When she said no, he responded, ‘Must be hard in New York — what with all them gays.’
Come on now, he’s just expressing his religious beliefs. It’s right there in scripture… Deuteronomy 33:12: “Thine metropolitan area shall have proper straight dude to straight lady ratio, for it displeaseth the Lord when his daughters searcheth OkCupid profiles for a seed-bearer."
As a procedural issue, a simple moment of silence should suffice. It would allow religious attendees to pray while everyone else prepares to yell at their local officials. Why the good Christians of Greece can’t agree on such a sensible compromise is beyond me. The appeal to tradition (“we’ve been praying at these meetings for years”) is never convincing. Slavery and other abhorrent practices were once traditions, yet we no longer honor them.
That some citizens of Greece insist upon reciting a Christian prayer prior to a town meeting seems to violate the spirit of the Establishment Clause. If a state religion was established, surely the recitation of prayers at all official government events would be mandated. A government that aims to treat all faiths equally shouldn’t promote one specific faith by publicly praising its God on a regular basis. Granted, these kinds of prayers are fairly ubiquitous throughout the country, but considering that the number of Muslims and religiously unaffiliated in the U.S. is growing each year, a more inclusive attitude is necessary.
A provocative report from the Council for Secular Humanism examined the subsidization of religion by all citizens via tax exemptions. The authors wrote:
While some people may be bothered by the fact that there are pastors who live in multimillion dollar homes, this is old news to most. But here is what should bother you about these expensive homes: You are helping to pay for them! You pay for them indirectly, the same way local, state, and federal governments in the United States subsidize religion—to the tune of about $71 billion every year.
Religious institutions receive revenue through personal and corporate donations, fund-raisers, volunteer labor, direct subsidies, and corporate profits. Donations result in tax deductions for those making the donations. Religions do not pay income, property, investment, or sales tax.
Mark Rienzi, from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, countered by arguing that ”Whether it is the Quakers opposing slavery, Reverend King arguing for equality, or a Catholic soup kitchen feeding and sheltering all in need, our history is full of examples confirming the great public benefit of our religious diversity.”
What Mr. Rienzi ignores in his brief and unsatisfactory summation of religion’s supposed benefits to society are, to be similarly brief about it, preaching against homosexuality, bankrolling campaigns for anti-gay legislation, colluding with Nazi Germany, harboring child rapists, declaring that the use of condoms could make the AIDS crisis worse, and other assorted nonsense and bigotry.
Religion’s ultimate effect on society is immeasurable, which is, in part, why it’s ludicrous to assert that churches deserve tax exemption for the purpose of public charity. Whatever genuinely beneficial charitable acts and goodwill come from religion also come with “baggage,” to be politely euphemistic about it. Perhaps subsidizing religion yields soup kitchens, homeless outreach, and communal bonding. But it also, undeniably, can provoke hostility towards those deemed “immoral” by ancient texts. Surely the benefits of compassion can come without the expense of the protection of child rapists or the denial of marriage equality.
Perhaps most frustrating about tax-exempt status for churches is that these same institutions, granted so much undeserved leeway already, ceaselessly insist that they are under attack. They claim, amongst other things, that a religious organization being ordered to pay for contraception is a violation of both religious liberty and the moral conscience of the faithful. But what about the conscience of gay couples unable to marry or adopt? Or the conscience of the victims of clergy sex abuse? Or the conscience of the health workers watching people die from AIDS because condoms are considered immoral? Or those who object to the moral teachings of the Bible? Or those who find it revolting that women are shamed for having abortions? Or those who object to religion’s insistence that its holy texts offer realistic depictions of the universe? The moral conscience of these people are, in effect through the subsidization of religion, totally ignored and disrespected.
If Mr. Rienzi would like Americans to help fund an abolitionist organization or a civil rights group, or a soup kitchen, I’m sure many would be happy to oblige him. But he has no right to demand that everyone subsidize organizations that often preach highly objectionable moral and political views.
More and more people are declaring themselves spiritual but unaffiliated with any particular religion. They are, in the words of Thomas Paine, declaring their minds to be their own churches. In light of this trend of independent thinking, the subsidization of religion seems increasingly unjust and antiquated.