Friday, October 24, 2008

Breaking The Separation of Church and State

Via Pam's House Blend, we have what is possibly one of the most blatant violations of the separation of Church and State (especially as it is legally described in the US constitution) - a Bishop making specific dictates about how members of his faith are obliged to vote.

In both Canada and the United States, Churches are granted a unique tax-exempt status that is not granted to political lobby organizations. Apparently, it's past time that we revisited that tax exempt status - especially if church clergy are going to attempt to dictate to either voters or politicians how they should vote on issues.

In recent years, church hierarchies seem to have lost sight of their status and have chosen to inject themselves more directly in the political dialog of the nation - from the pulpit. That's fine, but at that point it is necessary to level the playing field in terms of economics. Either political lobby organizations become tax exempt, or churches lose that benefit. Attempting to dictate to voters (or politicians) how they must act puts them firmly in the public discourse over matters of policy and law.


History Matters said...

I appreciate your concern over this issue. I'm not sure I want to hear from the church leadership who I should vote for. (In fact, I'm pretty sure I would disagree with mine.)

However, this is NOT a Constitutional problem. If anything, the IRS law limiting actions of the church is not Constitutional. The entire text of the First Amendment is:

"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; or the right of the people peaceable to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

One limitation in the amendment prohibits Congress from making a law establishing a national religion. Giving all churches tax exempt status whether or not they preach on politics is not establishing an official, national religion. Congress is also prohibited from limiting religious exercise, which would make the IRS law questionable. AND Congress may not limit free speech, which also makes the law questionable.

Here is a more complete discussion:

Bishops and Ministers Speak Out

Or here:

Muzzling Catholic Opinion

MgS said...

I think you may have misunderstood my point.

We (the secular governments in Canada and the United States) grant churches a tax-exempt status.

We do not grant the same status to political lobby organizations.

I do not argue that a church cannot inject itself into the political dialogue of the nation, but rather, that once it does so, it is no longer acting as a church, and becomes a political lobby.

At which point, that tax exempt status should be either revoked or dramatically curtailed. Otherwise, we have two sets of rules for political lobby - the secular rules, and the ones that apply to churches. This is something that dramatically alters the political landscape - and potentially places the church hierarchy in the role of 'Grand Vizier' - not exactly the ideal situation in a democracy.