Quotes of the day

Allahpundit Posted at 10:01 pm on June 29, 2015

The religious schools are concerned that if they continue to ban gay relationships, the Internal Revenue Service could take away their tax-exempt status as a violation of a “fundamental national public policy” under the reasoning of a 1983 Supreme Court decision that allowed the agency to revoke the tax-exempt status of schools that banned interracial relationships…

Rick Scarborough, the founder and president of Vision America, a conservative Christian organization based in Nacogdoches, Tex., said he had never seen pastors so angry and ready to resist a Supreme Court ruling. He said 50,000 pastors and church members had signed a petition to the Supreme Court justices warning that they would consider a law recognizing same-sex marriage an “unjust law.”

“If they change the playing field and make what we do out of bounds, we will disobey; we will disrespect this decision,” Mr. Scarborough said in an interview. “We’ll treat it like Dred Scott and other decisions courts have handed down over the years that counter natural law. God made a male and a female, and no amount of surgery is going to change that.”…

“If I were a conservative Christian (which I most certainly am not),” [Eugene Volokh] wrote on a law and religion email list, “I would be very reasonably fearful, not just as to tax exemptions but as to a wide range of other programs — fearful that within a generation or so, my religious beliefs would be treated the same way as racist religious beliefs are.”

***

“Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered. The same is true of those who oppose same-sex marriage for other reasons.”

And that’s … it. That’s the entirety of [Anthony] Kennedy’s comment on the matter. You know how sometimes you hear something or see something and it sounds nice and then when you think about it, you start to realize that it was carefully worded to make it seem nicer than it is? Well, this doesn’t even require a re-read for your antenna to go up. I mean, it’s true that the First Amendment recognizes the right of the religious to teach. But it does ohhhhhh so much more than that! It actually guarantees freedom of religious expression, of which teaching the faith is but one small part. Or as the First Amendment puts it, Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion. To pat the religious on the head and say, “you can kind of still teach, for now” while discovering a new constitutional right in deep conflict with those teachings is disconcerting, to put it mildly…

Kennedy’s muddled opinion included a total of one paragraph on the most contentious religious freedom issue of our time. Even that paragraph showed, as Thomas put it, a mistaken understanding of the First Amendment. Perhaps when the media complete their marches in pride parades and finish their breathless coverage of a rainbow-spackled White House and are done changing their logos to rainbow flags, they can take a few minutes to glance at these dissents, each of which express grave concerns about religious freedom and the rule of law.

***

Rather than try to rescue tax-exempt status for organizations that dissent from settled public policy on matters of race or sexuality, we need to take a more radical step. It’s time to abolish, or greatly diminish, their tax-exempt statuses

[T]he exemption-and-deduction regime has grown into a pointless, incoherent agglomeration of nonsensical loopholes, which can allow rich organizations to horde plentiful assets in the midst of poverty.

Defenders of tax exemptions and deductions argues that if we got rid of them charitable giving would drop. It surely would, although how much, we can’t say. But of course government revenue would go up, and that money could be used to, say, house the homeless and feed the hungry. We’d have fewer church soup kitchens — but countries that truly care about poverty don’t rely on churches to run soup kitchens.

Exemption advocates also point out that churches would be squeezed out of high-property-value areas. But if it’s important to the people of Fifth Avenue to have a synagogue like Emanu-El or an Episcopal church like St. Thomas in their midst, they should pay full freight for it. They can afford to, more than millions of poorer New Yorkers whose tax bills the synagogue and church exemptions are currently inflating.

***

It’s important to note that the tax exemption for churches and other religious organizations is not embedded in the Constitution. The First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion, but that’s free as in love, not free as in beer. Taxation is a purely secular affair, and by default it applies to everybody equally, whether they’re a religious institution or not. It would be unconstitutional to single out religious institutions to make them pay more tax than anybody else, but the government has every right to stop giving them special tax-free privileges. (One example: the Mormon church owns a theme park in Oahu which pays no federal taxes. That’s even after a Hawaii court found it to be “not for charitable purposes”, and therefore subject to local property taxes.)…

In the Bob Jones case, the US government made a very important statement. It’s not enough, they said, to support the right of interracial couples to date and get married; it’s also important to register official disapproval of any organizations which fail to support that right. To be given exemption from paying taxes is a special privilege bestowed by the state on deserving organizations. But there’s nothing deserving about an organization which bans interracial dating. So, the state is entirely within its powers to remove that privilege.

The same argument can and should be applied to gay marriage. If your organization does not support the right of gay men and women to marry, then the government should be very clear that you’re in the wrong. And it should certainly not bend over backwards to give you the privilege of tax exemption.

We have religious freedom in this country, and any religious organization is entirely free to espouse whatever crazy views it likes. But when those views are fanatical and hurtful, they come into conflict with the views of any honorable legislator who believes in freedom and equality. And at that point, it makes perfect sense for our elected representatives to register their disapproval by abolishing the tax exemption for organizations who cling to narrow-minded and anachronistic views.

***

Just as America has mostly avoided traditional conflicts between Protestants and Catholics, Christians and Jews, Sunni and Shia, atheists and believers — so too Americans’ commitment to tolerance, diversity, and dignity is perfectly capable of making room for the rights and dignity of those who disagree about the meaning of marriage.

But good-faith compromise — of the sort that is Americans’ unique political genius — is possible only if the government gives us the space to find it…

We will have this debate. The only question is whether we start a conversation or we let the fundamentalists pick a fight…

That is exactly why Rep. Raúl R. Labrador and I have introduced the First Amendment Defense Act, which would prevent the federal government from discriminating against anyone who believes that marriage is a union between one man and one woman.

***

According to the Urban Institute, about two-thirds of reporting public charities in the United States had revenue of less than $500,000 a year in 2012. Because many smaller organizations do not face the same reporting requirements as larger ones, the percentage of charities and other nonprofits with revenues of less than half a million a year is probably even greater than that estimate. For these organizations, there isn’t that much money to go around. Moreover, the Urban Institute found that, in 2012, all nonprofits that had to report in depth their finances to the federal government had combined revenues of $2.16 trillion and expenses of $2.03 trillion. That’s a gap of only $130 billion (about 6 percent of the total revenue). For nearly every nonprofit, therefore, increasing tax levels would lead to a cutback in services, a reduction of assets, or, potentially, bankruptcy…

Oppenheimer shrugs off the fear that ending tax deductions for charities could lower private giving by saying that government could step into the breach: “We’d have fewer church soup kitchens — but countries that truly care about poverty don’t rely on churches to run soup kitchens.” He thus suggests that we ought to accept the replacement of private works of charity with state intervention because this replacement is the sign that we “truly care” about poverty. The idea that government intervention is the only true way of caring about poverty reveals, perhaps, a lack of moral imagination…

The errors of the present remind us of the wisdom of the past. As Edmund Burke recognized, the state is no substitute for the non-governmental institutions of civil society. Churches and other groups performed charitable works long before the invention of the welfare state, and these private actors still often provide more effective and humane services than do faceless government bureaucrats (as the recent VA scandals suggest). The efforts of the bureaucratic leviathan often fall far short of the hard day-to-day work of rabbis, artists, soup-kitchen volunteers, teachers, and nurses.

The nonprofit sector is far from perfect, and it would be a mistake to think that valuable enterprises can happen only in the nonprofit world. After all, some of the greatest American cultural achievements of the past century have occurred in the very profit-driven fields of film and television. However, the tax policies governing nonprofits have made it easier for the institutions of civil society — schools, churches, charities, and so forth — to flourish with astounding diversity.

***

No one should think that IRS implications will stop with colleges. Religious high schools, grade schools and any other religious institution will face the same outcome. And this includes churches…

Colleges and universities that receive federal funding will be coerced into immediate compliance. Accreditation agencies will ratchet up their bullying of Christian institutions, as has already been done against Gordon College in Massachusetts. Threats to accreditation are fatal. Colleges may not legally operate in several states without it.

Christian colleges and churches need to get prepared. We must decide which is more important to us — our tax exemption or our religious convictions. Keep in mind, it is not the idea that the college itself might have to pay taxes that is the threat. Schools like Patrick Henry College, which I started, never run much of a profit. But since PHC refuses all government aid, all of our donations for scholarships and buildings come from tax deductible gifts. Cutting off that stream of revenue is effectively the end of such colleges absent a team of donors who simply don’t care if gifts are deductible.

***

But how, one wonders, would we determine which views [of tax-exempt organizations] are beyond the pale? If our standard should “at least” be that institutional opposition to a “fundamental right which is held by all Americans” should deprive an organization of its tax-exempt status, we will need to do away with almost all politically minded nonprofits. That would be a radical step indeed. It is an indisputable fact that many nonprofit outfits are dead set against the infamous Citizens United decision, and hope to see it overturned. Other groups, such as the tax-exempt Violence Policy Center, are vehemently opposed to the rulings in D.C. v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago, and would not only like to see them reversed, but aspires to help usher in a nationwide handgun ban afterwards — in other words, to overturn a right that has obtained in one form or another in America since the late 17th century, and which is explicitly enumerated within the nation’s founding charter.

It is not just single-issue outfits. Within the non-profit archipelago there sits a whole host of magazines, opinion generators, and religious charities — almost all of which take strong positions on what the Constitution means and how the Court should interpret it, and almost all of which could be accused of conspiring to “cling to narrow-minded and anachronistic views” and to “espouse whatever crazy” or “fanatical” or “hurtful” views they like. If, as Salmon argues, it is flatly wrong to “reward” churches for opposing basic constitutional rights or for saying things that our thoroughly modern arbiters of taste find retrograde, surely it is wrong to “reward” non-religious organizations for doing the same? Mother Jones, the product of a 501(c)(3), not only wants to overturn part of the First Amendment, but has published a “DIY Guide” to doing so. Should it be stripped of its status? On the other side of the aisle, the Heritage Foundation, also a non-profit, opposes the decision in Roe v. Wade, which, until such time as it is altered or rendered moot, protects abortion as a “fundamental right which is held by all Americans.” Should it be removed from the rolls because its governing board considers that Justice Blackmun erred in 1973?

***

No, the real intent of removing tax-exempt status is to cripple the institutions that continue their dissent from the sexual revolution. When tax exemptions are removed, donors will give far less than they are giving now. Churches will become liable to property taxes. That means that many churches will have to forfeit their property to the government because they won’t be able to afford the taxes they have to pay on it. Many of them wouldn’t be able to pay them now. If donations went down, they would be that much further from being able to pay them. As a result, churches that reside on valuable properties in urban locations would be immediately vulnerable. Eventually, so would everyone else…

So let’s put aside the propaganda and say clearly what Oppenheimer is calling for. A call for ending tax exemptions for religious institutions is a call to close them down—or at least to plunder them of their property. That is what is going on here. Think of the irreparable harm that would follow if and when these many small churches are effectively forced to close their doors—harm that will come not only to these ministers and parishioners themselves, but also to the poor and vulnerable: lost foster-care services, tutoring of teens, material and spiritual relief for the poor, and character development, often in the places it is needed most.

I am wondering if the average gay-marriage supporter flying the rainbow on his or her Facebook profile knew he or she was signing-up for this when agreeing to support gay marriage?…

When some of us warned of the religious-liberty implications of making gay marriage a fundamental constitutional right, we were told that such things would never happen. What they really meant was, “That will never happen, but when it does you Christians will deserve it.”





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