A number of churches have asked for and received a small exemption in the Affordable Care Act that would prevent them from having to "pay for" health insurance that included coverage for contraception, citing a religious problem with "providing" such coverage. The exemption will essentially create a small side insurance plan, that will cover contraception, anyway, and relieve such churches from feeling as if they're doing something that goes against their dogma.
Forget the act that these churches are employers in this situation, and they aren't actually paying for anything; it's part of the employee's compensation package. It's still another case of religion pushing its way into the political arena and using political power to get its way. If the people who are actually buying these insurance policies think contraception is wrong, they have the option of not using that service; it shouldn't be up to an employer to tell them what they can and cannot use, based on that employer's personal religious beliefs. If I work for a Jehovah's Witness, does he get to nix blood transfusions? In other words, how far do we go with this?
It's funny that so many Christian churches, led by the Catholic Church, suddenly have a problem with our health insurance system. Private insurance companies have almost always covered contraception; why is it suddenly a problem? Because the government is mandating coverage. It's political, and they need to stay out of it.
The hypocrisy is incredible. What religious doctrine mandates support for our old system, which guaranteed health insurance companies obscene profits in return for NOT providing health care those who needed it? Since most people in this country claim to be Christian, where in the New Testament does Jesus Christ forbid a public health insurance option to make sure everyone gets health care? Why do Christians only now suddenly have a problem with the health insurance system, now that we're fixing it?
For that matter, why do so many supposedly Christian churches support Republicans who cut spending on programs most needed by the poor? Would Jesus really think it was a good idea to tax the average family more, so that BP and ExxonMobil can have a few billion extra every year?
Why are so many religious groups allowed to become so political, when it's expressly forbidden in our Constitution? And why are they allowed to be so nasty about the politics, without any contradiction by the rest of us? Most of those who have compared Obama to Hitler claim to be strong "Christians." Most of the teabaggers who happily pose for photos with large photos of President Obama with a bone in his nose almost always profess their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
These people are also far too happy to give God credit for their political leanings. God Himself supposedly told George W. Bush to invade Iraq and "shock and awe" them, just to get one guy. Bush called the invasion of Afghanistan a "crusade," until someone with a brain told him that wasn't wise. Presumably, the Lord also told him to hand out hundreds of billions of dollars in no-bid contracts to his biggest supporters and to call everything "faith-based" to give it a veneer of credibility. Based on what these so-called "Christians" tell us, God sees fit to make sure his rich followers have plenty of money by taking funds away from the poor. Maybe he feels sorry for them, right? I mean, Jesus did supposedly say it was easier for a camel to walk through the eye of a needle than for rich folks to get to heaven. Maybe they figure the rich are screwed for eternity, so why not coddle them now?
At what point do we say enough? At what point do we enforce the Constitutional separation of church and state, and demand that politicians leave their faith at the door of the Capitol once again?
I get that the First Amendment guarantees everyone has the right to believe anything they want, and to act on that, as long as it doesn't affect public safety and security. (No virgin sacrifices guys, sorry.) But that's not the end of the deal. In return for being allowed to believe whatever they want, and for keeping government out of their religious business, religious groups also promise to keep their personal religion out of the public debate. They also get to pay zero taxes in return for that simple promise.
Tax-free status for churches is given to churches as a courtesy, as the government keeps its side of a constitutional bargain. It's subject to the social contract implied by the Constitution and it is subject to regulation. Just as I can't stand on your lawn and preach at 3 a.m., and I need a permit to hold a parade, religious groups also have to promise to abide by certain rules to exercise their First Amendment rights and especially to keep their status as tax exempt. One of those rules is to stay out of politics.
Since the dawn of the neocon era, the separation of church and state seems to have been forgotten. Not only are religious groups not abiding by the simple rules asked of them, but the have more influence than ever in the political arena, with Christian religions having more influence than all other religions; a direct violation of the Constitution that ALL politicians swore an oath to uphold.
As a result of this unconstitutional power, we are now faced with the spectacle of religious groups advocating for laws designed to take civil rights away from certain groups of people. We're not talking about individuals here; The Mormon, and Catholic Churches, among many others, have actively engaged in political campaigns to ban gay marriage, and that has absolutely nothing to do with religious practice. Even if you believe homosexuality is a sin, Jesus Christ Himself -- perhaps you've heard of Him? -- instructed His followers to separate the sin from the sinner. Therefore, not only is no religious purpose being served, but they're actually acting against their own stated religious beliefs. The denial of civil rights to anyone, including those whom you have judged as sinners, is a political position. And that is against the rules.
When religious organizations act more like political organizations, then they should be forced to give up their tax exemption, and start paying up. The laws already exist; churches have a choice; they can either teach religion or involve themselves in the political arena, but not both. If individual congregants want to send a check to an anti-gay marriage group, fine; they're tax-paying citizens; they're entitled to be as bigoted and narrow minded as they'd like. But religious groups and churches cannot be allowed to hide behind a tax exempt status at the same time they engage in full-fledged political discourse.
Of course, we could just stop the pretense altogether. Why do religious groups and churches get a tax exemption at all? There's nothing in the Constitution forbidding us from taxing religious organizations. To send them a tax bill for their revenues would hardly be a violation of the separation of church and state, and according to the Republicans they seem to champion, we can use the money. The tax exemption is a courtesy, and what has it gotten us? It's gotten us a national discourse in which false prophets increasingly use religious imagery to shut down debate on issues that affect everyone. Not to mention a government that, ironically (?), increasingly favors the rich and screws the poor.
If we're going to continue to perpetuate this pretense, and give religious organizations tax exemptions, force them to follow the rules they agreed to, We have to start holding hearings and stripping tax-exempt status from any church or religious group that insists on engaging in the political arena. It's absolutely wrong for churches, who agree to stay out of politics and government in return for a tax break, to violate those rules and still enjoy the tax break.
If churches insist on inserting themselves into political debates, the least they can do it pay for the privilege. Make them pay taxes.