Benefits of civil society should not be called “Rights”.

Thanks to The Des Moines Register for publishing the essay by Peter Funt about the misuse of the term “rights” by Democratic candidates for President.  (See link to Register essay below.)  The term “right”, without qualification, should be reserved for natural or fundamental rights that are also called “negative rights” – rights that place no burder or obligation on others.  The most notable of these negative rights are those included in the Bill of Rights of our Constitution.  They include freedom of the press and of speech (You can print or say anything but I don’t have to read or listen it or pay for it.); and freedom of association (You can associate or not associate with whomever you please, but you can’t force me to associate with you.); among others.
On the other hand, we also have “civil rights” or “government granted rights”.  These are called “positive rights” since they do impose a burden or obligation on others.  These rights are granted by governments through our legislative processes, and may be taken away in the same manner.  They are often granted based on the wealth of a society and its ability to pay the cost.  Common examples of these government created rights include basic education, medical care, and food.  In order for a person to receive these benefits, the force of government is used to make others pay the cost.
I would prefer that these government created positive rights be instead called “benefits” of a civil society.  Positive rights can be granted by government only if and when society has the ability to pay, and society’s ability to pay is not unlimited.  For example, I don’t think any reasonable person believes they have a right to unlimited health care paid for by taxpayers, So if our Democratic candidates for President want to be completely honest, they should talk about the benefits they believe should paid for by a civil society, not simply about rights that should be conferred without regard to cost or limits.

Some discrimination should be allowed.

The Des Moines Register recently published a nice essay by a gay couple who got married in Iowa without any discrimination issues to deal with. (See link to Register essay below.) It is fair and reasonable for government to prohibit discrimination against gay couples and others in the selling of standard goods and services that are offered to the public, like most products retail stores, rooms at hotels and motels, and meals at restaurants. But when the product or services needs to be customized or personalized by the seller, then discrimination by the seller should be allowed, and the buyer should not be able to enlist the force of government to require the seller to provide the product or service. So, for example, cake bakers should required to sell what is what is on their shelves and available for sale without discrimination, but they should not be required to create custom cakes against their will.  At the same time buyers are free to choose other sellers and to organize peaceful protests and boycotts against such discriminating sellers.  This way, everyone’s liberty is preserved, and no force needs to be used, by government or anyone else.
As readers of this blog may know, I am and atheist libertarian and support gay marriage.

Church free speech okay – no charitable tax deduction for donors

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.
Related Register article:

Churches should not be allowed to advocate for or against candidates

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.

Link: http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/opinion/editorials/2017/02/10/editorial-dont-eliminate-ban-politically-active-churches/97750512/

 

Not all tax exempt organizations are the same.

The Register still has it wrong. (“Churches cross line with political endorsements”, 4/9/2015 – see link below.)  Churches with ministers who advocate for specific candidates should be allowed to be tax exempt.  But donors who contribute to them should not get a charitable tax deduction.

There are two types of tax-exempt organizations. First, there are the Charitable, Religious and Educational organizations, (tax code 501c3 organizations), that pay no income taxes, (and often don’t pay other taxes), plus donors get a charitable tax deduction on their income taxes for the amount of their contribution.  Second, there are all other tax-exempt organizations that pay no income taxes, (and often don’t pay other taxes), but donors do NOT get a charitable deduction. They are properly classified as tax exempt, since they are organized to not make any kind of profit, but their activities are not charitable, so no charitable tax deduction is given.

There are many tax exempt organizations that do not make any profit, but that are not charitable and whose donors don’t get a tax deduction.  They include Rotary clubs, political parties, country clubs, political issue organizations, chambers of commerce, special interest clubs, etc.  None of them try to make any profit, but they are not charitable.

To the extent that any not-for-profit organization advocates for or against specific candidates, that organization is not doing charitable work. It is doing political work. Under the principle of equal treatment under the law, donors to churches that advocate for specific candidates should not get a charitable tax deduction.  If a church wants its donors to receive a charitable tax deduction for contributions made, then the minister should not advocate for candidates from the pulpit, or through any other communication from the church.

Link to Register editorial: http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/opinion/editorials/caucus/2015/04/08/rgisters-editorial-churches-cross-line-political-endorsements/25500433/

 

Newspaper should be able to fire editor for expression of religious beliefs

The Des Moines Register reported today (7/24/2014) that, “An Iowa newspaper editor fired after publishing his views on homosexuals is claiming he was the victim of religious discrimination by his former employer.”  He has filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  Editors of newspapers should not be protected by laws against discrimination in employment based on religious belief.  Newspapers are privately owned businesses that typically express the opinions of their owners.  They benefit our society by their independent advocacy regarding public policy.   They should not be forced by government to employ editors who hold beliefs contrary to their own – especially political or public policy beliefs.  Owners of newspapers should be free to fire editors at will, unless they have entered into an employment contract to the contrary.  For government to force a newspaper to continue to employ an editor is wrong and is bad public policy.

Link to Register article: http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/crime-and-courts/2014/07/23/newspaper-editor-fired-gaystapo/13047733/

Hobby Lobby decision correct.

A Supreme Court ruling today (6/30/2014) upheld our fundamental right to use our own private property in accordance with our own moral beliefs.  The ruling gives priority to natural religious and private property rights over the politically created guarantee that private business owners will provide employees with a health insurance benefit that covers certain birth control pills.

The owners of Hobby Lobby objected to the Obama Care legal requirement that they provide their employees with an insurance benefit that covered morning after “abortion” pills.  The law was in direct conflict with their sincerely held, honest and peaceful religious beliefs.  Hobby Lobby has never used force or fraud to get people to either work for or patronize their business.

Governments are the only organizations that can legally use force against peaceful people.  We created our government to use force, if necessary, to protect our fundamental right to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness.  Government force should not be used to make peaceful people act against their own religious beliefs – no matter how good the cause or the intentions.

By the way, I am a peaceful, honest, pro-choice, atheist, libertarian.

Hobby Lobby is correct.

Contrary to the letter by John Ashman, the owners of Hobby Lobby are not forcing their views on anyone.  (“Are owners of business forcing views on workers?” 2/12/2014)  Only governments have the legal right to use force against peaceful people.    No one is being forced to work for or patronize Hobby Lobby.  Although I disagree completely with their religious beliefs, I do agree that they have the right to use their own private property, including their business which is open to the public, in their own peaceful, honest way.  Similarly, individuals and groups have freedom of speech, assembly and association rights which allow them to organize protests and boycotts against businesses that they think operate unfairly.  Government’s proper role is to protect the lives, liberty and property of peaceful people against those who would use force or fraud to take what they want .  It is not proper to for government to take sides when there are differences of opinions between peaceful and honest people.

Link to Register article:  http://www.desmoinesregister.com/article/20140213/OPINION04/302130029/1038/opinion04/Letter-editor-owners-business-forcing-views-workers-

Churches can speak freely!

On 10/16/2012, The Des Moines Register advocated for allowing churches to speak politically without jeopardizing their charitable tax status. (“Free speech should apply to churches”)   People who contribute to not-for-profit charitable organizations that qualify under tax code section 501c3, including churches, get to take a charitable deduction when calculating their income taxes.  This means that taxpayers are subsidizing these charitable contributions.
Political parties, campaign organizations, lobbying groups, and other not-for-profit organizations are tax exempt, but under different tax code provisions.  Supporters of those organizations do not get a tax deduction for contributions.  That is as it should be.  Taxpayers should not subsidize political speech.
If we simply allow all churches to advocate politically without limit, and supporters are allowed to take a charitable deduction for contributions made to those churches, then expect new “churches” to be established for the primary purpose of advocating politically.
The solution to this problem is already available.  If churches want to advocate politically, all they have to do is elect a different not-for-profit tax status.  They would still be tax exempt, but supporters would not get a tax deduction for contributions.

Vander Plaats panders to his base.

Bob Vander Plaats does not want to understand those who disagree with his religious dogma regarding the source of our rights (See Des Moines Register, “A Tale OF Two Conventions” 9/16/2012).  The vast majority of both Republicans and Democrats believe in God.  So belief in God not a distinguishing characteristic between the parties.  Vander Plaats wants it to appear that the Republicans are the Party of God in order to cater to his base.
A person doesn’t have to believe in a God in order to believe there are moral absolutes.  There are natural laws that are understood by all, without the necessity of being commanded by a God or religion:  Don’t initiate force against others, don’t use force or fraud to take other people’s property, don’t do to others what you don’t want them to do to you, peaceful and honest people who do no harm to others should be left alone by government, government should treat people equally.
Our Founding Fathers were wise to embed freedom of religion in our founding documents..They made clear that no religious test should be required in order to hold public office.  They wrote that our government, “… shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…”  The belief that a deity has commanded or prohibited any particular actions should not be the reason why any law gets passed.  (Many Christians believed that the Bible allowed slavery.)
I agree with Vander Plaats on most economic issues.  I agree with him that our rights preceded and are superior to government.  I just don’t think they came from God, and I know they didn’t come from government.