Saturday, October 21, 2006

Dr. Dino's Pizza Party

It was always apparent that it would take a wicked combination of avarice, hubris, and stupidity for someone like Kent Hovind to bilk befuddled boobs out of their money by convincing them that god manufactured dinosaurs and mankind in the same week and airmailed them all to earth at the same time. Yesterday's testimony in the Dr. Dino trial proved that Hovind has all three dubious qualifications.

One of the PNJ's stalwarts, reporter Michael Stewart, has the story. It takes place "after church" two years ago when Hovind invited Seminole, Florida, attorney David Charles Gibbs "and his daughter, along with other church members... to Hovind's home for pizza and soda."

Gibbs, Stewart reports, "is affiliated with the Christian Law Association, a nonprofit organization founded by his father that offers free legal help to churches nationwide." But instead of picking Gibbs' brain for free advice about his many frivolous lawsuits and IRS troubles, Hovind spent the afternoon lecturing the lawyer on his own screwy legal theories:
"Gibbs said Hovind tried to persuade him he had no obligation to pay employee income taxes and explained with 'a great deal of bravado' how he had 'beat the tax system.'

Gibbs said Hovind also told him he preferred to deal in cash and that when you are 'dealing with cash there is no way to trace it, so it wasn't taxable.'"

Some measure of Dr. Dino's deranged view of himself can be gleaned from the analogies he pressed on Gibbs:
"'He tried to stress to me that he was like the pope and this was like the Vatican,' Seminole attorney David Charles Gibbs testified... ."
Now, the Vatican may consist of only 108 acres. But it is officially recognized by hundreds of diplomatic treaties as an independent nation. So, it's something of a hoot to learn that Hovind sees himself as the same kind of fellow as, say, Hildebrand (aka Pope Gregory VII - 1020?-1085), who excommunicated kings and emperors and fielded entire armies in his effort to fill the void left by the collapse of the Roman Empire with a religious theocracy stretching from Constantinople to London.

What's less amusing is to realize that Dr. Dino claims he is exempt from all uniform local, state, and federal tax laws simply because he asserts fruity ideas that are biblical in character. After all, to a secular realist Dr. Dino's religious ideas at a certain level of abstraction are no more outlandish or fantastical than those of other churches, religions, and faith-based organizations who have been bullying Congress and state legislatures into giving them special tax exemptions.

Just last week, the New York Times drew attention to this phenomenon with a four-part series on religious tax breaks. For online readers, most of the series is hidden behind Times Select (although you may be able to freely access a couple of them here and here. But you can get the flavor from the one installment that is still readable for free, titled "As Exemptions Grow, Religion Outweighs Regulation":
"In recent years, many politicians and commentators have cited what they consider a nationwide 'war on religion' that exposes religious organizations to hostility and discrimination. But such organizations — from mainline Presbyterian and Methodist churches to mosques to synagogues to Hindu temples — enjoy an abundance of exemptions from regulations and taxes. And the number is multiplying rapidly.

* * * {M]any have been granted in just the last 15 years — sometimes added to legislation, anonymously and with little attention, much as are the widely criticized 'earmarks' benefiting other special interests.

An analysis by The New York Times of laws passed since 1989 shows that more than 200 special arrangements, protections or exemptions for religious groups or their adherents were tucked into Congressional legislation, covering topics ranging from pensions to immigration to land use. New breaks have also been provided by a host of pivotal court decisions at the state and federal level, and by numerous rule changes in almost every department and agency of the executive branch.

The special breaks amount to 'a sort of religious affirmative action program,' said John Witte Jr., director of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at the Emory University law school.

Professor Witte added: 'Separation of church and state was certainly part of American law when many of today’s public opinion makers were in school. But separation of church and state is no longer the law of the land.'"
So, it would seem Dr. Dino isn't the only 'Christian' who's been throwing parties and angling for tax exemptions to subsidize his magical thinking. Everybody and anybody who embraces the same or similar irrational ideations has been getting into the act. The difference is, the smarter ones buy a few politicians, first, to earmark exemptions for them.

As the Times later editorialized when the series had concluded:
"Religious institutions should be protected from excessive intrusion by government. Judges should not tell churches who they have to hire as ministers, or meddle in doctrinal disputes. But under pressure from politically influential religious groups, Congress, the White House, and federal and state courts have expanded this principle beyond all reason. It is increasingly being applied to people, buildings and programs only tangentially related to religion.

"In its expanded form, this principle amounts to an enormous subsidy for religion, in some cases violating the establishment clause of the First Amendment. It also undermines core American values, like the right to be free from job discrimination. It puts secular entrepreneurs at an unfair competitive disadvantage. And it deprives states and localities of much-needed tax revenues, putting a heavier burden on ordinary taxpayers."

Pizza, anyone? The "atoms of carbon which enter into its composition," as T.H. Huxley would have reasoned had he known that Pizza Hut delivers, will taste just like the sacramental wafer -- only without the cheese.

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