Donate to RNS

After Arizona: Should anti-gay churches have tax-exempt status revoked?

If ongoing discrimination against women is any indication, houses of worship that discriminate against same-sex couples looking to marry probably won’t lose their tax-exempt status anytime soon. But should they? Join the debate.

Gay couple getting married in tuxedos.

Gay couple getting married in tuxedos.

I’m stealing this headline from Sarah Posner over at Religion Dispatches, adding a slight twist to spice up an already controversial topic. Posner asks: Will Anti-Gay Churches Have Their Tax Exempt Status Revoked? Probably not, she concludes in the second sentence.

I’m a busy man. She answered the question. On most days I would have stopped reading. Today is not most days.

Last night Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a bill that would have allowed businesses (and others) to use their religious beliefs to discriminate against gays (and others). Similar bills have been introduced in Ohio, Mississippi, Idaho, South Dakota, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Idaho, and Kansas. Some commentators have compared these bills to stand-your-ground laws. Others say they resemble Jim Crow laws. Others call such comparisons ludicrous.

Posner cites the Daily Caller’s Matt Lewis, who basically says that conservative Christians are fighting these “religious freedom” battles for businesses partly because they’re afraid of what increased social acceptance of homosexuality could mean for churches:

“The real danger, of course, is that Christian pastors and preachers will eventually be coerced into performing same-sex marriages.”

“Coerced” in this context means do it or lose your tax perks.

Posner called up Caroline Mala Corbin, a First Amendment expert at the University of Miami School of Law, who told her, “Given that churches have long been able to discriminate against women without losing their tax exempt status, it seems highly unlikely that they risk losing their tax exempt status because they discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.”

The First Amendment prohibits Congress from making any laws respecting an establishment of religion. It doesn’t prohibit the government from supporting religion with tax breaks.

Earlier this week, Secretary of State John Kerry threatened to cut more than $400 million in aid to Uganda unless the country repeals a harsh new anti-gay law. The levels of discrimination and institutions involved in these domestic and international cases are hardly analogous, but Kerry’s remarks and Posner’s post both got me thinking:

1. How much discrimination should societies and governments accept in the name of religious freedom?

2. Should the U.S. government discriminate against institutions that discriminate against individuals?

3. Should the burden be on men and women who feel discriminated against to just find another house of worship (or none) where they feel more welcome?

4. What are your thoughts on the word “discriminate” in the context of this debate?

I’m not going to answer these questions, dear readers. That’s your job. Chime in (or rant) below.

Donate to Support Independent Journalism!

Donate Now!