Letters to the Boston editor, December 11, 2009
Among other things, your editorial calling for the Catholic Church to be punitively taxed for its anti-abortion lobbying suffers from a breathtaking lack of inconsistency. Mainline Protestant denominations such as the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA) maintain expensive political lobbying offices just a block away from the US Congress, Supreme Court, and Senate buildings. These church offices lobby for consistently liberal, arguably partisan causes that enjoy little support from the grassroots and often have only tenuous ties to the theological traditions of these churches. But the positions advocated are apparently to the Phoenix’s liking, so they don’t get mentioned. (Also unmentioned is the extensive lobbying the Roman Catholic Church has done for liberal causes in economics and foreign policy.)
The editorial should have saved space by explaining the newspaper’s position as: “The government should single out religious denominations that advocate social policies we dislike, and give a free pass to those who advocate policies that we do like.” Any suggestion that there’s some more principled motivation about church/state separation or equity in the application of lobbying regulations seems intellectually dishonest.
Church organizations that act like lobbyists should be taxed as such. Religious intervention has gone too far in America. We’re supposed to be a nation of individual freedom for all, which absolutely includes those who choose not to worship. The Catholic Church seems to think of itself as god, deciding who goes to Hell (and in this case, who gets health care) instead of leaving those decisions to the higher power it supposedly serves. It seems to be arguing that no one should have his or her tax dollars support government programs with which he or she does not agree. But that idea is laughable: many people do not support the wars we are in, and yet their tax dollars are collected and spent without hesitation. You can object personally to what your government does, but materially and financially, the only way to separate yourself from your government’s actions is to affect change politically (something churches are not supposed to be able to do legally), or to move to another country.
I say tax churches back to the Stone Age they embrace if they are going to interfere in the lives of those who they do not represent.
The Phoenix’s hypocrisy on the matter of the Catholic Church’s tax-exempt status is not to be unexpected. That church and any other nonprofit organization has the right to speak out on public issues. When the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops speaks out, as it often does, in support of universal health care or for the abolition of nuclear weapons, there is no outcry from the Phoenix. You folks go on the attack only when you disagree with the church’s position on an issue. You would certainly not question the right of a nonprofit homelessness-prevention organization to support legislation to help the homeless.
The Catholic Church has always maintained nonpartisanship in terms of political candidates and political parties. However, it would be derelict in its role as a source of moral and ethical teachings if it remained silent on the grave issues facing our society and the world. Hopefully, it will continue to be a world leader in defending the victims of torture, hunger, homelessness, and political injustice.
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