Thursday, November 26, 2009


For far too long many religious groups, most recently and most visibly the Catholic Church, have tried to have it both ways. They avail themselves of the constitutional separation of church and state to avoid paying taxes on their secular investments, and then violate the separation of church and state by maintaining a strong lobbying group in Washington to influence legislation.

Recently it became known that the Catholic Conference of Bishops was instrumental in authoring the anti-abortion amendment attachd to the House health care bill, a clear violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment. And its a perfect example of a religious institution trying to have it both ways.

Financially, the church for years has operated like a huge multinational corporation with extensive real estate holdings, stock holdings and other secular investments generating huge income streams for which they pay no taxes. Exempting religious organizations from taxes on contributions and donations is one thing. Exempting them from capital gains taxes on secular stock investments is another. But the church as do other religious institutions, claim tax exempt status based on the doctrine behind the First Amendment establishment clause.

Yet Catholic dioceses all over the country are filing for bankruptcy protection because of tens of billions of dollars in jury awards against the church for the serial child sexual molestation that went on for decades with the church's knowledge, (which is why they were held liable). In those cases the church asks to be subject to secular bankruptcy laws to protect them from having to pay the billions in jury awards but, claim exemption from tax laws based on the establishment clause.

Adding to the hypocrisy, The Catholic Conference of Bishops has a well funded lobbying effort in Washington, staffed by 350 people whose sole job is the same any other lobbyist -- to influence and even write legislation that gets inserted in bills. In the case of the church, or any religious instituion it is a clear violation of the separation of church and state and a breaking down of the "wall" between religion and the affairs of state that Jefferson and the Founders said the amendment was designed to create.

This is not to say that the church doesn't have freedom of speech, to speak out about issues that matter to them, to support candidates who support those issues and to exercise their right of free speech to influence elections. But influencing elections is one thing -- influencing, lobbying and writing legislation is another.

Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the bishops conference has been extremely critical of the senate health care bill which, with regards to abortion, goes only as far as the Hyde amendment in prohibiting public funding of abortion. Doerflinger said that the senate bill was " the worst bill we've seen on the life issue".

What Doerflinger, in the singular myopic way of the typical Washington lobbyist doesnt seem to understand is that this is not an abortion bill but a health care reform bill and it isnt being designed to meet the approval of Doerfliinger or the Catholic Conference of Bishops. And to further underscore the arrogance of Doerflinger and what he seems ot think is an entitlement, he said of the senate health care bill that it;s "completely unacceptable".

Unacceptable to who? Him? The Catholic Conference of Bishops? That isnt a powerful senator with the power to stop a bill talking. That is a representative of the Catholic Church how have no business being involved in the legislative process.

Doerflinger';s statement that the legislation is "completely unacceptable" is exactly why Jefferson and the Founders made sure religion would have no place in affairs of state. What is "completely unnacceptable" to Doerflinger or the Catholic Conference of Bishops may not be unacceptable to the a majority of the US senate or the country at large. And that is all that matters. What the bishops feel is acceptable or unacceptable may matter to Doerflinger in his private life, but they dont matter at all to the legislative process that is designed to produce bills that affect affairs of state.

If the church thinks that lobbying for or against legislation like registered lobbyists is that important, let them forego their tax exempt status and continue their lobbying efforts as registered lobbyists. Either that or continue their tax exempt status and give up their organized lobbying efforts. Or if they continue to lobby have the IRS revoke their tax exempt status.

The constitution is clear. -- religious institutions are to be officially kept out of the affairs of state. The First Amendment was specifically instituted to assure that the United States would never have anything like the Church of England of which most of the Founders had a very low opinion.

The role of the Catholic Conference of Bishops headed by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, in authoring the anti-abortion amendment in the House healthcare bill was a clear violation of the First Amendment . The fact that Pelosi and Obama allowed it to happen is something that has to be addressed and stopped.

Now the Conference is hoping to extend the same influence to the senate. The arrogance of Doerflinger's comment about the current bill being " completely unacceptable" shows the power they think they can weild -- or are entitled to weild -- power that the establishment clause is designed to prevent.

The bishops are likely to fail in the senate. Reid needs to stand up for the constitution and make it clear there wont be the kind of meetings in the senate that the Conference was able to get in the House.

It should also be noted, that conservatives who are always wrapping themselves in the constitution and trumpet their views on Original Intent, have not only said nothig about the constitutional violation that occurred in the House amendment, most of them voted for it.


Puma-SF said...

You are absolutely right. There has to be a separation between church and state. The fact that Obama has continued and increased Bush's faith based initiatives should be alarming to all. The conservatives bloviating about the constitution should definitely chime in on this. Of course we know how they feel about abortion. What can we do, Marc? I'm shovel ready and I definitely have skin in the game.

Anonymous said...

It should also be noted, no, shouted, repeated, screamed until people hear it - that the Bishops are all men, that they represent a church governed by only men, and that not one woman is allowed a voice in the making of any of their laws.

Not only is the constitutional protection of separation of church and state being violated, the fundamental right to representative government is being set aside entirely for the majority of all Americans: women.


Marc Rubin said...

"What can we do, Marc?"

My guess with regards to the anti-abortion amendment, its not likely to survive in its present state in the senate. If it does Im sure there will be groups challenging its constitutionality since there is evidence that the amendment was co-authored by the church.

In any event, challenging the legality of the lobbying group in Washington connected to the church would be the best general step to take

Marc Rubin said...

".. that the Bishops are all men, that they represent a church governed by only men, and that not one woman is allowed a voice in the making of any of their laws. "

That is absolutely right and something obvious that didnt occur to me. Speaking of their laws,they are also the institution that gave Galileo a life sentence for reporting that the earth revolved around the sun and not, as the church taught, the other way around.

Anonymous said...

True, but the "Fathers" did admit their error and pardon Galileo some years ago.

They've never apologized for or even admitted to perpetrating the greatest massacre of women for the simple reason that they were women in recorded history: the witch trials and murders.

And they're not going after the rights of scientists these days. But they're still going after us, women.