- A whistleblower complaint obtained by The Washington Post alleges that the Mormon Church has amassed 100 billion dollars in accounts intended for charitable purposes.
- The complaint came from a Mormon who worked for Ensign, the investment division of the Church that is allowed to operate as a nonprofit.
- According to the complaint, Ensign has not fully operated as a nonprofit and could be in violation of tax laws. It also alleges that by stockpiling the money, the Church was defrauding its members.
- The complaint cites Ensign’s President allegedly saying that the money was being put aside for the second coming of Jesus.
Allegations in Complaint
The Mormon Church has accumulated close to $100 billion in accounts intended for charity, according to a whistleblower complaint obtained by The Washington Post.
The complaint was given to the Internal Revenue Service on November 21 by David A. Nielsen, a Mormon who worked for Ensign Peak Advisors, the investment division of the Church. His twin brother Lars helped him write the complaint and assemble accompanying documents. They claim that in amassing this money, the Church defrauded its members and potentially violated federal tax law.
According to the complaint, the Mormon Church asks its members to donate 10% of their income to the Church, which is part of a common religious practice called tithing. Annually, they make $7 billion in contributions from members. It allocates $6 billion to operating costs, and the remaining one billion to Ensign.
Nonprofits are exempted from paying taxes on their income, including religious organizations like the Mormon Church. Because of this, Ensign, which is classified as a supporting organization of the Church, makes money pretty much free from U.S. taxes.
The Post said that Ensign’s portfolio started at $12 billion when it was formed in 1997. That portfolio now stands at $100 billion. Nielsen claims that despite its tax-exempt status, Ensign does not operate exclusively for religious, educational or other charitable purposes.
“Ensign has not directly funded any religious, educational or charitable activities in 22 years,” The Post’s report says. No documents specifically supported this claim, however, the complaint says this comes from information Nielsen learned while at the group. He is asking for Ensign to be stripped of its tax-exempt status, as well as alleging that they could owe billions in taxes. He is also seeking a reward from the IRS, which would be a portion of the unpaid taxes recovered.
Money Saved for Second Coming of Christ
According to the Post, the complaint cited Ensign’s President, Roger Clarke for the reasoning behind stockpiling the money. Clarke allegedly told people that, “the amassed funds would be used in the event of the second coming of Christ.“
In the complaint, Nielsen expressed frustration that the church had all this money but continued to ask its members, some of whom struggled financially, to keep donating.
“Would you pay tithing instead of water, electricity, or feeding your family if you knew that it would sit around by the billions until the Second Coming of Christ?” the complaint asked.
The complaint claimed that some of Ensign’s money had been used in the past, but not for charitable reasons. It alleges that $2 billion had been spent in the last decade improperly. The Post wrote that this sum was spent over the course of two instances to “bail out a church-run insurance company and a shopping mall in Salt Lake City that was a joint venture between the church and a major real estate company.”
Comments From Those Involved
David Nielson did not speak to the Post but his brother Lars did.
“Having seen tens of billions in contributions and scores more in investment returns come in, and having seen nothing except two unlawful distributions to for-profit concerns go out, [my brother] was dejected beyond words, and so was I,” he said.
The Post also reached out to the Mormon Church, however, their spokesman Eric Hawkins did not answer specific questions about the allegations at hand.
“The Church does not provide information about specific transactions or financial decisions,” he said.
When the Salt Lake Tribune reached out for comment, they were referred to a Q&A about the church’s finances, as well as an accompanying article.
“Church members are taught to ‘gradually build a financial reserve by regularly saving [a portion of their income],’ the Q&A says. “The Church applies this same principle in its own savings and investments. In addition to food and emergency supplies, the Church also sets aside funds each year for future needs.”
The Q&A also largely plays down the wealth of the Church. One question asks “Is the Church a rich church?” Their response states that “the strength of the Church cannot be measured by its financial holdings or real estate assets.”
“The only real wealth of the Church is in the faith of its people,” it continued.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Salt Lake Tribune) (Forbes)
Amanda Gorman Wows the Nation With “The Hill We Climb”
- Amanda Gorman, a 22-year-old poet, impressed the nation when she read “The Hill We Climb” at President Biden’s inauguration, making her the youngest inaugural poet in the nation’s history.
- Gorman’s said the Jan. 6 attack on the nation’s Capitol inspired her to focus on a message of hope, community, and healing in her poem.
- Big names like Oprah Winfrey, Anderson Cooper, Barack Obama, and Lin-Manuel Miranda have all praised her work.
Amanda Gorman Becomes Youngest Inaugural Poet
Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman wowed the nation on Wednesday as she spoke of healing, unity, hope, and what it means to be American while reading her poem, “The Hill We Climb.”
At 22-years-old Gorman is the youngest inaugural poet in the nation’s history. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she was the youth poet laureate of Los Angeles in 2014 at the age of 16. She then became the first national youth poet laureate in 2017.
Now, her books are topping Amazon’s Best Sellers list and they are not even scheduled to be released until the fall.
First Lady Dr. Jill Biden became a fan of Gorman after watching her give a reading at the Library of Congress. She then suggested that Gorman be a part of the ceremony.
“Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true: That even as we grieved, we grew. That even as we hurt, we hoped That even as we tired, we tried,” Gorman recited during inauguration. “That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious. Not because we will never again know defeat but because we will never again sow division.”
Like President Biden, Gorman has struggled with a speech impediment and has been open about her experience overcoming it. She actually used poetry as a tool to correct it. First, she used it as a way of expressing herself without having to speak. Then she used it to bring her poems to life.
“Once I arrived at the point in my life in high school, where I said, ‘you know what? Writing my poems on the page isn’t enough for me,” she told CBS News. “I have to give them breath, and life, I have to perform them as I am.’ That was the moment that I was able to grow past my speech impediment.”
What Inspired “The Hill We Climb”
Gorman said the inaugural committee gave her freedom and flexibility when it came to choosing what to write about. She was well on her way before the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Those events then influenced her writing.
“It energized me even more to believe that much more firmly in a message of hope, community and healing. I felt like that was the type of poem that I needed to write and it was the type of poem that the country and the world needed to hear,” she told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
That message came across clearly and the insurrection was depicted in part of “The Hill We Climb.”
“It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit. It’s the past we step into and how we repair it. We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it, would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy and this effort very nearly succeeded,” she said. “But while democracy can be periodically delayed it can never be permanently defeated. In this truth, in this faith we trust. For while we have our eyes on the future history has its eyes on us.”
Nation Impressed by Gorman
“Wow…Wow, I just, wow you’re awesome,” Cooper said when closing his interview with her. “I am so transfixed.”
Lin-Manuel Miranda also cheered Gorman on. “The Hill We Climb” notably references a line of scripture that appears in a “Hamilton” song. Gorman also said she used to sing the song “Aaron Burr, Sir” to help her say her R sounds and correct her speech impediment.
“I have never been prouder to see another young woman rise!” Oprah Winfrey wrote. “Brava Brava Amanda Gorman! Maya Angelou is cheering—and so am I.”
Winfrey also gave Gorman a ring with a caged bird on it—a reference to the famous Angelou poem— which Gorman wore during the inauguration.
Actor Mark Ruffalo joined the onslaught of praise, saying that her words will lead the nation.
Former President Barack Obama echoed that idea as well, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Gorman promised to run for president one day.
See what others are saying: (CBS News) (New York Times) (Los Angeles Times)
SAT Drops Subject Tests and Optional Essay Section
- The College Board will discontinue SAT subject tests effective immediately and will scrap the optional essay section in June.
- The organization cited the coronavirus pandemic as part of the reason for accelerating these changes.
- Regarding subject tests, the College Board said the other half of the decision rested on the fact that Advanced Placement tests are now more accessible to low-income students and students of color, making subject tests unnecessary.
- It also said it plans to launch a digital version of the SAT in the near future, despite failing to implement such a plan last year after a previous announcement.
College Board Ends Subject Tests and Optional Essay
College Board announced Tuesday that it will scrap the SAT’s optional essay section, as well as subject tests.
Officials at the organization cited the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the reason for these changes, saying is has “accelerated a process already underway at the College Board to simplify our work and reduce demands on students.”
The decision was also made in part because Advanced Placement tests, which College Board also administers, are now available to more low-income students and students of color. Thus, College Board has said this makes SAT subject tests unnecessary.
While subject tests will be phased out for international students, they have been discontinued effective immediately in the U.S.
Regarding the optional essay, College Board said high school students are now able to express their writing skills in a variety of ways, a factor which has made the essay section less necessary.
With several exceptions, it will be discontinued in June.
The Board Will Implement an Online SAT Test
In its announcement, College Board also said it plans to launch a revised version of the SAT that’s aimed at making it “more flexible” and “streamlined” for students to take the test online.
In April 2020, College Board announced it would be launching a digital SAT test in the fall if schools didn’t reopen. The College Board then backtracked on its plans for a digital test in June, before many schools even decided they would remain closed.
According to College Board, technological challenges led to the decision to postpone that plan.
For now, no other details about the current plan have been released, though more are expected to be revealed in April.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (The New York Times)
Biden To Block Trump’s Order Lifting COVID-19 Travel Ban
- President Trump issued an executive order Monday lifting a ban on travelers from the Schengen area of Europe, the U.K., Ireland, and Brazil.
- Trump said the policy will no longer be needed starting Jan. 26, when the CDC will start requiring all passengers from abroad to present proof of a negative coronavirus test before boarding a flight.
- The move was cheered by the travel industry; however, incoming White House press secretary Jennifer Psaki warned that Biden’s administration does not intend to lift the travel restrictions.
Trump Order End To COVID-19 Travel Ban
President Donald Trump issued an executive order Monday ending his administration’s ban on travelers from the Schengen area of Europe, the U.K., Ireland, and Brazil.
That ban was put in place last spring in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus in the U.S. In his announcement, however, Trump said the policy will no longer be needed starting Jan. 26, when new rules from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention go into effect.
Starting that day, the CDC will require all passengers from abroad to present proof of a negative coronavirus test before boarding a flight.
The recommendation to lift the ban reportedly came from Alex Azar, the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services. According to Trump’s proclamation, “the Secretary reports high confidence that these jurisdictions will cooperate with the United States in the implementation of CDC’s January 12, 2021, order and that tests administered there will yield accurate results.”
It’s worth noting that the ban will stay in place for travelers from Iran and China. Still, Trump’s announcement was generally cheered by members of the travel industry who have been pushing to lift the ban and require preflight testing instead.
Biden To Block Trump’s Order
Soon after the news broke, the incoming White House press secretary for President-elect Joe Biden, Jennifer Psaki, warned that Biden would block Trump’s order.
“With the pandemic worsening, and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel,” she wrote on Twitter.
“On the advice of our medical team, the Administration does not intend to lift these restrictions on 1/26. In fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” she added.
With that, it seems unlikely that Trump’s order will actually take effect.
It’s also worth noting that this is one of many executive orders Trump has issued just before inauguration day.
Some of these orders could soon be overturned once Biden takes office Wednesday. Biden is also expected to roll out his own wave of executive orders in his first 10 days as president.