Thursday, March 03, 2011

Our Quixotic Proposal Against Creeping Theocracy

Given the recent attacks by the GOP on Planned Parenthood and the constant meddling of religious conservatives in the marriage rights of others I think it is high time we begin looking at the tax exemptions provided to churches under 501(c) 3 of the federal tax code.

I am not a tax expert and therefore not informed enough to know for certain exactly what tax exemptions churches are entitled to. I have just begun researching this and find, as to be expected, the tax code to be befuddling to all but the most conversant tax attorney. However, it does seem that under 501(c) 3 organizations that use their property for charitable purposes are exempt from property taxes. I find this absurd given the size of some of these so-called Mega churches and the sizeable holdings of organizations such as the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Later Day Saints. Religious organizations are sitting on gold mines.

If you are a private property owner in this country, secular or religious, you should pay property taxes like everyone else. Churches should no longer be exempt and we need to fight to overturn this injustice. They stand to make significant profits if they should sell any property. It matters little that those transactions would be subjected to sales and excise taxes and others. The lack of property taxes deprives the state and local governments of valuable revenue that could be used for the community. Charitable organizations should be owned by the public if there is to be property tax exemptions.

For those of you who may be inclined to argue the First Amendment in favor of the churches I ask that you hear me out. Requiring churches to pay property taxes does not interfere with their freedom of religion any more than a pastor, priest or rabbi being required to pay income tax interferes with the individual clerics first amendment rights. Taxes are simply a burden of all who live and participate in our democratic republic. This should include the organizations that seek to lobby and legislate for change. If you have the ability to impact the democratic process you must pay for the privileges just as the individual tax payer does. The big difference is that most taxpayers cannot summon the resources that larger organizations can. They should not be let off the hook.

For those of you who would be inclined to remind me that any church who gets involved in politics could lose their tax exemptions and that some do is hardly the point. Not enough churches get sanctioned in this way. There are way too many involved in politics and soliciting support and political contributions anyway. Thanks to the 14th Amendment and the cleverness of corporate attorneys Corporations are often treated collectively as if they are “individuals,” being granted the same legal status as people. Since individuals pay taxes, corporations should pay them too.

As suggested this is quite beside the point. Our nation’s founders created a secular democratic republic with a constitutional guarantee of a separation between church and state. But, they did not seek to remove the religious minded from the political process. Every one of us has the constitutional guarantee to vote our mind at the ballot.

The religious minded person cannot be excluded. As long as people have religious beliefs they adhere to they will be used to inform their decisions in life and at the ballot. This means that wherever people gather they might be inclined to discourse about the political issues of the day that concern them. This should be their right and to try and exclude certain venues because of tax exemption status is undemocratic and disingenuous. Remove the tax exemption and you remove the barrier. Nothing will change much except that these organizations will have a larger share in the tax burden of the citizenry. This is as it should be.

The separation of church and state prohibits the government from having any opinion and influence over religion. That means no religious holidays, no religious biases and no official state church. That’s it. It was created so that all Americans could choose to believe or not believe according to their conscience and custom. This means that it will bleed over into the political arena. It can’t be helped.

This constitutional separation does need further amending to include a prohibition of any faith based legislation. Passing legislation that, for example, prevents same gender couples from getting married and enjoying the rights and benefits of such a union is prejudiced by faith. There is no other logical reason to be against it and the preponderance of organizations created to propose and lobby for such legislation have roots in the religious sector of our country. Indeed their rolls of supporters are almost all religious.

If there is a need for any additional amendment to the constitution it is an amendment preventing anyone from attempting to use the legislative process to clearly discriminate against a particular group – ethnic, religious, atheistic and by sexual orientation. It simply has no place in a just and democratic society.

Secular lobbying groups are working to overturn former President Bushes faith based initiatives. But, we need to go further. Given that the attacks by the House of Republicans – I mean, house of representatives, on Planned Parenthood is clearly motivated by religious biases rather than any concern over national health issues, and given that conservatives have been seeking to overturn Roe v. Wade since the landmark decision, it is time to introduce a tax on religious organizations that can be used to deal with health issues that will result if Planned Parenthood should successfully be defunded.

We propose that should something like this occur and, what we hope is an unlikely event, Roe v. Wade should ever be overturned religious organizations should be required to pay for the care of all unwanted children that will be a result of such legislation. Religion should not be able to force legislatively their morality on to others who do not share their beliefs without dire consequence.

You might view our modest proposal as rather crazy and antagonistic toward religion, especially religious conservatives. We cannot deny either of these allegations. I would actually be surprised if we got much support for this proposal and if we did it most likely would be those, angry like ourselves, who hold views seen as somewhat crackpot. Even if we were to be successful in getting support we would not expect any success of passing legislation such as this.

That being said we should still make an intense effort. There is a cultural battle going on in our country and the theocratic minded religious conservatives are currently winning. They have been doing so for some time. These theocrats actually believe that the United States is a “Christian nation” and some even deny the separation of church and state even though it is blatantly obvious in the First Amendment.

Yet, take their rights away and these religious minded folk would suddenly become all about their first amendment rights – that is a guarantee. It is time that we force them out from behind the first amendment and push back these barbarians at the gate. Even as you are reading these religious influences can be seen behind the current attacks not only on Planned Parenthood, but NPR, PBS, the EPA and the National Endowment for the Arts – our opponents see us as their moral enemies and they seek to silence those organizations that often speak for us. Religious morality is always anti intellectual and we must stop it dead in its tracks if we are to preserve the tradition of a secular democracy.

Who will join us in this fight? Who will stand up and support this Quixotic tipping of windmills?

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