“I believe that faith to be harmful to all its members and to society in general.”


Baroness Sayeeda Warsi


Richard Heller, an outspoken British atheist with all the attitude of the late Christopher Hitchens but, I think, little if any of Mr. Hitchens’s remarkable panache, has written an open letter to the British Minister for Faith and Communities, denouncing tax exemption for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:




I’m curious to see whether the minister replies, and, if so, how she replies.


If she responds to Mr. Heller’s open letter, it will be fascinating both intrinsically and because the minister, Baroness Sayeeda Hussain Warsi (Urdu: سعیده حسین وارثی‎), is a Muslim.  (She is a British solicitor and Conservative Party politician, of Pakistani descent, who was created a life peer in 2007.)


With the rise of the militant and much more assertive New Atheism (represented by Hitchens, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, and one or two others, but by no means limited to them), I expect to hear more and more calls for an end to tax exemption for religious organizations, not only in the United Kingdom and abroad but in the United States.  And I expect, too, that such calls will come to focus particularly on socially conservative religious groups that fail to embrace same-sex marriage and related matters with sufficient enthusiasm.


Interesting times.



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  • RaymondSwenson

    Heller’s attack on Mormons has the highest density of mendacity per inch than I have seen in a while, certainly since the end of the Romney campaign. How atheists can maintain their claim to being dedicated rationalists who perceive reality more clearly than the rest of mankind, when they have people like Heller who are either ignoramuses or determined liars, is amazing.

    • Lucy Mcgee

      Please don’t lump every non believer into your world view. I’ve known many people who have zero faith and who have no agenda to sway the populace.

      How many non believers have you invited into your home who claim they know the absolute truth and desire to save you from your past and future sins and offer you eternity, and godhood, all the while sweating on your hardwood floor? Curiously, we’ve not ever had one visit by LDS Church missionaries and I’ve never seen them anywhere in our old Portland neighborhood. Jehovah’s Witnesses’, with their Watchtower pamphlets and lovely demeanor are quite constant. We have entertained a few Seventh Day Adventists along with other small church group missionaries asking for donations to help the poor. We give what we can.

      We entertain at least a dozen visits a year by the various church faithful, some are clearly profit seekers.. Most are fairly young, nervous and not quite seasoned veterans of door to door. Good for them. It builds character.

      Mr. Swenson, I’d challenge you to come up with any hard data that might show that the majority of non believers have attacked your faith in such a way as to abrogate your civil right to worship as you choose.

      You can find ignoramuses and liars in among the religious as well. I refer you to Benny Hinn (not Hill) or the lovely Pastor Eddie Long. Not amazing but sad that people pay to sustain the lifestyles of these charlatans.

      • brotheroflogan

        If only polite quietude paid so well. I could do it for half the price of any preacher.
        On another note, when you meet with dozens of atheists online who mock, insult, ridicule, cajole etc and hear from all of your religious friends that they get the same in online debates, it can be easy to assume all atheists are like that. This is probably what Mr. Peterson means by “militant.” But I know that sometimes Christians, Mormons etc give as good as they get, so I should not judge.

  • Lucy Mcgee

    I love the term “militant atheist” and am often roused to assert my prominence and get into uniform and dust off my weapon, except that I don’t own one. One can almost visualize the philosophers Daniel Dennett and A.C. Grayling leading a faction of the ” New Atheist horde” as they destroy places of worship and use their political might to send the enterprises of the faithful back to the dark ages.

    Our old Portland neighborhood has narrow streets and a long serving but failing sewage infrastructure; the pipes they are a rusting . We also live with and often ponder a somewhat comical and annoying challenge we’ve termed “the Lavang Congestion” (something our realtor failed to mention when we purchased our home in 1998).

    The well maintained Our Lady Of Lavang Catholic Church occupies 150,000 square feet (the size of 30 average properties) in our neighborhood. The Church pays zero property tax on it’s 3.4 acres but relies on city water and sewer, fire and road infrastructure and maintenance each and every year. Each homeowner pays on average a $4500 dollar per year property tax. This church should be paying at least 100k per year in property tax or about $20 per congregant. It pays zero.

    The 5000 plus congregants, most of whom drive to this church, use every narrow street parking spot for many blocks at least once, and sometimes twice, or during holiday’s three times per week. We plan our entrance and egress to our home on the Lady of Lavang congregants’ schedule. These people, contribute to road deterioration, litter, fender benders, traffic congestion, and rely on city services to accommodate themselves free of charge.

    We would never, ever, consider denying our fellow travelers their right to worship. We are even willing to pick up after them as they drop their cigarette butts and litter here and there. We don’t even mind putting out yard signs reminding them not to block our driveways. If the Church was taxed, at least for the consumption of the services they enjoy, we would consider that fair and just and it would ameliorate our having to accommodate the 5000 who show up each week to worship in this lovely church and clog the streets and utilize the services they do not pay for.

    • DanielPeterson

      Actually, according to longstanding Western legal tradition, that church should be paying precisely what it is. Zero. You’re welcome, of course, to try to overturn that tradition. And I’ll be actively opposing you.

      I used the term “militant atheists” to refer, very specifically, to people like Dawkins and Hitchens, for whom it is certainly appropriate. “Militant atheist” no more applies to all atheists than “rich man” refers to all men or “incompetent doctor” refers to all physicians. I used the adjective for a reason.

      • Lucy Mcgee

        I would ask why you believe that a certain segment of our society should be given the right to use public services for free because they are a church? Churches occupy land, require publicly funded city services, increase traffic, and in our neighborhood, clog streets each week with more cars than our narrow neighborhood streets can accommodate.

        Would requiring each congregant to pay the city of Portland $0.40 per church attendance be asking too much? I don’t think you can truly grasp the use incurred by our neighborhood infrastructure unless you lived in this neighborhood. I can reasonably suggest that if a house fire occurred during a mass Our Lady of Lavang Church gathering, the home would burn to the foundation before any fire truck could manage to make its way through the congested traffic created by these worshipers.

        By the way, I have absolutely nothing against this neighborhood church with its beautiful garden and well maintained property. We respect that people of faith come to worship.

        Each Christmas, they offer an amazing visual tribute as they decorate their grounds with all manor of religious art. It is very uplifting and beautiful.

        Perhaps I’ll get use to the term “militant atheist”. As a lifelong non believer, and recent inductee into this militant atheistic world, I’ll re-jigger the mental compass and come to terms with this word.

        I do very much enjoy your blogs although I sometimes wonder what I’m doing here. Hmm.

        • DanielPeterson

          If I decide to do something justifying tax exemption for churches, I’ll do it as a blog entry or even as a column. Too much work for a “comment.”

          And, of course, if you want to call yourself a “militant atheist” — or, for that matter, a “gigantic kumquat” or a “poetic tranquilizer dart” or an “equilateral triangle” — that’s entirely up to you. Just don’t expect me to follow suit.

          I had a very specific thing in mind, and you weren’t IT.

          • Lucy Mcgee

            I don’t claim any moniker and have never done so other than “Lucy Mcgee” our fairly recent rescued cat. Your verbiage is slightly humorous.

            I appreciate the time it takes for you to offer a response, and understand that I’m not “IT”.

            I also believe that clogging our neighborhood streets each week by a church that pays zero in property taxes is an infringement. So please, do chime in on specifics if you can. Please tell me why we should support a church which uses our tax dollars for city services and yet pays zero in taxes to support its enterprise. Please, enlighten if you can.

          • DanielPeterson

            It seems to me that your specific problem isn’t the church’s tax exemption but poor zoning and city planning.

  • RaymondSwenson

    Lucy, I did not say all atheists are like Heller, only that he disproves the assertion of militant atheists like Richard Dawkins that atheism is the path to truth and enlightened discourse for all mankind.

  • RaymondSwenson

    On the issue of tax exemptions for a church in your neighborhood, I would point out two things:

    First, Lucy draws a distinction between those who patronize a specific church and those who provide public services like fire fighting and police and those who suppirt those services through taxes. But that is a false dichotomy. I would wager that the church’s membership includes fire fighters and poluce, and it certainly includes people in your community who pay the same taxes you do to support those services. Your line of argument implicitly treats members of that church as enemies of the community, when they are very much a part of it. Your argument undermines the community and the sharing of burdens and benefits that makes it work.

    Second, there are numerous kinds of not-for-profit organizations, each of which is supported by some member of every community. Most schools and colleges are nonprofit and tax exempt, as are many hospitals and health clinics, museums, art galleries, performance organizations like symphony, ballet, modern dance, and opera companies, scientific research laboratories, environmental organizations like the Nature Conservancy, community food pantries, shelters and temporary homes for the poor, unwed mothers, recovering drug addicts, group homes for the mentally limited, and foundations that give grants and awards like the Macarthur genius awards. Many of these kinds of organizations were founded by or continue to be supported by churches. The work done by this array of nonprofit organizations benefits both individual members of our communities and relieves a burden from tax-supported services. Because of the infusion of private funds and donated services, they draw on a financial pool larger than collected taxes could supply. It has been judged to be a good bargain by many citizens.

    Most churches are directly involved in helping people in need. They also teach people to support their communities, and to uphold the law and equity. Just as public schools are expected to turn children into citizens who support the community, churches contribute to the formation of moral character and care for the larger community. For the most part, church ministers are not on the path to riches, and they are just as selfless as any government functionary involved in aiding the poor, who is also receiving a salary.

    Police respond to crimes against churches because citizens deserve protection no matter where they are. Fire fighters fight fires at churches because fire can spread to adjacent properties. Churches and their members are part of your community, and trying to cast them out undermines the social bargain that is the foundation of the community.

    • Lucy Mcgee

      After reading your well reasoned and excellent comment, I must admit the error in my thinking on this. I will continue to have difficulty with the traffic and parking issue (and litter) which as Dr. Peterson pointed out has to do with zoning.

      I do believe that there are some religious organizations, like the Benny Hinn Ministries and the like, that should be scrutinized.