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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Can faith-based groups discriminate? Should they be allowed to?

More accurately, What is a religion?

On August 14, PBS's "Religion and Ethics Newsweekly" had a story about faith-based groups that get public funds, but have discriminatory hiring standards.

Apparently, the 1964 Civil Rights act actually permits faith-based groups to have discriminatory hiring. Good? Bad? Proper?

What about federal funding? Is it fair, or appropriate, for federal funding to go to groups with this type of hiring? Should the federal funding come with a "you must not take advantage of a 50 year old law with flaws"? Should that law be fixed?

Well, what does the constitution say? Amendment one is pretty clear. The federal government has no authority to say "You are a religion" and "You are not". If someone says that they are a religion, and the federal government says "No, you're not", then the government is saying what is and is not a valid religion. That's a very steep, slippery slope that has no bottom in sight.

Yes, the IRS tries to claim that Scientology isn't a religion, and isn't entitled to religious tax exemptions. The IRS is wrong. But a better question: Why do religions get a tax exemption?

Why do religions get exemptions from laws? If the first amendment prohibits the government from deciding what is and is not a religion, then anyone can claim to be a religion -- for example, a fraternity that realizes that zoning laws permit 50% more people in a building classified as a religious building deciding to call itself a religion to have a bigger membership. (That's from memory; sorry if I have a few details off, but the basics are valid. I think it was in Texas.)

Well, frankly, There should be no religious exemptions of any kind. Period.

Want to give charity organizations a tax break? Fine. Give all charities, religious or not, that break. Scientology isn't a charity, and doesn't pretend to be one. It becomes a taxable, business-oriented religion.

Want to give some kinds of organizations a hiring exemption? Ouch -- what if it's a group that believes that white males are superior to anything else, and even quotes the bible as proof? Kantankerous Kalamities Kan follow such a determination. But if you allow faith-based exempions from the law, you have to permit such organizations.

Should tax dollars go to fund charitable organizations that are faith based? The real question is, should tax dollars go to fund charitable organizations? "Faith based" should not ever enter the picture.

The real answer is simple: Federal funds should go to people; people should give as they choose to various charities. If donations to charities are income-tax deductible, fine. Let that be the -- as in only -- source of public funds to charities.  Instead of funding charities, the government should run similar programs itself.

Federal funds should go to people. That's a theme that I'll keep harping back on. Right now you have "Tax and spend", and "Don't tax, don't spend". Micro-economics teach that "Tax and redistribute" is better. Right now you have federal funds going to banks, and large companies that get federal contracts, on the theory that this will result in hiring people, and that will get federal funds to the people. That's a demonstrated failure. Federal funds needs to go directly to the people, and not indirectly through banks and companies that pay their boards/bosses big salaries and hire cheap foreign workers.

Does this mean no direct federal spending? Schools? Roads? Etc? What about the USA's bill for clean air? (Oh, that's right -- we currently don't pay for our air. No cost to just burn a ton of coal and put lots of CO2 into the air.) No. Government spending on things that are directly beneficial to society as a whole -- and that includes education, transportation, etc., and the infrastructures for those industries -- that's fine. See "Promote the general welfare" and "for ourselves and our posterity". Spending on things that help the next generation, before they have any chance to speak up, that's fine, at least as far as the preamble and overall scope of the constitution is concerned. Whether or not it satisfies Article one's list of powers of Congress? Schools almost certainly do not. Roads do.

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