since 1959. We don’t want to be part of mainline Protestant churches anymore, but we still need rituals and people to conduct them.

At the time, it was a point of pride for me that the State of Maine was legally not allowed to distinguish between a friend ordained by the Church of Spiritual Humanism and, say, a Catholic priest. Because that would be government deciding what is a religion and what is not, and they can’t do that, right?

Right. In fact, online ordination has already long been subject to legal wrangling over its authenticity; states, and sometimes even counties, vary widely in their acceptance of these unconventional churches. While it may seem cringe-worthy to invoke the rights of The Church of the Latter-Day Dude or of The Flying Spaghetti Monster in this much more serious battle, they were a canary in the mine-shaft of legal challenges to actual religious liberty.

Recently, my brother and his fiancé asked my husband and me to both get ordained and officiate their Maine wedding next year. We are, of course, honored to do so. And even more honored now that I’ve realized getting ordained online could rile up the religious right. I say we all do it. The broader we make that spectrum of DIY religion, the more we make clear that all religion…and I mean ALL religion…should be legally equal, and none of it should infringe on the rights of others, the more we let freedom of religion ring.

Brook Wilensky-Lanford is the author of Paradise Lust: Searching for the Garden of Eden (Grove Press, 2011) and the editor-in-chief of online literary magazine Killing the Buddha.

  • guppy06

    Because that would be government deciding what is a religion and what is not, and they can’t do that, right?

    Five Catholic men disagree. The Hobby Lobby ruling specifically discounts itself from being applied to any other “firmly held corporate religious beliefs,” basically reserving for the court itself the prerogative to decide what is and what isn’t a religious belief.

  • Jim Reed

    That can only work if you have a supreme court majority.

  • Craptacular

    When everyone’s an ordained minister, who will pay taxes?

  • Michele Fischer

    As someone who spent 5 years in seminary, went through numerous interviews and psychological testing and put myself in debt to become a pastor, I dislike the whole online ordination thing.

  • Christopher

    What will getting ordained do to fight the Hobby Lobby ruling?

    Will you demand that other “persons” pay for your ordinations?

    I honestly do not understand how this would help an anti-Hobby Lobby movement.

  • Christopher

    You mean an acceptable religious belief.

    Read the cases on polygamy with Reynolds and Beason. Mormonism was not allowed.

  • Christopher

    So ordain yourself. I did. Start your own church or fellowship. Anyone can. There can be no rules by the government on how to set one up. Declare yourself to be a religion. Write your doctrine. I did. Print up certifications. You can decide what the rules are. I did. Who is in charge. What are the rules. I performed the marriage ceremony for my son’s wedding and another ordained member preformed the ceremony for my other son’s wedding.

    Make yourself the new Martin Luther or Ellen G. White, or Joseph Smith to Kim Jones or David Koresh (but don’t hurt anybody is my advice. It gets the Cops involved and you don’t want that.)

  • Christopher

    Voluntary slaves.

    Our system of taxation is based on voluntary assessment and payment, not upon distraint. –United States v. Flora, 362 US 145 (1958)

    Let me point this out now. Your income tax is 100 percent voluntary and your liquor tax is 100 percent enforced tax. Now the situation is as different as day and night. Consequently, your same rules just will not apply… –Dwight E. Avis, Head of ATF, IRS –House Ways and Means Subcommittee Hearings –1953

    The real point of audits is to instill fear, not to extract revenue; the IRS aims at winning through intimidation and (thereby) getting maximum voluntary compliance. –Paul Strassel, Former IRS Headquarters Agent `Wall St. Journal’ 1/28/80

    The IRS’s goal is to increase the rate at which taxpayers voluntarily pay their taxes from the current 82.3% to 90% by 2001. –The Washington Post front page Dec. 2, 1993, IRS Hopes Change

    Each year American taxpayers voluntarily file their tax returns and make a special effort to pay the taxes they owe. –Johnie M. Walters IRS Commissioner, 1971 Form 1040 Booklet

    From Publication 21/ 1998 update
    Do you have to file a tax return and pay taxes?”
    Answer from Pub. 21:
    The U. S. income tax system is built on the idea of “voluntary compliance.” This means that it is left to the taxpayer to keep the necessary records, file a return on time, pay any required taxes, and meet any other requirements of the tax law. The system is built on trust in the citizens to know their responsibilities and to do what needs to be done. Taxpayers voluntarily follow the steps the tax system lays out. Failure to do so can result in penalties.

    Two aspects of the Federal Income Tax system – voluntary compliance with the law and self-assessment of tax – make it important for you to understand your rights and responsibilities as a taxpayer. ‘Voluntary compliance’ places on the taxpayer the responsibility for filing an income tax return. You must decide whether the law requires you to file a return. If it does, you must file your return by the date it is due. –IRS Publication 21

    You are among the millions of Americans who comply with the tax law voluntarily. –1992 Form1040 Tax Instruction Booklet

    Our tax system is based on individual self-assessment and voluntary compliance. –Mortimer Caplin, IRS Commissioner, 1975 IRS IR Audit Manual

    The mission of the service is to encourage and achieve the highest possible degree of voluntary compliance. –Donald C. Alexander, IRS Commissioner, Federal Register, March 1974

    The IRS’s primary task is to collect taxes under a voluntary compliance system. –Jerome Kurtz IRS Commissioner, 1980 IR Annual Report

    We have a voluntary compliance system. –Fred Goldberg, IRS Commissioner, Nightline with Ted Koppel, Apr.13, 1990

  • Michele Fischer

    I am ordained. I spent a lot of money and time to be ordained.

  • Michele Fischer

    We clergy still pay taxes.

  • Christopher

    And I once sold a piece of wood to a man for $100 he could have had with a little of his own effort.

    A sucker is born every minute.

  • Christopher

    Thank you SOOOO much for this:

    “My husband and I got married last year in Maine. We both had religiously mixed heritages, with no institutional affiliations and, in my husband’s case, atheist tendencies. So we chose a friend to officiate; he got himself ordained in the Church of Spiritual Humanism, and married us in a dashiki accessorized with a wreath of Maine bachelor buttons…”

    I am compiling evidence for my RFRA defense /claim that shows how Socialism has become the unconstitutionally established religion in the U.S.

    This wonderful article shows how you don’t need a god to consider yourself religious or to have “emotions involved [that] were no less sincere.”

    Thanks again!

    BURWELL v. HOBBY LOBBY STORES, INC. Opinion of the Court

    “HHS highlights certain statements in the opinion in Lee that it regards as supporting its position in these cases. In particular, HHS notes the statement that “[w]hen followers of a particular sect enter into commercial activity as a matter of choice, the limits they accept on their own conduct as a matter of conscience and faith are not to be superimposed on the statutory schemes which are binding on others in that activity.” 455 U. S., at 261. Lee was a free exercise, not a RFRA, case, and the statement to which HHS points, if taken at face value, is squarely inconsistent with the plain meaning of RFRA. Under RFRA, when followers of a particular religion choose to enter into commercial activity, the Government does not have a free hand in imposing obliga- tions that substantially burden their exercise of religion. Rather, the Government can impose such a burden only if the strict RFRA test is met.”

  • Christopher

    If you don’t understand the truth that income taxes are really voluntary you will pay. So most clergy pay them. I pay sales and gas taxes. I also pay secondary taxes because the cost of taxation is always passed on. But I even avoid most of those. But I certainly do not pay Marxist or socialist based taxes like FICA or title 26 taxes. They are voluntary (see above) and you can avoid them. I avoid most taxes. To avoid Gas Taxes you can buy an electric car or a car with excellent gas milage. To avoid sales taxes make things yourself, buy some things on line or buy used on Craig’s list. Tax avoidance is legal. Tax evasion is a crime.

  • Christopher

    But it was such a good question. Especially with the movement against the Hobby Lobby ruling. The Feminists cannot practice their faith if others do not pay for their practice of their religion of positive rights. So if people avoid taxation like Hobby Lobby did the Feminist religion will be harmed. “Oh the humanities.”

    Taxation has become a religious battleground. I avoid most taxation as a religious requirement.

  • DKeane123

    Ordained Minister of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster here. Got the framed certificate to prove it.

  • Lamont Cranston

    PLEASE waste as much money tilting at windmills as you possibly can. I hope it costs you all your property.

  • apotropoxy

    “Let me point this out now. Your income tax is 100 percent voluntary …”
    ___________________________

    The prison time believers in your tax law analysis is voluntary, too.

  • americanwoman343

    Im an ordained minister and I pay plenty of taxes. Please stop passing that canard around. “/sarcasm” doesn’t cut it.

  • Leigh Anne P

    Do, I put myself in debt too, but, why do you dislike it? Just because we put ourselves in debt to become a pastor doesn’t mean everyone should. Other than that, what is your complaint?

  • Leigh Anne P

    I’m ordained and I pay taxes……how do you think I would get out of it?

  • americanwoman343

    I suppose that if there is a God who seeks your worship and surrender, having been ordained to declare your commitment to making yourself the ultimate arbiter of what is true and who God is might potentially be a problem. Showing the Supreme Court who’s right doesn’t seem to be the ultimate question.

  • Frank2918

    If you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em.

  • John Crawley

    I don’t see that the author in this case did anything but show how incredibly uninformed she really is concerning the SCOTUS ruling.

  • Christopher

    Thanks. At least if I lose my property it will be after a fight…I have won many times in Court,

    You will voluntarily give you money to government thrived and when the time comes and history repeats you will voluntarily get on the trains to the New Nazis camps.

    Enjoy your choices. I enjoy mine and I pay for my own. You want others to pay for you.

  • Christopher

    I have never paid an income tax and have not filed in over 35 years. I have never been even threatened with arrest for a tax crime and have letters from the IRS that I am to required to file.

    Do you understand the RFRA? Of course you don’t.

    I would guess you are so ignorant of tax law you cannot even tell me the law that requires me to file a return.

    You can’t even tell me the Congressionally regulated value of the U.S. dollar.

    People like you make me laugh. Thanks for the good laugh. I do hope you enjoy your voluntary slavery.

    Can you even tell me what voluntary means? Well of course you cannot. I can tell you. Would you like the Court ruling that defined it?

    Ignorance is bliss so you must be happy.

  • joeyj1220

    May you be blessed by his noodly appendage

  • apotropoxy
  • JamesMMartin

    I hold a Doctor of Theology from the Universal Life Church, one of whose ministers actually married me. I once created whole cloth with the D.T. (well named in imitation of my then-dedication to usquebaugh) a “Gnostic” (no! not AGnostic!) church that I called The American Gnostic Church. It was “antinomian” because I was enthralled by the “black” magician, Aleister Crowley at the time. It also was Ophite-Cainite tradition and based upon a gospel left out of the Bible: the Gospel of Judas of Kerioth. (Just such a gospel was later found in the Levant but it was nothing like mine.) The Ophites and Cainites both actually existed; both turned the Old Testament on their heads, celebrating and honoring the “villains” of the Bible because they thumbed their noses at Ialdabaoth, the evil demiurge, known to Jews and Christians as Yahweh or Jehovah, while the one true god, Abraxas (sometimes Abrasax) is not something the average Christian would have _gnosis_ of. In the New Testament, Judas is good because only through his betrayal could Jesus have played his role in redemption. Now, though, I mostly look back at those days and sigh. Sometimes I chuckle. Did I have 15 minutes of fame?

  • Christopher

    That is funny because I have letters from the IRS that I am not required to file a return. NOT REQUIRED TO FILE A RETRUN is very important if you ACTUALLY read the statute.

    I really enjoyed your link. I noticed that it did not quote the whole statue. No wonder he thinks the tax is imposed on everyone. But that is not what it states now…is it?:

    26 U.S. Code § 1 – Tax imposed
    (a) Married individuals filing joint returns

    “Filing joint returns”? Who is stupid enough to do that?

    I don’t file and have not for over 35 years. I have letters saying I am not required to file a return. I agree that people that file are liable but I am not one of those voluntary slaves.

    That is like saying the tax is imposed on all married people and you think angle people are also liable. The wouldn’t be. They are not married. I don’t file or make a return so that statute does not apply to me or my family.

    Where is the section that imposes a tax on those of us that DO NOT FILE A RETURN?

    The Statute continues:

    and surviving spouses
    There is hereby imposed on the taxable income of—
    (1) every married individual (as defined in section 7703) who

    makes a single return jointly with his spouse under section

    6013, and

    OH NO! There it is again. That caveat that the tax is imposed on those who make a RETURN.

    I don’t.

    I am waiting.

    Cricket. Cricket. Cricket. Cricket.

    So when you come up with a web site where the person writing it can actually read what the statutes says let me know.

    By the way, Hobby Lobby ruling says the RFRA applies to tax law. And if you don’t know how the RFRA works then you don’t have a clue as to what is coming down on exemptions for people like me.

    Thanks for the good laugh…a tax is imposed on those that FILE A RETURN. That is funny. What kind of a sucker files a voluntary tax return so they can become a “person liable”? “Stupid is and stupid does.” As Forrest would say.