Those who want to tax churches and religious non-profits seek nothing less than the end of the separation of church and state.
If there is one thing consistent about the tides of the culture wars, it is that whenever one side is emboldened, it inevitably leads to overreach. The secular Left is proving this point with gusto in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to nationalize gay marriage, calling for the removal of tax exemptions for churches and religious non-profits who continue to hold the tired old definition of marriage that existed all the way up until yesterday. This step, which would crush the budgets of many churches and non-profits, reveals an amusing hypocrisy of the modern Left’s turn against civil liberty: they no longer believe in the separation of church and state.
Writing at the website of Time magazine, New York Times columnist Mark Oppenheimer called for abolishing the tax exemptions for nonprofits and instead turning over those funds to government to spend in the interests of the community. “We’d have fewer church soup kitchens — but countries that truly care about poverty don’t rely on churches to run soup kitchens”, he rationalizes. Take that, Salvation Army.
Oppenheimer’s view takes the idea of “government as simply a word for the things we decide to do together” to an unsustainable extreme – suggesting that if we do not do things via government, they do not matter, or they are by their nature insufficiently caring. Frederic Bastiat had such views in mind when he decried the socialists of his time who “accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain.”
The separation of church and state, for so long touted by those on the secular left as a hedge against creeping theocracy, was intended to defend the church from the state. The purpose of the First Amendment is to protect faith from government, not the other way around. As James Madison wrote of “the excellence of a system which, by a due distinction, to which the genius and courage of [Martin] Luther led the way, between what is due to Caesar and what is due to God, best promotes the discharge of both obligations.”