Separation of Church and State!
Thoughts behind the effort to ban churches from participating in the national conversation
I’ve been listening to a lot of interesting theories on how this church or that church should lose its tax exempt status over its involvement in the moral issues of politics. “Separation of church and state!” the religious opponents scream, but is the problem the churches running the government or the government running the churches?
The prevailing argument seems to say that there ought to be separation between church and state, so that means anyone who belongs to a church can’t speak or assemble, or have a public opinion on how government operates or the government will punish them by taking away their tax exempt status.
Even as we gather to celebrate the flight of pilgrims to America from the oppressive religious persecution of England, religious oppression is again raising it’s head in our recent political dialogue. In the name of freedom, advocates of same sex marriage are threatening to oppress the religious community with monetary retribution as retaliation for expressing opinions the gay community does not agree with, and that’s not right.
As Glen Dean says in his recent post on religious freedom,
“The whole purpose of the first amendment establishment clause was to protect religion and religious people from government.”
Fundamentally the United States is a country that was built on freedoms, and freedom of speech and religion are among the foremost of these. Pilgrims coming to the Americas wanted, above all, to be free to express their religious thoughts without being forced to conform to another set of values, political or otherwise. England’s government required religious conformity because they had a state sanctioned church governing what could and couldn’t be said or done. That is the origin of the thought that there ought to be “separation of church and state.” No one ought to try to control religious freedoms by coercion or manipulation.
I look at the politically correct movement that uses tax dollars as a form of coercion to muffle dissent and control actions, and I see a situation mirror opposite to that of America’s forefathers, but with the same result—-censorship.
Today we have a situation where instead of having a church controlling the government, we have the government trying to control churches through tax law, and those who oppose churches are using the government as a tool to silence their opponents and to ultimately stifle dissent.
Whether it’s taxing churches and controlling them through tax code manipulation if they don’t conform, or whether churches are tax exempt and controlled by threatening to take the exemption away if they don’t conform, the result is the same. It’s two ends of the same stick. The only true freedom is the recognition that churches have freedom from government control that is inherent, not granted by the government. If the freedom to speak is granted by the government, it can be taken away by the government. Churches can and ought to say what they want as fellow voices in the national dialogue, and that speech should be free from recrimination or tax penalties for speaking on themes unpopular to others.
Those who think churches should be muzzled don’t have a constitutional leg to stand on. Tax exemption has been the hidden boogey man that has kept church opinions in a box for years. Oohoo, you’d better not say this! You’d better not do that! You might get the IRS after you!
Freedom of assembly, sometimes used interchangeably with the freedom of association, is the individual right to come together with other individuals and collectively express, promote, pursue and defend common interests. The right to freedom of association is recognised as human right, political freedom and a civil liberty.
In short, these freedoms are a human right, not a privilege benevolently bestowed by the government that can then be unilaterally whisked away. So why does the Government think that it has any right to curtail the ability of people to assemble in churches to voice their opinions? What about Freedom of Speech?
Noam Chomsky said: “If you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech for views you don’t like. Goebbels was in favour of freedom of speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you’re in favour of freedom of speech, that means you’re in favour of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise.”
The whole argument for trying to tax churches boils down to the false idea that this tax exemption is a subsidy of churches by the government. They don’t pay taxes because churches are good for society, so the government subsidizes them and encourages them to flourish. If church tax exemption is a subsidy given by the government, then it can be taken away by the government.
Unfortunately, that thought goes against the much ballyhooed “Separation of Church and State!” that everyone says they care so much about. The truth is that to be truly separate, the government should get out of the church’s way and quit trying to threaten them with boogeyman threats for conformity, in this case silence in the moral/political realm, or we’ll be losing more than just “tax status”, we’ll be losing the very freedom our country was founded to achieve.