The short, happy life of ‘live and let live’

Protesters outside the Supreme Court in April, when the same-sex marriage case was being argued. (Photo: Sean Cockerham / McClatchy)

Protesters outside the Supreme Court in April, when the same-sex marriage case was being argued. (Photo: Sean Cockerham / McClatchy)

The mask is off.

The Supreme Court ruled Friday that same-sex marriage must be legalized across the land, and it didn’t take long for some people who cheered that decision to move on to the next goal: punishing dissenters.

That possibility was raised during oral arguments in the case back in April, when the U.S. solicitor general, Donald Verrilli, admitted he didn’t know if a ruling in favor of same-sex marriage would lead to the loss of tax exemptions for religious organizations that declined to recognize such unions. From the transcript of the exchange between Verrilli and Justice Samuel Alito:

Alito: (I)n the Bob Jones case, the court held that a college was not entitled to tax-exempt status if it opposed interracial marriage or interracial dating. So would the same apply to a university or college if it opposed same-sex marriage?

Verrilli: You know, I — I don’t think I can answer that question without knowing more specifics, but it’s certainly going to be an issue. I — I don’t deny that. I don’t deny that, Justice Alito. It is — it is going to be an issue.

Yes, yes it is.

Already, we have an op-ed at Time.com from the New York Times’ “Beliefs” columnist, Mark Oppenheimer, suggesting the latest ruling is just the excuse needed to take away the tax exemption applied to religious organizations — or perhaps just “conservative” ones, or maybe even all non-profits. It’s a little unclear how far Oppenheimer would go in gradually ridding the country of private charity, but that makes his thesis all the more chilling.

The clearest statement of his idea is this:

“Rather than try to rescue tax-exempt status for organizations that dissent from settled public policy on matters of race or sexuality, we need to take a more radical step. It’s time to abolish, or greatly diminish, their tax-exempt statuses.”

That would seem to limit the “radical step” only to those organizations of whom the bien pensant disapprove. That seems to be underlined later in the piece, when Oppenheimer argues, “the logic of gay-marriage rights could lead to a reexamination of conservative churches’ tax exemptions (although, as long as the IRS is afraid of challenging Scientology’s exemption, everyone else is probably safe).”

Oppenheimer also refers to other, non-religious organizations such as Planned Parenthood, the National Rifle Association and schools and colleges with large endowments, which is why it’s a bit hard to tell exactly what he proposes. But looking beyond his single essay, it seems far more probable that the sights of a triumphant movement will be trained instead on those “conservative churches” and their like. I fully expect that was not the intent of many people who supported same-sex marriage and cheered Friday’s ruling. But it is very clearly the intent of many of the opinion-makers who helped clear the way for them, and who are now plotting the next section of their course.

UPDATE at 5:30 p.m.: In fact, here’s another such piece that is explicitly cast as disowning the previous “if you aren’t gay, this doesn’t affect you” argument. It doesn’t affect you … unless your church is preaching something the state doesn’t like, in which case the state should start making your church pay taxes. So this won’t affect you if you aren’t gay and are willing to say only those things which are approved. It’s as if so many things said in order to bring about this change weren’t meant sincerely …

BACK TO THE ORIGINAL POST: That’s in part because the momentum is at their back, and ascendant groups tend to overreach at times like this. Note that, just ahead of the ruling, one of the ACLU’s top lawyers wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post explaining why her organization doesn’t really support the “religious freedom” part of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act any more. Some of us noted, during this year’s RFRA debate at the state level, the absence of calls by state RFRA opponents for the repeal of the federal law on which it was based. Now we hear those calls — albeit only when victory at the Supreme Court was almost at hand, which really should cause us to deduct points for intellectual honesty. It is instructive that, despite that op-ed’s many references to discriminatory actions against gays and lesbians being made and justified under RFRA, the only concrete examples the op-ed lists are instead related to abortion and contraceptives. There is no clearer indication that this fight, like the one against the tax-exempt status for “conservative churches,” is really about promoting one political ideology over another, rather than securing basic, inarguable liberties.

In fact, this brand of illiberalism is a wholly left-wing creation. Why — contrary to Oppenheimer, and seemingly paradoxically — do conservatives generally support a tax-exemption regime that could be construed as subsidizing organizations we deem immoral? I can think of at least two reasons. First, we actually believe in allowing others the freedom to support their causes, even if we disagree with them. And second, we don’t think government has first dibs on as much of private citizens’ income as it desires.

The proper way to think about tax exemptions for private non-profits is not that the government is promoting or subsidizing these charities, but rather that the money wasn’t the government’s in the first place. The reason this holds true is twofold: The government is not distributing money from the Treasury but rather simply not collecting it; and the exemption applies very broadly to all non-profits, so as not to discriminate or favor one group or activity over another. It is thus different from government programs that do promote a particular kind of activity — say, a program to promote home energy-efficiency improvements — over others. Such a program may be justifiable (full disclosure: I personally have taken advantage of such incentives) but there is no denying it favors one kind of economic activity over others. Allowing exemptions for private non-profits as disparate as Planned Parenthood and the NRA, on the other hand, is a broad-based practice that by and large does not discriminate.

When we allow tax exemptions for private non-profits, we are acknowledging there is a vast domain of activity, whether charitable or educational or advocacy-based, that is good for society but is best and most appropriately done outside the public sector. This is in part because the government shouldn’t be involved in many of those activities precisely because public opinion of them is sharply divided (e.g., Planned Parenthood and the NRA). It is in part because the tax exemption is worth less money than the amount given to the cause, meaning that even if one does consider the exemption a subsidy, it is a means of achieving the charitable goal at a lower public cost. And it is also because it is a good thing in and of itself to have organizations that help people independent of government policies about that help or their agreement with government policies.

The ACLU op-ed cites some Catholic charities’ refusal to offer or counsel women about abortion services as a kind of discrimination worthy of stripping them of RFRA’s protections. But at least the current arrangement allows for both those charities and non-profits such as Planned Parenthood. Does anyone doubt that, in a nation tilted heavily, if not exclusively, toward public-sector charity, the likes of the ACLU would lobby for prioritizing abortion access over counseling about other options? Why would we want to force ourselves into a situation where that choice has to be made, rather than encouraging a range of entities? Having a wide variety of charitable organizations independent of government is an invaluable check against government overreach, and intrusion on liberty, in the distribution of aid. Removing the tax exemption from non-profits either generally or in specific cases runs counter to all these goals.

Arguments against private charity, such as the following part of Oppenheimer’s piece, instead rely on denying the full spectrum of work being done:

“Defenders of tax exemptions and deductions argues that if we got rid of them charitable giving would drop. It surely would, although how much, we can’t say. But of course government revenue would go up, and that money could be used to, say, house the homeless and feed the hungry. We’d have fewer church soup kitchens — but countries that truly care about poverty don’t rely on churches to run soup kitchens.”

Well, neither does this country, except in the very narrowest sense: Perhaps only “churches” (his word) run “soup kitchens,” but this country also spends tens of billions of dollars a year to provide food stamps to approximately 1 in 7 people. The majority of the federal budget, in fact, consists of redistributing money from some people to others. The notion that private charity is somehow crowding out government programs — rather than the other way around — is ludicrous.

Very, very little of this way of thinking can be justified by Friday’s court ruling. Rather, the ruling is merely being used an excuse for some folks to attack people and organizations they were inclined to attack anyway. “Live and let live,” huh?

Reader Comments 0

113 comments
DeborahinAthens
DeborahinAthens

Ah, you Cons...you scream for tax reform, which your elected "leaders" will never give you because they profit mightily from the corporations, charities, etc. that pay them to keep every tax loophole that benefits them. The first act in reforming our Byzantine tax code would be removing the charitable deductions, the real estate deductions, the oil and gas credits. Now that you have created yet another "monster" for your followers to fear, what are you going to do should your elected leaders decide to even attempt to remove loopholes? You guys will be screaming that it is because same sex people who love each other finally got the same legal right as heterosexuals. Thus, preventing tax reform yet again. You are so clever. Too clever by far.

Starik
Starik

Why should I pay extra taxes to subsidize somebody else's religion?  Is the Reverend Creflo Dollar's new jet subject to sales tax? 

DawgDadII
DawgDadII

Our country is so off-course at this point it's hard to frame a response or comment. This caught my eye: "countries that truly care about poverty ". OK, that casts the politics as a battle to define terms, in this case "country", "truly", "care", and "poverty". Is there ANY adult in this country that DOES NOT "truly care about poverty"???? Think about that for a moment. Adults are either working to stay out of poverty, move farther past poverty, escape poverty, deal with their poverty, or exploit others on the basis of their poverty. So, I seriously doubt there is a single adult in this country that does not "truly care about poverty". Even Donald Trump.


This is the new McCarthyism. It is beyond time to get rid of the tyrants redefining our language and abridging our freedom of thought, religion, and speech with their political groupthink.  I subscribe to the Rand Paul school of thought on this - get government out of the marriage business, and a lot of other things that infringe on our TRUE liberty.

MarkVV
MarkVV

Although it may sound like mere semantics, actually there are important differences behind the words people use when speaking against gay marriage. When they say they “disapprove,” they express only an opinion, and everybody has the right to have an opinion about anything. When they say they “oppose it,” then it depends whether they mean only disapproval, or taking or advocating action against it. In which case the proper response is “none of your business.”

That would certainly apply to the leaders of organizations like Southern Baptist Convention and their pronouncement of opposition to gay marriage. They have the right to refuse to perform a gay marriage ceremony, but whether gay marry outside their churches is none of their business.

bu2
bu2

@MarkVV 

So advocating what they view as a moral position in society is none of their business.


So you would say if a church in the 50s wanted society to expand civil rights it would be none of their business?


Or is it none of their business only if they don't agree with you?

bu2
bu2

And now Obama wants to make OT pay mandatory for those earning up to 50k.


He's been in office 6.5 years and just now getting to this.  If it was about anything but trying to create a political advantage, he wouldn't have waited until now.  Its certainly not about live and let live.  Its about getting power even if it hurts the economy.

straker
straker

Kyle


Of course you know that many of us don't trust Republicans to decide for us which "those who actually need it" are.


This is because many of them seem to be firmly in the pockets of the rich.

TheRealJDW
TheRealJDW

@Kyle..."he majority of the federal budget, in fact, consists of redistributing money from some people to others."


uh...not actually....


Social Security...24% majority of that is giving people their own money back + interest.


Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, and marketplace subsidies...24% I suppose in the narrow Repug view of the world helping old people and those in need is "redistribution"  Funny how people that don't normally ascribe to Darwin like to yearn for unfettered Darwinism.


Defense and international security assistance 18%...move along no redistribution here


Safety net programs...11% same as Medicare etc...


Interest on the Debt...7%...not here either unless those pesky investors count


Rest is basic operational expenses.


Net..Net best case for the redistribution is 35%.  Certainly not a majority but please don't let facts get in the way of a good Repug rant.



TheRealJDW
TheRealJDW

@Kyle_Wingfield @TheRealJDW


I am pretty sure that when you start collecting your SS you will view it as an investment not redistribution.  That is the way it works for the vast majority...unless of course the insurance component kicks in...you don't think insurance is "redistribution" do you?  After all those companies take the premiums and then redistribute them to those that have loss. 



Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@TheRealJDW "I am pretty sure that when you start collecting your SS you will view it as an investment not redistribution"

The "SS as investment" conceit ignores a number of glaring problems, including but not limited to: The returns on "investment" are very poor; the "investment" can be revoked at any given minute by Congress if it should so choose; the "investment" is worth more or less depending on your own longevity.

SS is a redistribution of wealth from the young to the old, period. That is not a comment on the merits of the program; that is simply the clearest way to describe the program. "Investment," OTOH, is a plainly inapplicable description given the way the program works.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@TheRealJDW Just because you approve of the redistribution, that doesn't change the fact that it's redistribution. And your perception of Social Security fits neatly within the myth that makes it so hard to reform and, ultimately, to preserve for those who actually need it.

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

@Jefferson1776 @Kyle_Wingfield @TheRealJDW

Yeah, it is.  Just think of all the infrastructure projects and medical research that could be taking place if it wasn't crowded out with wasted spending on entitlements.  Goodbye economic growth.  

We've blown over $20 trillion on a failed "war on poverty" that hasn't reduced poverty even one percentage point.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@HeadleyLamar You can make a case that money flows both ways, but the data are pretty clear that the net effect is a flow toward the bottom of the income scale. And it's not even close.

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

@HeadleyLamar @LilBarryBailout @TheRealJDW

Where is this money that allegedly flows from the poor to the rich?  Which program is that?  For one thing, almost half of adults pay zero income tax, so there isn't anything to distribute upwards from them.

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

When was the left ever about "live and let live"?

No one coerces more behavior or stifles more freedoms than leftists.

stogiefogey
stogiefogey

These controversial, unpopular SCOTUS decisions are directly traceable to the failure of Republican presidents to appoint reliable conservative justices. The damage they do can go on for decades. Appointees like Roberts, Kennedy, and Souter who you think are one thing but turn out to be something else bring to mind Forrest Gump's box o' chocolates.

bu2
bu2

@stogiefogey 

Roberts is fine.  Nixon appointed Blackmun who was the most liberal member of the court.


We need a 20 year term so they don't become part of DC society and long for its approval by moving left and staying there until they die.

Titanium Dragon
Titanium Dragon

@stogiefogey The most important part of a judge on the Supreme Court is that they, you know, uphold the Constitution.


Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, and Alito clearly didn't care about it in this case. The 14th Amendment is very clear on the matter - all people are equal before the law. Anyone whining about "democracy" should remember that the Constitution exists because we voted for it, and that the Constitution made it so that a mere majority could not deprive others of rights - it has to be a supermajority, sufficient to amend the Constitution to remove principles such as being equal before the law or freedom of speech.


Souter did a good job as a SC justice. They should be apolitical.

geluciano
geluciano

Is this Mark Oppenheimer willing to sacrifice the Jewish charities just to get his revenge on the Christian charities? Or will the Jewish charities somehow qualify for an exemption?

Eustis
Eustis

It's all about money.

JKLtwo
JKLtwo

Heard homosexuals on the radio worried about losing their victimhood status.  It's like Rev Al fighting the end of racism because then he would be out of a job.

Titanium Dragon
Titanium Dragon

@JKLtwo Pretty much. The only thing some people have going for them is being victims.


"The hideous thing about meritocracy is it tells you that if you've given life your all and haven't gotten to the top you're thick or stupid. Previously, at least, you could always just blame the class system."

- Laurie Taylor

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

You don't follow the law, you are presumed to be an independent business, so you lose your tax exempt status.  Period.

Titanium Dragon
Titanium Dragon

@Kyle_Wingfield @Wascatlady This actually brings up an important point - the US government, by granting tax-exempt status, is being put in the position where they are required to determine what is and is not a religious institution.


This is an obvious issue with regards to the first amendment.


If you eliminate tax exempt status for religious institutions, then the US government is no longer in the business of determining what counts as a religion.

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

Just curious...why would oh-so-enlightened homosexuals want to get married in a church anyway?

Dusty2
Dusty2

@LogicalDude @LilBarryBailout 


Logical


You  may be simple as you said  but you better tell other liberals that some  gays are religious Liberals seem to be the ones kicking religion around like an old soccer ball..  . 

ScubaSteve
ScubaSteve

@LilBarryBailout @LogicalDude Yep, they can. And since those ignorant knuckle-draggers on the religious right can get married...well, you know the rest.


Any more questions?

Dusty2
Dusty2

Now now Shari, TBS and Logical;


Kyle does not want to confess but he does NOT stand outside a church door with a shotgun forcing poor gay couples from  rushing inside for marriage. So get off your high  speaking stands and relax.


Kyle is probably sitting calmly at his computer wondering when dinner is ready and when the government will cut out tax exemptions for churches and  charity organizations.


There are clouds on the horizon and he sees them.. He does not mistake them for  sunshine.  

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

@Dusty2 I would not support cutting the tax exemptions for churches or charitable organizations. 


And trying to match that movement with the gay marriage movement is a poor match at best. 


Gay marriage is one item. It is about loving couples having a union recognized by the state and country they live in. 

Tax exempt status for charitable organizations is another issue entirely. 


Trying to argue that the REAL reason for gay marriage is that the "end game" is removing tax status is stunning to me.  

MHSmith
MHSmith

@LogicalDude @Dusty2


The real reason for so-called homosexual marriage, is to make homosexuality a "social, moral and religious norm" through civil law. 


Homosexuality and homosexual unions will never be a social, moral or religious norm in Christianity. 


Even should tax exemptions be taken away from our churches over this, we will remain steadfast to GOD and HIS SETTLED WORD OVER THE UNIVERSE.

TBS
TBS

@Dusty2


That's your silliness.  I merely responded to the blogger who stated the following:

"It is never about "tolerance" Kyle.  It is about forced acceptance"

Take it up with that person.

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

@MHSmith @LogicalDude @Dusty2 "Homosexuality and homosexual unions will never be a social, moral or religious norm in Christianity."


And in some denominations and religious sects, female equality is not the norm either.  And those denominations retain their tax-exempt status. 

Shar1
Shar1

A major dilemma, particularly for the evangelical segment of Christians who are concentrated in the South, is that their need and "call" to proselytize and "bring more people to God" is in direct conflict with the right of nonbelievers to be left alone.  The civil right to privacy superseding the right to bear witness leads to frustration on the part of evangelicals and to their turning to legislation and judicial activism to force their beliefs on others.  Thus the concept of a "war on Christians" when in fact nonbelievers are simply protecting their right not to follow the tenets of someone else's belief system.


Religious entities have been skating very close to the line, or even over it, that prohibits such tax-exempt groups from active political stances.  Calling for their faithful to flout federal law is a bridge too far, just as passing out biased "voter guides" has resulted in loss of tax exempt status.

Personally, I would like to see other targets for loss of tax-exempt status, and the first on my list is any college or university that runs their sports programs as outside businesses.  They're far more invidious and less deserving of the public dole than are petulant religious organizations. 

bu2
bu2

@Shar1 

Black churches have been organizing voters for Democrats from the pulpit for decades.  Where is your concern for that?  They don't even try to be subtle about it.

TBS
TBS

 It is never about "tolerance" Kyle.  It is about forced acceptance


You have not been forced to accept anything based on this ruling.   The SCOTUS ruling forces you to do and accept what? 

Have you been made to believe different based on this ruling?

Has your church been made to marry a gay couple?

Are you now being made to teach your kids you believe gay marriage is ok?

Thought so.  That cross you are carrying must be causing an undue burden but do carry on. 

Thanks for the entertainment

peace

Titanium Dragon
Titanium Dragon

@TBS To be fair, the idea that we're forcing them to accept gays isn't actually wrong. We did the same thing to them with blacks.

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

" just the excuse needed to take away the tax exemption applied to religious organizations"


Oh. My. Freakin. GAWD, Kyle. 


It's about equality and letting people who love each other marry each other. 


But let's roll down that slippery slope and see if any church loses their tax-exempt status if they will not marry a same sex couple. 

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

@Kyle_Wingfield @LogicalDude " these arguments are usually made independent of whether a church (or other religious organization) will perform a marriage ceremony"


Ah, that's why I was confused.  This is pretty much a completely separate issue.  

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@LogicalDude ... But they are related to the church's stance on gay marriage. See this one, for instance: http://fusion.net/story/158096/does-your-church-ban-gay-marriage-then-it-should-start-paying-taxes/

So it's worse than basing the tax-exempt status on whether the church will perform the weddings; the standard seems to be whether the church even speaks out against the practice.

As I said in the post, I doubt this was the intent of many people who hoped and cheered for Friday's ruling. But this is an awfully quick next-day story for it not to have been the intent of some of them. (If I had to guess, the latter group is more likely to be heterosexual, though that's purely speculation.)

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

@Kyle_Wingfield @LogicalDude "awfully quick next-day story"


Seemingly spread far and wide by conservatives over social media and posts. It seems the over-reaction to a few calls for removal of tax exempt status is an attempt to hijack the story of success of gay marriage.   


The call for tax exempt removal sounds like fringe groups to me. I have not heard any discussion at all during the gay marriage debate regarding this. AT ALL.  Your post is the first I heard about it. And reading more, it's a bad interpretation of fringe groups who already happen to want tax exempt status reviewed who also are for gay marriage. 

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@LogicalDude "let's roll down that slippery slope"

Like it or not, these arguments are coming from gay-marriage advocates. I'm not making them up. You have seen commenters on these threads make the same point. And note that these arguments are usually made independent of whether a church (or other religious organization) will perform a marriage ceremony; there certainly is nothing that specific to the Oppenheimer proposal (again, whatever it actually entails).

severian37
severian37

@Kyle_Wingfield @LogicalDude They may be coming from certain groups, but most of us who have been ignored and discriminated against just wanted equal protection before the law.  Most people tend to be rational and do have a live and let live attitude, but extremists are the ones who make the news.  Painting us all with a broad brush is lazy thinking. I can see your point, but I think it would have been better made as a wholly separate issue from the SCOTUS ruling.