In Minnesota, a few short weeks before election day, the state’s Catholic archdiocese is mailing DVDs to all of its 800,000 parishioners.
Produced by the Knights of Columbus, the video is basically a slick political advertisement in support of a single issue: opposition to gay marriage. By urging political action in favor of the church’s position, the DVD essentially endorses one of the candidates in the state’s three-way gubernatorial election: the Republican, who has made an issue of his opposition to same-ex marriage.
The project is funded by an anonymous “large, private donation.” No telling who or what political entity might have thrown money, via the Church, at the Minnesota’s governor’s race—nor whether the motivation behind it is really social conservatism (as opposed to, say, an effort by business interests to undermine the campaign of another candidate).
Be that as it may, this is just one of many recent examples of intrusion by churches and church leaders into matters of public policy—from the involvement of the Mormon Church in California’s Proposition 8 controversy to lobbying by Catholic Bishops for certain specific language in health reform legislation.
American churches—from mainstream denominations to fanatical, one-of-a-kind sects—aren’t supposed to meddle in politics. But they do. Routinely.
Maybe that’s to be expected. After all—churches are composed of people, and people have opinions. However, that brings up a question: As tax payers, why should you and I subsidize the expression of those opinions by allowing churches to amass limitless amounts of money and property tax free? And why should we allow third parties—anonymous or otherwise—to launder large political contributions by disguising them as tax-deductible, “charitable” contributions?
It’s time we admitted the fact that churches in this country—which can turn out single-issue voters by the hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands to support their particular agenda—are a huge factor in American politics. Let’s just admit it.
Then let’s also admit that it’s ridiculous to continue the indefensible practice of granting tax-exempt status to churches. For those who are justifiably concerned about rising deficits and unmet public needs, church property represents countless billions of dollars worth of untaxed property. Church donations represent billions of dollars worth of income that churches—like the small businesses they are—should pay tax on, just like everyone else.
Those who defend the practice of continuing the tax-exempt status of organized religion in America often use the argument of separation of church and state: they say churches shouldn’t have to give money to the state.
Au contraire: Separation of church and state is one of several excellent arguments for ending the practice of granting special powers and privileges to churches—as well as tax-exempt status to any transactions allegedly conducted “in God’s name.”