Third Party & Independents Archives

Church and the State

I noticed a news article about the IRS investigation of a liberal church in California last week. My interest started with the question of whether or not it was a partisan attack, but I’ve found that the IRS launched a broad non-partisan investigation of multiple entities and issued an advisory/fact sheet aimed at stopping the abuses in February.
I am however newly considering a different question - why are donations to churches tax-deductible at all?

First, a little bit about the issue at hand from the Mercury News.

The dispute with All Saints centers on a sermon titled "If Jesus Debated Sen. Kerry and President Bush" that was delivered by guest pastor Rev. George Regas on Oct. 31, 2004. Though he did not endorse either President Bush or Sen. John Kerry, he said Jesus would condemn the Iraq war and Bush's doctrine of pre-emptive war.

I think churches should be able to discuss issues of war and peace, poverty and social justice, care of the environment, etc. I also think churches should be able to discuss their belief that abortion needs to be stopped and gays should convert or stay in the shadows.
People will go to the type of church that speaks about the issues they care about.
The issues that people care about will be issues that are an integral part of public life.

I think churches are going to naturally lean towards activism as they always have - the abolition movement, prohibition amendment, civil rights... Much of our history would not be what it is without movements grounded in churches.

It is no secret that the Republicans have been organizing and using churches for phone banks and voter drives, even
requesting church directories for party recruiting.
They are not cheering about this investigation. They're watching it closely

I personally don’t want overt political activity in my church, but that’s a choice. The “free market economy” of choosing a church sorts that out. Zealous attacks on elements within some denominations will probably lead to either opposing elements leaving or new denominations being formed. In the end, all will be served.

The government shouldn’t have to care about any of this. Churches use their money to maintain and purchase their buildings, to compensate their staff, to provide religious education - why does government have to share in any of that?

I understand tax-deductible donations for charities (including church-affiliated ones) that reduce the burden of the government by feeding people, sheltering people, researching disease, etc - but it is not the burden of the government to evangelize us.

Christine

Posted by Christine at September 25, 2006 4:24 PM
Comments
Comment #183783

This is a hard one.

In a perfect world I think we should do away with completely tax free 503(c) organizations and instead have non-profit organizations that have a seperate account for tax-free donations that can only be spent on acceptable public benefit expenses. All of the regular expenses - should be out of taxable accounts.

The hard part of making something like this work is when it comes to employees, buildings, etc of the non-profit. For instance, maybe a preacher is getting paid by the non-profit for their work on public benefit and then they are “volunteering” their time to preach - it’s not going to fly if you try to say that they can’t preach in their free time if they are employed to do public work… I would prefer that employing people not be allowed with tax-free donation money - but I have a feeling that trying to rely on all volunteer non-profits to do the work that is currently being done won’t work.

Building expenses fall into the same problem - if a building is used part of the time for public work and other times for religious services that may include calls for donations to public works - how do you account for what should qualify as tax deductible and what can’t…

In the private sector A lunch can qualify as a deductible “business lunch” if you merely talk about one business related subject for 5 minutes…

Tax deductibility is a contentous subject - look at our housing related deductions, what public benefit does letting rich people trade real estate tax free every two years and take out high leveraged mortgages serve???

Posted by: Redlenses at September 25, 2006 4:51 PM
Comment #183784

Christine, Churches were given immunity from taxes on the principle that the government should have no coercive nor punitive power over religion in this country, which derived from the Separation of Church State understanding of the Constitution’s Establishment clause forbidding the government to establish or sponsor any religion for the nation.

Now, that churches have breached that contract by moving into government, it is indeed, high time government began taxing their holdings and wealth, for they have become just another oligopolic corporate enterprise of various denominations.

As long as Churches stayed out of government policy making, the government was obligated to stay out of their exercise of amassing wealth. But, the minute they began using that wealth to shape government policy, the contract was broken. The Church is just another money making business with a product to sell, and its labor, profits, and real property should no longer be exempt from all the rest of us have to pay.

Posted by: David R. Remer at September 25, 2006 5:04 PM
Comment #183801

AMENDMENT I
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech or the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Hmmmmmmmmmm, I see where the Government is prohibited from involvement in religion. But I don’t see religion from being involved in Government. Maybe I’m missing something, but I doubt it.
I personally don’t believe that churches should get involved in politics at all. The mission of the church is to preach the Gospel, not get politicians elected.
But if a pastor wants to endorse a candidate to his congregation, that’s between him and the church. And not the business of the Government.
And if the church wants to endorse a candidate, there’s nothing in the constitution prohibiting it. So it still aint the Governments business.

Posted by: Ron Brown at September 25, 2006 6:59 PM
Comment #183805

Ron Brown said: “But I don’t see religion from being involved in Government. Maybe I’m missing something, but I doubt it.”

You are missing the rationale for tax exempting Churches. Nowhere in the Constitution does it say Churches will be tax exempt either. For that, you will need to look at the IRS code and legislation authorizing their exemptions.

Posted by: David R. Remer at September 25, 2006 7:20 PM
Comment #183806

Ron, also, it is a fact of law that churches, which have tax-exempt status are not allowed to participate in political campaigns on behalf of political candidates. The Religious Right is attempting to get those laws changed in order to ensure that churches can become fully active in political campaigns.

It is up to the voters and Congress whether or not Churches should be prevented from political activities as all other charitable organizations serving the community are, or, whether the separation of Church and State is to be torn down altogether opening the way to an American theocracy in which various religions will compete in lobbying to become the national religion, outlawing others.

Posted by: David R. Remer at September 25, 2006 7:33 PM
Comment #183807

A non-profit organization is what it is and shouldn’t be discriminated for its aims or purposes so long as they dont violate the liberties of another.

Someone is going to be offended whether Benny Hinn is preaching his kooky ‘words of your mouth create the universe’ crap or some burly chick at Planned Parenthood preaching the enlightenment of putting your unborn baby in a blender.

I dont think a reasonable person can take a tax break on either organization as an endorsement or establishment of either.

Lets not forget who’s money it is.
Government is simply taking LESS of what they DIDNT earn in the first place.

Posted by: Matt at September 25, 2006 7:35 PM
Comment #183812

Christine,
The First Amendment prohibits government from taxing religious entitites …

Amendment I (1791)
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; …

However, if churches are participating in any political capacity, then they are NO longer only a religious entity … they are now a political organization, and should be subject to the laws just like everyone else, along with established contribution limits (and the obvious reasons and need for those limitations), and other FEC laws. The FEC laws and rules set specific limits on contribution limits, and demand that the source of donations be reported, so that Americans will know where the money is coming from. Some people are paid for their work, and are subject to taxation like the rest of us. There is already too much money in politics, and churches trying to circumvent the rules, avoid detection, taxation, and limits is not fair. It is cheating.

The very first Amendment was very wise. If we return to a theocracy, it will be another huge step backward, and another step toward the decline of the United States.

After all, there is nothing preventing people from being members of any political party they wish. Why do it through a church? To avoid the rules is why. Trying to avoid those rules (including donation/contribution limits) is cheating, and those churches doing that cheating should be subject to the same laws as all other political organizations.

Or, would you prefer all rules be ignored. It is already a farce, of sorts. 83% of all federal donations (of $200 or more) come from a mere 0.1% of the U.S. population, which is why government is already FOR SALE. Most (if not all) incumbent politicians are already bought-and-paid-for.

Open the doors to religious control of government, and you can kiss this country good-bye. How many wars have been over control by one or more religious groups. Do we want to return to that? Did we learn nothing from history. That is why we have the first Amendment. They understood this well in 1791 (or before). Do we have to keep learning the hard way?

Posted by: d.a.n at September 25, 2006 8:01 PM
Comment #183813

David,
The whole IRS tax code is unconstitutional. But it seems the courts disagree with me.
Like I said, I don’t believe that churches should be involved in politics. But then I don’t believe that churches should be involved in a lot of things they are.
But if a preacher tells his congregation he’s for a certain candidate he’s not publicly endorsing that candidate. And I still don’t believe it’s the Government business.

Posted by: Ron Brown at September 25, 2006 8:06 PM
Comment #183817

Well, its interesting to note the inconsistent standard applied to religion. A tax exemption shouldnt void a group’s freedom of speech.

Various non-profit groups explicitly promote a certain political view, some promoting all sorts of perversion, stupidity, waste, etc by the very nature of their purpose. However, so long as those groups do not breathe the name of a ‘god’, its well tolerated.

The “theocracy” issue is a dodge.
Those mentioning the famed “separation of church and state” mantra simply do not know the history of the term.

Its simply business as usual. The democratic mob wants to restrict the right to religious expression. Knowing they cant yet do it directly, they simply confront religion in a back alley, hold a gun to its head and says…”We can take a little or a lot…whats it gonna be?”

Posted by: Matt at September 25, 2006 8:21 PM
Comment #183820

Ron Brown said: “The whole IRS tax code is unconstitutional. “

Bulpuckie! The Constitution provides for amendments. I Any amendments passed according to the Constitutional provisions for same, are Constitutional. We have a host of laws that are not in the Constituiton. By your logic, they are all unconstitutional as well, like speed limits on roads, and the National Park system. That dog don’t hunt.

Posted by: David R. Remer at September 25, 2006 9:07 PM
Comment #183821

D.a.n., I’m not aware of any controversy involving campaign contributions of money by churches to political candidates.

Christine mentions how Republicans have sought to get church directories and the like, but let’s not forget to mention how on the Democratic side, churches routinely become directly involved in specific political campaigns.

In 04, John Kerry, John Edwards, and of course “The Reverend” Al Sharpton all stood behind pulpits at churches and gave political speeches.

I have no problem with any of this, so long as churches are not actually becoming funnels to candidates of tax-exempt cash.

As far as I know, church property is all that’s tax-exempt. Ministers, employees and the like still pay income tax and churches pay sale tax and tax on investments.

Posted by: Pilsner at September 25, 2006 9:09 PM
Comment #183822

The separation of church and state doctrine, as Dan rightly points out, was a direct response to the observation of the day that religion divides people. In order to have a UNITED STATES, religion had to be separated from the state.

The “war” between Islam and Christianity as viewed by many Muslims and Christians today is a perfect example that our forefathers, and Thomas Jefferson knew precisely and wisely what they were doing in proferring such a doctrine intrinsic to the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment.

Posted by: David R. Remer at September 25, 2006 9:11 PM
Comment #183823

Pilsner, google “Church illegal political activity” and you won’t be unaware anymore.

Posted by: David R. Remer at September 25, 2006 9:12 PM
Comment #183824

Matt said: “Well, its interesting to note the inconsistent standard applied to religion. A tax exemption shouldnt void a group’s freedom of speech.”

It is a contract. Church gives up its political speech in return for the tax donation. NO ONE holds a gun to their head saying they HAVE to take the tax exemption. If they want free political campaigning speech as an organization they can have it - in return for being taxed like every other lobbying business interest trading campaign cash for votes.

This is one of the problems solved with a flat tax system - churches pay taxes like everyone else and have all the political organizational activity they want.

Posted by: David R. Remer at September 25, 2006 9:31 PM
Comment #183828

Thanks, David.

I see there is at least some controversy about direct donations to campaigns, though googling showed that in recent years the IRS has only sought to revoke the taxt-exempt status of three “unnamed organizations.”

It seems the IRS has a very weird and not very proactive way of enforcing these laws. They investigate when somebody makes a complaint, and when they find problems, they say that there are problems but rarely do anything about it.

Posted by: Pilsner at September 25, 2006 9:41 PM
Comment #183829

Do folks here agree then that the Reverend Martin Luther King should have been punished for organizing in churches, advocating for political causes from the pulpit and leading his congregation in protest against the laws of the segregated South?

I say no. Emphatically no. And though I’m a pro-Bush conservative, I’ll defend the right of this liberal Californian church to say whatever they want AGAINST George Bush and his policies. What’s more, if they start giving money to anti-Bush causes, or causes that could be interpreted as anti-Bush, I’ll defend that too. I don’t have to like it. But hey, that’s America.

If they give money to a specific candidate running for office though, a line has to be drawn.

We can agree that the separation of church and state means that the state must not be subject to the church. But it’s a two-way street. It also means that the church must not be subject to the state.

Posted by: Pilsner at September 25, 2006 9:53 PM
Comment #183830

Pilsner, I couldn’t agree more. And it is part and parcel of an enormously bigger problem: Congress failing in its oversight obligations as required of it by the Constitution. The Congress has a duty to oversee and check and balance the Executive Branch of government and its agencies in the name and interests of the people and their tax dollars.

They conduct many oversight hearings, BUT, the Congress does not follow through. The Congress has the subpeona power and a host of laws at their command to call the executive branch before it and mandate that they respond. But our uni-party Congress has for all intents and purposes abdicated that Constitutional duty and obligation in the name of partisan politics.

Case in point, Donald Rumsfeld refusing to answer the oversight committee’s questions. Congress had the power to throw him in jail if he continued to refuse to answer and produce the field personnel who could testify as to what is happening in the field. Instead, they said, “Oh, well, if you won’t answer, so be it”. As if their hands were tied - which of course, they were not in the least little bit.

There are myriad of such examples where oversight produces no results. The Congress has the power to cut the office budget for any and every person in the Executive Branch as a measure to get their compliance and truthful testimony. This power has not once been exercised in 5 years as far as I know. And the White House has routinely made use of this lack of exercise of Congressional oversight as a means of hiding all manner of information that public and its representatives has a justified and duty bound interest in knowing.

Posted by: David R. Remer at September 25, 2006 9:56 PM
Comment #183832

Excellent posts David and d.a.n. Couldn’t have been said any better, IMO.

Posted by: Adrienne at September 25, 2006 9:58 PM
Comment #183835

Matt, What history are you referring to? The mixture of Church and State wasnt working when this Country was founded why would it work now?

Posted by: j2t2 at September 25, 2006 10:13 PM
Comment #183837

Sorry j2t2

Its just obvious that you havent studied the origin of the phrase “separation of church and state”, nor the Judeo-christian foundation of civil law, nor the role of religion in the colonies.

Im playing poker now, but my site has a thorough article on the “Church and state” myth.

Posted by: Matt at September 25, 2006 10:36 PM
Comment #183845

Pilsner, there is a legal and philosophical difference between advocating for civil justice and advocating for a political party or its candidates. Churches may advocate for civil justice, government reform, etc. What they cannot do by law is advocate for a political party or candidate’s election.

Ergo, no, there was nothing about MLK’s activity in churches which violated separation of church and state, for his advocacy was for 1st amendment protected rights to assembly and speech about government and civil justice.

If MLK had stood at the pulpit and said all Black persons should vote for the Republican Party as a means of threatening the Democratic President to pass civil rights legislation, then he and his church would have violated the laws regarding tax exemption, and have been obligated to forego its exemptions.

Many of today’s situations are not so neatly demarcated. Advocacy for political parties and candidates are taking place within churches in ways which circumvent the letter of the law. Thus blurring the line of separation and opening the flood gates of competition between religions in the future to compete for national religion status acknowledge in practice, if not in word, by the government.

Posted by: David R. Remer at September 25, 2006 10:44 PM
Comment #183851

Matt, you may call it myth, does not make it myth. The 1st Amendment is not a myth, nor is the body of law which has been adjudicated from the 1st Amendment by the courts. Not a myth at all. But, a living breathing black and white set of laws expressly prohibiting churches from both tax exemption and participation in promoting political parties or candidates.

A reality you are want to turn a blind eye to. Medicine is public service available to those who can afford it and those who can’t under most non-elective circumstances. Yet, medical services are profit organizations, unless expressly constructed under law as a charitable non-profit which means it must stick to its charitable non-profit mission as stated in its articles of incorporation, or lose its favored status with the government.

This same principle can and should apply to churches. Their articles of incorporation stipulate charitable non-profit activities having nothing to do with political campaigning and organizing. If they wish to keep their favored tax status they must comply with the same restrictions as any other non-profit public service organization.

Politics IS NOT ABOUT public service, it is ALL ABOUT the power of the majority and the minority in their struggle for more power over the other. Hardly anything charitable in that exercise. Politics is war by other means.

Religious participation in power politics is a dividing DISSERVICE to the nation and its unity. Hence the doctrine of separation. As true today as it was in 1776.

Our rules of habeas corpus and law stem from empirical examination of facts and evidence. The very instant one introduces religion into government policy, that standard begins to erode for belief and faith are the standards of evidence in religion, and where such standards have political power, inquisitions and cruelty and deprivation of rights based on thoughts and ideas called heresy take root.

These were the lessons learned by our founding fathers in their day from Europe’s not so distant history in such matters. Hence, the first amendment was contemplated and added to preempt any such acquisition of political state power by any religious sect or organization.

Posted by: David R. Remer at September 25, 2006 10:59 PM
Comment #183855
a living breathing black and white set of laws expressly prohibiting churches from both tax exemption and participation in promoting political parties or candidates.
The LAW once justified the treatment of blacks as non-person slaves. When virtue is subject to the law, rather than vice-versa, tyranny looms.
This same principle can and should apply to churches. Their articles of incorporation stipulate charitable non-profit activities having nothing to do with political campaigning and organizing. If they wish to keep their favored tax status they must comply with the same restrictions as any other non-profit public service organization.
If my pastor wants to promote a kook like Ralph Nader during election season, that certainly shouldn’t qualify as a complete redefinition of the church’s mission.

And again, your whole perspective is wrong.
Giving grants to such an entity is one thing—-taking money from citizens and giving it to entities which the citizen may find offensive.

Tax EXEMPTION is entirely different.
The non-profit organization RECEIVES nothing from the citizens.
It is simply extended the courtesy of TAKING less money from it.

Stolen money with which the government ten uses in part, to fund museums which highlight crosses in urine, and to fund operations like Planned Parenthood which promote abortion.

its absolutely ludicrous that people hold such a blatant double standard because of their intolerance for religion.


Religious participation in power politics is a dividing DISSERVICE to the nation and its unity. Hence the doctrine of separation. As true today as it was in 1776.
Again, it is apparent that most Americans have been completely brainwashed with a revisionist version of history they know little about.

They never heard of the Baptist Convention of 1612 and the struggle with colonial Puritans.
They’ve never heard of Roger Williams…dont know of Jeffersons letter to the Danbury Baptists…
They’re just repeating some misinformed mantra taught to them by some other partisan biased against religion.

Government education at its finest.

Posted by: Matt at September 25, 2006 11:32 PM
Comment #183856
Pilsner, there is a legal and philosophical difference between advocating for civil justice and advocating for a political party or its candidates. Churches may advocate for civil justice, government reform, etc. What they cannot do by law is advocate for a political party or candidate’s election.

I think that’s exactly what I’ve been saying.

A slight complication arises, though, when you say “civil justice” or “government reform” because justice and reform are concepts which are largely in the eye of the beholder.

I would say, and my guess is that you’d disagree, that George Bush advances “justice” in international policy and Bolton in the UN advances “reform.” So what if a church comes out in favor of the positions of either?

I’d say it’s fine if they come out in favor of any position which is consistent with the views of their favored public figures, but not fine if they channel tax-exempt money when it’s attached to a specific figures by name. That goes for Democrats like Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton too. It’s a fine line, I know.

The thing is that you can attack any sitting politician or any policy and say that you are doing it for “civil justice” or “government reform.”

And MLK did just that, referring to numerous office-holders by name. By implication, it would be easy to say that he was endorsing those who might run against them, which under current practices could cause many to say that MLK had crossed a line in the separation between church and state.

The real problem here, in my view, is that the government is too heavily involved in regulating political speech. The voters should be the first and last word in everything.

Posted by: Pilsner at September 25, 2006 11:33 PM
Comment #183865

Matt:
“Again, it is apparent that most Americans have been completely brainwashed with a revisionist version of history they know little about.
They never heard of the Baptist Convention of 1612 and the struggle with colonial Puritans.”
They’ve never heard of Roger Williams…dont know of Jeffersons letter to the Danbury Baptists…
They’re just repeating some misinformed mantra taught to them by some other partisan biased against religion.
Government education at its finest.”

Look Matt, you’re new here, so maybe you can be forgiven, but you really do need to come down off your high horse. Many of us have discussed all of these things in depth in this blog, and more than once. Btw, I personally believe the Rev. John Leland (Baptist) was actually a much more important a figure than Roger Williams, even though he often doesn’t garner as much attention.

“Guard against those men who make a great noise about religion in choosing representatives… It is electioneering intrigue. If they knew the nature and worth of religion, they would not debauch it to such shameful purposes. If pure religion is the criterion to [decide upon] candidates, those who make a noise about it must be rejected; for their wrangle about it proves that they are void of it. Let honesty, talents and quick dispatch characterize the men of your choice.”

“Be always jealous of your liberty, your rights. Nip the first bud of intrusion on your Constitution… Never promote men who seek after a state-established religion; it is spiritual tyranny the worst of despotism.”

“Persecution, like a lion, tears the saints to death, but leaves Christianity pure; state establishment of religion, like a bear, hugs the saints but corrupts Christianity.”

All quotes — Rev. John Leland

Posted by: Adrienne at September 26, 2006 12:33 AM
Comment #183874

Matt, how condescending of you. My pitiful public school education has taught me better than that. If Im not mistaken wasnt the witch trials and the excesses of the Puritans and their political power still in the minds of our forefathers whilst debating the constitutuion? Were they not fleeing the tyranny of state religion?
Speaking of myths, the laws of this Country owe their origins to English law not the ten commandments or Judeo-christian law as you claim. If Christianity arrived in England about the 7th century and English common law was going strong 200 years earlier then the timeline doesnt jive with your story.
Last but not least a blurb from our most favorite of those from the age of enlightment- Thomas Jefferson “To the corruptions of Christianity, I am indeed opposed;but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself.”


Posted by: j2t2 at September 26, 2006 2:24 AM
Comment #183877

Matt said: “The non-profit organization RECEIVES nothing from the citizens.
It is simply extended the courtesy of TAKING less money from it.”

Apparently Matt, you are not familiar with the concept of equal treatment under the law. The non-profits most definitely do receive something. An exemption from taxation in exchange for staying out political campaigning. A nation’s government and the services it provides costs money. Government requires revenue to pay for those costs. Exemptions are made under contractual law as determined by the people’s representatives. Violate the basis for exemption, and get treated like everyone who is not exempt. Equal treatment under the law.

I know it is selectively enforced, but, it is a principle that will bring this nation down if we stray too far from it.

But this is all academic, Matt. You are in a minority of about 11% and your will cannot prevail. Almost 90% of Americans agree to and see the need for taxes to pay for government. Their beef is with how irresponsiblly and unnecessarily there money spent.

Posted by: David R. Remer at September 26, 2006 4:37 AM
Comment #183878

Pilsner said: “The voters should be the first and last word in everything.”

Then you think our founding fathers screwed up on the Constitution? For a Republic was their grand experiment, not direct democracy.

Posted by: David R. Remer at September 26, 2006 4:44 AM
Comment #183879

Adrienne, give him a break. He is on a crusade to throw the baby out with the bath water. He wants to rewrite the Constitutional and legal history of this nation. Many have tried, and most of them are dead. He wants to supplant the Constitution and laws with his own version of religious history which ignores the great wisdom and lessons learned by the founding fathers. In otherwords, he wants to father a new nation. That’s fine as long as he doesn’t deny others rights to uphold and defend the Constitution and the laws which emanate from it. For we are a nation of law, not of men, or religious prophets. His angst is his own, let it not be ours.

Posted by: David R. Remer at September 26, 2006 4:48 AM
Comment #183881

j2t2, excellent counterpoint.

Posted by: David R. Remer at September 26, 2006 4:50 AM
Comment #183907
Adrienne : Many of us have discussed all of these things in depth in this blog, and more than once. Btw, I personally believe the Rev. John Leland (Baptist) was actually a much more important a figure than Roger Williams, even though he often doesn’t garner as much attention.
Regardless of how important a figure Williams was …Im just offering a few morsels for those who actually want to learn about the origin and history of the phrase, “Separation of Church and State”, rather than reiterating the revisionist version that seems fashionable around here.
j2t2: If Im not mistaken wasnt the witch trials and the excesses of the Puritans and their political power still in the minds of our forefathers whilst debating the constitutuion? Were they not fleeing the tyranny of state religion?
Precisely. People like Roger Williams were fighting AGAINST the Puritans. Most of the colonists came to America believing in liberty defined as the freedom to worship as you like. However, the Puritans defined liberty as their “calling” to preserve the faith against the spread of catholocism in Europe. They extended that strange version of liberty to the new land.

The Baptists and other separitist groups simply despised the Puritan attempts to use political posts and money to promote their “mission”, the outcry was against EXCLUSIVE funding of religious groups….the public debate wasnt about BANNING such funding. Furthermore, the fight was for a NON-DENOMINATIONAL STATE, not a secular one.

David R. Remer:
Apparently Matt, you are not familiar with the concept of equal treatment under the law. The non-profits most definitely do receive something. An exemption from taxation in exchange for staying out political campaigning. A nation’s government and the services it provides costs money. Government requires revenue to pay for those costs. Exemptions are made under contractual law as determined by the people’s representatives. Violate the basis for exemption, and get treated like everyone who is not exempt. Equal treatment under the law.
TAKING LESS of our money is something you consider a GIFT?
Our tax money isn’t something government is ENTITLED to, the remainder of which we should be gateful to receive.
Granted, this has been forgotten since taxation by representation died long ago when Senators were no longer appointed by the state legislatures. Senators now vote to stay in power, seeking the mob, rather than the will of the state legislature….our true representatives.

And you’ve really stretched the authority of the equal treatment clause. In the McDaniel v. Paty case, Justice Brennan said, “Government may not use religion as a basis of classification for the imposition of duties, penalties, privileges or benefits. Discrimination between religion and nonreligion manifests patent hostility toward, not neutrality respecting, religion. The Establishment Clause does not license government to treat religion and those who teach or practice it, simply by virtue of their status as such, as subversive of American ideals and therefore subject to unique disabilities.”

Equal treatment would be for the government to get its grubby hands off non-profits whether they be religious, athiest, agnostic, etc. By making no distinction, the government would be effectively saying that they ARE treating all people equally.

We aren’t talking about some non-profit shell with a “church” whose “congregation” never shows up on Sunday but sends millions in checks, after which the “pastor” prints out campaign brochures and goes door-knocking for Kerry.

We;re talking about censoring the speech of American citizens when they are inside a church.
Plain and simple.

Posted by: Matt Goldseth at September 26, 2006 8:27 AM
Comment #183919

David, Thanks but that was actually Thomas Jeffersons comments to another Matt- Sir Matthew Hale who mistakingly tried to perpetrate the same “Judeo-Christian basis of law so we are a christian nation not a nation with a lot of christians” theory as Mr.Goldseth has. It was false then and is still false today, no matter how many public school textbooks you change.

Posted by: j2t2 at September 26, 2006 9:11 AM
Comment #183927
Matt Goldseth wrote: We’re talking about censoring the speech of American citizens when they are inside a church. Plain and simple.

Not true.

Matt Goldseth,
No one is limiting speech. Any church is free to also engage in political activities, campaigns, and fund raising, but if a church is engaging in political activities, or preaching politics instead of religion (only), or raising money for political campaigns, then that church is no longer only a religious entity. They are now a political organization. They are free to do so, but are now subject to the same FEC laws as other political organizations.

Or, are you saying churches should be above the law, and should not be subject to the same FEC rules and laws ?

Your claims of censoring speech are false, since no one is limiting the freedom of speech of any church. Churches can be political organizations too, but if they do, must also play by the same FEC rules and laws as other political organizations.

With countless political organizations and numerous political parties, you have to wonder “why do churches want to push political agendas?

The reasons are simple.
They want to cheat.
They want to circumvent the laws, rules, disclosure and reporting requirements, campaign limits, and taxation of those receiving disbursements. That’s why.

Regarding taxation (in general), that is a separate issue. It is folly to believe government can operate without any funding or power to accomplish anything. Few would object to fair taxation. No person can exist in society without impacting that society (sometimes negatively). No one is an island. A healthy society must recognize the necessity of some government to enforce the laws justly. That requires money and power. But there must be oversight. That is what the voters are supposed to be doing. Unfortunately, slumbering voters are not always paying close attention, while the fox is in the hen house. Hence, it is 2 steps forward, and 1.999 steps backward, and we keep having to relearn old lessons. Voters keep having to be motivated by the pain and misery resulting from their own negligence and complacency. The problem with the tax system is that it is not fair. It is full of loop-holes for the wealthy. Irresponsible incumbent politicians have perverted the tax laws (and other laws) just the way they like it (to benefit them and their wealthy-donor-puppeteers), and they will not ever reform it voluntarily.

That is why it is now up to voters to do the one simple thing they were supposed to be doing all along:

  • Stop repeat offenders.
  • Don’t re-elect irresponsible, bought-and-paid-for incumbent politicians.

Remember, newcomers to congress can never pass any common-sense, no-brainer, responsible reforms as long as they are always vastly out-numbered by irresponsible, FOR-SALE, bought-and-paid-for, corrupt incumbent politicians that like things just the way they have perverted them, and they will never allow any newcomers to congress to ever pass any badly-needed, commons-sense reforms that may possibly reduce the incumbent politicians’ opportunities for self-gain, or the security of their cu$hy, coveted seats of power.

Also, look at the vastly unfair advantages that incumbent politicians have given themselves over time. Only voters can balance the power (not merely shift it or strip government of all power to accomplish anything), and the longer voters slumber, the more painful it will be later.

Posted by: d.a.n at September 26, 2006 10:05 AM
Comment #183948

David, I agree. But me with my public school education stills feel the need to reply to Matt anyway, because he seems to be talking down to everyone. He obviously doesn’t realize that many of us have studied a great deal about our government, the era of the Enlightenment that spawed it, and our founders personal writings.

Matt:
“Regardless of how important a figure Williams was …”

I consider Leland more important because he had the ear of both Jefferson and Madison — and he influenced both.

“Im just offering a few morsels for those who actually want to learn about the origin and history of the phrase, “Separation of Church and State”, rather than reiterating the revisionist version that seems fashionable around here.”

I think you are the one with the revisionist version of history, but I’m not all that surpised by it, because we’ve had many people saying the same kinds of things in this blog before. You claim that we don’t understand:

“the origin of the phrase “separation of church and state””

And yet, we do.

“nor the Judeo-christian foundation of civil law,”

But you are wrong on this. j2t2 wrote: “the laws of this Country owe their origins to English law not the ten commandments or Judeo-christian law as you claim.”
And of course he’s right, it was English Common law that was their blueprint. The founders were also influenced a great deal by writings of Thomas Locke and Sir Edward Coke who wrote that common law was an institution that needs to have a strong, independent judiciary in order to protect individuals from ideological extremes. Of course, because they were English, they were referring to the monarchy, but the founders took their ideas very much to heart in in the crafting of our own government, understanding full well that it isn’t just a king who can lead a nation to extremes, but average men also. They were also influenced by the Greeks and Romans, though to a lesser extent. Religion did not play an enormous role as you are claiming. It just didn’t.

“nor the role of religion in the colonies.”

Much of what took place in the crafting of our government and laws was a reaction against the King, and the role that religion was attempting to play in the colonies. These were cool headed, highly intelligent and well-read men of the Enlightenment, who, while some were personally religious, clearly had a great distain for any sort of fervent religious interference in their new government. They’d learned it was a bad idea not only from the English King they threw off, but also from the tyrannical meddling of religious men and ministers in the colonies.
This is why the first amendment has to be viewed as working both ways. Government not interferring with Religion — so that all people will be free to worship in total freedom. And Religion not interferring in Government — so that immoderate and tyrannical views have no chance to subvert the law, or gain a foothold over personal freedom.
The first amendment absolutely MUST work both ways in order to call what we have freedom.

“The Baptists and other separitist groups simply despised the Puritan attempts to use political posts and money to promote their “mission”, the outcry was against EXCLUSIVE funding of religious groups….the public debate wasnt about BANNING such funding. Furthermore, the fight was for a NON-DENOMINATIONAL STATE, not a secular one.”

That may have been the prevailing attitude of some religious leaders in America at the time, but not all.
Rev. John Leland:
“The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever… Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.”

This was an idea shared by the founders, in their great wisdom and foresight. And up until now, until all these Religious groups began trying to dismantle the wall of separation, it has always made America a nation that is free, and peaceful, and just — for the religious and the non-religious alike.

Posted by: Adrienne at September 26, 2006 11:21 AM
Comment #183962

d.a.n:
I think we can agree to disagree on the EXTENT, while agreeing on the substance here.

So long as the standard for exemption lies in a clear distinction of an organization that becomes a political, rather than a religious, I’m with you. However, it seems to me that many would like to use the tax-exempt status to coerce churches into restraining their speech by incrementally defining the line between a religious entity and a political one.

Funny how so many tolerate government programs, including the educaiton system, which promote a specific ideology…and you exempt them from the same standards simply because they dont name a personal God.

I think its only natural that people’s moral convictions would have a great bearing on politics, and therefore, its reasonable for people to have those discussions, to whatever degree, in the church. Although many churches are simply drive by worship centers, many more extend into personal life, establishing small group relationships develop.
SO long as that church doesn’t explicity launder funds to a campaign, no restriction on the activites or speech of the church should be permitted.

Adrienne:
I wish I could pat you on the back so this would go down easy…but you’ll just have to swallow.
You’re wrong.

Your continued insistence on knowing the history of “separation of church and state” is not proof that you do. You’ve provided nothing more than the regurgitated revisionist OPINION of what it means without providing any context to support it.

I think I will take the initiative and post the explicit historical context of that perverted phrase. Whether you put your head in the sand afterwards is up to you.

Posted by: Matt at September 26, 2006 12:01 PM
Comment #183969

“Your continued insistence on knowing the history of “separation of church and state” is not proof that you do.”

Origin of the phrase:
Isaac Backus, Baptist minister (New England), 1773, stated that when:
“church and state are separate, the effects are happy, and they do not at all interfere with each other: but where they have been confounded together, no tongue nor pen can fully describe the mischiefs that have ensued.”

Then Roger Williams (exact year?, don’t know):
“[A] hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world”

Then George Washington to the America’s first Jewish congregation, 1790:
“All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”

Then we have Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists, 1802:

“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between church and State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.”

Like I said before, you need to come down off your high horse.

Posted by: Adrienne at September 26, 2006 12:28 PM
Comment #183998

You’re getting warmer……
But not quite…Roger Williams lived from 1599-1683, so obviously Isaac Backus didnt originate the phrase.

keep Googling. When you get to Roger Williams, be sure you dont snip the quote out of context and maybe I’ll let you ride on the back of my high horse.
;-0

Posted by: Matt at September 26, 2006 1:51 PM
Comment #183999

Here’s a good hint

Posted by: Matt at September 26, 2006 1:54 PM
Comment #184005

Good luck with this one, Adrienne. You’ve locked horns with an interesting opponenet here.

BTW, have you checked out his page here? Check out the last sentence of his bio - arrogance, error, and a straw man all wrapped into one!

Good luck.

Posted by: LawnBoy at September 26, 2006 2:14 PM
Comment #184010

Okay. So, Williams came before Issac Backus. But of course, that just means he had even less of an influence on the writings of the founders. Unlike the Rev. John Leland who knew these men well.
Look, Williams, Backus, and Leland were all Baptists. And we know Baptists in America wanted a separation of church and state, because of what the other religious groups were doing by trying to impose their faith on their local governments.
What is your point, that because the guy who originated the phrase was religious that the founders didn’t mind the thought of having religion constantly meddling in our government? The reverse is true.
Read their writings and correspondence and you’ll see they knew exactly what they were doing with the first amendment — building the wall between church and state — so that America could avoid all the trouble that had tormented Europe for centuries because they had mixed the two, and so that many immoderate views didn’t become the law of this land the way that some religious leaders of the day actually desired.

Posted by: Adrienne at September 26, 2006 2:20 PM
Comment #184099

“Adrienne, give him a break. He is on a crusade to throw the baby out with the bath water. He wants to rewrite the Constitutional and legal history of this nation. Many have tried, and most of them are dead. He wants to supplant the Constitution and laws with his own version of religious history which ignores the great wisdom and lessons learned by the founding fathers. In otherwords, he wants to father a new nation. That’s fine as long as he doesn’t deny others rights to uphold and defend the Constitution and the laws which emanate from it. For we are a nation of law, not of men, or religious prophets. His angst is his own, let it not be ours.”

Classic, unadulterated Remer at his best. Spot on.

“Look Matt, you’re new here, so maybe you can be forgiven, but you really do need to come down off your high horse.”

Adrienne, as we found out in Matt’s article, his horse is of the Trojan variety.

I think we can all agree that the founders meant to build that wall. Over time, interpretation of the constitution and its foundational documents will change. Sometimes marginally, sometimes quantum leaps. Interpretation is always in the contemporary mind.

The foundation of that phrase is that the church shall not enfringe on government and vise versa. As Adrienne said, it must be a two way street to have any meaning and worth.

“We;re talking about censoring the speech of American citizens when they are inside a church.”

As it pertains to their representation of their church as a whole, no we clearly are not. When a preacher speaks from the pulpit, he has no self identity. He is speaking for the church and allegedly representing the embodiment of the church organization. The church organization is not a citizen with free speech rights. The church organization traded this section of political free speech in exchange for tax exempt status.

Posted by: Chi Chi at September 26, 2006 5:47 PM
Comment #184124

Matt, you DEFINITELY DO NOT speak for Libertarians on the issue of separation of church and state. I direct you to the Libertarian Platform which states quite emphatically:

I.3 Freedom of Religion

Issue: Government routinely invades personal privacy rights based solely on individuals’ religious beliefs. Arbitrary tax structures are designed to give aid to certain religions, and deny it to others.

Principle: We defend the rights of individuals to engage in (or abstain from) any religious activities that do not violate the rights of others.

Solution: In order to defend freedom, we advocate a strict separation of church and State.

So, this is your personal agenda, and that’s fine. I just want folks not to be misled into thinking the LP which I respect on so many issues, backs your position on this.

Posted by: David R. Remer at September 26, 2006 7:07 PM
Comment #184414

Good point David.

Most Libertarian platforms I’ve visited (and that’s many, as you well know … being a person, myself, that leans a little to the Libertarian side) strongly support a separation of Church and State.

By the way, look at Matt’s biography and you can easily see the possibility of a specific agenda.

Matt, your biography states:

Jesus was a libertarian … . By the way…if you think your great-grandfather was a monkey, email me to discuss the obvious truth about the created universe!

I’m not interested in discussing it, but would like to ask why you feel a need to convince others of your religious beliefs? Why can’t people be content to exercise their freedom to their own religion without pushing it onto others?

Why can’t people understand the wise and fair reasons why government should NOT make laws that respect OR restrict ANY religions? Because, the obvious struggle that always ensues is WHICH religion? Do we need to revist those horrors again?

Fortunately, most Americans get it, and respect, and support the wisdom of the 1st Amendment of the Constitution. The 1st Amendment of the Constitution is one of the most important examples of a society has learned from history, and made a wise and fair law to separate Church and State, and preserve the rights of all people. Pain and misery is a good teacher. If we forget this lesson, we will have to learn the hard way (again). Just look around the planet, and see the war and genocide by groups struggling to make THEIR religion the official religion. Fortunately, most Americans are smart enough to understand this, and don’t want to revisit that pain and misery. Many Europeans understand this all to well also. Unfortunately, too many in the Middle East don’t yet get it, and do not have that separation of Church and State (some, such as Saudi Arabi even forbid other religions, and the government proclaim an official national religion), and the problems arising from it are obvious.

So, that is why Churches should not be taxed. However, any church that also engages in political activity is not only a Church, and are now subject to the same laws and taxes as everyone else. There are no restrictions from any Church that chooses that path. There are merely laws and rules (FEC) that all political groups must comply with, because money in politics already makes it rotten (already, 83% of federal campaign donations coming from a mere 0.1% of the U.S. population), and allowing yet one more group to cheat; to circumvent the rules, and funnel money into political campaigns, will only make it more rotten.

Posted by: d.a.n at September 27, 2006 12:31 PM
Comment #184417

Good point David.

Most Libertarian platforms I’ve visited (and that’s many, as you well know … being a person, myself, that leans a little to the Libertarian side) strongly support a separation of Church and State.

By the way, look at Matt’s biography and you can easily see the possibility of a specific agenda.

Matt, your biography states:

Jesus was a libertarian … . By the way…if you think your great-grandfather was a monkey, email me to discuss the obvious truth about the created universe!

I’m not interested in discussing it, but would like to ask why you feel a need to convince others of your religious beliefs? Why can’t people be content to exercise their freedom to their own religion without pushing it onto others?

Why can’t people understand the wise and fair reasons why government should NOT make laws that respect OR restrict ANY religions? Because, the obvious struggle that always ensues is WHICH religion? Do we need to revist those horrors again?

Fortunately, most Americans get it, and respect, and support the wisdom of the 1st Amendment of the Constitution. The 1st Amendment of the Constitution is one of the most important examples of a society has learned from history, and made a wise and fair law to separate Church and State, and preserve the rights of all people. Pain and misery is a good teacher. If we forget this lesson, we will have to learn the hard way (again). Just look around the planet, and see the war and genocide by groups struggling to make THEIR religion the official religion. Fortunately, most Americans are smart enough to understand this, and don’t want to revisit that pain and misery. Many Europeans understand this all to well also. Unfortunately, too many in the Middle East don’t yet get it, and do not have that separation of Church and State (some, such as Saudi Arabi even forbid other religions, and the government proclaim an official national religion), and the problems arising from it are obvious.

So, that is why Churches should not be taxed. However, any church that also engages in political activity is not only a Church, and are now subject to the same laws and taxes as everyone else. There are no restrictions from any Church that chooses that path. There are merely FEC laws and rules that all political groups must comply with, because money in politics already makes it rotten (already, 83% of federal campaign donations coming from a mere 0.1% of the U.S. population), and allowing yet one more group to cheat; to circumvent the rules, and funnel money into political campaigns, will only make it more rotten.

Posted by: d.a.n at September 27, 2006 12:32 PM
Comment #188703

Sorry, I’ve never posted to a site like this but I just have one question. I was wondering, how are the Sierra Club, NRA, Planned Parenthood, Habitat for Humanity, colleges, churches, non-profit (public and religious) radio stations, etc. all different? I mean I see rallies all the time for specific speakers that are part of one party or another on campus, or talking on the radio. However, in my list above, you can probably bring to mind support given to a specific candidate mostly based on party lines. However, from what I understand, they are all 501(c)3 organizations.

So is it okay for someone to share at a church event who is a politician or put up a sign at school (on the outside of my dorm room for example) supporting my candidate? Do you think it will ever get to the point that I can’t even talk about politics with my pastor and a few other friends at church because we are talking about the Bible at the same time?

Last year, Move On was right outside my voting station handing out stuff supporting the Democratic Party and the only reason they were sited is because one person was actually inside the voting room. The Sierra Club called me up three times the week before elections and told me how Bush was poisoning the water and killing young children with mercury. The Sierra Club people who came by specifically told me that they wouldn’t vote for any Republican. I also remember one particular musician who was on the radio and said that they were voting for Bush which prompted some discussion about this debate.

Not trying to force my ideas on anyone….just wanted to know so I can understand the basis of this discussion and why it seems that our country is becoming more divided over party lines and issues such as this. You know, it’s sad to see our government locked in debates simply because each party wants to do what the other doesn’t. All this going on while they lose site of the people who elected them.

Thanks,
Greg

Posted by: Greg at October 18, 2006 12:54 AM
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