Tax hanky-panky; the "non-refundable" deposit; unenforceable waivers
Religious and quasi-religious institutions like to tell us what is ethical and what is not. But, aside from what they say, how do they in fact behave ? That can be quite a different story, a conundrum in fact. For poor Benedict XVI -- I feel that I have a special relationship to him because we were both born in the same country within a few months of one another -- for this poor Pope, who has inherited a mess that is mostly not of his own making, this conundrum probably disturbs his sleep.
The Pope now finds himself in the glaring light of worldwide publicity. New revelations appear constantly, seemingly from everywhere, about Catholic pastors, Catholic bishops, Catholic cardinals even, who are said have transgressed in ways strictly forbidden by Canon Law. Obviously there is more than a bit of Schadenfreude in all this publicity, a point stressed by Catholic apologists. And equally obviously, there is a real moral problem as well.
Compared to these alleged high crimes and misdemeanors in the Catholic hierarchy, certain garden-variety hypocrisies, chicaneries, and sanctimonious practices seem hardly worth mentioning. But obviously these almost-routine practices, generally not reaching the level of spectacular crime, nevertheless need the warming sunlight of public knowledge.
Tax Hanky Panky
Here are excerpts from the website of Camp Ramah of the Berkshires, a non-profit group that is directed by a rabbi and whose office is located at the (Conservative) Jewish Theological Seminary:
Camp Improvement Fund *. An additional $500 will be added to each family’s account as an annual, voluntary, tax-deductible contribution to the Camp Improvement Fund. This is an amount essential to the development and maintenance of Camp Ramah and is included as a donation to ensure tax deductibility for your benefit. As with all similar tax-deductible contributions, these payments may qualify for your employer’s matching gift program. Please forward the appropriate form if this option is available to you.For your benefit. Right. Under our tax laws, "no goods or services" may be provided for a "contribution" to enjoy tax deductibility. So this "voluntary" CIF fee is first listed as a "fee," apparently part and parcel of the required payments for this camp, and is then called "voluntary." Which is it ? Between the wink and the nod, what is the message ? The "fee" part seems to be directed to the parent, the "voluntary" to pesky IRS investigators. So what these religious guides here teach, by example, is how to speak with forked tongues.
It is of course an open secret that many non-profit groups abuse the tax laws by providing tax-deduction receipts for what in fact are goods and services that they render, but rarely is the practice so blatantly advertised, on the internet no less.
The "non-refundable deposit" and other fees for services that are not performed
• A non-refundable enrollment deposit [of $725.00] is required at the time of acceptance. Website of Friends Seminary, New York
· Children will be dismissed early from camp for attempting to harm others, leaving the cabin after curfew, attempting to run away or for disruptive behavior.
· Refunds are not issued for children who are dismissed early due to disruptive behavior.
· The Camp Director makes the final decision on early dismissals.
Website of Long Point Camp, Salvation Army
Camper Withdrawals. No tuition refunds will be made for withdrawals after the start of camp that are initiated by parents without the concurrence of camp or if a camper is sent home due to behavioral misconduct. For other withdrawals, a prorated portion of the tuition will be refunded after deducting a withdrawal fee of half the tuition. (Conservative Jewish) Camp Ramah (Berkshires) website
"Behavioral misconduct" ? Yes, obviously, that kind, the behavioral kind of misconduct needs to be punished by a religious camp. But alas, abuse of the English language is the least egregious thing here. Non-profit schools and summer camps, including those run by religious groups, often give warnings to prospective parents: generally, once fees are paid they will not be returned, or will only be partially returned, even though no services are performed by the institution for these often considerable sums of money. The groups also frequently demand sizable deposits before enrollment, often with a warning that such deposits are non-refundable, or even "not refundable under any circumstances."
What is disturbing about these practices is that no attempt is made to relate these considerable sums to actual damages that may have been incurred by the institutions. Restitution of damages that are caused by early withdrawal, etc., would be rational demands and would have a strong basis in law. But a refusal to return deposits when there are no actual damages, or when such damages are smaller than the sums withheld, such refusal is illegal, and no agreement that a parent may have signed to that effect is enforceable. Parents should always demand a return of any such fees; if they do, they will regularly be vindicated in the courts.
Here are two cases that illustrate how courts have dealt with the issue:
Gunderson v Park West Montessori
Pacheco v Scoblionko
Obviously the many lawyers associated with these religious groups know very well -- the legal issue is beyond dispute -- that these practices are illegal, and that, if brought before the courts, they will lose. So why do they persist in these unconscionable demands ?
I hereby give permission for this youth to attend and participate inCamps and schools, soccer teams, all kinds of "youth-serving" organizations, both religious and secular, regularly demand that parents sign waivers to release them from their legal responsibilities in negligence cases. Such waivers are proper and enforceable in the case of adults but not in the case of minors. Professors Richard B. Malamud and John Karayan cite the legal doctrine as follows: "Minors can waive nothing. In the law they are helpless, so much so that their representatives can waive nothing for them." As their article makes clear, the courts will not honor such waivers, since parents do not have the power to grant them.
___________________________________. I have familiarized myself with the expected activities and understand the possible risk involved. Permission is also given for the person named above to ride in any vehicle designated by the adult in charge during this event. If a problem occurs I assume all transportation cost for my young person. I understand that the participant is expected to obey the general guidelines for behavior: that the instructions of the adult(s) in charge must be respected and obeyed and that NO alcohol, illegal drugs or sexual misconduct will be permitted at this event. I will take no civil or legal action against the adult(s) in charge of this event. Website of Episcopal Diocese, Western New York
So why, knowing that the courts will not enforce them, do the lawyers of these groups -- secular as well as religious -- persist in demanding them from parents as a condition for their children's participation in recreational pursuits ? Do these lawyers act in good faith ? Do they, in fact, practice the integrity that their groups preach ?
Still more groves of sanctimony:
Sidwell Friends School
New Israel Fund