Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Government, Religion, and the Law

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...."

In case one may have forgotten, the above is the first phrase of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.  The "establishment clause" has become the foundation of what we have now come to term the "separation of church and state."  There is nothing in the Constitution that compels the federal government to grant monies to any organization for any reason.  Religious institutions have tax-free status because of this clause.  A government cannot tax an organization on which it has no right to infringe.

But, using similar reasoning, such an organization should not be the recipient of government funds, nor should it even solicit government funds.  If the government has no constitutional right to some input as to how religious organizations are to allocate these funds, is it right for the government to sanction such grants? The logical answer is clearly "no."

It is wrong for the pundits and politicians to criticize the Obama administration for exercising what is clearly the constitutional imperative by "stare decisis" - the separation of church and state.  The government is not infringing on the right of a church or synagogue, etc. to practice and preach its beliefs, It is merely denying the allocation of  funds to an organization, any organization, any group, any association, etc. that refuses to adhere to federal law.  Why should a religious organization be exempt?  Why should a religious organization even accept an offer of government help?  No organization, religious or otherwise, has a right, certainly not a constitutional right, to government grants; and those that solicit them must agree to accept them with the legal restrictions that apply.

It is so interesting that religious organizations are constantly lobbying the government to refrain from granting assistance to any organization or foreign government that permits legal abortions.  And these same religious organizations demand money from the government even though they refuse to so much as provide information regarding the opportunity to legally seek such assistance; even when so stipulated by law.

Religious freedom is not a freedom to spend government money freely.  If a government grant includes certain legal stipulations, and the organization, religious or otherwise, cannot, in good conscience, adhere to these prerequisites, then the donee should not accept the grant.

There is no denying the government the perquisite of "religious exceptions."  But what kind of a "slippery slope" is that?


Anonymous said...

I have read articles about churches that have created for-profit subsidiaries so as to create a cafe, restaurant, or other business ventures. However, there have also been churches that have created for-profit subsidiaries as a loophole to participate in political lobbying, campaigning etc. without losing their 501c3 status for their participation in the political process. Many churches were encouraged to do that, particularly for the George W. Bush campaigns. What is to stop a church from participating in political campaigns and lobbying if they are using resources strictly from their "for-profit branch" or for a subsidiary 501c3 that is filed as non-religious for the IRS as well as in its mission statement?

Carl Steeg said...

You bring up a very cogent point. There has been a controversy as to why any religious organization even files for 501c3 exemption status, since it is understood that churches, etc. are automatically exempted anyway (2nd amendment). It is thought that having a 501c3 would potentially encourage more contributions. I would argue that a church would be far better off not applying for 501c3 exemption, as that, by implication, would involve government oversight and muddle a situation such as the one you so rationally describe.