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Tax Exemption Without Limitation - Now That’s Christianity

May 12th, 2008 | by Daniel DiRito |

The gall of the religious right never ceases to amaze. Time and again, they demonstrate that hypocrisy is an essential element of their ideology. While many of these zealots frequently demonstrate their willingness to preach one thing and do another, their latest endeavor seems determined to take it to a whole new level.

The Alliance Defense Fund, a legal advocate for the right wing, is calling on churches to voice their positions on political candidates en masse on September 28th in order to create the grounds to challenge the constitutionality of the current tax code. As it now stands, the IRS guidelines prohibit churches from directly endorsing or rejecting political candidates in order to maintain their tax exempt status. The ADF wants to overturn the provision on the grounds that it circumvents their First Amendment rights and is therefore unconstitutional.

From The Washington Post:

The Alliance Defense Fund, based in Scottsdale, Ariz., will ask the clergy to deliver a sermon about specific candidates Sept. 28. If the action triggers an IRS investigation, the legal group will sue to overturn the federal rules, which were enacted in 1954.

Under the IRS code, churches can distribute voter guides, run voter registration drives, hold forums on public policy and invite politicians to speak at their congregations.

However, they cannot endorse a candidate, and their political activity cannot be biased for or against a candidate, directly or indirectly.

The Alliance Defense Fund said Friday that the regulations amount to an unconstitutional limit on free speech and government intrusion into religion.

From WorldNetDaily:

“Churches have for too long feared the loss of tax exempt status arising from speech in the pulpit addressing candidates for office,” the ADF’s white paper on the campaign confirmed. “Rather than risk confrontation, pastors have self-censored their speech, ignoring blatant immorality in government and foregoing the opportunities to praise moral government leaders.

“ADF believes that IRS restrictions on religious expression from the pulpit, whenever the IRS characterizes it as ‘political,’ is unconstitutional. After 50 years of threats and intimidation, churches should confront the IRS directly and reclaim the expressive rights guaranteed to them in the United States Constitution,” the group said.

“The intimidation of churches by leftist groups using the IRS has grown to a point that ADF has no choice but to respond,” said Erik Stanley, senior counsel for the ADF. “The number of threats being reported to ADF is growing because of the aggressive campaign to unlawfully silence the church.

Where to begin. First, I doubt the courts would rule in favor of the ADF since churches have always had the option to forego their tax exempt status. The bottom line - they elect their tax status knowing the conditions. I personally believe they shouldn’t be tax exempt and it wouldn’t surprise me if this misguided effort opens the door to discussing that possibility.

Beyond that, the dividing line between church and state is a complex matter that has been addressed numerous times by the courts. I suspect that the ADF believes that the shift to the right in the Supreme Court under the Bush administration may be to their benefit. Regardless, there is ample precedent that would need to be ignored in order for ADF to prevail.

Setting aside the legal argument, I want to focus on some of the inconsistent positions that emanate from the religious right…positions that lead me and many others to decry their penchant for hypocrisy. Two issues jump off the page.

The first is federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. President Bush and his supporters have argued that the government shouldn’t provide funding for such research. The rationale for their objections is predicated upon ethical concerns that have their origin in religious doctrine. At the same time, he and those who support the ban on federal funding loudly note that they aren’t preventing state and private funding for this research.

Hence the inconsistency is revealed. On the one hand, the religious right believes that it is appropriate for the president to deny funding for research that could assist numerous Americans that have no religious objections to the use of embryonic stem cells. They argue that those in favor of doing so can still conduct the research…just without the endorsement (funding) of the federal government. In other words, no one’s rights are being denied so long as the research is allowed to proceed. If you favor it, fund it privately…but your federal government isn’t going to use your money to do so.

On the other hand, those who endorse the logic in the above argument believe the federal government shouldn’t be allowed to prohibit churches from engaging in partisan politicking in exchange for granting them an exemption from taxation. Where does that leave us? Well, it says that these individuals want the government to forego funding research that conflicts with their religious beliefs while also allowing them to use the pulpits of the churches they support to influence the outcome of elections…without those churches ever being required to pay taxation. If that isn’t wanting to have it both ways, what is?

Contrast that with the secular citizen who pays taxes and wants the government to fund research that might save lives and one begins to see the absurdity of the system these religious demagogues favor. Truth be told, many of these religious organizations have already established “arms length” political entities that circumvent the IRS codes. Anyone who doubts their aspirations for the establishment of a theocracy ought to think again. The ADF directive is simply the next step in a well-crafted agenda.

The second item that illuminates the inconsistency in the rationale of the religious right is gay marriage. Proponents of measures to ban same-sex marriages contend that same-sex couples can achieve many of the same benefits that are afforded to married couples by utilizing the appropriate legal documentation. Of course they fail to mention that the lion’s share of benefits cannot be achieved through any means…especially those that relate to taxation.

At the same time, they argue that the preservation of the institution of marriage and it’s religious connotations is reasonable so long as the government isn’t preventing gays from forming the relationships they choose. In other words, it’s reasonable to restrict marriage to one man and one woman so long as the government allows gays to form the relationships they choose. The bottom line message to gays - you elect your tax status knowing the conditions.

When gays assert that this is an unfair system, the religious right is the first to cite those objections as evidence of the militant homosexual agenda and the desire of gays to force society to accept and embrace their alternative lifestyle.

Again, we begin to see the inconsistency. On the one hand, the religious right argues that the government has no obligation to recognize same-sex unions…and those who enter into them do so knowing the precedent conditions. You want a gay spouse, you don’t benefit from the advantageous tax status afforded to recognized marriages. On the other hand, they want the government to recognize religious doctrine when determining whose marriages will receive beneficial treatment while also wanting their churches to receive preferential tax status absent conditions…conditions that are simply intended to uphold the separation of church and state.

Similar arguments can be made with regards to the religious right’s positions on a number of issues. This includes a woman’s right to have an abortion and the rights of an individual or their family members to make end of life decisions. Time and again, the religious right seeks to insert and impose their beliefs on those who do not share them while simultaneously asking the government to adopt a laissez-faire mentality with regards to monitoring the separation of church and state.

I find it amusing that those who routinely point out that the spiritual realm supersedes all else spend so much of their time in the pursuit of all things political and material. Then again, the newly emerging prosperity theology suggests that the attainment of success (wealth and worldly measures) is undoubtedly evidence that one is appropriately aligned with the Lord.

Silly me…why on earth would I conclude that any of the above positions are hypocritical. I just pray that God will help me abandon rational and reasoned thought in favor of the fabrications that come with faith. I need to accept that the teachings of Jesus Christ have nothing to do with today’s Christianity. Come to think of it, maybe that’s the reason the religious right insists that everyone has to be born again.

Image courtesy of TBogg

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

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  1. 12 Responses to “Tax Exemption Without Limitation - Now That’s Christianity”

  2. By rube cretin on May 12, 2008 | Reply

    excellent post Daniel. I am in hopes the basic values of fundamentalist religion, which have recently been focused on prosperity theology, will change to one based on love not hate, justice not vengeance, and cooperation not competition. While i don’t subscribe to any religion, it is possible it can serve a very important function in our uncertain future. Some mighty fine folks are believers, and the institution of the church has served a valuable role at times. just hope they can get their proper role defined and leave the politics to the power hungry.

  3. By Steve O on May 12, 2008 | Reply

    I agree with Rube. Great post. I’m an atheist but I truly believe that churches put some people in check that would otherwise be dangerous.

    Spirituality is a wonderful human experience but when some people use it to influence others politically it crosses the line.

    In all fairness all religions should be taxed and be allowed to say what they want. Then we will see where the real cults are.

    Freedom of speech has a price, that is all the tax code is saying. We all pay it why shouldn’t they?

  4. By Craig R. Harmon on May 12, 2008 | Reply

    I have no problem with some limitations on speech: false advertising, fraud, inciting riots, directing criminal behavior, conspiring to criminal behavior, libel and the such can all be punished without a single complaint from me…but where’s the harm, please, in saying:

    Abortion kills living human babies before they have a chance to be born into the world…Arack Bobama (a hypothetical candidate bearing no resemblance to Barack Obama) is pro choice and therefore a vote for Senator Bobama is a vote against protecting these weakest and most vulnerable among us…we, as a society, should be protecting the helpless from sudden, violent death, not legally permitting such killing.”

    Please note: I am not inquiring about whether you agree or disagree with the content of the speech, since the first amendment protects speech that you and I may disagree with and such speech outside an abortion clinic would be protected. Rather, I am asking where the harm is in such a statement made inside a Church by the pastor of the Church. My point being that free speech is such a fundamental right that, to restrict it requires that the government show some real harm in such speech.

    Also, please note: I understand that Churches that wish to engage in such speech may forgo tax-exempt status but it is clear that the present rules are in place for no other purpose than restricting Churches to speech that avoids taking a position on this or that candidate by imposing a heavy cost on it as an institution, a cost that would definitely eat into contributions and, thus, limit contributions — limiting legitimately charitable work that the Church might do — not only because taxing said contributions leaves the contributor with fewer funds (because they are being taxed for their contributions) but also because taxing such contributions makes such Churches less attractive to contributors who are likely to redirect their contributions to other institutions where their contributions will not be taxed. This might even cause such Churches to close due to insufficient contributions. This would be tantamount to the government destroying Churches for no other reason than that they made a statement either criticizing a candidate or praising one. The phrase “free exercise must have some meaning but not if government can, in effect, close Churches for daring to exercise free speech.

    So then, where’s the harm in such a statement that the government thinks it necessary to impose such a cost in order to limit it?

    By the way, for those who are not aware of it, a Church’s tax exemption does not apply to the salaries of pastors or other paid staff working for Churches. Pastors’ salaries are taxed the same as anyone who is self-employed. That is to say, they pay not only the same tax that any worker working for any corporation pays but also that portion of taxes that the corporation pays for its workers. In other words, pastors pay more in tax than the ordinary worker at a non tax-exempt corporation. The loss of a Church’s tax exempt status would not effect the tax that a pastor making such a statement as that above would pay. It would only cause contributors to have to pay taxes on their contributions to that Church. In other words, it isn’t the case that, if a pastor wanted to make such statements from the pulpit, he would only have to pay taxes like the rest of us. His taxes would not be changed. The loss of tax exempt status would only mean that Churches would have a more difficult time raising funds for operations, missions, local and global aid to the poor, etc., since all contributions would be taxed, rather than tax exempt.

    So this really is not about speakers paying the price of free speech since the speaker, the pastor, already is paying his fair share of that cost. The loss of tax exempt status would materially and seriously damage a Church’s ability to continue to exist by disincentivising contributions to Churches. What good purpose would be served by removing the tax exempt status of a Church that merely wishes not to have the government put a gag in its pastor’s mouth when it comes to some issues?

    What clause of the Constitution gives the federal government the authority to endanger the continued existence of institutions and organizations for the sole purpose of restricting the speech that is allowed to be made within those institutions and organizations in the face of “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech“?

    It seems to me that such tax laws both interfere with the free exercise of religion (for, if rebuking injustice and immorality of public officials and encouraging good behavior of same is not a valid purpose of religion, then what is?) and abridge freedom of speech.

    What it seems to me is that this gag and accompanying threat to the continued funding and existence of Churches who would wish to exercise free speech have no other purpose than to protect incumbents from criticism for their policy positions and actions in office…same as the McCain-Feingold Act. That doesn’t sound like a benefit to the country. That sounds like a benefit to corrupt public officials who wish to remain in office without pastors criticizing their actions from the pulpits.

  5. By Craig R. Harmon on May 12, 2008 | Reply

    Having said all that, I think daring the I.R.S. to remove a Church’s exempt status by, en masse, making statements in Churches throughout the country in support or against specific candidates is a monumentally stupid idea. I simply do not believe that such a constitutional challenge would fly, thus causing Churches throughout the country to damage themselves by endangering their tax exempt status. Nothing I’ve said above should be taken to mean that I think this is a good idea.

  6. By Daniel DiRito on May 12, 2008 | Reply

    Craig,

    Yes, there’s a real simple solution…churches can forego the tax exemption and rattle on…completely unobstructed…to their hearts content…just like those in favor of stem cell research and same-sex marriage do…despite the fact that the current administration disagrees wih them. If the church believes what they have to say is that important, why don’t they put their money where their mouths are?

    As a gay man, I recall being told countless times that I’m entitled to my choices…so long as I accept what comes with them. I think what’s good for the goose ought to be good for the gander, don’t you? Or are you opposed to a level playing field? My antennae sense you’re simply proposing the very double standards I’ve noted in my posting.

    You see, you can’t be opposed to the welfare state for some while also insisting that religious institutions are entitled to benefit from it without any strings attached. As I recall, most welfare recipients have to play by the rules attached to the receipt of the benefits. Are you suggesting the church should receive the welfare AND be exempt from the rules as well? Pardon my disdain, but that seems rather unfair, don’t you think?

    Sounds like we’re back to talking about cake, eh?

    Regards,

    Daniel

  7. By Craig R. Harmon on May 12, 2008 | Reply

    Daniel,

    I’m not in favor of Churches accepting tax exempt status without following the rules attached to that status…unless, of course, those rules are unconstitutional. If they are unconstitutional, then those rules are null and void and never were valid rules and no one ever had to follow them so that point seems irrelevant. The challenge being proposed here is to the constitutionality of said rules.

    Note: I take no position on the constitutionality of said rules. My comments indicate that I’m fairly certain that such rules would endure a challenge in the Supreme Court — hence my indication that challenging the rules as suggested would be monumentally stupid.

    I don’t object to level playing fields. If gays banded together to form a non profit, charitable organization, I think they should be able to speak out about issues that they think are important, including endorsing or opposing candidates, without losing their tax exempt status so, in my vision, the playing field would be perfectly level.

    I don’t insist that religious institutions are entitled to benefits such as tax exemption. What I oppose is using such status for the express and sole purpose of limiting the free speech rights of such organizations.

    I think that I am entitled to oppose the welfare state — which, in my opinion, is something quite different from any particular state or federal government run welfare programs, which I generally favor — while opposing the welfare state as being bad policy leading to, well, stagflation and France-like the nation-wide striking and rioting anytime the state says that the costs of the welfare state have become so great that the state must make some cut-backs.

    I’m used to disdain. Don’t give it a second thought.

    But I asked quite a few questions and points in my comment that you left unaddressed. Care to take a shot at them?

  8. By Daniel DiRito on May 12, 2008 | Reply

    Craig,

    I hope you won’t take this wrong, and I apologize if you do…but you are so intoxicated by the kool-aid that I literally don’t know what I can say to you that won’t elicit the same responses with the same circular rhetoric.

    I’m not asking that gays be allowed to have tax exempt status…we do just fine operating in the same manner as the bulk of the citizenry…we donate, we lobby, we speak out, and we effect change…without the advantages of tax exemption. Keep in mind that churches aren’t prohibited from political participation…they simply can’t use the pulpit to endorse or reject candidates.

    That leaves them perfectly able to address issues and allow their followers to infer which candidate has adopted the preferred position…unless you’re going to tell me that Christians haven’t the wherewithal to discern as much. If so, that’s certainly not an argument for granting the church the right to “instruct” their followers. In fact that seems rather contrary to the voter responsibilities that accompany a democratic system.

    Keep in mind that it is the church that insists gays want special rights while, in fact, it is the church itself that receives them by virtue of their tax exemption. The church can simply walk away from it’s tax exempt status and function in the same manner that gays have done for years. Tell me how the government is silencing the church when the church voluntarily elects to have the tax exempt status?

    I’ll say it again…why doesn’t the church place enough merit on their values to move forward without the tax exempt status…or do these people of faith, who love to assure others that God will provide, not actually have the faith in him that they tell others to exhibit?

    You suggest that religion is being prevented from rebuking the injustice and immorality of public officials. That’s simply not true as this already happen on a regular basis. In fact, the ADF and those who suggest that the restrictions accompanying a tax exempt status are unfair are the same people who tell gays time and again that if they want more rights, they need to win over more voters. They then like to accuse gays of utilizing the judicial system (activist judges) to overrule the injustices of the majority. How is it acceptable that the church now want’s to avail itself of the courts in order to obtain their own version of special rights?

    Sarcastic as this may sound, perhaps the churches need to rally their representatives to rewrite the laws…following the same process they routinely suggest to gays as their proper recourse. After all, the church has a track record of success with legislation…and they’ve even moved beyond legislation to amending the constitution. Surely you’re not suggesting that we view the church as the victim? You see, tossing around accusations of judicial activism while attempting to do the same seems rather disingenuous. Perhaps that further demonstrates the hypocrisy I’ve noted in my posting?

    I could at least respect the church if it were forthcoming about its intentions. All of this bait and switch, tortured logic simply alienates those who aren’t blinded by Biblical ideology. I realize that the church believes that its ideology is infallible and therefore ought to be the basis upon which the nation operates. Unfortunately, that has the makings of a theocracy…and it’s rather reminiscent of the tyranny the colonies sought to shed when seeking independence.

    Such is the unrelenting problem with religious ideology…those who embrace it believe it cannot be refuted because they reject all views that differ. In fact, churches are still arguing about which faith can lead to salvation and which one’s block the individual from ever achieving same. Either most churches are irrationally intransigent institutions or God has a bent sense of humor and/or a penchant for pitting us all against the other.

    No, I’m not in favor of granting ideologues more leeway. I’m immensely thankful that the powers that be have kept the zealots in check and sought to partition the certainties of the church from the obligation of the state to act objectively absent any preferential religious dogma. Lastly, I’m not buying the argument that religion is being victimized. Much of history suggests just the opposite.

    Regards,

    Daniel

  9. By Craig R. Harmon on May 12, 2008 | Reply

    Daniel,

    I hope you won’t take this wrong, and I apologize if you do…but you are so intoxicated by the kool-aid that I literally don’t know what I can say to you that won’t elicit the same responses with the same circular rhetoric.

    Hmmm. I’m intoxicated by kool-aid…how could I take that wrong? ;-)

    I’m not asking that gays be allowed to have tax exempt status…

    I haven’t suggested that you have asked for gays to be allowed to have tax exempt status. What I’ve said is that I’ve written nothing to suggest an unlevel playing field since I think that all non profit charitable organizations should equally have the same speech rights. See? Playing field perfectly level.

    we do just fine operating in the same manner as the bulk of the citizenry…we donate, we lobby, we speak out, and we effect change…without the advantages of tax exemption.

    Are you suggesting that either you personally, gays in general, or the general population, when you make donations to charitable organizations, do not find those donations to be tax exempt? Of course you do for all donations to non profit charitable organizations are tax exempt. So then, Church folk are not asking for or receiving any special favors from the government that every American, gay or straight, religious or otherwise does not enjoy. I merely wonder why being a tax exempt, non profit, charitable organization should mean that the government, contrary to the first amendment, is allowed to limit first amendment rights. You haven’t addressed that, that I can see. For example, in my first comment, I invented a fictitious statement and asked what harm there was in making such a statement from a pulpit that the government should be empowered by what clause of the Constitution to infringe upon free speech rights. If you’ve answered that, I’m sorry but I missed it.

    Keep in mind that churches aren’t prohibited from political participation…they simply can’t use the pulpit to endorse or reject candidates.

    The question is not whether churches are prohibited from political participation and I’ve never suggested that it is. The question is, is prohibiting endorsement or rejection of candidates by charitable organization that Congress has granted the privilege of tax exemptions for donations constitutional? Put another way, what makes constitutional a law passed by Congress which would appear to infringe two constitutional rights contrary to the explicit words of the first amendment prohibiting Congress from doing such a thing?

    That leaves them perfectly able to address issues and allow their followers to infer which candidate has adopted the preferred position… unless you’re going to tell me that Christians haven’t the wherewithal to discern as much.

    No, of course not but, again, you fail to address what harm mentioning candidates from the pulpit (taking my first comment’s hypothetical as a for instance), either endorsing them or reproving them by name, causes to the people, the community, the local or state or federal government that would override the presumption contained in the text of the first amendment that it is beyond Congress’s authority to infringe upon either free speech or the free exercise of religion. Again, if the government has no rational reason for infringing free speech rights, it seems to me that passing a law that, it seems to me, infringes those rights guaranteed in the first amendment, by what authority does Congress pass such a law? Ours is, after all, a government of enumerated powers. Where in the Constitution is such a power enumerated?

    If so, that’s certainly not an argument for granting the church the right to “instruct” their followers. In fact that seems rather contrary to the voter responsibilities that accompany a democratic system.

    Since that isn’t so, I’ll let that part pass because it’s irrelevant to anything that I’ve argued. I don’t need an argument for granting the Church the right to “instruct” its followers since the Constitution granted that right back when the first ten amendments were ratified: that would be what the free exercise of religion clause and the free speech clause are there to do.

    Keep in mind that it is the church that insists gays want special rights while, in fact, it is the church itself that receives them by virtue of their tax exemption.

    Whatever “the church” may “insist[]” upon, I do not. In fact, I favor gay marriage, with all of the rights and privileges and responsibilities that are attendant upon straight marriage. I favor gay adoption rights and many others. You are not debating “the church”, you are debating me and I’ve insisted upon no such thing as that gays want special rights. I am not advocating your view of “the church” or anything that you think it insists upon. I am advancing a very specific position and that gays want special rights is not it.

    The church can simply walk away from it’s tax exempt status and function in the same manner that gays have done for years. Tell me how the government is silencing the church when the church voluntarily elects to have the tax exempt status?

    Yes, the church can, as I explicitly said in my first comment, walk away from its tax exempt status. That is not now nor was it ever my point.

    Nor have I said that the government is silencing the church. Not my point either.

    My point is that the Constitution, specifically and explicitly, protects certain rights: one that applies explicitly to religious organizations — the free exercize clause — and one that applies to all in America: the free speech clause. I merely ask by what authority in the Constitution does Congress pass a law that, it seems to me, infringes both rights. The first amendment doesn’t add to the text of the first amendment “unless the law is optional”, it merely says “Congress shall make no law…”. Period. I ask what harm the government balances against the first amendment’s presumption of religious organizations’ rights of free exercise and free speech. Receiving no answer from you but, rather, much opprobrium, I’m still stumped as to why the tax laws, which pretty clearly infringe free speech and free expression rights, should be considered constitutional.

    I’ll say it again…why doesn’t the church place enough merit on their values to move forward without the tax exempt status…or do these people of faith, who love to assure others that God will provide, not actually have the faith in him that they tell others to exhibit?

    Well, for someone who refuses to address my main question — What harm does the government balance against the first amendment in passing a law that specifically is intended to and does prohibit the church from saying certain things? — it seems rather cheeky to chide me for not answering why the church does not place enough merit on their values to move forward without the tax exempt status.

    There are several answers: one, it should not have to since the first amendment seems to prohibit Congress from passing laws that infringe upon free speech rights and the right of free religious expression. Two, because to do so would be to give up the same tax advantaged position that Congress grants every non profit, charitable organization. The better question would be, given the protections of the first amendment, why SHOULD churches, or any other non profit, charitable organization, be placed in the position of either being curtailed in its constitutional rights or giving up an advantage that Congress saw fit to privilege non profit, charitable organizations in America? Third, to do so would disadvantage those churches in their seeking donations for their charitable works since their donors would lose the advantage that they could obtain by donating instead to a tax exempt organization. It has nothing to do with its confidence in its message. Churches have the Congress granted privilege, being non profit, charitable organizations, of donations to them being tax exempt AND I see no reason why, at the same time, they should be thought to not have the first amendment rights of free expression of religion and free speech. I don’t see why they should have to choose one over the other, other than that Congress passed a law prohibiting it. Surely you would not wish to argue that Congress never passes a law that is not unconstitutional or that unconstitutional laws ought not to be struck down post haste, would you?

    You suggest that religion is being prevented from rebuking the injustice and immorality of public officials. That’s simply not true as this already happen on a regular basis. In fact, the ADF and those who suggest that the restrictions accompanying a tax exempt status are unfair are the same people who tell gays time and again that if they want more rights, they need to win over more voters. They then like to accuse gays of utilizing the judicial system (activist judges) to overrule the injustices of the majority. How is it acceptable that the church now want’s to avail itself of the courts in order to obtain their own version of special rights?

    No. As my example, given near the top of my first comment, makes clear, it is not just rebuking injustice of public officials but doing so by name in a way that may be seen as rejecting (or, in another context, endorsing) said official by name for his policies and in a way that at least implies that Christians ought not vote for said official. The difference between rebuking public officials by name and all that gay rights stuff that you bring into it is the “public officials…by name” part, which tax law prohibits as electioneering. As for the gay rights stuff, I direct you to what I wrote above about my own positions on gay rights. In short, my comments are not a commendation of those positions that you find objectionable — which, to be fair, you might have inferred from my comments because I did not explicitly reject those positions — nor a commendation of the ADF, whose plan I explicitly rejected in my second comment.

    Sarcastic as this may sound, perhaps the churches need to rally their representatives to rewrite the laws…following the same process they routinely suggest to gays as their proper recourse.

    Well, given the explicit nature of the first amendment, I’m not sure why that should be necessary, the Constitution already prohibiting Congress from making laws that infringe upon those textual rights. In light of the first amendment’s text, I’m not sure why the solution is the passing of more laws by congress when the problem is that it would appear that they’ve unconstitutionally passed at least one too many laws already. But, since I am not commending the ADF’s judicial approach and, in fact, have explicitly rejected it, I fail to see why I am being castigated, along with what you call “the church”, for seeking redress in the courts. In the words of the immortal bard: “It ain’t me you’re lookin’ for”. I plead not guilty of all charges and specifications in the indictment.

    After all, the church has a track record of success with legislation…and they’ve even moved beyond legislation to amending the constitution. Surely you’re not suggesting that we view the church as the victim?

    No. I’m suggesting no such thing. I’ve done nothing more than made an argument that, in its essence, suggests to me that Congress, in passing a law that seems to pretty clearly infringe both the free exercise of religion clause of the Constitution and the free speech clause, in direct contradiction of the first amendment’s text, without any harm being balanced against those rights, would seem to be unconstitutional and asked what harm there might be in a specific, hypothetical, statement being given from the pulpit.

    You see, tossing around accusations of judicial activism while attempting to do the same seems rather disingenuous. Perhaps that further demonstrates the hypocrisy I’ve noted in my posting?

    I agree but then, I’m not the one tossing around accusations. I’ve accused no one of anything. Seems to me you’ve been making a boat-load of assumptions about what I’m arguing, without cause, some of which I explicitly rejected even before you assumed them. The rest you simply assumed from the silence of my argument rather than taking my argument as it stood, without importing a lot of things from outside of my argument, and then castigated me for things I’ve already explicitly rejected and for things that I never gave you cause to suppose I believed.

    I could at least respect the church if it were forthcoming about its intentions. All of this bait and switch, tortured logic simply alienates those who aren’t blinded by Biblical ideology. I realize that the church believes that its ideology is infallible and therefore ought to be the basis upon which the nation operates. Unfortunately, that has the makings of a theocracy…and it’s rather reminiscent of the tyranny the colonies sought to shed when seeking independence.

    I refuse to be held responsible for anyone’s words, logic (tortured or otherwise), or baiting and switching. I will be held responsible for my words and argument, which, it seems to me, have been coherent, logical, and consistent. At least, you’ve not shown my words to have been anything else.

    Such is the unrelenting problem with religious ideology…those who embrace it believe it cannot be refuted because they reject all views that differ. In fact, churches are still arguing about which faith can lead to salvation and which one’s block the individual from ever achieving same. Either most churches are irrationally intransigent institutions or God has a bent sense of humor and/or a penchant for pitting us all against the other.

    If I, for the sake of my argument, agree with you, will you agree to address my argument, as it stands, my words alone, without importing anything from outside of my actual words? I’d be greatly appreciative. Responding to all of this arguing past me against people who are not me, as though I were them, is exhausting.

    No, I’m not in favor of granting ideologues more leeway. I’m immensely thankful that the powers that be have kept the zealots in check and sought to partition the certainties of the church from the obligation of the state to act objectively absent any preferential religious dogma. Lastly, I’m not buying the argument that religion is being victimized. Much of history suggests just the opposite.

    Well, luckily for ideologues everywhere in America, ideologues don’t need your favor, having already been given the first amendment. Now…if we could actually address what warrant the government has, in light of the first amendment, for passing laws that give every appearance of infringing upon constitutional rights granted 230 years ago, I’d be extremely grateful.

  10. By Paul Watson on May 12, 2008 | Reply

    Craig,
    As I understand it, and as an agnosticforeigner I freely admit I may be wrong, but all tax exempt bodies are bound by the same rules. None of them can endorse candidates. Correct?

    So, the Curch is being bound to the same rules as every campaigning tax-exempt organisation, which is if you campaign for a candidate, you lose your tax exemption as you’re now not a campaigning organisation but a straightforward party political lobbying organisation.

    To me, that makes sense. The law has not abridged the right to free speech in any way. You still have the right. You can use it as much as you like, you just can’t get a government rebate if you do. You’re not being penalised for using that right, you’re being treated like every other party political organisation. Unless, of course, you’re suggesting that the Elect Representative X Groups should be tax exempt?

  11. By Daniel DiRito on May 12, 2008 | Reply

    Craig,

    I appreciate the argument you’re making, however, my posting wasn’t addressed to you and the fact that you want to steer the debate to a question of constitutional law ignores the bulk of my observations. If you reread my posting, you will see that I briefly addressed the legal issue and then stated:

    Setting aside the legal argument, I want to focus on some of the inconsistent positions that emanate from the religious right…positions that lead me and many others to decry their penchant for hypocrisy.

    I realize you don’t want to focus on the hypocrisy…and I’m fine with that…but if we’re going to keep track of whose off topic, may I suggest you address the issues contained in the posting…the one upon which you chose to comment?

    Regardless, I’ll offer some additional thoughts. First, it is a question of special rights if the church wants to be exempt from the rules that afford them relief from taxation…unless of course you are in favor of granting the same leeway to ALL tax exempt organizations. I assume that any organization that elects a tax exempt status understands the rules…and they therefore have made a voluntary decision. The fact that you want to scrap or rewrite the system isn’t a compelling reason to do so nor have you addressed how you would handle all of the other tax exempt organizations.

    I believe the following is a coherent argument against allowing churches a special accommodation as well as pointing out the complications of altering the existing rules:

    Current law protects the integrity of charitable nonprofits by preventing individuals from using tax-deductible contributions to avoid campaign finance laws. It also prevents individuals from using charitable nonprofit organizations, which are, by definition, organized for public purposes, to advance their personal partisan political views.

    All 501(c)(3)s, including religious organizations, are allowed to engage in advocacy activities such as legislative lobbying, public education campaigns, comment on public policy, and litigation. The prohibition on intervening in elections for 501(c)(3) organizations exists to protect the integrity of the election process. The 501(c)(3)s receive a tax-exemption because their work is educational, religious or charitable. It is an acknowledgment that the organization performs an activity that relieves some burden that benefits society as a whole. Taxpayers should not be required to fund the political activities of tax-exempt organizations. Additionally, tax-exemption is afforded to religious organizations as a safeguard to preserve separation of church and state by preventing governments from using taxation to favor one religion over another. Allowing churches to advocate for one political party or another would blur the line between the separation of church and state.

    Since we know that all churches and all ministers are not the same, how would anyone be able to protect the intentions of those who contribute to a church? What happens when a new pastor comes to a church and has an agenda that’s in conflict with the congregation…but given his authority…he spends the funds on issues that are contrary to the wishes of those who donated?

    I actually think churches are already losing followers as a result of their partisanship. I know a number of Catholics who have chosen not to attend mass because the simply find it annoying that the priest is more interested in injecting his opinions than offering spiritual guidance. That doesn’t bother me since I would be happy to see the Catholic Church lose all of its followers…but it may bother those who genuinely donate in hopes the church will do good deeds with the money. I realize that helping the poor isn’t as glamorous as deciding who will represent the district in which the church is located.

    Here’s what was decided in the most definitive court case on the subject:

    A definitive court case on the issue of free speech and political expression is Branch Ministries Inc. versus Rossotti. In that case, the court upheld the constitutionality of the ban on political activity. The court rejected the plaintiff church’s allegations that it was being selectively prosecuted because of its conservative views and that its First Amendment right to free speech was being infringed.

    The court wrote: “The government has a compelling interest in maintaining the integrity of the tax system and in not subsidizing partisan political activity, and Section 501(c)(3) is the least restrictive means of accomplishing that purpose.”

    In other words, if an entity wants to be a partisan political group, they cannot hide behind their tax exempt status. As I said before, I favor canning the entire provision. Simply stated…free speech for everyone and no free rides. I don’t know the history of tax exemption but I suspect that someone approached the government and asked it to consider such a status…meaning they felt there was an advantage to having that type of status.

    The fact that the church doesn’t appreciate the give and take that likely took place to accommodate those who sought the status doesn’t negate the fact that there must have been a meeting of the minds or I doubt there would be so many tax exempt organizations.

    Truth be told, this country operated without tax exempt organizations for years. Hence the chronology is relevant. Nothing forced churches to obtain tax exempt status…they sought it because they found it to be advantageous. The fact that the government attached limitations seems to have been a mutually negotiated arrangement. I view the church’s current objections as sour grapes.

    Again, my posting focused on hypocrisy…and I’ll return to that topic. Millions of Catholics donated millions of dollars to the church for many years. Now that the church finally decided they could no longer conceal the sexual molestation of countless children, the money that was donated to educate children and fund charitable activities is being used to settle lawsuits.

    Frankly, I view this as an example that churches already mismanage the money they take from their followers. I can’t imagine the shenanigans that would take place if they were allowed to engage in partisan politics. If they want to be political parties, shed the tax exempt status and join the fray.

    Craig, when I speak of “the church”, it is obviously impossible to identify exactly what comprises “the church”. Knowing as much simply points out how complex it would be to allow churches to engage in partisan politicking while insuring that they remain “churches” designed to offer spiritual guidance. Besides, I don’t need a priest or a minister to tell me who has the proper morals or values to warrant my vote.

    Either the church believes it can succeed in its spiritual mission to mold moral souls or it ought to reexamine its usefulness. Nobody ever said it was easy to save souls. In fact it seems rather lazy for churches to simply want to be able to tell their followers whom they should vote for. Shouldn’t they be able to inspire their followers to do the right thing?

    I realize that churches prefer the authoritarian approach but if I were the big boss up in heaven, I doubt I’d accept a list of the votes an individual cast as evidence of morality…or evidence that the church had served its purpose. I think God’s expectations might be a little higher than that…for the church and the individual. If not, then he’s also in denial. Rather, I suspect he sees salvation as an individual endeavor and not one that can be measured by the willingness of the voter to follow instructions…or the church being able to issue them.

    Regards,

    Daniel

    P.S. The gay rights organizations I contribute to realize that they are involved in politics and not in charitable endeavors. I appreciate that honesty…and I doubt I would donate to them if they were attempting to scam the system.

  12. By Craig R. Harmon on May 13, 2008 | Reply

    Daniel,

    Well, I think you addressed the hypocrisy issue well. I didn’t address your post because I had no particular problem with it. I mean, I guess I could have said, Amen!

    If I had any particular objection to anything in your post, I’d have said so. If I’d have wished to defend any of the things that you object to in your post, you’d have known about it. I just didn’t have anything particular to say, one way or another except to comment that what the ADF was recommending seemed to me to be monumentally stupid.

    However, it seems to me that my comments are, nevertheless, not really off topic since they directly address the tax code as it relates to the Church. It seems a bit of a too narrow of a demand to say that, unless I address precisely the particulars of your post, that comments that are directly related to the broader topic (i. e., the constitutionality of the tax code’s restrictions on the speech of those in religious organizations is certainly a major part of that since it is the very crux of the ADF’s planned challenge in the courts) of your post are off topic.

    Also, although I didn’t address Steve O, as I probably should have in order to make it perfectly clear, my thoughts in the first comment were really inspired by and were an attempt to address some of the things in Steve O’s comment and were not intended as a comment on your post, per se…although my second comment WAS directed at (and was directly pertinent to) your post.

    Further, I chose to comment on the issue you avoided, namely the legal issue, because, well, legal issues, particularly constitutional issues, and particularly first amendment issue, interest me greatly. I saw my comments as being more a complement to your post, addressing an issue that you had specifically decided not to address.

    Finally, I think you bring forth good arguments, in your last comment, that address the question that I ask. Thank you.

    Sorry for my part in the confusion.

    Take care, friend!

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