Religion and the Law

In response to a column by David Harsanyi in the Denver Post, letter writer Martin Voelker rightly points out that “churches aggressively push their arbitrary ‘divine’ rules into U.S. laws.” How? Many religious people want to outlaw abortion, restrict or outlaw birth control, ban pornography (however defined) and limit naughty language, legally discriminate against homosexuals, etc.

After that Voelker gets off track. He claims that churches “reap billions of public dollars for their tax-exempt enterprises.” But this confuses a subsidy with a tax break. If we’re going to have non-profits for any sort of ideological advocacy, then the rules must be extended to religious groups. However, religious groups should have to play by the same rules as everyone else. (Ultimately, I think all groups should be “tax-exempt,” which would eliminate problems associated with those rules.)

Voelker also quotes a line from an atheist ad: “Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings.” But the religious will shoot back that the likes of Hitler have misused science. Natural science is applied, specialized knowledge, and the proper application of science depends on a sound philosophical foundation.

However, Voelker does suggest that, in the broader sense, ethics can be a science; he writes that “we must negotiate what constitutes acceptable ethical behavior based on observations we can agree on.” This is a little ambiguous; agreement does not demonstrate ethical behavior — the goal is to agree on what is true. For a start on that, I recommend such works as the recent book by Tara Smith.

One thought on “Religion and the Law”

  1. One point germane to this: ordinary non-profits have to comply with quite stringent financial reporting requirements.

    A church, on the other hand, isn’t even legally required to keep books.

    That makes it very attractive for people to subvert churches in order to further ideological agendas, because, well, they can use the church to launder the money. There are no limitations on the amount of money one can legally donate to a church, no need to account for what it’s spent on, no need to keep records of who gave what amount, or even if they are a member of the church.

    Now, there are good reasons for all these privileges and immunities – but if a church is allowed to become a political entity, soon ALL churches will be so infected.

    Separation of Church and State is as much – or perhaps more – a protection of Church as it is of State.

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