October 10, 2006

Exempting religion.

Is there any explanation for why I haven't been linking to the NYT's series on government and religion?
Part 1: As Exemptions Grow, Religion Outweighs Regulation
Part 2: Where Faith Abides, Employees Have Few Rights
Part 3: As Religious Programs Expand, Disputes Rise Over Tax Breaks
I think it's that I've been teaching my "Religion and the Constitution" class this semester, and this material felt like extra readings from a different part of the course. Today, we reach the material on exempting religion from generally applicable laws. I'm mainly writing this post to preserve those three links. I still haven't read the articles. Later.

Part 4: Religion-Based Tax Breaks: Housing to Paychecks to Books


George said...
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George said...

Taken purely as a human recreation, what could be more delightful, more unexpected than to enter a venerable and lavishly sealed building kept warm and clean for use one or two hours a week and to sit and stand in unison and sing and recite creeds and petitions that are like paths worn smooth in the raw terrain of our hearts. To listen, or not listen, as a poorly paid but resplendently robed man strives to console us with scraps of ancient epistles and halting accounts, hopelessly compromised by words, of those intimations of divine joy that are like pain in that, their instant gone, the mind cannot remember or believe them. . .to pay, for all this, no more than we are moved to give--surely in all democracy there is nothing like it. Indeed, it is the most available democratic experience.

John Updike, from a short story in the collection "Pigeon Feathers"

John Thacker said...

I find it rather interesting that the articles and the quoted scholars imply that religious exemptions from various regulations invariably break down separation of church and state, especially when they have to do with how the churches run internal business, such as treating their employees. Surely separation of church and state means something like the churches don't interfere with the state's business, and the state doesn't interfere with religion.

Of course, these scholars are assuming that it is the state's business to determine how all employees are treated, even if they are church employees. Still, that isn't precisely separation. It seems like the concern is more of the churches being too separate, being too uncontrolled by the state and too powerful.

tjl said...

The NYT wants to remind you that the experience beautifully described by Updike is made possible only by giving religious bodies blanket exemptions from the NYT's cherished regulatory schemes. Whoever thought up this series gets to kill two birds with one stone -- exalting agressive state regulatory power while bashing organized religion. That reporter will end up on the Editorial Board.

Sometimes the NYT's ideological biases crop up in an article in such a knee-jerk way that it's almost entertaining. This morning the architecture critic, Nikolai Ourossoff, turns a review of an new apartment tower into a little leftist lecture explaining that great height is appropriate to buildings that have a public use but should not be allowed for the suspect purpose of housing the self-indulgent rich. You can imagine self-indulgent NYT readers sensing a frisson of self-righteousness as they read this in their well-appointed high-rise Manhattan co-ops.

AJ Lynch said...

I am stating the obvious but you made it more apparent by simply bulleting the 3 articles to date.

It seems the NYT decided to write about religion so no one could say the NYT does not write about or know about religion. However, the NYT could not resist pointing out all the horrors of religion per the NYT's dogma.

Maxine Weiss said...

Hey Mr. Updike/George:

You can do all that in the privacy of your own home.

If you need extra encouragement, there's the Sunday programs on TV, and confession can be done online.


Totem poles are a religious symbol that the Government has no problem displaying on public property.

Indian Reservations are religious land, that the Government had no problem buying up and giving to a definite religious creed---a religious creed who pays no property, or other taxes.

Clearly some religions are favored over others.

Peace, Maxine

Dave said...

I'm no friend to religion but even I think the Times' articles are really rather stupid.

Kent said...

Some years back, George Will (I think) told the story of how Ivan the Terrible was out with his thugs burning villages when he encountered a Holy Man. Apparently the Russian reverence for more-or-less-deranged religious figures goes back well before Rasputin: This Holy Man was crazy enough to confront Ivan face-to-face.

"Ivan, it is enough. Go home."

Ivan went home.

In an age of oppressive regulation and increasing centralization (not to say politicization) of all societal activites in Washington, there is something to be said for the ability of our Holy Men to say, "Sam, it is enough. Go home."

Joe said...

What struck me wasn't how unfair it was for religions to get the breaks, but how overregulated private industry is.

Freeman Hunt said...

What struck me wasn't how unfair it was for religions to get the breaks, but how overregulated private industry is.

I kept thinking the same thing. Somehow I doubt that's what the NYT intended.

Fitz said...

Women Chaplin’s on a Catholic campus? Age discrimination suits brought when a new Minister is hired over an old one by a congregation. Disability Act lawsuits brought when an applicant for a religious sisterhood is not accepted for ordination? This illustrates how multiple laws and State encroachment can effectively dictate a religions basic character and violate the first amendment.
More to the point of the Times Bias however is the reinforcement and propagation of the idea that these age old exemptions are:
#1, Something unusual, unwarranted, recent
#2. Being abused by these groups.
The times is setting a tone I believe for rolling back these exemptions.
Here is Maggie Gallagher’s critique (one I support wholeheartedly)

“You've probably already noticed that enormous number of pages the NYT is devoting to the question of "special favors" for religious groups: big stories "Religion Outweighs Regulation" on Sunday and "Employees Have Few Rights" on Monday. (Are we done or can we expect front page stories all week?)
Is this a declaration of war against conscience exemptions in law? (and gee, could it have anything to do with the gay marriage debate?) The most striking new "framing" development in this piece is the attempt to describe religious exemptions as part of a general collapse of "separation of church and state." Whereas, for most of our history, they were understood to be necessary parts of keeping the government from becoming too involved in regulating church affairs. Keep watching.”

George said...


I'm sure there are excesses involved in some of the church and synagogue activities described in the NYT series.

Religious establishments, their leaders, and members do many wonderful things for people—such as visiting the sick and dying in hospitals, comforting the bereaved, visiting shut-ins and prison inmates, feeding the homeless, repairing homes damaged by storms, and so forth.

I would respectfully submit that the above activities cannot be performed by individuals sitting at home alone watching television.

Donald Douglas said...

Thanks for preserving the links! Certainly saving a good link is an blogging bonus! Now, if I can take the time myself and go back and read the NYT series! I've spent more time myself on this week's LAT series on Russia's dying population (reading and blogging), but now that that's done, I'll go ahead and bone up on religion and the Constitution! Your class sounds interesting, by the way. We literally just hit the tip of the iceberg of civil liberties in my introductory American gov't courses (what was the Lemon test thing again!).

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