· Similar grants were made when we wished railroads to open the west; when we needed manufacturing to move fast as we entered World War II; when we took on the challenge to send a man to the moon.
· Cessions were also made when we allowed Congress to relax the rules which protected us from the avarice of large corporations or when the Court allowed corporations to dominate the electoral process.
What, though, are the issues that arise when we grant “corporate status” to denominations, parishes, synagogues or mosques? Are those issues compounded when those religious institutions seek to assume rights normally reserved for individuals?A. Since “corporate status” is granted by the government [usually the state], might this open the door to state control? Would that concern be eliminated by the first Right – the freedom from any legislation that would impact religious belief or practice?
While most voices proclaim such to be true, history is less affirmative! When the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-Day Saints [now ‘Mormon’] settled in the Utah Territory they had hoped to escape from political persecutions for their beliefs. However, when the Federal government outlawed polygamy they faced serious consequences. Until they complied, their lands and temples were at risk of seizure and their citizens at risk of trial for bigamy. Finally, a “revelation from God’ enabled them to change their belief system. [Interestingly, Congress privately assured the Roman Catholic Church that nothing similar would be done to them!]
Society’s efforts to “level” disparities in gender situations [equal pay for equal work], employment and adoption situations [limiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation], education [seeking to mandate a basic level of required education], etc. have frequently encountered opposition from certain religious groups claiming there was “no compelling interest’ of the part of government to force certain behaviors upon them.
B. What criteria should be employed to determine an organization’s not-for-profit status? A recent case in Illinois determined that a religious-affiliated hospital did not provide sufficient charity for exemption from property taxes! Does every “house of worship” contribute sufficiently to the public good so as to warrant similar property tax relief?
C. How might society protect herself from a very large religious corporation imposing beliefs upon non-members as well? Various religious organizations with considerable wealth have attempted to force such impositions - seeking exemptions for gender bias, sexual preference bias. Permission is also sought to exert such pressures as needed to force legislation that would make certain practices illegal [abortion is but one of these] or would curtail others [teaching the validity about evolution, climate control, etc.].
Few [certainly not I] wish to allow government to disregard the first amendment. Yet, one must admit that life in the 21st century is radically different from the 18th century:
ü We know much more regarding space, creation processes, human growth & development.
ü We have become a much more diverse population – religiously, economically, culturaly.
ü We live in a much larger global “society” and are impacted by what others believe and do.
ü Denominationalism has grown to where it is no longer possible [if it ever truly was] to claim that this or that behavior is “the Christian” or “the Jewish” or “the Muslim” thing to do!
Might we not seek more avenues for discussion so that we are not only free from any Government impositions on our practice of religion – but also from any religion’s impositions on our freedom from those religious practices about which we differ?