Religious organizations need to play by the same rules as the rest of us
Who: Seattle Atheists
What: Fraud investigation into Family Stations Inc. for deception about May 21 rapture
Why: Religious organizations need to be held accountable for their actions.
SEATTLE, WA – As suicide hotlines are set up to pick up the pieces after Family Radio’s failed prediction of the Rapture, Seattle Atheists demands accountability. “We support free speech, but this is shouting ‘Rapture!’ in a crowded theater,” said John Keiser of Seattle Atheists.
This was no vague suggestion, and even now the Family Radio web site says “Judgment Day May 21, 2011: The Bible guarantees it!” Mainstream Christians laughed this off as nonsense, and yet this prediction has had consequences. Already we read anecdotal evidence of people spending their retirement savings to publicize this nonevent or giving away their goods to make themselves right with God.
Seattle Atheists calls for an investigation into Family Radio’s claim. Did they benefit? How much of their income has been due to this false Rapture campaign?
“There must be consequences,” said Bob Seidensticker of Seattle Atheists. “For this radio network to be financially healthy when they have caused many of their listeners to be destitute or distraught—that’s wrong. We want a way for those injured by this prediction to come forward so they can be compensated by Family Radio.”
Family Radio might argue that they have been as surprised as anyone by the failure of their prediction, but is this true? Neither Family Radio nor its president, Harold Camping, made any disclosure that they were giving away their assets. Someone who actually believed that they wouldn’t need their assets after the Rapture would have given them to those left behind—to people who could benefit. Did Family Radio convince many of its listeners that the date was a certainty but not believe themselves? Seattle Atheists urge an investigation into possible fraud.
Of course, discovering how much money Family Radio made from this campaign isn’t possible with current laws. In return for tax-exempt donations, the IRS demands that nonprofit organizations open their books to make public what they’re doing with this benefit—except religious organizations. That means $100 billion tax-free to US religious organizations annually with no accountability.
“Has this whole episode been a financial windfall for Family Radio?” Seidensticker said. “We can’t know. So that the public can understand this and thousands of other questionable religious organizations, we call on Congress to make the rules consistent for all nonprofits. If a ministry is comfortable with God knowing how it spends its money, surely it can’t have anything to hide from the public.”