Good Reason #9
No longer can we...

freely exercise our right (not privilege) to congregate and worship

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
—First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States

Study the Constitution! Let it be preached from the pulpit . . .
—Abraham Lincoln

a) Exemption from taxation. . . .
c) List of exempt organizations. . . .
(3) Corporations, and any community chest, fund, or foundation, organized and operated exclusively for religious . . . purposes . . . no substantial part of the activities of which is carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting, to influence legislation . . .

—Internal Revenue Code, Section 501(c)(3)

One must look hard to find violent suppressions of religious freedom in America.1 Most of the organizations tracking violations of this fundamental human right turn their eyes overseas. There they find obvious atrocities ripe for reporting.

Yet, religious repression is every bit as real and present here, although it wears the passionless face of the bureaucrat. When one of our trustees visited a Northern California church a few years ago, he encountered a sad situation. Whereas the church had once been a 501(c)(3) institution (i.e., tax-exempt), for patriotic reasons its board had decided to rescind that status.

Disallowed thereafter by the IRS from counting their offerings as tax deductions, members of its congregation soon began leaving for flocks on which Washington still bestowed its official blessing. At the time of our trustee's visit, the membership roll had shrunk to half its former size.

Just 10 years ago, only 20 percent of all religious organizations in America had sought sanctuary in 501(c)(3) status. Today that figure has quadrupled to 80 percent. Today, various major Protestant denominations and non-Christian religious institutions even employ "tax compliance officers" whose duty is ensuring their parishioners toe the line on taxes or face sanctions from their religious hierarchy.

The tug-of-war between church and state over taxes is age old: a long-established maxim of law teaches that the power to tax is the power to destroy.2 By dictating detailed and changeable rules, which religious organizations must meet to qualify for and then continue to receive their tax "dispensations," the federal government accomplishes two major objectives: it asserts its superiority and it keeps group leaders distracted. Jumping through the hoops of qualification diverts their attention away from the heart of the matter: By what authority does the IRS defy the Constitution by taxing any religious group.

Two recent U.S. Supreme Court cases offer evidence that the tax collectors are not the only ones encroaching into this once-staunchly-protected vital area of a free society,

In Employment Div., Dept. of Human Resources of Ore. v. Smith (1990), the court upheld Oregon's refusal to grant a religious exemption to members of the Native American Church for the sacramental use of peyote since that state has a ban on the drug that is "generally applicable" to all of its citizens.3

The court was severely divided on the decision, however, as shown by Justice Blackman's dissenting opinion with which two other justices joined:4

This Court over the years painstakingly has developed a consistent and exacting standard to test the constitutionality of a state statute that burdens the free exercise of religion. Such a statute may stand only if the law in general, and the State's refusal to allow a religious exemption in particular, are justified by a compelling interest that cannot be served by less restrictive means.

Until today, I thought this was a settled and inviolate principle of this Court's First Amendment jurisprudence. The majority, however, perfunctorily dismisses it as a "constitutional anomaly." . . . As carefully detailed in Justice O'Connor's concurring opinion . . . the majority is able to arrive at this view only by mischaracterizing this Court's precedents. . . .

This distorted view of our precedents leads the majority to conclude that strict scrutiny of a state law burdening the free exercise of religion is a "luxury" that a well-ordered society cannot afford . . .

On June 25, 1997, the high court relied on this troubling decision when ruling on another highly controversial religious freedom case: City of Boerne v. Flores, Archbishop of San Antonio, et al. (95-2074; 97 Daily Journal DAR 7973). In doing so, it struck down the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA), concluding that the statute "exceeds Congress' power." It summarized RFRA as prohibiting "[g]overnment" from "substantially burden[ing]" a person's exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability unless the government can demonstrate the burden "(1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest."

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor called for a reargument and reexamination of the earlier case, stating: "If the Court were to correct the misinterpretation of the Free Exercise Clause5 set forth in Smith, it would simultaneously put our First Amendment jurisprudence back on course and allay the legitimate concerns of a majority in Congress who believed that Smith improperly restricted religious liberty. . . . "

In Smith, five Members of this Court—without briefing or argument on the issue—interpreted the Free Exercise Clause to permit the government to prohibit, without justification, conduct mandated by an individual's religious beliefs, so long as the prohibition is generally applicable. . .

The decision has harmed religious liberty. For example . . . [four examples given]. These cases demonstrate that lower courts applying Smith no longer find necessary a searching judicial inquiry into the possibility of reasonably accommodating religious practice. . . . (Emphasis added.)

In Germany, they came first for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.

—Pastor Martin Niemoeller

Few Americans use peyote in their religious rituals or are denied building permits to enlarge their churches due to local historic-landmark regulations like the plaintiffs in Smith or City of Boerne. Yet, if the rest of us look on such cases as isolated anomalies in an otherwise free society, one day we will regret our dissociation.

The four other federal cases mentioned above in Justice O'Connor's dissenting opinion in City of Boerne—all of which she believed were unjustly decided due to inappropriate reliance on Smith—concerned legal questions and religious groups very different from those involved in City of Boerne and Smith. Doubtless many similar injustices are already in progress in the judicial system, while we will likely never hear of still others: The groups involved will lack the means to defend their rights and get their day in court. What do YOU think?

Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power.

America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.
—Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy In America

The trend of big government putting the squeeze on religion, its chief remaining competitor for the hearts and minds of the people, could easily become more overt if we allow it to proceed without protest. Certain of America's most influential social engineers have made it clear that they would gladly scrap freedom of religion, cherished by most of us, and implement their own policy instead: practice by permission.

In 1964, the Rockefeller and Ford foundations commissioned a research project for a "new constitution" at the Center for Democratic Studies in Santa Barbara, California. Purportedly just "an educational study," this a 10-year, new-constitution project cost them $25 million and, when complete, it was published as "Proposed Constitution For the NewStates (sic) of America" in former FDR aide Rexford Tugwell's book, The Emerging Constitution.

Tugwell told the public, "Nobody has any notion of moving for a constitutional convention." Yet that very year, Nelson Rockefeller—U.S. Vice-President and scion of one of the families that had funded the study—caused precisely such a bill to be introduced in the Senate.5

Not only would the Rockefeller-Ford constitution replace the 50 separate states with 10 large regions ("coincidentally" in place now as the 10 ZIP Code regions), substitute appointed officials for elected ones and authorize judges to grant or refuse jury trials; it also proclaims, in Article IA, Section 8, "The practice of religion shall be privileged."6

A slowly awakening America has begun to hamper the progress of these thieves of freedom, but their vast resources and dedication to their long-term plan permit them patience, flexibility and undue influence with lawmakers.

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