Rutledge urges tax preference for nonprofits that discriminate against gays | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Rutledge urges tax preference for nonprofits that discriminate against gays

Posted By on Thu, Jul 2, 2015 at 5:09 PM

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has added her voice to legislators and other Republicans who are trying to whip up a frenzy by raising the so-far unrealized notion that non-profit religious organizations could lose their tax-exempt status from the IRS if they discriminated against gay people.

I agree that it is a point to ponder. Time was, the IRS stopped allowing tax-exempt status for the likes of Bob Jones University, Gov. Asa Hutchinson's alma mater, because it discriminated against black people. Similarly, tax-exempt status was denied some private schools in Arkansas that wouldn't admit blacks.

Understand that schools and colleges that are privately funded — and churches — are free to discriminate. But should they get special tax treatment, essentially a taxpayer subsidy, from a government that has declared discrimination unconstitutional for public agencies? I don't happen to think so. Rutledge sees it differently.

Her release:

 
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge today announced that she has sent a letter to Congressional leaders urging them to take steps to protect the tax-exempt status of nonprofit religious organizations.

“Last week’s majority opinion from the Supreme Court specifically notes that ‘[t]he First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths,’” said Attorney General Rutledge. “Protecting the religious conscience of Arkansas citizens is critically important following the Court’s decision, and I urge the Arkansas Congressional Delegation to speak with their leadership and colleagues so that Congress may take action to stop the IRS from infringing on rights of religious organizations.”

The letter, sent to Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), was prompted by statements before the U.S. Supreme Court by Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. during oral arguments in the Obergefell v. Hodges case. When asked if religious-affiliated institutions could have their tax-exempt status revoked if they opposed same-sex marriage, Verrilli said “it’s certainly going to be an issue.”

Rutledge and attorneys general from 14 other States ask that Congress modify the Internal Revenue Code to prevent the Internal Revenue Service from revoking the tax-exempt status of nonprofit religious organizations that disagree with the decision in Obergefell v. Hodges.

“Under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, citizens have the right to exercise their religion freely without government pressure to change their minds or penalties for unpopular beliefs,” the letter states. “We take very seriously the religious liberty of our States’ citizens and believe that Congress should take action now to preclude the IRS from targeting religious groups in this way.”

The letter says stripping the tax-exempt status of religious organizations would be “an unprecedented assertion of governmental power over religious exercise.”

“To allow the IRS to proceed in this way would suggest that the IRS has the power to target disfavored beliefs in any religious organization, to effectively decide the truth or correctness of a religious belief, and to penalize as a matter of ‘policy’ a mainstream belief held by groups that long have received tax-exempt status,” the attorneys general wrote.

Rutledge signed the letter along with attorneys general from Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

More demagoguery, but likely to win favor in the Republican Congress. This whole idea of protecting discrimination on a religious pretext might sound good to legislators thinking only of gay discrimination. But what of a pacifist who refused to pay taxes for defense or refused to fill a fighter jet's fuel tank. Or what if a Catholic county clerk refused to issue a marriage license to a divorcee or a known adulterer. Religion, you know. Slippery slopes.

In the cases of tax-exemption, the potential penalties would be about beliefs, but about actions. A religious college, for example, absolutely could prevent same-sex couples from living in married student housing if they didn't approve of same-sex marriage. The question should be whether other taxpayers should subsidize a college by giving it a tax exemption.

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