Israeli justice; secularism; Larissa Behrendt

Satire in Afghanistan. Jonathan Cook on an interesting development (though it should be treated with caution, not as a new trend but as a hopeful exception)

An Israeli judge made an historic ruling last week when he decided that an Arab teenager needed “protection” from the justice system and ordered that he not be convicted despite being found guilty of throwing stones at a police car during a protest against Israel’s attack last winter on Gaza.

Prosecutors had demanded that the juvenile, a 17-year-old from Nazareth in northern Israel, be convicted of endangering a vehicle on the road, a charge that carries a punishment of up to 20 years’ imprisonment, as a way to deter other members of Israel’s Arab minority from committing similar offences.

But Judge Yuval Shadmi said discrimination in the Israeli legal system’s treatment of Jewish and Arab minors, particularly in cases of what he called “ideologically motivated” offences, was “common knowledge”.

In the verdict, he wrote: “I will say that the state is not authorised to caress with one hand the Jewish ‘ideological’ felons, and flog with its other hand the Arab ‘ideological’ felons.”

He referred in particular to the lenient treatment by the police and courts both of Jewish settler youths who have attacked soldiers in the West Bank and who violently resisted the disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005, and of religious extremists who have spent many months battling police to prevent the opening of a car park on the Sabbath in Jerusalem.

Abir Baker, a lawyer with Adalah, a legal group for Israel’s 1.3 million-strong Arab minority, said the ruling was the first time a judge in a criminal court had ackowledged that the state pursued a policy of systematic discrimination in demanding harsher punishments for Arab citizens.

“We have known this for a long time, but it has been something very hard for us to prove to the court’s satisfaction,” she said. “Now we have a legal precedent that we can use to appeal against convictions in similar cases.”

A good article for a more secular Australia

if you are going to question the right of Scientologists to run a tax free organisation, how can you not ask the same question about the Catholics, the Jews, the Pentecostals and the Muslims?Religious groups in Australia have a combined wealth of around $1 billion, they run cereal companies, insurance companies, wineries and pizza chains, and pay none of the income tax or capital gains tax that slows the rest of us down on our climb to wealth and profit.

Why not? These are for-profit activities, they are not charitable or even evangelical; they are in the business of being in business, how do they manage to avoid business costs because of a misty historical precedent that has no relevance in a secular society?

Religious organisations argue that their profits are redistributed to the community in the form of charitable activities and community services. This same claim is made by purveyors of poker machines and it’s the reddest of herrings in both cases. Non-profit or charitable activities are tax deductions no matter who you are, and if all your profits are distributed this way then you will not pay any tax on them.

If you are not a religious organisation, however, you will need to put in a tax return and provide some proof that this is indeed the case. What possible cause does any church have to say that they should be exempt from this requirement?

A stronger argument against taxing religious organisation is that it would allow governments to shut down churches for non-payment of taxes, and could be manipulated to allow secular interference with religions unpopular with the government of the day. This is a valid point and no-one wants to see governments mucking about with religion, but taxing business activities is not going to interfere with any religious activities, unless you want to believe in the divine properties of Weet-bix™ and So Good™. It’s fear-mongering and chest-beating to drown out the facts.

Taxes are only required where profit is generated: if the expenses of running a business (or church) are more than the income, there is no tax to be paid; if a church wants to confine itself to charitable and evangelical activities it will generate no profit and not have to worry about taxes. If, on the other hand, a religious organisation manages to extract profits from its congregation or cereal packets, it should not be allowed to hide the source or the amount of those profits from the public by covering it with a shroud of we-are-untouchable-because-of-God mysticism.

It has no place in a society like Australia, which is, blessedly, secular.

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