Archive for the Separation of Church and State Category

Prop 8, Abortion and Separation of Church and State

Posted in Abortion, Prop 8, Separation of Church and State, Tax Exempt Status of Churches on November 23, 2008 by americanexile

A few days ago I posted a response to a discussion taking place on another blog. The topic was California’s Proposition 8, an amendment to the CA state constitution which bans gay marriage. As we all know the CA electorate passed this amendment at the Nov 4th election. I am presenting a version of a conversation that ensued after my comments were posted regarding Prop 8, edited for clarity except where I couldn’t figure out what the commentors actually meant.

Proposition 8, California
Early on in this discussion there were mixed remarks, some supporting the ban some decrying it and a large number who hung out in the middle on this issue saying they want gays to have equal rights but not via contractual marriage…something like equal, but separate. .sort of like what was proposed back in the 50’s and 60’s when school segregation was the issue. I’ll start with my somewhat novel response/idea for settling this dilemma in a way that doesn’t require legislation but rather removes an existing legally sanctioned practice in the US and elsewhere (applicable only in the US in this discussion).

Americanexile:
The simple answer to this dilemma (traditional marriage and Prop 8 is to abolish all marriage contracts and eliminate contractual marriage … a legal entity that has never made one scintilla of sense to me in the 65 years of my life. There is no reasonable argument to be made that sufficiently explains why anyone would want to join their life through a legal contract with another person!! If love and committment prevail then the relationship will last, held together by the power of that love. If, as occurs in 50% or more of all legal marriages, the relationship fails then the two parties can work out their demise in private without the expense and display of a legal divorce to undo the contract. Custody of children can be worked out ahead of time with a prebirth contract, or not. Children in the current system are simply used as weapons in a divorce, so a private resolution couldn’t be any worse. Or, my personal favorite solution is that the person leaving the relationship always gets the children unless otherwise mutually agreed to. In divorce, no one wins. If settlement is done privately without the curse of divorce proceedings the outcome, while perhaps not perfect, will be better than the notoriously failed outcomes of the current system. Also this eliminates the need for constitutional amendments to grant marriage to some (with its attending legal benefits, tax, social security survivorship, etc.), while refusing it to others thereby violating the equal protection clause of the US Constitution. Folks can still marry in the eyes of God, have big church weddings and all that stuff. There just will not be that nasty little legal document called the marriage license/certificate. Being fairly familiar with the Bible I am quite sure neither God nor Jesus say that marriage must be attended by a legal contract with the state. And all you good Christians out there can walk your talk about traditional marriage and the queers can do their thing. A good solution I’d say.

Here are some of the responses:
Comment by foobar – November 19, 2008 @
Except that contractual marriage (or civil unions, which the gay folks in CA already have) is good for society in that it establishes things like inheritance and property laws. In the case of heterosexual couples it also establishes paternity and custody laws as regards children.

Comment by Brent – November 19, 2008 @
In my opinion, one of the main reasons these people want their marriages to be recognized is to enjoy (?) the same benefits that traditional couples receive. If this is really the case, how would we keep track of who is really married and who isn’t with your “good solution” to receive these so-called benefits?

Response by Americanexile:
I guess I didn’t make myself clear. Without contractual marriage there would be no special benefits for anyone. The playing field would be level. So there is no need to “keep track” of anything. In my solution inheritance would go to the beneficiary in ones will .. pure and simple. No will, then all assets would go to the state. Property would be governed by a partnership agreement, like the ones which currently exist when two or more people purchase a piece of property together. They form a partnership at the time of purchase, the share distribution is established in the document and the purchasing shareholders sign the agreement if they choose and the partnership document then governs or rules all aspects of the property. I own several pieces of real estate in partnership with various individuals and we drew up such arrangements, agreed to the terms, signed the documents and the property is held by the partnership not any one shareholder. Very simple and effective.
A word about paternity: DNA establishes biological paternity. A simple and direct response to the concerns about paternity and custody… you certainly do not need a contract of marriage to be a parent and have custody. Just look around you! I bet you can name more than one parent you know who has one or more children, with full custody who has NEVER been married. In my opinion, proof that contractual marriage is not necessary and thus laws governing paternity and custody not necessary. Children are conceived every day among folks who never intend to marry each other. Raising children and maintaining families are acts of the heart founded on the power and grace of love. There is no law which can over-ride this basic reality. Marriage certificates and custody documents are otherwise useless except as weapons. I am certain this solution will never be considered but I firmly believe it is the best answer. I am single and have been in a monogomus relationship for 27 years. We have two children. We own two homes held in partnerships. We simply work together as a family. It hasn’t always been easy but very rewarding. I am very proud of us! We don’t have the opportunity to whack each other over the head with threats and documents. We are forced by design to make it work or cut our losses and leave. We both are equally affected.

Comment by dsgawrsh — November 19, 2008
….. as you know these gay activists make me sick. They only serve to uphold the biases that people have towards gays. Gay marriage sure looks like a great thing to give to people who have absolutely no respect for other people’s beliefs. I agree with the other commentors about contractual marriage. It may be the best thing for the society we now live in. As a gay person, I have no problem with Christian people wanting to define marraige in a legal way, I just don’t believe it should be an amendment to a constitution. Perhaps a proclamation?

Comment from dsgawrsh, again:
“Gay marriage sure looks like a great thing to give to people who have absolutely no respect for other people’s beliefs”.
Americanexile:
I guess I am lost on this one. Maybe this comment is tongue in cheek… I’ll assume he/she is talking about gays disrespecting the heterosexual beliefs? Huh??? If that is what the message is.. I must protest! When the beliefs of others in the USA serve to shape public policy and enact laws which oppress other tax paying members of the USA then there is a big problem with beliefs as exercised in this manner. I surely do not object to their beliefs but when their beliefs serve to oppress others and especially when couched in religious beliefs then we have a theocracy (like Iran and Afghanistan) which we (USA) decry as evil.

Unidentified blogger:
“I agree with the other commentors (not americanexile) about contractual marriage. It may be the best thing for the society we now live in”.
Americanexile:
This comment also has me puzzled!! Given what I proposed above just how is contractual marriage the best thing for the society we live in?? Please explain.

Comment by lindyborer — November 19, 2008
I really don’t have the answers (well, duh, right?) I’m mainly more interested in the story from the whole double standards in media/bias perspective. I definitely think this would be above-the-fold news on every paper across America if conservatives were the ones doing the bashing. I most defintely realize that all gays cannot and should not be tarred by the same brush; the haters in San Fran are a fringe minority and not representative of gays in general.
Part of me is wanting to say, Yeah, what’s the point of a marriage contract if people abuse it so much, and respect it so little? Again, I really don’t know.

Americanexile responds:
I agree gay activists go over the top sometimes. But I also recall from the sixties the many times blacks were asking for and sometimes simply acting on the rights they were entitled to under our constitution .. (Rosa Parks). I remember sitting in the front of the bus, my white little face puzzled as to why there was a line across the floor in front of the rear seats labeled (colored only). When I asked my mom or dad I was immediately hushed up. Harsh stares were shot my way and clearly my parents were embarrassed and uncomfortable. I never was given a credible answer. As time passed I noticed a fuming rage forming among the black people in our community. And I understood their anger for I had been witness to their oppression up close and personal. Excuses ranged from they are not really human to God didn’t intend them to have the same rights as whites because if He did we’d all be the same color. SO today the same is true for gays. They have been marginalized and shamed for centuries. And leading the charge has always been religious zealots, Catholic, Protestant, Jews and Muslims. Religious beliefs are just that, beliefs, subject to a plethora of interpretation! And as such have no place in shaping laws and public policy of the land, anywhere .. hence the separation of church and state…a tenet in the constitution the current supreme court and courts of the past seem to have excised from that document. There is also “equal protection”. Once we stray from it, “open season” on all groups could follow. I am certain a reason can be found to exclude just about anyone who is not a white christian in good standing. So if the activists go over the top and make you sick, I can appreciate that BUT on the other hand I understand why they are so pissed off. AND their wrath is justly directed at the Mormon church and other religious organizations who spend money to support amendments to state constitutions which deny an entire group of full tax paying citizens of our country’s “equal protection” clause. This is particularly galling when you take into account that these churches (Mormons and many others) are tax exempt. In other words a strong argument can be made that the money not paid in taxes by the church is used by the church to promote denying equal protection under the law to those who do pay taxes. The gay citizens are in effect supporting their own opression via tax laws. Which leads me to say for any church actively engaging in shaping public policy or contributing to any political campaign or even speaking politics (including abortion and gay marriage) from the pulpit should be be denied their tax exempt status. Period! If they pay taxes like any other corporation and are subject to the same rules as business corporations then they can speak and act politically all they want to. But no tax exemptions!!!! Again I am sure I am way ahead of my time with these remarks but I have been an out of the box critical thinker all my life. But at the end of the day I believe in equal rights for everyone .. no exceptions. I want fairness for everyone, even those I disagree with. I soundly reject special entitlements for anyone or any group. AND BTW I am not a liberal. I support capital punishment, reject welfare, support fiscal conservatism (personally and institutionally), reject regulation (though I see why it is necessary). So there…Just my ideas. Thanks for your attention.

Another unidentified blogger:
Americanexile, I understand what you are saying about activism and I understand why gay people are so enraged, but there is a big difference between Rosa Parks not getting up from her seat or blacks sitting at meal counters and refusing to get up and what these gay activists are doing. You don’t win respect by being as disrespectful as possible. I live my life in such a way that people question their core beliefs because I don’t fill a pre-conceived mold. A pastor at a church I wanted to attend found himself in this dilemma. He couldn’t believe that he had baptized a woman who was co-habitating and not a very good person and yet he is told by his church that I cannot become a member because I’m gay and living the “lifestyle”. If more gay people did that, possibly we would see some laws change. But if you scare the masses by acting like idiots, you aren’t going to get anywhere.
Americanexile comments:
Rosa Parks .. You miss the point here. I cited Rosa Parks case because she was in fact violating no laws .. religious, moral or political and yet was jailed because she pressed against her oppressor. In effect that is what the San Fran extremist are doing. I agree it is not a good plan in many ways but their cause is just and as the history of civilization proves people engage in extreme behaviors when oppressed as gays have been throughout history. Your point, (You don’t win respect by being as disrespectful as possible) however, is a good one. As an aside, just what kind of pastor would admonish himself/herself for baptizing a woman they deemed somehow unfit and you for being gay?? I find it incredulous that a church would stray so far from the teachings of Christ to be so judgemental. Further, please understand that it is egregious judgmental acts such as this by an institution (tax exempt) which drives oppressed people to behave in such disrespectful ways.
This same blogger goes on to say:
And I disagree with churches losing their tax exempt status over talking about gay marriage or abortion. Those have become political issues, but in and of themselves are not political. Americanexile –
I’ll add here that it has been the churches who have politicized these issues.
This same blogger:
There is a difference between telling people who to vote for or what to vote for and preaching that you believe gay marriage and abortion is wrong.
Americanexile
– I can concede this point only if you mean they are unacceptable practices for members/ practitioners of a certain religion. BUT if the religion/church goes outside the congregation and uses their money to influence public policy and laws which affect the rights of other members of the larger population which do not accept those creeds then that is stepping over the line because the great ruling institutional governor of all Americans is the US Constitution…. I repeat, the US Constitution, which guarantees “equal protection under the law” to all people of this nation. So the tax exempt status is by act and deed waived for those churches/religions who violate this article of the constitution. Personally, I have mixed feelings on both these issues, especially abortion, yet the clarity of this argument is not difficult for me to understand. As I stated earlier if a church/religion wants to go into the politics of these issues then they are free to do so, it’s just that if/when they do they are no longer tax exempt because tax exempt organizations must not promote political agendas which violate the US Constitution. No one is saying a church/ religion can’t express their beliefs, in a big way, if they desire .. in other words what I am saying is in no way a effort to silence religious people, zealots or otherwise. It’s just that the church/religion will have to pay taxes just like any other business … such as a political action committee or WalMart. This is not a freedom of thought or speech issue.
Americanexile comments further:
When a church and/or a religion is tax exempt they are limited in their mission and cannot act as a political action group. This is all part of the definition of being tax exempt. When they use funds/money retained in their coffers because they did not pay taxes, to promote a political agenda (no matter how that agenda emerged) then they have crossed over a legal line. They then are acting as a PAC . political action group. There is no splitting hairs on this, in my opinion. I must concede your point about preaching their views of gay marriage and abortion. It is not appropriate, however, in the iconic nation of freedom to whack people over the head with this and is clearly illegal in terms of tax exemption to promote laws that rob select groups of their constitutional rights. If that is the case and I am wrong then hello TALIBAN.

Comment by dsgawrsh — November 20, 2008 @
Thank you for saying so well what is a very valid point regarding abortion and gay marriage becoming political issues, although they are not political in and of themselves. And to Americanexile: I think that you are one of a large number of people who have totally butchered the meaning of “separation of church and state.” (Respectfully, of course.) I will not go into it here, because people have written entire books on the subject.
Americanexile:
Butchered? Really! Well here it is from the horse’s mouth. I get my information by going directly to the source, the US Constitution. Please read it for yourself. As for interpretation I offer a portion of the contents of a letter written by a founding father, Thomas Jefferson.
“The phrase separation of church and state is generally traced to the letter written by Thomas Jefferson in 1802 to the Danbury Baptists, in which he referred to the First Amendment to the United States Constitution as creating a “wall of separation” between church and state. The phrase was then quoted by the United States Supreme Court first in 1878, and then in a series of cases starting in 1948.
Separation of church and state is a political and legal doctrine that government and religious institutions are to be kept separate and independent from each other. The term most often refers to the combination of two principles: secularity of government and freedom of religious exercise.

Unidentified blogger comments:
Since the birth of our country we have depended upon religion–all kinds, but mainly Christianity-to uphold morality and goodness in our land.

Americanexile responds:
Two comments: 1. to uphold morality and goodness?? Well if that is the case religion has been a colossal failure!!! 2. Also I must beg to differ here on the heart of your statement.. speaking for myself I find people divorced from organized religion to be far more moral, tolerant and good than I do most religious folks who seem to always have beneath their good acts the idea they are making points with God and further and seek to convert the infidels. Moving closer to the TALIBAN. They are judgmental and intolerant in the extreme. This of course does not apply to all people of religious conviction but these are the squeeky wheels and those (Christians) who are not aligned with them seem to sit back in silence. And silence is death!!!
More from Americanexile:
A recently published book called “Society Without God” by Phil Zuckerman presents a very convincing case that the idea that faith in God is the foundation of civil society is nothing more that a well-subscribed and strangely American delusion. Having said that I believe a relationship with God is the greatest gift one can have. But it is personal .. It is grounded in ones experience with God which is unique to the individual. So we don’t need the cookie cutter, organized religion, to tell us about our relationship with God. I see no need for some puffed up potentate to tell me the meaning of God in my life nor how I am to be with God and God in me. And I am not whacking anyone over the head with this idea. I respect the spiritual journey of all. But just as I stay out of religious beliefs in the political life of this nation (Thank you, but no thank you) I expect the same from everyone else in the USA.

From another blogger who wishes to remain anonymous:
To totally divorce govt. and religion (as is incrementally happening) I believe has led to an overall deterioration of our country’s moral fiber.
Americanexile:
I cite the above publication“Society Without God” by Phil Zuckerman . In addition I invite you to present your credible evidence to support this statement. Your statement implies this is merely a personal observation or opinion.
More from the same blogger:
It is and should always be wrong and illegal to force people, for example, to fund abortion through their tax dollars if they believe that it is the murder of an entirely innocent human being, even if people like you deem them “religious zealots.”
Americanexile:
I agree with this statement!!! Wholeheartedly!!! I feel the same about using my tax money (and I pay a lot) to support the killing of Iraqi’s –civilian and otherwise – who are innocent of the false accusations which brought the USA to kill 30 to 50K of them, many of which were children and babies. I am assuming the religious zealot reference is out of context here. I have used that term but your use of it here doesn’t seem to fit. I am sure you will explain. As for tax dollars paying for abortions..I agree with that but the anti -abortionist want the entire practice criminalzed. That is my objection. The law should not reach into the private sector and criminalize abortion among those who use their own money to obtain an abortion. Fair enough?
You also said:

Americanexile note: This quote was clipped from a statement I made earlier (see above). The blogger responds … sorta sideways … maybe??
“AND their wrath is justly directed at the Mormon church and other religious organizations who spend money to support amendments to state constitutions which deny an entire group of full tax paying citizens of our country’s ‘equal protection’ clause.”
Blogger:
I really don’t know where your beliefs lay regarding abortion, but if you happen to be pro-abortion, this statement becomes almost laughable, for obvious reasons.
Americanexile:
Actually I was talking mainly about gay marriage. But since you mention abortion I’ll respond to that in this context. I have very mixed feelings about abortion. At this point I am on the fence about it. I strongly object to the government having any control over a persons body. If in fact abortion violates God’s law then the abortionist and ex-pregnant woman will have to answer to that higher power. It is no skin off my hide. To cast abortion in the broad context you have done here is simply unrealistic and bears no meaning in the life of America today. I cite as example that abortion has been legal for several decades and I see no evidence to support your claim that we are in moral decay any more than we have always been.. for 200 plus years of this country. Far more immoral acts and laws have been before us, in America, in the past .. I cite legally sanctioned slavery for starters.
Blogger:
Again, if the church is suddenly not even allowed to direct the morality of its people, who is? Americanexile :
The church is free to direct whatever, but when what they direct violates articles/amendments to the US Constitution well then it is the WalMart tax code for them.
Blogger:
The government? That hasn’t worked yet.
Americanexile:
And neither has religion!
Blogger:
When the government begins to decide that tax money will be spent unscrupulously (see Obama, Hyde Amendment), it is currently fine for anyone to disagree with it BUT the church (the “white Christians in good standing”)
Americanexile:
No one says you can’t disagree with it! Of course you can!!! By all means you can!!!! I think you miss my point. Its just that when ones(or a group) views promote and support legislation such as amendments to the US Constitution, especially when that legislation will deny other members of the governed (who pay taxes just as anyone else) then that tax exempt entity has stepped beyond the bounds of tax exempt status. It is not ridiculous. If however you wish waive taxes of all kinds for gay people then maybe they will be willing to consider forfitting some of their constitutional rights for your gay marriage amendment.
Blogger:
That’s ridiculous, and taking “separation of church and state” to ludicrous extremes. It leads to moral relativism, and that is where our country is headed at this point.
Americanexile:
Read the above entry about what Thomas Jefferson had to say about separation of church and state and get back to me on the “ludicrous extremes” statement.
Honestly, do you believe you are being unbiased and fair with these statements? Do you truly think many people will be influenced to come to your side with such narrow ideas for ruling our country?? I think not!!! Where is the compassion of Jesus in all this?? I am truly nonplussed at your attitude. And I’ll add our system of government is NOT a theocracy. That is what muslims embrace in Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan. Remember Shia vs. Sunni law??? And then there are the Turks. Frankly, I don’t believe anyone or any institution can or even should take on directing morality, here or anywhere else.
Same blogger:
Aside from that caveat, it is interesting to me that very little people (both reporting about this and protesting it) have directed any attention to the 70% of African American voters and churches who supported Proposition 8 (who also comprised over 90% Obama voters.)
Americanexile:
What you say is true but has no relevance in this discussion. Slavery was supported by the founding fathers but clearly was wrongheaded, immoral and in fact I think you will agree, violates the teachings of Jesus Christ, your lord. I rest my case!
It is surprising, however, how short sighted some folks can be (blacks). I grew up in the south and recall vividly the screams of black on white rape fears, whites being murdered in their sleep by “niggers”, economic ruin, and on and on, that morality would greatly suffer if blacks and whites attended school together. These are similar to the statements you make with regard to morality. Many blacks simply fail to see their own past or choose to turn a blind eye to this. I suspect many will oppose gay marriage for fear if they support it they will be labeled “queer”, just like whites who supported desegregation were called “nigger lovers”, and every other derogatory name in the book.
Another blogger jumps in:
I commend your very open mind and outside-the-box thinking, but would graciously caution you with the age-old axiom of being “so open-minded your brains fall out.” I’m not mocking you; Americanexile:
Yes you are, but its okay, I find the humor in it as well.
Same blogger:
I truly believe that the current goal of “open-mindedness” at any and all costs is the reason people can’t hug anymore for fear of being arrested or some such nonsense. Someone, after all, might get offended.
Americanexile:
Tell that to one or all of the thousands of children who were hugged inappropriately by their Catholic priests – supposedly “men of God”. Being offended is not the issue. The issue is grounded in the fact that many men have turned a gesture of love, support and caring into an excuse to sexually fondle and grope others (boys, girls and women)who are down on the power scale or somehow subordinate to them. You know this is true so please do not characterize the acts as simply offenses. They are crimes against everyone molested and humanity in general. It is indeed unfortunate that these molesters have compromised well intended displays of love and caring. You should be dealing with these guys instead of complaining here.
Same blogger:
At some point, carried to the extreme, open-mindedness eradicates “right” and “wrong”.
Americanexile: What?

Comment by lindyborer — November 20, 2008
I’d like to comment on Americanexile’s comment #4. I believe you just made the case that this issue is much to do about nothing. After all, if as you state, we can abolish marriage and those who would like to join can do so and enjoy the same legal protections such as property rights etc., then gays can also have those same legal protections now without the union being called marriage.
Americanexile:
Please reread my comments. I did not say anything about “those who would like to join, etc…” I simply said all legal contractual marriage should be abolished. Period!! If I led you astray let me clarify. The entire institution of legal marriage should be abolished. No contracts between the two parties should exist with the state. Celebratory weddings can still be had but no signing of contracts (marriage certificates which creates a legal bond with the parties).

Another blogger:
I really do not understand what protections or rights a married couple has that any other two individuals wouldn’t be able to create through legal documentation.
Americanexile:
Oh dear!!! I’ll cite social security benefits for starters, because it is huge. If a gay person dies their partner is ineligible to collect on the deceased person’s social security as is granted to couples who are legally married. If, in a married couples situation, the husband dies his widow can collect a portion of his social security benefits until her death. Legal marriage grants her that benefit. By eliminating marriage as a legal entity the benefits from her dead husband would not exist. She would be ineligible to collect on his benefits along with her own. This is how it currently is for gay couples who are not allowed to marry .. when their partner passes away the surviving partner cannot make claim to any portion of the deceased partners social security benefits. I think you’d have to agree this cannot simply be fixed through creative legal documentation. Further, check out the new state laws in Virginia and see how awful it really gets.
Same blogger:
I think this is purely a way for those who hate the religious right to stick it to them.
Americanexile:
The only reason the religious right enters the picture at all is because they chose to walk into it. I do not want to stick it to the religious right. I do, however, wish they would focus on taking care of ALL the unwanted children in this country .. black and white. While there are a few white Christian families who will give a black baby/child a good home most of them will take only a white child and stand by a black child making snarky remarks about the birthmother being a black crack-head and ho. I’ve heard this enough to know it is true. Black families also reject white babies for adoption. Recalling the words of my favorite childhood hymn “Jesus Loves the Little Children”…. “red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight….” Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
With all the tax exempt money going into churches I’d like them a lot more if they’d try to help these innocent born children as much as they claim to want to protect the unborn… and stay out of other peoples lives, those not of their religious persuasion.

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