The Supreme Court of the U.S. recently heard arguments in a case that weighs anti-discrimination rights against religious rights. The specific question is: Should a Christian web designer who is morally opposed to gay marriage be forced to design a website that celebrates the marriage of a gay couple? Colorado law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation by any business that offers its products or services to the public. The web designer argues that she is not discriminating against the couple, she is discriminating against the website content being proposed.
Even though I am an atheist and support equal rights for all, I look at this as a case where the web designer is in the minority and the gay couple has the vast majority on their side. I would guess that 90+% of web designers would be very willing and able to design the website for the gay couple. Additionally, this is not about purchasing a standard product or service – like renting a room, buying something off of a shelf at a store, hiring a taxi, or buying food in a restaurant. It is asking a person to use their creative talent to create something that promotes an act that they are morally opposed to.
If we force relatively small minorities of people to act in opposition to their sincerely held religious beliefs, especially when the person who feels discriminated against has many completely voluntary, peaceful alternatives, then we will be putting ourselves in an unnecessary situation where the minority will feel aggrieved and will fight without end. In a pluralistic society, which is what we have in the U.S. we should look first to find voluntary, peaceful solutions to our differences. The force of government should be used only as a last resort when no other reasonable alternatives exist – which is not the case here.
The United States of America is a pluralistic, heterogeneous country. Liberals, conservatives, libertarians. Muslims, Christians, atheists. Asians, Blacks, Latinos, Whites. And on and on. It seems that we are getting more tribal – my tribe is good and other tribes are bad. Many media outlets reinforce the idea that those who disagree with us are evil and have bad intentions. We are righteous and our intentions are honorable. We want to save our Country and our opponents want to destroy it. There doesn’t appear to be a path to peace and agreement about how to go forward.
Every group seems to go to our government to lobby for laws and regulations that support their position and/or outlaw contrary positions. Very few seem to care about fundamental, first principles. They just want their side to win. It would be nice if we could agree on fundamental principles and then go forward with laws and regulations that are consistent with those principles.
Living in a free country doesn’t just mean that others should tolerate the things you do that they don’t like. If you truly believe in individual liberty and want to support diversity, equity, and inclusion, then you need to tolerate people who do things you don’t like.
Churches and their leaders should be free to speak out for or against candidates for political office. Our Constitution guarantees freedom of speech for all, and especially for political or religious speech.
What our government should NOT do is allow a charitable tax deduction to donors who contribute money to churches that advocate for or against specific candidates. If churches want to be treated just like other organizations that advocate for or against specific candidates, donors should be willing to give up their charitable tax deduction for contributions they make to those churches.
If churches are allowed to advocate for or against candidates and donors are given a charitable tax deduction for contributions made to such churches, then it would only be fair to give tax deductions to all donors to political organizations. Better to not give the charitable deduction to any of them.
I agree with The Des Moines Register editorial that the law that bans churches from endorsing specific candidates, (the Johnson Amendment), should not be repealed. (See link below.)
Once again though, you did not make clear the difference between all tax-exempt organizations and special 501c3 organizations. Virtually all political parties, candidate campaign committees, and special interest organizations are tax exempt – they don’t pay income taxes. But, people who donate money to these various political organizations do not get to deduct their contributions as a “charitable” deduction on their income taxes.
On the other hand, charities, churches and educational organizations are tax exempt under a special tax code section: 501c3. People who donate money to 501c3 organizations get a charitable tax deduction for the amount of their contribution when computing their income taxes .
Churches, and church officials can advocate all they want about issues without violating the rules for 501c3 organizations. What they cannot do is advocate for or against any specific candidate. If they do advocate for or against specific candidates then they should be treated just like any other political organization: their donors should not get a charitable tax deduction for their contributions. That is what the Johnson Amendment is all about, and it should not be repealed.
President Obama should be commended for opening up diplomatic relations with Cuba. It is clear that the 50 year old policy of embargo and isolation has not worked to end the communist dictatorship. Yes, Raul Castro will try to use this change in U.S. policy to his advantage. If only for practical reasons, the embargo should end and relations should be normalized. As President Obama paraphrased, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” We need to do something different.
There are also important philosophical reasons why relations with Cuba should be normalized: people who act honestly and peacefully should not be prevented in their actions by the force of government. Voluntary free trade, including tourism, is the best way to foster good will and build better friendships. Allowing Cubans to interact more and more with U.S. citizens will ultimately change the opinions of the masses of Cubans. Hopefully, it will lead to a peaceful overthrow of the dictatorial regime similar to that of the U.S.S.R. and of East Germany.
After witnessing the deluge of outside political advertising that inundated Iowa during this latest election cycle, it’s easy to conclude that our government should place limits on political contributions and political advertising. But our Supreme Court correctly decided in the Citizens United case that governments should not be allowed to limit the independent political expenditures of groups of people, even if they are organized as corporations.
Most of the corporations that make independent expenditures for or against candidates or ballot issues are simply groups of like minded people who have come together to promote their common beliefs. They are not profit-making corporations that run businesses and sell stock on Wall Street. Citizens United is a group of people who are organized as a corporation explicitly for the purpose of promoting a political agenda.
If contributions are given directly to a candidate, there is good reason for concern about bribery and corruption. But as long as people or groups are independent of candidates and their campaigns, they should be free to spend as much of their own money as they want, and they should not have to disclose the names of contributors. Our founding fathers published pamphlets and other communications anonymously when they advocated against their rulers and called for a revolution. They were very much thinking about political speech when they wrote in the 1st Amendment of the Constitution: “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…”