In their masterful crafting of the First Amendment to the Constitution and its free exercise of religion clause, the Founders ensured that our faith could inform our politics but our government could never influence our faith.
Yet in recent weeks, our president felt compelled to give a powerful address on the sanctity of religious freedom in America and around the globe and a presidential candidate called for the repeal of tax exemption status for churches that disagree with his policy preferences.
A war on religious liberty is being aggressively waged against Americans of all faiths by coercive secular progressives tying their future political power to stripping citizens of their first constitutional right. As President Trump noted in his September address at the United Nations, “No right is more fundamental … than the right to follow one’s religious convictions. Too often, people in positions of power preach diversity while silencing, shunning, or censoring the faithful.”
The destruction of religious freedom creates an environment for the erosion of other freedoms. The case against the anti-faith agenda has three underlying constructs—inherent contradictions in its position, the value of faith communities to society, and the Constitution itself.
The First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” It put the right to worship (or not worship) before freedoms of speech, press, assembly and petition.
Secularists demand “separations of church and state,” a clause that appears nowhere in U.S. law, but in an 1802 letter Thomas Jefferson wrote emphasizing that faith resides between a person and God with no interference from the state. Perhaps if Jefferson wrote “protecting the church from the state” progressives would be marginally less eager to manipulate its meaning for their self-serving ends.
Neither those elected to run the government nor the activist class have any right or authority to impose their religious or non-religious will on others. This is the inarguable meaning and application of the clause.
The ridiculous hypocrisy of the left’s version of “separating” church from state is stark. Removing charitable tax exemption from churches that don’t meet the same-sex marriage policy demands of candidate O’Rourke and other progressives is the opposite of separating church and state. It would instead combine them. Taxing churches ties them to Congress, the judiciary, IRS and U.S. Treasury, making people of faith subject to the whims of political parties, activists and revenue collection agencies.
And what next? Vegans taxing churches that serve beef in soup kitchens? Climate change activists insisting on removing charity status from synagogues without solar panels?
The personal beliefs of individuals, based on their religious texts and doctrines, determine the positions of churches. A church that favors traditional marriage can be directly across the street from one that embraces same-sex marriage. No one forces anyone to attend or not attend either; at least not yet.
Progressives and Mr. O’Rourke should seriously consider the harm they would do to people in need by denying churches tax exemption. Houses of Worship serve critical roles in meeting community and individual needs that government does not. Churches have always been designated charities by our government because they are charities.
A short list of services regularly provided include meals for the poor and homeless, shelter, clothing, utility payments, mental health counseling, disability and prison ministry, and ESL classes. The value of social services provided by churches is estimated in the billions. That does not include decreasing societal and financial welfare costs when lives are transformed by faith and people turn away from crime, substance abuse or suicide. With no exemption, funding is automatically decreased by 30 percent.
Donations to churches for assistance programs come directly from congregants who have already been taxed at least once by the federal government. Their giving comes from what is left over after government takes its bite out of their income and they should not be subject to double or triple taxation.
Every April, people rely on charitable tax deductions. Making churches non-tax exempt would result in less giving, depriving important church programs of operational funds. Secular bullies seem willing to sacrifice the welfare of people in need to punish religious institutions for exercising their Constitutional right to make religious decisions.
In Pew Research Center’s October 2019 report on American religious affiliation, 74 percent identified with a faith system; only four percent as atheist. The Constitution does not allow any special interest group to use the state to abrogate freedoms they don’t like, and nothing in our representative democracy gives a tyrannical minority permission to stick its nose into other people’s freedoms.
Anyone who values any of their individual rights must understand an attack on one is an attack on all. Take a stand: embrace the Constitution, celebrate freedom, practice tolerance, love your neighbor.
Kerri Toloczko is a Senior Fellow with The American Civil Rights Union, a non-partisan, non-profit public policy organization dedicated to protecting the constitutionally-protected civil rights of all Americans.