Churches could lose tax exemption over gay marriage

Lost in the celebrations over universal gay marriage, like abortion, being deemed a right found in the “penumbras and emanations” of the Constitution is the chilling effect the ruling has on religious liberty.  In a telling exchange between the Obama administration’s Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli, Jr. and Justice Samuel Alito, detailed by Tom Blumer at, in which Verrilli admitted that churches could lose their tax exemptions if they refuse to perform gay weddings:

Justice Alito: Well, in the Bob Jones case, the Court held that a college was not entitled to tax­exempt status if it opposed interracial marriage or interracial dating. So would the same apply to a university or a college if it opposed same­-sex marriage?

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

So the administration admits that the tax exemption of institutions could be at risk if they refuse to acquiesce in the acceptance of gay marriages.  There is no reason to assume that this mandate would not apply to institutions such as the Catholic Church.  Those who think this is a red herring forget that this is the administration dragging the Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of elderly nuns devoted to helping the aged poor, through the courts, because they won’t comply with Obamacare’s contraception coverage mandate: as Investor’s Business Daily editorialized:

The Little Sisters contend ObamaCare not only violates the First Amendment's religious guarantees, but also the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act. That requires the government to implement its policies in ways that do not impose an unnecessary burden on the free exercise of religion …

If the Little Sisters lose their case, they'll either have to violate their religious conscience or face fines of around $2.5 million a year, or about 40% of what they beg for annually to care for the dying poor. Their ministry would be severely crippled, as would the First Amendment's guarantee of religious liberty.

The Obama administration’s hostility to the free exercise of religion was seen in the Hobby Lobby case, in which the government argued that acting on your religious beliefs in your personal and business life is illegal.  The courts ruled otherwise, agreeing that this was an attempted infringement of the free exercise of religion:

So do scores of Catholic and non-Catholic institutions and businesses who argue either that the way they run their private businesses is an extension of their faith or that a church, something the federal government seeks to redefine, is not something that happens one hour a week on a Sunday but 24/7 through the hospitals, schools, soup kitchens and charities they may operate. They argue that acting out their faith through their works should not be illegal.

We should also not underestimate the passion of gay activists, who, in the secular realm, have argued that no institution has the right to follow the religious beliefs of the proprietors in its daily operations.  Just ask Crystal O’Connor, member of the family that owns Memories Pizza, who touched off a firestorm when she refused to cater a hypothetical gay wedding.  She told a local ABC news affiliate that she agreed with Indiana’s version of the federal RFRA signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993:

“If a gay couple came in and wanted us to provide pizzas for their wedding, we would have to say no,” she told local station ABC57. It is important to remember that nobody has actually been denied service or has been discriminated against under Indiana’s RFRA. O’Connor’s statement reflects, not bigotry, but a reaffirmation of the family’s religious conscience supposedly enshrined under RFRA laws.

A few years ago, Catholic Charities in Illinois, which for over four decades had been a key player in providing needed social services for poor and neglected children, decided to close up shop rather than be forced by the state to not turn away same-sex couples as foster and adoptive parents.  As the Boston Globe reported:

For the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops, the outcome is a prime example of what they see as an escalating campaign by the government to trample on their religious freedom while expanding the rights of gay people. The idea that religious Americans are now the victims of government-backed persecution is now a frequent theme…

“In the name of tolerance, we’re not being tolerated,’’ said Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield, Ill., a civil and canon lawyer who helped drive the church’s losing battle to retain its state contracts for foster care and adoption services.

The case has been made by many that all marriage, gay or straight, is not a constitutional right but rather, like a driver’s license, is a privilege granted by the state for secular purposes.  In the case of marriage, it was a recognition that traditional marriage provided stability and the orderly preservation of future society by providing a secure and stable framework for the procreation and rearing of children.  Not every marriage lasts or bears children, but that was the intent.

Bigotry comes in many forms, and those who ask others to tolerate their lifestyles refuse to tolerate the religious consciences of those who disagree with them.  Churches losing their tax exemption may seem a stretch to some, but it was once a stretch to think the Supreme Court would eviscerate federalism and the Constitution to insist that the Constitution was written to protect the right to gay marriage.

Daniel John Sobieski is a freelance writer whose pieces have appeared in Investor’s Business Daily, Human Events, Reason Magazine, and the Chicago Sun-Times among other publications.

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