It’s Time to End Tax Exemptions for Churches That Insist on Politicking from the Pulpit

American Catholic Bishops Conference

My apologies if this post is a little incoherent. I’m hopping mad right now! We don’t yet live in a theocracy–although that danger clearly exists. As of today, the U.S. Constitution still requires the separation of church and state. Priests, ministers, bishops, and other church leaders are not supposed to be advocating for and against political candidates from the pulpit. In their roles as private citizens, they can hold whatever political beliefs they want and they can donate to political candidates. But they need to stop forcing their political views on church audiences.

Yesterday, in Catholic churches all over the U.S., parishioners heard a letter from their bishop denouncing the Obama administration for the January 20th HHS decision to require health plans to cover birth control services without requiring “a co-pay, co-insurance, or a deductible.” HHS Secretary Katherine Sibelius stated that the reason for this requirement is that access to contraception is important to women’s health.

Scientists have abundant evidence that birth control has significant health benefits for women and their families, it is documented to significantly reduce health costs, and is the most commonly taken drug in America by young and middle-aged women. This rule will provide women with greater access to contraception by requiring coverage and by prohibiting cost sharing.

Sibelius explained that this requirement applies to religion-based institutions that employ or serve people who don’t belong to their religion. Therefore, churches per se would be except from the rule, but universities and other religious-based organizations would have to abide by the rule.

Via Business Insider, here is the full text of letter that was read in churches in the Diocese of Marquette (Michigan):

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

I write to you concerning an alarming and serious matter that negatively impacts the Church in the United States directly, and that strikes at the fundamental right to religious liberty for all citizens of any faith. The federal government, which claims to be “of, by, and for the people,” has just been dealt a heavy blow to almost a quarter of those people — the Catholic population — and to the millions more who are served by the Catholic faithful.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced last week that almost all employers,
including Catholic employers, will be forced to offer their employees’ health coverage that includes sterilization, abortion-inducing drugs, and contraception. Almost all health insurers will be forced to include those “services” in the health policies they write. And almost all individuals will be forced to buy that coverage as a part of their policies.

In so ruling, the Obama Administration has cast aside the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, denying to Catholics our Nation’s first and most fundamental freedom, that of religious liberty. And as a result, unless the rule is overturned, we Catholics will be compelled to either violate our consciences, or to drop health coverage for our employees (and suffer the penalties for doing so). The Obama Administration’s sole concession was to give our institutions one year to comply.

We cannot—we will not—comply with this unjust law. People of faith cannot be made second class citizens. We are already joined by our brothers and sisters of all faiths and many others of good will in this important effort to regain our religious freedom. Our parents and grandparents did not come to these shores to help build America’s cities and towns, its infrastructure and institutions, its enterprise and culture,
only to have their posterity stripped of their God given rights. In generations past, the Church has always been able to count on the faithful to stand up and protect her sacred rights and duties. I hope and trust she can count on this generation of Catholics to do the same. Our children and grandchildren deserve nothing less.

And therefore, I would ask of you two things. First, as a community of faith we must commit ourselves to prayer and fasting that wisdom and justice may prevail, and religious liberty may be restored. Without God, we can do nothing; with God, nothing is impossible. Second, I would also recommend visiting,to learn more about this severe assault on religious liberty, and how to contact Congress in support of legislation that would reverse the Obama Administration’s decision.

Sincerely yours in Christ,
+Alexander K. Sample
Most Reverend Alexander K. Sample
Bishop of Marquette

The author of the Business Insider article, Michael Brendan Dougherty, uses a flawed analogy to defend the bishops for their action and their decision to flout the law.

it would be like the government mandating that all delis, even Kosher delis, serve pork products and then justifying it by saying that protein is healthy, and many Jews who don’t follow Kosher laws and many non-Jews go to those delis. The law wouldn’t technically ban Jews from owning delis, but it would effectively ban their ability to run them according to their conscience.

WTF?! Jewish delis do not receive federal funds to subsidize the selling of pork, and scientists have not found pork to be vital to the health of more than half of the U.S. population. For Dougherty’s information, unwanted pregnancies can be dangerous to women’s physical and mental health. Furthermore, the more unwanted pregnancies there are, the more abortions there will be. The rule will therefore reduce the number of abortions in this country. And BTW, no individual is required to use birth control. The Catholic bishops know that most Catholics used it, and they are simply trying to intimidate people. If an individual Catholic wants to follow the church’s ludicrous (IMO) rules against birth control, she is free to do so. An editorial by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune says it much better than I could:

The Obama administration…made the right decision. Birth control access is critical for women and children’s health, ensuring that kids are born to parents ready for this responsibility. Lost in all the heated rhetoric over this milestone public health measure are several important points.

This policy does not require anyone to use birth control. In addition, courts have already rejected claims by Catholic organizations that requiring contraceptive coverage in employee health plans violates their religious freedom.

Requiring these religiously affiliated institutions to cover birth control in their plans is nothing new. Twenty-eight states (Minnesota isn’t one) already have “contraceptive equity” laws requiring birth control coverage for many plans covering prescription drugs.

In 2004, the California Supreme Court, noting that many of these organizations’ employees are not Catholic, soundly rejected a challenge to the state’s contraceptive equity law. It concluded that the state can enact employment laws to protect workers, even if these laws conflict with the employers’ religious beliefs.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Catholic Charities’ appeal. New York’s highest court rejected a similar claim by Catholic Charities on grounds that the law didn’t target religious beliefs and that a broad public interest is served by addressing gender disparities in medical costs.

The U.S. Supreme Court has also decided on multiple occasions that religious beliefs do not protect discriminatory practices, such as failing to comply with civil rights laws.

Denise Grady, in an article published in The New York Times and The Herald Tribune writes:

About half of pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, and about four out of 10 of those end in abortion, according to the Institute of Medicine report, which was released last July. It noted that providing birth control could lower both pregnancy and abortion rates. It also cited studies showing that women with unintended pregnancies are more likely to be depressed and to smoke, drink and delay or skip prenatal care, potentially harming fetuses and putting babies at increased risk of being born prematurely and having low birth weight.

Grady provides a number of real-life examples. Here’s just one:

One recent Georgetown law graduate, who asked not to be identified for reasons of medical privacy, said she had polycystic ovary syndrome, a condition for which her doctor prescribed birth control pills. She is gay and had no other reason to take the pills. Georgetown does not cover birth control for students, so she made sure her doctor noted the diagnosis on her prescription. Even so, coverage was denied several times. She finally gave up and paid out of pocket, more than $100 a month. After a few months she could no longer afford the pills. Within months she developed a large ovarian cyst that had to be removed surgically — along with her ovary.

“If I want children, I’ll need a fertility specialist because I have only one working ovary,” she said.

A spokeswoman for Georgetown, Stacy Kerr, said that problems like this were rare and that doctors at the health service knew how to help students get coverage for contraceptives needed for medical reasons.

Really? Then why was this woman “denied” coverage “several times?” Give me a break!

Even supposed “liberal” E.J. Dionne weighed in on the side of the church:

In its interim rules in August, HHS excluded from this requirement only those “religious employers” who primarily serve and employ members of their own faith traditions. This exempted churches from the rule, but not Catholic universities or social-service agencies and hospitals that help tens of thousands of non-Catholics.

As a general matter, it made perfect sense to cover contraception. Many see doing so as protecting women’s rights, and expanded contraception coverage will likely reduce the number of abortions. While the Catholic Church formally opposes contraception, this teaching is widely ignored by the faithful. One does not see many Catholic families of six or 10 or twelve that were quite common in the 1950s. Contraception might have something to do with this.

Speaking as a Catholic, I wish the Church would be more open on the contraception question. But speaking as an American liberal who believes that religious pluralism imposes certain obligations on government, I think the Church’s leaders had a right to ask for broader relief from a contraception mandate that would require it to act against its own teachings. The administration should have done more to balance the competing liberty interests here.

I am sick and tired of this sh*t! We’re talking about the rights and the health of more than half of the population! Does Dionne realize that 98% of Catholics have used birth control at one time or another? It’s time to take away the tax exempt status of churches who use the power of the pulpit to try to intimidate their parishioners into voting for or against a candidate based on ridiculous (IMO) religious rules that hurt women. If religious universities and charities wish to ignore the law, then they too should lose their government subsidies and/or tax exemptions.

47 Comments on “It’s Time to End Tax Exemptions for Churches That Insist on Politicking from the Pulpit”

  1. dakinikat says:

    I was reading up on this since we talked about it and no company is exempt. If the decide to ignore the law, they have to basically NOT offer health insurance to any of their employees and the pay fines. They could go this route to get around it. I saw this at WAPO.

  2. dakinikat says:

    I also would suggest that these organizations that discriminate be banned from getting government contracts.

  3. Josh Hall says:

    The first point I need to make is that I am not Catholic. The Second point that should be made is that in the Catholic Faith any form of birth control is considered a form of Abortion. Now whether we agree with that belief or not this is America and they have the right to believe that. So if the Government passes a law forcing any person to be a party in any degree to something that their faith believes to be immoral then that is a violation of the First Amendment right of religious freedom. The Third point I would make is that the First Ammendment was put in place to prevent the Government from influencing the Church not to keep the Church from influencing the Government.

    • dakinikat says:

      Nice try. The first amendment is there to stop the government from establishing state religion. When the laws reflect particular religious prejudices that means the law establishes the correct view on that religion to the exclusion of others. If they really feel that disturbed by birth control, then they should not offer any insurance and pay the fines for doing so or just tell their “followers” to not order the birth control. It costs more to insure people when companies start parsing out key benefits. They seem more disturbed by women using birth control than they do about priests committing pedophilia. Odd how that works, isn’t it? I also think that any institution that chooses to ignore civil rights of people shouldn’t be exempt from the laws. What’s to stop them from having slaves or letting Mormons have polygamy then? You’re saying they can pick and choose which “religious” laws they want to follow? Yeah, right, order me up my marijuana because I’m now a RASTAFARIAN and pot’s a sacrament.

      • bostonboomer says:

        If I’m a Quaker can I refuse to pay taxes for the defense department and all the wars that go against my religion?

      • dakinikat says:

        I’m a Buddhist. I shouldn’t have to pay for anything related to the Pentagon since doing no harm is the first and most important Buddhist precept.

      • Josh Hall says:

        Well I think we both know that the Religious freedom is a right unless, your religion imposes on the well being of other people you know like slavery and polygamy and abortion.
        And I shouldn’t have to pay a fine because I won’t let you violate my religious freedom either.

        • dakinikat says:

          Your views on abortion are extreme. There is no medical or religious agreement on when and if “ensoulment” occurs in a fetus let alone a zygote or a fertilized egg. Some say it’s when a baby takes a breath of air, some say at conception, some say at viability. Because there’s no agreed upon point, law should not favor one interpretation that’s religious. That’s why Roe V. Wade goes with the medical definition which is the third trimester point of viability. As far as the Constitution is concerned, complete Religious freedom is not a right or Warren Jeffries wouldn’t be sitting in Jail and marijuana would be legal for Rastafarians. The first amendment is seen as an “establishment clause” in regards to religion. There should be no “national religion” established by the government in law. The other SCOTUS’ interpretation is that of accommodation which stops Congress from preferring one religion over another and does not stop the government’s entry into religious domain to make accommodations in order to achieve the purposes of the Free Exercise Clause. All you have to do is read Constitutional law to see that. Most Southerners argued that Slavery was biblically based and therefore moral and they should be allowed in keeping with their biblically-based beliefs. There’s no difference between an idiot argument like that and an idiot argument that says some church gets to discriminate on birth control because a group of nasty old men have decided they want to keep women barefoot and pregnant. It’s involuntary servitude or slavery either way. Free Exercise has always had its limitations otherwise I’m sure we’d still see witch burnings and public stonings. I’m tired of listening to people that ignore science and reason and believe in magical thinking and talk to imaginary friends that were clearly made up in the 4th century. Our laws don’t have to accommodate the violation of civil rights just because some group of religious nutcases want to do it.

      • ralphb says:

        Contraception should be covered under any health care plan because contraception is a health care issue for women. There’s really nothing else to say about it.

        • dakinikat says:

          Men shouldn’t even have a say in it. It’s not about their bodies. Unless they are prepared to give me the right to castrate them or neuter them, then they should just keep their mouths shut on the situation. I don’t care if a bunch of pointy headed toads said their imaginary friend gave them the right. We’re no longer in the Dark Ages (or so I would like to believe). They can practice whatever they want on themselves but they do not own any woman’s body.

      • quixote says:

        I assume Josh Hall is a troll? Nobody could possibly say this with a straight face: “Well I think we both know that the Religious freedom is a right unless, your religion imposes on the well being of other people you know like slavery and polygamy and abortion.”

        I don’t know what planet Hall comes from, but on this one women are members of the human species. AND BEING DENIED BIRTH CONTROL IMPOSES ON THEIR WELL-BEING.

        If your religion doesn’t want you to take birth control, that’s fine. Don’t take it.

        Your religion has no business harming other people. People includes women. It’s a mindboggling concept, I know.

    • bostonboomer says:

      No one is going to be forced to do anything on the employer’s side. If religious organizations don’t like the rule they can chose not to accept federal money. In most states, they already have to meet this requirement. It’s nothing new. This is just grandstanding in an attempt to intimidate Catholics and bully the administration.

      • dakinikat says:

        They have to do it even if they don’t accept federal money. Any organization has that provides health insurance has to provide those services. No one is exempt for any reason. Check out my WAPO link.

      • bostonboomer says:

        I know that. That’s the way the cookies crumbles. They just won’t be able to offer health ins. to employees then. But 28 states already require this–see the Minneapolis Star-Tribune editorial. It isn’t new.

    • djmm says:

      Nothing in this bill forces any Catholic to use birth control. But I know a lot of Catholics who do use birth control quite enthusiastically.


  4. ralphb says:

    I’m for the removal of tax exempt status from religious institutions as a general principle. There should be an entirely separate status for charities whether religious based or not.

  5. Fannie says:

    Amen to the end of tax free churches……………I’ve seen it in my community and it’s got to stop.

  6. northwestrain says:

    A male dominated church — where no women are allowed in positions of real authority — pope, bishop or priest — these MF women hating males are making decisions for women which could be life threatening — and basically these damned males have no business sticking their “chaste” noses in women’s business in the first place.

    Somewhere in the web archives there is a story about a somewhat liberal church in Southern California who made a remark against the war — either this church lost tax exempt status or other bad things were done. The reason — separation of church and state and the pastor has no business making political statements.

    Double standard — churches have no business lobbying or any other political garbage — like forcing their religious views on the whole population.

    A whole lot of ministers are telling their congregation how to vote — that is crossing the line and those buggers should be taxed. The biggest churches — holding vast real estate and secular investment — for what I understand these sorts of things aren’t taxed.

    • bostonboomer says:

      I remember that case, Northwestrain. The rules are enforced only when it’s a liberal position. I’m with Ralph. Just remove all the tax exemptions and let their followers support them. The fundy churches are just as bad.

    • gxm17 says:

      Excellent point! My mother attends Catholic service every week and she is in complete agreement and is glad that attention is, at long last, being paid to the political proselytizing that the church engages in. She’s been complaining about it for years. Finally! She says, finally people are taking note. Let’s just hope Obama doesn’t back down (for once).

    • Minkoff Minx says:

      I remembered this too nwrain, thanks for reminding me about it!

  7. If this was only about their opposition to the use of contraception then they would publicly announce that any Catholic using contraception (including condoms) would be excommunicated. If they actually provided healthcare coverage for their employees that included access to contraception & to the patients they treat, they would have access to medical records and could proceed with excommunication. They aren’t going to do that, however, because that would mean fewer parishioners and fewer dollars in their coffers. And why oppose contraception? Because they want the ranks of Catholics to increase so their children can attend Catholic schools & attend Catholic churches and give, give, give them more & more money. That and the fact that it is their god-given right to control women – psychologically, spiritually and physically.

    • janicen says:

      Good points. I wonder what employees of the Catholic Church are getting health insurance? The bishops? Priests? The Swiss Guard? Doesn’t health insurance also cover treatment of STD’s? Since at least some of the employees of the Catholic Church aren’t supposed to be having sexual relations at all, why isn’t the church up in arms about being forced to pay for STD coverage?

  8. The Rock says:

    The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced last week that almost all employers,
    including Catholic employers, will be forced to offer their employees’ health coverage that includes sterilization, abortion-inducing drugs, and contraception.[EMPHASIS MINE] Almost all health insurers will be forced to include those “services” in the health policies they write. And almost all individuals will be forced to buy that coverage as a part of their policies.

    My church, as just about all other faiths in the world, has fallen victim to the same plague – the human interpretation of the doctrine. I am not ashamed of my church or my faith. I am completely ashamed of the leadership. As is the case in this country, the leadership is mired in a dogma that is not supported by actual facts or current events. What’s missing in the above selection is that the church TEACHES contraception and promotes it as necessary for a loving marriage. This implies that only the PURCHASED methods of birth control are acceptable by the church. Later in the letter, Bishop Sample writes that the church will be forced not to comply with the law. Was it not our #1 prophet when asked about the justness of taxation who said ‘…give unto Ceasar what is Ceasar’s, and give unto God what is God’s…’ And does this non-compliance mean that my church will start discriminating against non-Catholics in order to be able to NOT offer those services to it’s employees? The deli example would have been correct if it would have read that all delis should have the capacity to keep and serve pork products if they so choose. If abortion services and contraception are such a huge bone of contention, how come vasectomies and viagra don’t make the list as well? I have seen beauty and power in my faith and from my church. I have experienced peace, community and soldiers in the fight against true racism in my church. Even though we have a bloody and checkered past, overall, more good than bad has come from my church. The problem lies in a leadership engulfed by dogma that does not match current events or, in many cases, common sense.

    BB, title of your post couldn’t hit the nail on the head more squarely. At least in the near term, there won’t be any change as the upper echelon won’t budge on their views about anything. And, like this country, we lack a bold leader that is strong enough to take on the many powerful cardinals, bishops and church elite. John Paul II did the most (changed the ecumenical calendar, began the discussion of allowing priests to marry, allowing more than just the clergy to give holy communion, etc), and would be the person that could move this debate forward (the items I listed may not seem big to non-Catholics, but they are HUGE steps towards the modernity of a 2000 year-old religion). Taking away religious tax exempt status would at least get religion out of the political process (the churches, Rick Warren included, would fight that to the point of spilling THEIR OWN blood. The compromise being get the f%^k out of politics and we will leave you your money. I can live with that.)


    Sorry about the rant. This topic rubs me the wrong way as well. At least I get Tom Brady and Bill Belichek on Sunday giving payback to the Giants for messing up a potentially perfect season a few years ago!! Super Bowl menu to be posted later this week 🙂

    Hillary 2012

    • bostonboomer says:

      Gee, I sure hope you’re right about the game on Sunday!

      I was born and raised Catholic, and for as long as I can remember most people I knew ignored the Church on birth control and abortion. My uncle left the priesthood because he was fed up with this nonsense. Take away their tax exemption and let them deal with that.

      • The Rock says:

        Been a Tom Brady fan since he was at Michigan. Been a Belichek fan since he was with the Giants and Parcells. I really hope the two of them get at least 2 more rings before hanging it up….

      • peggysue22 says:

        Ditto, BB. I come from a Catholic family, too. And most practiced birth control. This is all about controlling women.

        The really sad fact is that Margaret Sanger fought these battles over 100 years ago. Fought the Church, too. There was a time [Sanger’s time] when even discussing and particularly writing about birth control and/or abortion was considered obscene and could land you in jail.

        I’m reading the new biography on Sanger now and will undoubtedly write a post about the book. Sanger’s legacy has purposely been tainted by the Far Religious Right. Here was a woman who literally came from nothing [shanty Irish in Corning, NY], who had a spotty education but watched countless women in the NYC’s Lower East side dying of back-to-back pregnancies and botched abortions, yet started a movement and consciousness raising that changed the lives of millions of women all over the world. She was far from a saint but she was one hell of a woman! It’s quite a story.

        As for the Church? This is one of the reasons I left The Faith years ago. Personally, I have no patience for this attitude. None!

      • bostonboomer says:

        I look forward to reading that post, Peggy Sue.

  9. The Rock says:

    This implies that only the PURCHASED methods of birth control are acceptable by the church.

    Meant to say the purchased methods of birth control are NOT acceptable by the church.

    Hillary 2012

  10. bostonboomer says:

    Taylor Marsh on the E.J. Dionne column:

    What Mr. Dionne reveals is that “Catholic allies” are more important than the integrity of protecting the individual person against the institution. The female individual having no lobbying crew or elite to protect her, for which she relies on the government, because only at the highest levels can a woman’s individual civil rights be secured. “Competing liberty interests” doesn’t address the lack of power an individual person has against institutions, seen in this debate by the Catholic Church who wants to deny reproductive health care to women, which hits rural and poor women directly.

    Contrary to the fantasy that the Obama administration waging “an attack on their religious freedom,” an argument Russ Douthat makes today in the New York Times, what Pres. Obama has decided gives power to the individual over institutions.

    Nothing is in higher keeping with the founders’ principles. It also is what Republicans and other conservatives, including Democrats, tout all the time, except where women are concerned. Then all of a sudden freedom it is just for men.

    One woman’s privacy is more important than any religious institution’s prerogatives.

    {Loud Applause}

    • ralphb says:

      Good one! EJ Dionne seems to have been practicing his High Broderism again.

    • quixote says:

      My eyes nearly fell out of my head when I saw that EJ Dionne column. I haven’t read him in a few years, but he was one of the good guys once. Un-bleeding-believable.

      The more I read about people who think their religion is something other people should live by, the more of a convert I become to this new church, Yesterday’s Church of the Essential Death Penalty for Godbags. … I mean, come on. If I have to abide by their beliefs, they have to abide by mine!

  11. ralphb says:

    Donald Trump Staff in Talks With Financiers, Campaign Managers to Explore Third Party Bid

    Just when I thought it couldn’t get any more bizarre, up pops The Donald’s hairpiece.

  12. grayslady says:

    I think the Catholic hierarchy is running scared. About a year ago, Catholic Charities in Illinois had over $30 million of state funding yanked because CC refused to place adoptees or foster children with gay or straight unmarried couples. CC then lost legal battles at the Circuit Court level and at the Appellate level, so they simply shut down their adoption services in Illinois. The four dozen other agencies in the state were happy to pick up the funding and the workload.
    Conceivably, any attempt by Catholic organizations of more than 15 people to ignore the ruling on women’s health care options could also run afoul of Title VII religious discrimination laws. I expect to see some lawsuits, but I also expect to see the Feds prevail.

    • dakinikat says:

      The diocese down here is having a lot of problems because of having to pay out all those pedophilia law suits. They’re shutting down stuff right and left and selling off tons of empty churches. After hiding all those abuse cases, people down here are treating them much differently.

  13. ralphb says:

    Water trucked to nearly bone-dry Texas town

    Some of the consequences of the driest year in Texas history and the large numbers of people who have moved into the state. Without proper water resource planning, this is only going to get a lot worse in the future.