Discrimination charges against religions?

Journalist Asra Q. Nomani, writing in USA Today, is calling for the government to enforce anti-discrimination laws against religious organizations, denying them tax-exempt status if they discriminate against women.  She is thinking of her fellow Muslims, but the proposal also would apply to Christians.  Her article specifically mentions the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church Missouri-Synod:

As much of the world cheers the rise of democracy in the public square of the Middle East, it’s time that we see the Arab Spring bloom somewhere equally important: mosques. We should start with mosques in the U.S., and the government should help promote democracy in places of worship by denying non-profit tax-exempt status — called 501(c)3 designation — to places of worship that practice gender inequity, just as they can deny tax-exempt status to places of worship that engage in political activity. . . .

The IRS has ruled that “tax exempt organizations may jeopardize their exempt status if they engage in illegal activity.” Political activity is covered in the “illegal activity” doctrine. Applying this doctrine in 1983, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that the IRS could deny Bob Jones University tax exemption because of racial policies at the evangelical Christian university (kicking students out for interracial dating). Tax attorneys say the ruling established public policy that tax-exempt organizations can’t racially discriminate in educational institutions.Meanwhile, in 1984, in a case against the Jaycees civic organization, the Supreme Court held that a private organization cannot discriminate based on gender.

So far, though, gender rights aren’t protected at places of worship. . . .

Who would stand in the way of reform? Catholic churches, for one, and other places that get exemptions in employment law so they can practice gender inequity (think priest jobs). Alan Goldberger, a non-profit attorney in Millburn, N.J., is a former member of a conservative synagogue that integrates women, but he has attended orthodox Jewish synagogues that segregate women and says that it could be “more prudent with public policy” to enforce non-discrimination in places of worship, but the courts “like to stay away from intervening in the affairs of a private organization.”

Daniel Dalton, 46, a non-profit attorney in Farmington Hills, Mich., says the IRS has taken the position “it’s not going to look at ecclesiastical, doctrinal issues.” He grew up in the Missouri Lutheran Church, which limits women’s roles in leadership positions. “I don’t understand it. I don’t agree with it,” says Dalton. “But that’s a doctrinal issue.”

I understand the difficulties in having the state intervene in worship issues. I believe in a separation of church and state, but I’ve come to the difficult decision that women must use the legal system to restore rights in places of worship, particularly when intimidation is used to enforce unfair rules.

via End gender apartheid in U.S. mosques – USATODAY.com.

We need to realize that if religious freedom is taken away, it will begin with unpopular religions.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://www.delvinginto.com Drewe

    I live in Australia where churches already don’t have tax exemption. My tithe is my tithe, is not recorded, and is not tax deductible. The only things that can be are ‘specific charities’, which might be a building program for example, if setup right. Also church ‘income’ is not taxed like a corporation (because they are a ‘not for profit’), but giving is not tax deductable.

    The disadvantage is obviously there is less ‘encouragement’ for people to give.

    The advantage is then this argument goes away – because no church is receiving any preferential treatment from the government – church and state are seperate entities. They intertwine occasionally (think school chaplains), but mainly stay in their own realms. As

    The problem in the US is (i lived there as well and attended a church in Denver for a couple of years) that churches and ‘givers’ are used to the current system. If churches were taxed, and if givers couldn’t claim that money back, then churches would need to be much wiser with their finances. And how would some church leaders survive without their records of who gives what (which is not an issue here at all)?

    I think honestly, from a selfish position the American seutp is currently better, but really the Australian one is better. God still provides, the work of God still gets done. And the government (or ‘lobby groups’) don’t have preferential treatment as an excuse to complain.

  • http://www.delvinginto.com Drewe

    I live in Australia where churches already don’t have tax exemption. My tithe is my tithe, is not recorded, and is not tax deductible. The only things that can be are ‘specific charities’, which might be a building program for example, if setup right. Also church ‘income’ is not taxed like a corporation (because they are a ‘not for profit’), but giving is not tax deductable.

    The disadvantage is obviously there is less ‘encouragement’ for people to give.

    The advantage is then this argument goes away – because no church is receiving any preferential treatment from the government – church and state are seperate entities. They intertwine occasionally (think school chaplains), but mainly stay in their own realms. As

    The problem in the US is (i lived there as well and attended a church in Denver for a couple of years) that churches and ‘givers’ are used to the current system. If churches were taxed, and if givers couldn’t claim that money back, then churches would need to be much wiser with their finances. And how would some church leaders survive without their records of who gives what (which is not an issue here at all)?

    I think honestly, from a selfish position the American seutp is currently better, but really the Australian one is better. God still provides, the work of God still gets done. And the government (or ‘lobby groups’) don’t have preferential treatment as an excuse to complain.

  • SKPeterson

    I find her closing statement that women have to “restore rights in places of worship” odd. This is the predictable outcome when one holds to a purely positive view of rights and liberties. This idea often manifests itself in some version of the trite truism “free speech for me, but not for thee,” and the sentiment Nomani expresses is of exactly this sort.

  • SKPeterson

    I find her closing statement that women have to “restore rights in places of worship” odd. This is the predictable outcome when one holds to a purely positive view of rights and liberties. This idea often manifests itself in some version of the trite truism “free speech for me, but not for thee,” and the sentiment Nomani expresses is of exactly this sort.

  • Steve in Toronto

    Advocates to this kind of reform should be careful. Right now there exists a broad consensus on the left and right to support the current system. If those on the right lose their ability to deduct charitable giving to theie churches they might decide to advocate for the elimination of the deduction for donations to planed parenthood or ACTUP. Right the system is more or less neutral but if it becomes too political the whole elaborate edifice would prabably collapse and I suspect the charities of the left would suffer more then those of the right.

  • Steve in Toronto

    Advocates to this kind of reform should be careful. Right now there exists a broad consensus on the left and right to support the current system. If those on the right lose their ability to deduct charitable giving to theie churches they might decide to advocate for the elimination of the deduction for donations to planed parenthood or ACTUP. Right the system is more or less neutral but if it becomes too political the whole elaborate edifice would prabably collapse and I suspect the charities of the left would suffer more then those of the right.

  • MichaelZ

    First they came for the communists,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

    Then they came for the trade unionists,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

    Then they came for the Jews,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

    Then they came for me
    and there was no one left to speak out for me.

    -Pastor Martin Niemoller (attributed)

  • MichaelZ

    First they came for the communists,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

    Then they came for the trade unionists,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

    Then they came for the Jews,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

    Then they came for me
    and there was no one left to speak out for me.

    -Pastor Martin Niemoller (attributed)

  • Jeremy

    “enforce anti-discrimination laws against religious organizations, denying them tax-exempt status”

    It begs the question why religious organizations should be getting tax-exempt status in the first place. It just means the rest of society is forced to pay their taxes.

  • Jeremy

    “enforce anti-discrimination laws against religious organizations, denying them tax-exempt status”

    It begs the question why religious organizations should be getting tax-exempt status in the first place. It just means the rest of society is forced to pay their taxes.

  • Joe

    This would be an interesting first amendment (“free exercise”) case. There certainly is no right for a church to have tax exempt status but if they began picking and choosing which doctrinal positions disqualify a church then you might have a case.

    Also, Jeremy churches get tax exempt status for the same reason a whole host of entities do. They are presumed to add some sort of value to society. Just about any thing can be a non-profit org.

  • Joe

    This would be an interesting first amendment (“free exercise”) case. There certainly is no right for a church to have tax exempt status but if they began picking and choosing which doctrinal positions disqualify a church then you might have a case.

    Also, Jeremy churches get tax exempt status for the same reason a whole host of entities do. They are presumed to add some sort of value to society. Just about any thing can be a non-profit org.

  • Random Lutheran

    A couple notes…

    Taxation is a 1st Amendment issue in the US for (at least) one main reason: our present tax code is in place not merely to generate revenues, but to function as both carrot & stick, promoting and repressing certain behaviors. Society is not “forced to pay their [religious organizations'] taxes”; rather, the Constitution has been understood as prohibiting the government from using the tax laws as a stick to regulate religion.

    Keep in mind, also, that should tax law change in this regard, that will not be the end of it. The same court decisions used to break open men’s clubs and other organizations will then be pressed on the churches. It will not be pretty. I would suggest that should it go that direction, that it will be time for us to (I speak of and to LCMSers; we’ve done this before) to pick up our ball and emigrate (not that there may be any better place to go by then, but we’ll see).

  • Random Lutheran

    A couple notes…

    Taxation is a 1st Amendment issue in the US for (at least) one main reason: our present tax code is in place not merely to generate revenues, but to function as both carrot & stick, promoting and repressing certain behaviors. Society is not “forced to pay their [religious organizations'] taxes”; rather, the Constitution has been understood as prohibiting the government from using the tax laws as a stick to regulate religion.

    Keep in mind, also, that should tax law change in this regard, that will not be the end of it. The same court decisions used to break open men’s clubs and other organizations will then be pressed on the churches. It will not be pretty. I would suggest that should it go that direction, that it will be time for us to (I speak of and to LCMSers; we’ve done this before) to pick up our ball and emigrate (not that there may be any better place to go by then, but we’ll see).

  • Dennis Peskey

    Asra Q. Nomani has provided a great blessing to both Rome and the LC-MS. By focusing on ending gender apartheid in U.S. mosques this discussion will and must include Islamic doctrine and traditions. In our current society, this alone is sufficient to insure non-action by any of our government agencies or representatives.

    I do believe if the issue were focused primarily on Christian sources, the line of assault would be long and loud. But I also realize this same attitude will be greatly muted (or non-existent) with a focus on Islam. Perhaps this is but one more example of how God uses evil for the good of His church.
    Pax,
    Dennis

  • Dennis Peskey

    Asra Q. Nomani has provided a great blessing to both Rome and the LC-MS. By focusing on ending gender apartheid in U.S. mosques this discussion will and must include Islamic doctrine and traditions. In our current society, this alone is sufficient to insure non-action by any of our government agencies or representatives.

    I do believe if the issue were focused primarily on Christian sources, the line of assault would be long and loud. But I also realize this same attitude will be greatly muted (or non-existent) with a focus on Islam. Perhaps this is but one more example of how God uses evil for the good of His church.
    Pax,
    Dennis

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    Thomas Jefferson is supposed to have said, “The power to tax is the power to destroy.” This, I’ve always believed, is the real basis for the religious tax exemption in America (leaving to one side the social benefits of the church’s activities). Ms. Nomani’s proposal is an attack on conscientious religious activity.

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    Thomas Jefferson is supposed to have said, “The power to tax is the power to destroy.” This, I’ve always believed, is the real basis for the religious tax exemption in America (leaving to one side the social benefits of the church’s activities). Ms. Nomani’s proposal is an attack on conscientious religious activity.

  • Carl Vehse

    Actually Asra Nomani’s jumble of electrons did not specifically mention The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, but instead referred to a lawyer who “grew up in the Missouri Lutheran Church.” Perhaps he doesn’t remember the exact Lutheran denomination of the church in which he grew up back when. Perhaps the columnist, or her nephew assistant, didn’t bother to check to see if the denomination’s name was correct.

    Furthermore there’s no indication the lawyer currently is a LCMS Lutheran. In fact, he stated he doesn’t even agree with the Lutheran Church’s position on women’s roles in the church, which he acknowledges to be “a doctrinal issue.” BTW, his law firm advertises on its web site Nomani’s article in which the lawyer is quoted that he disagrees with the doctrinal position of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.

  • Carl Vehse

    Actually Asra Nomani’s jumble of electrons did not specifically mention The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, but instead referred to a lawyer who “grew up in the Missouri Lutheran Church.” Perhaps he doesn’t remember the exact Lutheran denomination of the church in which he grew up back when. Perhaps the columnist, or her nephew assistant, didn’t bother to check to see if the denomination’s name was correct.

    Furthermore there’s no indication the lawyer currently is a LCMS Lutheran. In fact, he stated he doesn’t even agree with the Lutheran Church’s position on women’s roles in the church, which he acknowledges to be “a doctrinal issue.” BTW, his law firm advertises on its web site Nomani’s article in which the lawyer is quoted that he disagrees with the doctrinal position of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.

  • Jeremy

    “The power to tax is the power to destroy.”

    Then why can’t I get tax-exemption by the same argument?

    “Also, Jeremy churches get tax exempt status for the same reason a whole host of entities do. They are presumed to add some sort of value to society. ”

    We disagree on a lot, but on this forum, we should all agree that most churches in America provide no value or a negative value to society. Why? First, most churches are the wrong religion (Hindu, Muslim, etc). Secondly, even if the church is Christian, it’s often a totally different type of Christianity. In most black churches for example, the entire congregation votes Democratic. The Methodist churches are also relatively liberal.

  • Jeremy

    “The power to tax is the power to destroy.”

    Then why can’t I get tax-exemption by the same argument?

    “Also, Jeremy churches get tax exempt status for the same reason a whole host of entities do. They are presumed to add some sort of value to society. ”

    We disagree on a lot, but on this forum, we should all agree that most churches in America provide no value or a negative value to society. Why? First, most churches are the wrong religion (Hindu, Muslim, etc). Secondly, even if the church is Christian, it’s often a totally different type of Christianity. In most black churches for example, the entire congregation votes Democratic. The Methodist churches are also relatively liberal.

  • Husker Lutheran

    There’s a case currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court regarding an LCMS school’s ability to handle employment decisions without interference from the federal government. This is the start of the slippery slope.

  • Husker Lutheran

    There’s a case currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court regarding an LCMS school’s ability to handle employment decisions without interference from the federal government. This is the start of the slippery slope.

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    @11
    Even the heathens know to give good gifts to people. The pagan’s overall message is damning, but giving a hungry guy a meal is still a benefit to society.

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    @11
    Even the heathens know to give good gifts to people. The pagan’s overall message is damning, but giving a hungry guy a meal is still a benefit to society.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    “I don’t understand it. I don’t agree with it,” says Dalton. “But that’s a doctrinal issue.”
    This jumped out at me. It seems to be the attitude of many. I think you should first understand a position before you take the liberty of disagreeing with it, especially when you are a lawyer.
    And second, this whole bit about restoring women’s rights in places of worship, assumes they have had those rights before. But this isn’t something that is merely about taking down a “he man women haters club,” I know many women who are offended and rightfully so with women in “leadership positions.” These are pious women, and where would they go? Right now, if you want to go to a church with women pastors you are free to do so, at least politically, God might have other ideas on that.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    “I don’t understand it. I don’t agree with it,” says Dalton. “But that’s a doctrinal issue.”
    This jumped out at me. It seems to be the attitude of many. I think you should first understand a position before you take the liberty of disagreeing with it, especially when you are a lawyer.
    And second, this whole bit about restoring women’s rights in places of worship, assumes they have had those rights before. But this isn’t something that is merely about taking down a “he man women haters club,” I know many women who are offended and rightfully so with women in “leadership positions.” These are pious women, and where would they go? Right now, if you want to go to a church with women pastors you are free to do so, at least politically, God might have other ideas on that.

  • Dan Kempin

    ” . . . but I’ve come to the difficult decision that women must use the legal system to restore rights in places of worship . . .”

    Women have never been pastors in the Missouri Synod, nor have they been priests in the entire history of the true religion, new testament or old.

    (For that matter, they have never been leaders in the mosque either.)

    How, then, can you “restore” something that never was?

  • Dan Kempin

    ” . . . but I’ve come to the difficult decision that women must use the legal system to restore rights in places of worship . . .”

    Women have never been pastors in the Missouri Synod, nor have they been priests in the entire history of the true religion, new testament or old.

    (For that matter, they have never been leaders in the mosque either.)

    How, then, can you “restore” something that never was?

  • Carl Vehse

    The case currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court is the Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC case. The “employment decision” occurred when the religious organization discriminated against an employee by trying to pressure her to resign because of the employee’s physical disability, even though she had satisfied the religious criteria to be a commissioned teacher/minister of that congregation’s synod and had her physician’s approval to return to work.

    However, that religious organization maintained that if the employee objects to such discrimination either verbally or by filing a complaint with an applicable government agency, the employee has violated the organization’s religious tenets, thus allowing the religious organization to claim they deposed (fired) the individual for violating that church’s religious tenet, and not because they discriminated against that individual’s physically disability.

    Such a case would be similar to a pastor refusing to give the church council copies of his house key so they could take his personal belongings, and then having the congregation depose the pastor because he violated a required religious tenet when he called 911 and reported that members of the church council were breaking into his house and stealing his property, rather than handling the break-in and robbery through the synod’s own dispute resolution process.

  • Carl Vehse

    The case currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court is the Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC case. The “employment decision” occurred when the religious organization discriminated against an employee by trying to pressure her to resign because of the employee’s physical disability, even though she had satisfied the religious criteria to be a commissioned teacher/minister of that congregation’s synod and had her physician’s approval to return to work.

    However, that religious organization maintained that if the employee objects to such discrimination either verbally or by filing a complaint with an applicable government agency, the employee has violated the organization’s religious tenets, thus allowing the religious organization to claim they deposed (fired) the individual for violating that church’s religious tenet, and not because they discriminated against that individual’s physically disability.

    Such a case would be similar to a pastor refusing to give the church council copies of his house key so they could take his personal belongings, and then having the congregation depose the pastor because he violated a required religious tenet when he called 911 and reported that members of the church council were breaking into his house and stealing his property, rather than handling the break-in and robbery through the synod’s own dispute resolution process.

  • Steve P.

    “We need to realize that if religious freedom is taken away, it will begin with unpopular religions.”

    “First they came for the communists,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist…”

    Maybe that’s the main reason the devil created Scientology; his ultimate target is the Christian churches.

  • Steve P.

    “We need to realize that if religious freedom is taken away, it will begin with unpopular religions.”

    “First they came for the communists,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist…”

    Maybe that’s the main reason the devil created Scientology; his ultimate target is the Christian churches.

  • Cincinnatus

    Hmm, curiously missing from this discussion thus far is the actual reason churches and other places of worship in the United States are tax-exempt. Sure, tax exemption helps ensure that the Church cannot be punitively penalized or otherwise endangered by the state (note that many small churches, which survive solely from voluntary member contributions, barely survive on what they have; taxes would be crushing). Sure, tax exemption recognizes that churches, like other non-profits, contribute something of value to society worthy of financial inducement. Sure, tax exemption discourages the pastorate from feeling compelled to become involved in base partisan politics (i.e., do we really wish for churches that would campaign for candidates who offer lower taxes for the churches? Do we want our churches to be politically beholden?).

    But tax exemption for the Church has a long and storied history not only in the United States but in the West generally. In fact, once recognized, Christianity was, like other legitimate religions, tax exempt in the Roman empire. The real roots of our tax exemptions, however, are Medieval, and derive from English common law in particular. The real reason for this tradition is to maintain a separation of Church and State. Tax exemption symbolically and literally affirms the notion that, whatever citizens and other public institutions owe to the State, the Church has only one master: Jesus Christ. The Church, it was said (and should still be said), owes nothing to the state, not even taxes. Tithes are our gifts to God and his work, not an indirect means of filling the public coffers.

    The American founders added a new twist: not only will the Church not recognize the State as its master (perhaps implicating the “free exercise” clause of the First Amendment), but it will also not receive benefits from the state via establishment (implicating the “establishment clause” of the same Amendment). The Church owes nothing to the State, and the State ought not institutionalize the Church.

    It’s a shame we seem to have lost this notion of the profound importance of tax exemption for religious institutions. Yes, there are downsides: what happens when greedy televangelists make millions without giving a penny to the state? I say it’s a price I’m willing to pay.

  • Cincinnatus

    Hmm, curiously missing from this discussion thus far is the actual reason churches and other places of worship in the United States are tax-exempt. Sure, tax exemption helps ensure that the Church cannot be punitively penalized or otherwise endangered by the state (note that many small churches, which survive solely from voluntary member contributions, barely survive on what they have; taxes would be crushing). Sure, tax exemption recognizes that churches, like other non-profits, contribute something of value to society worthy of financial inducement. Sure, tax exemption discourages the pastorate from feeling compelled to become involved in base partisan politics (i.e., do we really wish for churches that would campaign for candidates who offer lower taxes for the churches? Do we want our churches to be politically beholden?).

    But tax exemption for the Church has a long and storied history not only in the United States but in the West generally. In fact, once recognized, Christianity was, like other legitimate religions, tax exempt in the Roman empire. The real roots of our tax exemptions, however, are Medieval, and derive from English common law in particular. The real reason for this tradition is to maintain a separation of Church and State. Tax exemption symbolically and literally affirms the notion that, whatever citizens and other public institutions owe to the State, the Church has only one master: Jesus Christ. The Church, it was said (and should still be said), owes nothing to the state, not even taxes. Tithes are our gifts to God and his work, not an indirect means of filling the public coffers.

    The American founders added a new twist: not only will the Church not recognize the State as its master (perhaps implicating the “free exercise” clause of the First Amendment), but it will also not receive benefits from the state via establishment (implicating the “establishment clause” of the same Amendment). The Church owes nothing to the State, and the State ought not institutionalize the Church.

    It’s a shame we seem to have lost this notion of the profound importance of tax exemption for religious institutions. Yes, there are downsides: what happens when greedy televangelists make millions without giving a penny to the state? I say it’s a price I’m willing to pay.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    What have churches to tax?

    I mean a corporation that operates at a loss also pays no taxes right?

    It would be the local governments that would be the taxing authority on the church property and they would still be free to exempt churches at the local level.

    Go ahead. Take away their tax exempt status. So what. I won’t give one dime less. We can meet in homes or rented facilities and pay the pastor in cash. So long as no individual gives him more than $x a year, he won’t owe tax either because he isn’t our employee nor can the government claim that he has given us any goods or performed any services which has any fair market value, and he isn’t working for us but for God.

    Some tiny interest group may be able to bride the little insular group of politicians in DC, but they don’t have the resources to go to every county and municipality force them to tax church properties.

    Anyway, this is likely moot. The Supreme Court recently ruled that folks bringing these goofy anti-religion suits must have standing and in most cases they don’t. I am guessing most of these folks won’t qualify.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/29/justices-rely-on-standing_n_887265.html

    “WASHINGTON (RNS) As the U.S. Supreme Court ends its 2010-2011 term this week, legal scholars say a decision issued two months ago is likely to resonate within church-state debates for years to come.

    On April 4, the justices rejected a challenge to an Arizona school tuition credit program that largely benefits religious schools, saying taxpayers did not have legal grounds to challenge a tax credit as government spending.

    At the heart of the decision was an arcane yet essential legal term — “standing,” or a plaintiff’s right to sue. Critics say the court increasingly relies on standing to dismiss church-state challenges without addressing the merits of the complaints.

    Whatever the court’s reasoning, the Arizona ruling already is influencing other cases that touch on the First Amendment’s prohibition on a government “establishment” of religion:
    A Wiccan chaplain lost a religious discrimination case in a federal appeals court on June 1, which cited the Arizona decision in its ruling.

    Two weeks later, the Freedom From Religion Foundation voluntarily dropped its case challenging tax exemptions for clergy housing in light of the Arizona decision.

    That same atheist group is now carefully mulling whether to seek an appeal in a case it lost trying to declare the National Day of Prayer proclamation by President Obama unconstitutional.”

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    What have churches to tax?

    I mean a corporation that operates at a loss also pays no taxes right?

    It would be the local governments that would be the taxing authority on the church property and they would still be free to exempt churches at the local level.

    Go ahead. Take away their tax exempt status. So what. I won’t give one dime less. We can meet in homes or rented facilities and pay the pastor in cash. So long as no individual gives him more than $x a year, he won’t owe tax either because he isn’t our employee nor can the government claim that he has given us any goods or performed any services which has any fair market value, and he isn’t working for us but for God.

    Some tiny interest group may be able to bride the little insular group of politicians in DC, but they don’t have the resources to go to every county and municipality force them to tax church properties.

    Anyway, this is likely moot. The Supreme Court recently ruled that folks bringing these goofy anti-religion suits must have standing and in most cases they don’t. I am guessing most of these folks won’t qualify.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/29/justices-rely-on-standing_n_887265.html

    “WASHINGTON (RNS) As the U.S. Supreme Court ends its 2010-2011 term this week, legal scholars say a decision issued two months ago is likely to resonate within church-state debates for years to come.

    On April 4, the justices rejected a challenge to an Arizona school tuition credit program that largely benefits religious schools, saying taxpayers did not have legal grounds to challenge a tax credit as government spending.

    At the heart of the decision was an arcane yet essential legal term — “standing,” or a plaintiff’s right to sue. Critics say the court increasingly relies on standing to dismiss church-state challenges without addressing the merits of the complaints.

    Whatever the court’s reasoning, the Arizona ruling already is influencing other cases that touch on the First Amendment’s prohibition on a government “establishment” of religion:
    A Wiccan chaplain lost a religious discrimination case in a federal appeals court on June 1, which cited the Arizona decision in its ruling.

    Two weeks later, the Freedom From Religion Foundation voluntarily dropped its case challenging tax exemptions for clergy housing in light of the Arizona decision.

    That same atheist group is now carefully mulling whether to seek an appeal in a case it lost trying to declare the National Day of Prayer proclamation by President Obama unconstitutional.”

  • DonS

    Cincinnatus @ 18: Thanks for contributing that. I didn’t know the origins of tax exemption for churches, and it is definitely helpful to understand how deep and important a tradition this is.

    The posted article is nonsense, as so many of these kinds of articles are. I blame the popular press, a host of activist organizations, and a good number of federal district judges. These activists spout off their ridiculous theories, collect donations, file splashy court cases, get an initial favorable ruling from a stupid judge that wants to make a name for him/her self, and a great deal of positive press from reporters who love to stir the pot and upend society. Then the appellate courts shoot the whole thing down as being ridiculously unfounded, and it’s buried on page A19 in the paper. As a result, we have a whole generation of citizenry who have absolutely no idea about the U.S. Constitution, and think it’s just a means to get our way when we can’t do it through the political process.

    In this case, churches are special. They are not the same as private universities, such as BJU, or as private schools, such as the school in the Hosanna-Tabor case Carl mentioned above. Sectarian private institutions receive a higher level of scrutiny when they bring a First Amendment claim than do churches, and have a more limited scope of protection. Churches are pretty much untouchable when doctrine is involved. They don’t even have to file a Form 990 with the IRS each year, as other non-profit organizations do.

    So, in practice, if the government chose to, it could likely change the tax laws to remove the religious exemption from tax liability, as long as it was done across the board, without discrimination between different churches having different creeds, and as long as it treated churches and private religious institutions at least as favorably as non-profit organizations in general. In other words, as long as churches weren’t being singled out for worse treatment than other non-profits, and particularly if the change were done in connection with a wholesale overhaul of the tax code, it would probably pass constitutional muster. This is true, at least at the federal and state level, with respect to the tax deductibility of contributions by private individuals. It’s less clear to me how courts would rule on the efforts by local governments to remove the property tax exemption churches enjoy. That would be a tougher sell for governments, I think. The same may be true if government also tried to tax the churches themselves for any excess revenue they had during a particular tax year, i.e. apply an income tax to churches.

    But, one thing we know for certain. There is NO WAY that it would be constitutional for the government to determine whether a church discriminated against women, and to deny a tax exempt status only to those churches that were found to discriminate. Such a suit would be laughed out of court immediately, as being a facial infringement of both the free exercise and establishment clauses of the 1st Amendment.

  • DonS

    Cincinnatus @ 18: Thanks for contributing that. I didn’t know the origins of tax exemption for churches, and it is definitely helpful to understand how deep and important a tradition this is.

    The posted article is nonsense, as so many of these kinds of articles are. I blame the popular press, a host of activist organizations, and a good number of federal district judges. These activists spout off their ridiculous theories, collect donations, file splashy court cases, get an initial favorable ruling from a stupid judge that wants to make a name for him/her self, and a great deal of positive press from reporters who love to stir the pot and upend society. Then the appellate courts shoot the whole thing down as being ridiculously unfounded, and it’s buried on page A19 in the paper. As a result, we have a whole generation of citizenry who have absolutely no idea about the U.S. Constitution, and think it’s just a means to get our way when we can’t do it through the political process.

    In this case, churches are special. They are not the same as private universities, such as BJU, or as private schools, such as the school in the Hosanna-Tabor case Carl mentioned above. Sectarian private institutions receive a higher level of scrutiny when they bring a First Amendment claim than do churches, and have a more limited scope of protection. Churches are pretty much untouchable when doctrine is involved. They don’t even have to file a Form 990 with the IRS each year, as other non-profit organizations do.

    So, in practice, if the government chose to, it could likely change the tax laws to remove the religious exemption from tax liability, as long as it was done across the board, without discrimination between different churches having different creeds, and as long as it treated churches and private religious institutions at least as favorably as non-profit organizations in general. In other words, as long as churches weren’t being singled out for worse treatment than other non-profits, and particularly if the change were done in connection with a wholesale overhaul of the tax code, it would probably pass constitutional muster. This is true, at least at the federal and state level, with respect to the tax deductibility of contributions by private individuals. It’s less clear to me how courts would rule on the efforts by local governments to remove the property tax exemption churches enjoy. That would be a tougher sell for governments, I think. The same may be true if government also tried to tax the churches themselves for any excess revenue they had during a particular tax year, i.e. apply an income tax to churches.

    But, one thing we know for certain. There is NO WAY that it would be constitutional for the government to determine whether a church discriminated against women, and to deny a tax exempt status only to those churches that were found to discriminate. Such a suit would be laughed out of court immediately, as being a facial infringement of both the free exercise and establishment clauses of the 1st Amendment.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Veith said:

    We need to realize that if religious freedom is taken away, it will begin with unpopular religions.

    But we also need to realize that paying taxes is not an infringement of religious freedom.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Veith said:

    We need to realize that if religious freedom is taken away, it will begin with unpopular religions.

    But we also need to realize that paying taxes is not an infringement of religious freedom.

  • helen

    A church, unless it is running a business, doesn’t have “revenue”. [Sorry about that, CEO wannabes.]
    It receives gifts.
    The person giving, earned it and therefore has paid the appropriate income tax unless, of course, he is Warren Buffet, (in which case he has probably done none of the above).

    Most people I know can tithe and not give more than the limit at which gift tax is imposed on the donor.
    [Warren Buffet's secretary probably does better.]

  • helen

    A church, unless it is running a business, doesn’t have “revenue”. [Sorry about that, CEO wannabes.]
    It receives gifts.
    The person giving, earned it and therefore has paid the appropriate income tax unless, of course, he is Warren Buffet, (in which case he has probably done none of the above).

    Most people I know can tithe and not give more than the limit at which gift tax is imposed on the donor.
    [Warren Buffet's secretary probably does better.]

  • Cincinnatus

    tODD@21: Yes, it very much is.

  • Cincinnatus

    tODD@21: Yes, it very much is.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Cincinnatus (@23), okay, how?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Cincinnatus (@23), okay, how?

  • Cincinnatus

    Did you read my original comment? Taxing houses of worship means that religious institutions, and the exercise of religion, are now subject to the State. This is an obvious violation of the separation of church and state (the original impetus for tax exemption). If tax exemption is revoked, in order to worship “legitimately,” my church must register with the state, make regular reports to the state, raise money in order to send the appropriate funds to the state (you know, instead of using those funds for the purposes of worship and religious programs).

    Many churches, including my own, are located in invaluable historical buildings on prime pieces of real estate in cities with (in my case) horrifically high millage rates. Many of these churches–again, including my own–are faced with declining congregations and declining financial contributions. It would be a definite hardship for my church and thousands of other churches to pay not only local property taxes (which, here, would be tens of thousands of dollars at least) but also income taxes, etc. My church specifically would either have to lay off staff, close its wonderful men’s homeless shelter and food pantry, or close its doors altogether and take up residence in a local school’s gymnasium or something (as is the wont of evangelical churches; why shouldn’t we join them?). Maybe all of the above.

    Is it not crystal clear how this raises questions of free exercise? How this is problematic within our truly ancient tradition of religious liberty? This why I said it is a terrible shame that we have lost the meaning of tax-exemption. The Church isn’t (or wasn’t supposed to be, at least) just another social institution among many equivalent institutions that owes its fair share to the State. The Church is not, in America, subject to the state. Do we really want it to be so?

  • Cincinnatus

    Did you read my original comment? Taxing houses of worship means that religious institutions, and the exercise of religion, are now subject to the State. This is an obvious violation of the separation of church and state (the original impetus for tax exemption). If tax exemption is revoked, in order to worship “legitimately,” my church must register with the state, make regular reports to the state, raise money in order to send the appropriate funds to the state (you know, instead of using those funds for the purposes of worship and religious programs).

    Many churches, including my own, are located in invaluable historical buildings on prime pieces of real estate in cities with (in my case) horrifically high millage rates. Many of these churches–again, including my own–are faced with declining congregations and declining financial contributions. It would be a definite hardship for my church and thousands of other churches to pay not only local property taxes (which, here, would be tens of thousands of dollars at least) but also income taxes, etc. My church specifically would either have to lay off staff, close its wonderful men’s homeless shelter and food pantry, or close its doors altogether and take up residence in a local school’s gymnasium or something (as is the wont of evangelical churches; why shouldn’t we join them?). Maybe all of the above.

    Is it not crystal clear how this raises questions of free exercise? How this is problematic within our truly ancient tradition of religious liberty? This why I said it is a terrible shame that we have lost the meaning of tax-exemption. The Church isn’t (or wasn’t supposed to be, at least) just another social institution among many equivalent institutions that owes its fair share to the State. The Church is not, in America, subject to the state. Do we really want it to be so?

  • Jon

    Drewe’s @1 comments make sense to me; have churches incorporate under state law as nonprofits, which they largely do anyway, but have the salaries they pay taxed as usual. No housing allowances, etc. Let pastors and priests live under the circumstances of the flock.

  • Jon

    Drewe’s @1 comments make sense to me; have churches incorporate under state law as nonprofits, which they largely do anyway, but have the salaries they pay taxed as usual. No housing allowances, etc. Let pastors and priests live under the circumstances of the flock.

  • DonS

    What Cincinnatus says @ 25 is why I drew the distinctions I did in my comment @ 20. Yes, the government could certainly change the tax code to eliminate the deductibility of contributions to churches, as long as this change were done in a general way, not discriminatory against churches vs. other non-profits. BUT, actually removing the tax exemption of churches, so that they had to file income tax forms, pay property taxes, and otherwise enroll in the tax system would be very problematic under the Constitution. As I said above, churches are even exempted from filing Form 990′s, which every other non-profit must file, for this very reason.

  • DonS

    What Cincinnatus says @ 25 is why I drew the distinctions I did in my comment @ 20. Yes, the government could certainly change the tax code to eliminate the deductibility of contributions to churches, as long as this change were done in a general way, not discriminatory against churches vs. other non-profits. BUT, actually removing the tax exemption of churches, so that they had to file income tax forms, pay property taxes, and otherwise enroll in the tax system would be very problematic under the Constitution. As I said above, churches are even exempted from filing Form 990′s, which every other non-profit must file, for this very reason.

  • DonS

    Helen @ 22: “A church, unless it is running a business, doesn’t have “revenue”. [Sorry about that, CEO wannabes.]
    It receives gifts.”

    Actually, those gifts are technically “revenue”, even though it’s not taxable. And, sometimes churches also have taxable revenue, for example, if they run a bookstore.

  • DonS

    Helen @ 22: “A church, unless it is running a business, doesn’t have “revenue”. [Sorry about that, CEO wannabes.]
    It receives gifts.”

    Actually, those gifts are technically “revenue”, even though it’s not taxable. And, sometimes churches also have taxable revenue, for example, if they run a bookstore.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Totalitarians sure do hate the actually words of that First Amendment. It is so clear and plain that it is hard to twist.

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”

    respecting here meaning “regarding” I assume in the usage at the time.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Totalitarians sure do hate the actually words of that First Amendment. It is so clear and plain that it is hard to twist.

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”

    respecting here meaning “regarding” I assume in the usage at the time.

  • Jon

    @29,if ‘establishing’ means ‘regarding,’ which I doubt, then the tax breaks that churches and pastors get are unconstitutional; as are deductions for giving to religious organizations. These are affirmative benefits to ‘religion,’ though to no specific denomination, which is what I suspect ‘establishment’ prohibits.

  • Jon

    @29,if ‘establishing’ means ‘regarding,’ which I doubt, then the tax breaks that churches and pastors get are unconstitutional; as are deductions for giving to religious organizations. These are affirmative benefits to ‘religion,’ though to no specific denomination, which is what I suspect ‘establishment’ prohibits.

  • Cincinnatus

    Jon@30 and sg@29: Jon is correct. The operative term is “establishment,” not “respecting.” If we wish to take a literal, “original intent” reading of the First Amendment, the only thing the Establishment Clause prohibits is the establishment of a state church, as existed in England (and Virginia) at the time of the Amendment’s ratification. In fact, until the First Amendment was incorporated, states were still free to establish their own churches if they wished; the Amendment only forbids the federal government from doing so.

  • Cincinnatus

    Jon@30 and sg@29: Jon is correct. The operative term is “establishment,” not “respecting.” If we wish to take a literal, “original intent” reading of the First Amendment, the only thing the Establishment Clause prohibits is the establishment of a state church, as existed in England (and Virginia) at the time of the Amendment’s ratification. In fact, until the First Amendment was incorporated, states were still free to establish their own churches if they wished; the Amendment only forbids the federal government from doing so.

  • http://gslcnm.com Pastor Phil Spomer

    My church already does pay taxes. We have about a hundred families, each pays taxes on what they earn. I am payed by their donations, and I am taxed on what I earn. The Eucharist does not get taxed; the Eucharist earns no money. (At least not since money was found in fish mouths.)

    Also, this will not end with taxes. If the belief that the sexes are legally indistinguishable becomes regarded as reality. Then any force of law will be employed to enforce this. To do otherwise would violate the internal logic of the aforementioned belief.

  • http://gslcnm.com Pastor Phil Spomer

    My church already does pay taxes. We have about a hundred families, each pays taxes on what they earn. I am payed by their donations, and I am taxed on what I earn. The Eucharist does not get taxed; the Eucharist earns no money. (At least not since money was found in fish mouths.)

    Also, this will not end with taxes. If the belief that the sexes are legally indistinguishable becomes regarded as reality. Then any force of law will be employed to enforce this. To do otherwise would violate the internal logic of the aforementioned belief.

  • Joe

    To further what Cincy said at 31. Not only were the states free to establish official churches prior to the incorporation of the First Amendment – the history of the drafting and debate over the First Amendment makes clear that one of the main purposes of the religion clauses was to make sure the feds could not interfere with the state’s right to establish a state church. For example, Maryland was expressly and officially a Catholic state at the time.

  • Joe

    To further what Cincy said at 31. Not only were the states free to establish official churches prior to the incorporation of the First Amendment – the history of the drafting and debate over the First Amendment makes clear that one of the main purposes of the religion clauses was to make sure the feds could not interfere with the state’s right to establish a state church. For example, Maryland was expressly and officially a Catholic state at the time.

  • http://forheisgoodandlovesmankind.blogspot.com/ David Garner

    Mr. Walker,

    Just to be historically clear, Thomas Jefferson did not say that, Chief Justice John Marshall did (and not in those exact words, though that is the usual summary of the decision). McCullough v. Maryland determined that the state of Maryland could not tax a bank incorporated by Congress with a branch in Maryland. C.J. Marshall said “[t]hat the power of taxing it by the states may be exercised so as to destroy it, is too obvious to be denied.”

    Interesting case, and fundamental to the issue under discussion here. I would encourage everyone to read it. You may find it here:

    http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=US&vol=17&invol=316

  • http://forheisgoodandlovesmankind.blogspot.com/ David Garner

    Mr. Walker,

    Just to be historically clear, Thomas Jefferson did not say that, Chief Justice John Marshall did (and not in those exact words, though that is the usual summary of the decision). McCullough v. Maryland determined that the state of Maryland could not tax a bank incorporated by Congress with a branch in Maryland. C.J. Marshall said “[t]hat the power of taxing it by the states may be exercised so as to destroy it, is too obvious to be denied.”

    Interesting case, and fundamental to the issue under discussion here. I would encourage everyone to read it. You may find it here:

    http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=US&vol=17&invol=316


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