inisters in a Kentucky county will no longer be granted an occupational tax exemption after a local atheist sued to challenge the practice.
Edwin Kagin, national legal director of American Atheists Inc., filed his suit in 2005 to challenge Boone County's exemption of ministers from the tax despite a state law prohibiting such exemptions. Boone, which lies on the northernmost tip of the state, stopped requiring an occupational tax from ministers and other clerics in 2000.
"In my mind this could be viewed as a license fee for someone to preach the gospel, and I disagree with that idea," said Gary Moore, Boone's judge executive.
"I am a Christian," Moore said. "I feel that the First Amendment right of our clergy to preach the Gospel should prevail." Moore, who holds the highest public office in the county, said that he would have fought the suit had the county's legal counsel not advised against it.
Kagin, an atheist who sued the county jointly with American Atheists Inc., said the exemption was unconstitutional. "Why do they think they ought to be exempt?" Kagin said. "Anyone who has to pay an occupational tax ought to be outraged that the county should let the ministers not pay the tax."
Kentucky passed a law in 2006 prohibiting ministerial tax exemptions."We chose to not enforce the state law," Moore said.
Boone County ministers and other clerics will again be held to the county's occupational tax. "Now, this is going to be blamed on `Look what atheists are doing to those ministers,' instead of `Look what ministers are doing to everyone else,'" Kagin said."
Reform Jewish Leader Calls For More Attention to the Sabbath
The leader of Reform Jews is spearheading a campaign for greater observance of a 24-hour Sabbath, including increased attendance at Saturday morning worship.
"In our 24/7 culture, the boundary between work time and leisure time has been swept away, and the results are devastating," said Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, speaking Saturday December 15 at the biennial convention of the Union for Reform Judaism in San Diego. "Do we really want to live in a world where we make love in half the time and cook every meal in the microwave?"
Yoffie said "stressed-out, sleep-deprived families" can benefit from abstaining from wage-earning work and reflecting on life. "We are asked to put aside those BlackBerries and stop gathering information, just as the ancient Israelites stopped gathering wood," he said.
"We are asked to stop running around long enough to see what God is doing."Yoffie's proposal includes recommendations that congregations set up task forces to study their own Shabbat morning service and those of other congregations, and then suggest how to enhance their services.
Since 1869, Reform Jews have observed a Shabbat Eve service on Friday nights. But Yoffie said this practice did not generally lead, as hoped, to attracting people to a morning service the next day.
Instead, Yoffie said, Saturday morning services have become "privatized," with the focus primarily on families celebrating bar or bat mitzvahs. "If I want to go to temple on Shabbat morning but I won't presume to do so without an invitation from the bar mitzvah family, the time has come to try new things," he said.
New research conducted for the Union of Reform Judaism found that half those surveyed said they attend most or all Shabbat Eve services, but a only a quarter said they worship Saturday morning in their congregations.
The online survey was completed by more than 12,000 people."