Abolish Religious Exemptions from the Law? (Part 2)

UPDATE 6.28.10: The United States Supreme Court ruled against the Christian Legal Society (“CLS”) in the case Christian Legal Society v. Martinez. The Court noted that CLS was not seeking “parity with other [student] organizations, but a preferential exemption from [the Law School’s] policy.” Exactly right! Excellent decision. Here’s a link to the text of it: www.supremecourt.gov ———————– In the United States and other countries, religious institutions have traditionally enjoyed a privileged position, ie, they have been granted exemptions from compliance with certain laws (including, without limitation, laws against discrimination in employment and laws requiring the payment of taxes). Is it appropriate or even useful for religion to have this privileged status? Links: 1. Wisconsin Supreme Court’s use of the “ministerial exception” to dismiss an age discrimination case against a Catholic school system www.wicourts.gov 2. New York Court of Appeals decision in Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Albany v. Serio www.law.cornell.edu 3. California Supreme Court’s decision in Catholic Charities of Sacramento v. Superior Court (Unfortunately, I can’t find a generally accessible URL for this decision. The citation is 85 P.3d 67 (2004).) 4. Jonathan Turley’s Op-Ed piece entitled “When it comes to religious groups, who’s really facing discrimination?” www.washingtonpost.com 5. Employment Division v. Smith www.law.cornell.edu 6. Bob Jones University v. United States

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25 Responses to “Abolish Religious Exemptions from the Law? (Part 2)”

  1. TheGreatPrince Says:

    @pseudonamed

    Because that’s only one side of it. There are those who may not want to support religion a, while some do. To say that tax payers who don’t support religion a should be able to completely dictate where all tax money goes is a majority tyranny. Therefore, tax exempt status is the compromise for both parties.—

  2. TheGreatPrince Says:


    The only other solution is to abolish taxes and allow the individual to donate at their own discretion. I am more for this solution than all of the above, as it satisfies the individual’s conscience.

  3. Pilotwing64 Says:

    I have never really seen any reason for religious organizations to be tax exempt. However, I don’t understand the need for laws preventing private organizations from discriminating based on race, religion, etc. It makes sense that if I own a company, it serves me the best to hire people who produce results. Any prejudice based on a characteristic unrelated to my desired results would harm me. The person I would pass up would ultimately produce those results for someone else.

    School me, Prof.

  4. ProfMTH Says:

    @Pilotwing64 At some point I’m going to do a video about the origin of the religious tax exemption.

    As for laws against discrimination in the private sector, too much to deal with in a comment box. In a nutshell, such discrimination negatively impacts the nation’s economic health and undermines the common good.

  5. awesomemaster1906 Says:

    my modo would be, “if you don’t want them cuz they’re black or gay, your government funding should be taken away”

  6. massageboy24 Says:

    @TheGreatPrince I am not sure where you live, but it must be made up of completely moral individuals who always do the right thing. Here in St. Louis, MO there are many people who would take advantage of everything that the state offers and would never give their fair share back. In the real world, your idea would never work.

  7. massageboy24 Says:

    @Gloomshrub Museums, libraries, and parks are for everyone! Religious intitutions are not! There is a difference and they should not be held at the same standards. My tax dollars make up for what these churches don’t pay therefor I am forced to fund their discrimination against me. That, in my eyes, is no different than funding terrorism through US gas pumps.

  8. massageboy24 Says:

    @Gloomshrub Also, Museums, libraries, and parks have to follow the state and federal non discrimination policies or they will lose thier funding as well.

  9. massageboy24 Says:

    @bmeissner They should have the same rights, you are correct. But they should also have to follow the same laws to get those rights. You’re missing the whole point of the video. There is nothing wrong with giving back to an instution that actively works to improve the neighborhood, but they all should have to follow the same laws. Treat these instutions equally or they should go on their own.

  10. massageboy24 Says:

    @CBlargh The state interfered when it ruled to give exemption didn’t it. So interference is ok as long as that religious institute benifits from it???

  11. bmeissner Says:

    @massageboy24
    Please reread my first sentence, especially the last 4 words of that sentence. Religious organizations should only get tax except status if they follow the same rules that other 501.3(c) organizations do, some important ones being stay out of politics and make their accounts public. I also suggested that the latter requirement might lead to trouble from their own parishioners, since as it stands now, no church is required to tell anyone what they do with their money.

  12. CBlargh Says:

    @massageboy24

    -I’m not sure how you got the precise opposite meaning of what I was trying to convey out of my post…

    -No, as I said, the state should not grant exemptions from the law to any group or individual, on grounds of magical immunity or through any other rationale. I don’t see the point of a system of laws that doesn’t apply to everyone equally.

    -If a church wants tax exempt status, there is already a perfectly legitimate, constitutional way to go about it: qualify as a non-profit.

  13. TheGreatPrince Says:

    @massageboy24

    If you live where people take advantage of everything the state offers, then it follows the abolishing of taxation would fix that problem as there would be nothing to take advantage of, and thus provide each individual with funds to donate at their conscience’s discretion. With a forced taxation, it means that people’s taxes are going to causes they do not support but are forced to. If you do not want to support religious organizations then petition taxes —

  14. TheGreatPrince Says:

    — not the organizations themselves, they aren’t legislators. I must also dispute your claim that religions institutions aren’t for everyone. That’s false. Religious institutions, regardless of your personal philosophical reservations, provide tremendous support to communities through charitable causes. It is, largely, through their tax exemptions they are able to provide charity. Instead of being forced to give money to legislators, they can give to people in need —

  15. TheGreatPrince Says:

    — I am not a proponent of Scientology but I would be blind and politically-motivated to say their charitable contributions don’t help those in need, and this goes for all ‘religious’ institutions who give back. Their beliefs are irrelevant. Their beliefs are not on trial. If they donate and give back, you have no evidence to criticize them as a whole but only individual, particular cases.

  16. Gloomshrub Says:

    @massageboy24 I prefer to buy books than to rent them out, and I use the internet to research things, so I very rarely go to the library. I can understand in America, but where I live there are some really nice churches. I am an atheist, but if I go to a town with a good church I will visit it. I go to church on Memorial Day and on Christmas, but I will only go to St. Bartholomew the Great, or The Tower of London Church. Any ‘religious institution’ you have to pay to get into is a cult.

  17. Gloomshrub Says:

    Oh, and what do you mean by discrimination? Then again, the UK and the USA are very different countries.

  18. Gloomshrub Says:

    @massageboy24 Where I live discrimination is illegal, even if you’re religious. I hope it’s the same for you guys.

  19. BigSweetie44 Says:

    Thanks Prof for your insight.

    As an athiest and/or agnostic, what can I do to alter these practices myself? Has the ACLU (I’m a member) addressed this?

  20. BigSweetie44 Says:

    Thanks Prof for your insights.

    As a not exactly common citizen (I’m an atheist and/or an agnostic), what can I do to address these seeming injustices. I’m being forced to support institutions that discriminate against me, and while they may have social value, why logically should that permit discrimination?

    I’m an ACLU member. To your knowledge has the ACLU ever addressed this issue?

  21. ProfMTH Says:

    @BigSweetie44 Thanks. The ACLU has certainly been involved in some of these cases. Among the things one can do is to support organizations who are fighting against these exemptions and pressure one’s elected officials to repeal them.

  22. massageboy24 Says:

    @TheGreatPrince If people could donate at their own discretion then nothing would ever happen because not very many people would donate. And then a new argument would arise about how some people never do anything, but unfortunately there would be no leagal action to take. Then people who never donated could move into the great neighborhoods of the people who donate alot once again taking advantage of things that they do not deserve.

  23. TheGreatPrince Says:

    @massageboy24 I do not know how you go from ‘if people did not donate’ to therefore, ‘nothing would ever happen’. People donate on a daily basis WHILE paying taxes. Why? Because it is at their own discretion. Now, take that pre-existing discretion, give them back their tax money, and that charitable contribution may just double. And depending on the foundation being contributed to, that money just went from the hands of politicians to the hands of the people through community additions whether–

  24. TheGreatPrince Says:

    –that be food for the homeless projects for children, etc., I also don’t know how you decipher who ‘deserves’ what. Do homeless people ‘deserve’ being fed through the donations of others? No. But at the GOODWILL discretion of the charities and their donators, they do. People needing punishment for inaction is a silly, primitive idea. You lack faith in individual persons to make decisions for themselves. Give people their identity and freedom back — government deciding for people NEVER works.

  25. stevehayes13 Says:

    The basic principle of equaliity before the law seems to me to be violated by the provision of such exemptions. I think the principle is far more important that religious belief, and I would hold that view even if the religious beliefs were not obviously utterly immoral, which they clearly are.