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Crazy Church School To Teach … Christianity

Readers, I’m writing this from the Houston airport, where I will shortly be boarding a flight to Baton Rouge. I will be home there for a few hours, then boarding a flight back to Houston. Point is, I will be away from the keys a lot today. It’s hard on a big news day to do this, but hey…

A reader sends in this jaw-dropping story from Bethesda: a church-sponsored preschool is going to start teaching the kids who attend about Jesus, and parents in the affluent DC suburb are horrified [2]:

For as long as anyone can remember, the Concord-St. Andrew’s Cooperative Nursery School has been educating young children without including much, or anything, in the way of religious instruction, say numerous parents at the school, some of whom attended when they were children. That secular approach was fine with many at the close-knit school, where families and teachers come from a range of religious, racial and ethnic backgrounds and find harmony in their divergent viewpoints.

But all of that appears primed to change.

The school community was roiled in early October when the Rev. Susan Brown, the pastor at Concord-St. Andrew’s Church, told the school’s director that beginning next academic year, “all classes will incorporate age-appropriate Christian lessons in their daily activities,” according to a letter sent to parents.

“It feels like a crusade where they’re trying to bring God to the godless nursery school,” said Kate Mueller, who is Catholic and has a 3-year-old daughter in the school. “It took so much time and energy and devotion to build what is there now, and now it’s being stomped on.”

It’s a Methodist school, but the decision by the church that runs it to make the school more Methodist is being called, get this, “un-Christian” by a non-Christian:

Darren Higgins, who has a 4-year-old at the school and describes himself as nonreligious, said a compromise at this point would not make much of a difference. He and his wife, who attended the cooperative when she was a toddler, still plan to take their child out of the school and will not send their newborn there, either.

“We wanted to give the church the benefit of the doubt, but the way the church went about it was, in short, a very un-Christian thing to do,” Higgins said. “In truth, bridges have been burned. If they wanted to resolve this amicably, it would have been a fairly easy discussion to have.

“A breach of trust has occurred.”

This change won’t take place until the fall of 2018; the school is giving the parents a year to prepare. It’s the gall of that Christian school, wanting to teach kids about Jesus! And the fact that these rich parents don’t even see how ridiculous their complaining is — man, what a world.

50 Comments (Open | Close)

50 Comments To "Crazy Church School To Teach … Christianity"

#1 Comment By jsmith On November 10, 2017 @ 10:52 am

This would be truly shocking if it were an Episcopal-sponsored school…

#2 Comment By Stephen Hoffmann On November 10, 2017 @ 10:55 am

What’s encouraging is that the pastor of a Methodist Church in the D.C. area is committed to orthodox Christianity–see the church’s website.

#3 Comment By Thomas Aquinas On November 10, 2017 @ 11:05 am

I attended an elite Catholic high school on the west coast. Every student had to take theology, including the many non-Catholics who were students. No one complained. In fact, to have complained would have given the impression that one was a willful ungracious guest who could not see that the quality of the education that drew one to the school was itself the result of the theological tradition taught in the theology classes. People had a visceral fear of being perceived as immodest and willful. Good times.

The fact is that most progressive suburbanites are theologically illiterate intolerant sycophants, who, like their European Enlightenment predecessors, have no problem aggressively colonizing cultures they believe are inferior. So, they are outraged when the “primitives” fight back.

#4 Comment By curious On November 10, 2017 @ 11:07 am

semi-related was the recent and excellent First Things podcast on the decline of Catholic Schools:

[3]

#5 Comment By DRK On November 10, 2017 @ 11:10 am

The degree of parental outrage over this action by this preschool was puzzling. But I now know why, after reading the story. It’s not because the parents are spoiled Godless rich people. It’s because the school is a co-operative. That means that parents are actually working at the school a set number of days per month. My kids were in a co-op too, and I can tell you that you get very invested in the school with that sort of setup. You know all the kids and all the teachers; it is like a family.

Announcing this change in the middle of the school year must feel like a major slap in the face to the parents of other faiths who are now being told that their kids will receive mandatory religious instruction of a faith not their own starting next year. Those parents are have signed contracts for this year obligating them to continue working at the school that’s made it clear that that they and their kids are not wanted. Of course they’re upset.

The school has every right to commence religious instruction, but the timing of their announcement is indeed hurtful and unChristian. They should have waited until this summer, when new contracts would be signed, and announced this change for 2019. After all, for 40 years they haven’t been giving those kids religious instruction. This could have waited one more year.

#6 Comment By EngineerScotty On November 10, 2017 @ 11:45 am

This liberal says that if a religious school wishes to teach the tenets of their faith, rather than a sanitized version that won’t offend secular yuppies, then more power to them!

Religious schools and churches (and the home), after all, are where religion should be taught. Their purpose ought not be so the upper middle class can avoid the local public school, but have their kiddos’ education partially subsidized at the collection plate.

#7 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On November 10, 2017 @ 11:55 am

From a constitutional republican civil libertarian Bolshevik point of view, no, it makes no sense to criticize a church for having children in its church-sponsored day care center taught about Jesus. Freedom of association, free exercise of religion. The only grain of salt I can think of is if it is a “cooperative” nursery with a self-definition that lies outside the church… then dictation from the church pastor might be objected to, also on free association grounds. But that seems tenuous.

Darren Higgins’s understanding of “Christian” and “un-Christian” seems to run along the lines of “nice” and “not-nice,” which isn’t exactly an accurate definition or understanding. (“I come not to bring peace, but a sword” to cite an extreme example.)

Of course the notion of Christianity as the dominant theme in the general culture may have contributed to this misapprehension. Like the time one woman wished another woman “Merry Christmas” and the second woman said “I’m Jewish” and the first woman said “That’s OK, as long as you’re a good Christian.”

#8 Comment By Sam M On November 10, 2017 @ 12:03 pm

“For as long as anyone can remember, the Concord-St. Andrew’s Cooperative Nursery School has been educating young children without including much, or anything, in the way of religious instruction”

Whatever else is going on, that’s some pretty lazy journalism. “As long as anyone can remember” might not be very long in a pre-school. Kids are only there a year or two, so families cycle through at a really fast clip.

Either way, to heck with the people who don’t like it. There are lots and lots of secular pre-schools in DC. Go somewhere else. I mean, let’s say my favorite pizza place decides to become falafel stand. I can keep eating there if I like falafel. If I don’t, ii can get pizza down the block. Those people have no claim on the school.

#9 Comment By JoeMerl On November 10, 2017 @ 12:06 pm

The school’s statement, from the article:

“The CSA Nursery School is not a secular organization; it operates under the church’s exempt status with all of the privileges of that status. As such, it must include religious education as part of its primary mission.”

Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but that “MUST” include religious education…does that mean something? Will the school lose tax-exempt status if it’s not being used for a religious reason? Or (to make a few more leaps), is it like what Rod has sometimes mentioned, that a school trying to protect its religious liberty has to be consistent with it? As in, if the church wants to legally prove that their beliefs are legit, they can’t run a secular school? (Or that the church THINKS this is how it works, even if it’s wrong?)

Other than that, though, I have to say…like, I get that these people are disappointed, but if you are SO turned off by religion, maybe you shouldn’t have picked a preschool run in a church? I really just don’t get this reaction. And I just have to roll my eyes at how the article ends, with a parent LITERALLY comparing the church to a Big Evil Corporation in a Hallmark movie.

#10 Comment By Gerry On November 10, 2017 @ 12:08 pm

My daughter’s preschool is in a Jewish temple. It is explicitly secular and always has been. If they suddenly decided that they were going to change this and teach Judaism for a period of time every day I would take her out of the school. Not because I have anything against Judaism but because that’s not what I signed up for. Tell me you would not do the same.

Churches are often used as public spaces for preschools and are often secular. If they want to change to a more explicitly Christian ethos that is their right. But I cannot understand how you are surprised that secular parents are not happy with this. It is their right to have their children educated as they wish, they sent their children to a secular preschool and now their lives are going to be disrupted by having to move to new schools. It’s really not that big a deal.

[NFR: Well, sure, I’d take my kid out of the school too. I might express disappointment, but I wouldn’t be all outraged about it, and act like I had been wronged. These people are mighty privileged. — RD]

#11 Comment By Egypt Steve On November 10, 2017 @ 12:11 pm

When you’re right, you’re right!

#12 Comment By Free Speech Advocate On November 10, 2017 @ 12:25 pm

Free-loading secularists need to start their own preschools. Funny how it’s those pesky religious types who even value spending actual time with that lesser life form know as CHILDREN.

#13 Comment By TW Andrews On November 10, 2017 @ 12:27 pm

I am a straight atheist and I’d be happy to have my kids learn about Jesus.

This is rediculous. Whatever your belief about the truth of the Christianity, it is undeniably a world-historic force that has shaped our culture in uncountably many ways. No education can be called complete that doesn’t include more that a passing familiarity with Jesus.

I’d get irritated if the activities set up situations where kids either needed to participate in worship in some way or feel excluded, but that doesn’t sound like what’s happening here. The school would clearly have a right to do that, but I can see parents being upset with a school that went from very notionally religious to actively pushing worship.

#14 Comment By Potato On November 10, 2017 @ 12:29 pm

It’s their church and it’s their school. I don’t see that anyone else has the right to complain. Dissidents are perfectly free to send their children elsewhere.

#15 Comment By The Rev. Susan Creighton On November 10, 2017 @ 12:31 pm

I think we’ve fallen down the Rabbit-Hole.

#16 Comment By Joe M On November 10, 2017 @ 12:46 pm

“they’re trying to bring God to the godless nursery school”

apparently!

#17 Comment By Erika On November 10, 2017 @ 1:03 pm

A mainline church in Bethesda wants to teach Christianity in the preschool that operates on its grounds — which I think is a good thing. Many of those who commented on the Post’s website calmly defended that decision — which I think is also a good thing. Some of the parents quoted for the article (and in the comments section) said that they would have welcomed closer ties to the church prior to the announcement, and that they would have reacted more favorably had the announcement been handled differently. Maybe that’s not the whole story, but it’s also not impossible to imagine.

So we can have an event that doesn’t rise to the level of an outrage, or the Post can run the story under a confrontational headline, and we can take the bait and lash back at the godless Bethesdans — some of whom belong to this church and made this change.

So much is seriously wrong now, and so many good people are quietly doing God’s work anyway, and you’ve been very good about drawing attention to those big things. Please stay the course, and don’t be quick to get angry about this story.

By the way, did you see that the students of the Georgetown student activities board voted to uphold the status of Love Saxa by a margin of 2-1? Also, thank you for your kind words about the Tocqueville Program at Notre Dame. I know someone who’s concerned about sending a child there and will appreciate the information.

#18 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On November 10, 2017 @ 1:06 pm

For preschoolers I can’t imagine that age appropriate religious instruction would amount to much. Going back along memory lane I remember singing songs like “Yes Jesus Loves Me” and making a paper cut out of Lazarus. I had no idea what it meant at the time. I do remember liking the nice ladies who ran the place.

#19 Comment By PeterK On November 10, 2017 @ 1:30 pm

“said Kate Mueller, who is Catholic”

have to wonder how strong a Catholic Ms. Mueller is

#20 Comment By Debra Kay On November 10, 2017 @ 1:49 pm

Rev 3:15-16 “I know your deeds; you are neither cold nor hot. How I wish you were one or the other. So because you are lukewarm — neither hot nor cold — I am about to spit you out of My mouth!

Forgive them Father for they know not what they do. What a sad time for the children in the world today with parents like these. The children have been tossed under the bus of a society gone crazy.

#21 Comment By Robert J. Maloney On November 10, 2017 @ 1:53 pm

Sure this isn’t a satire from the Babylon Bee?!

#22 Comment By John On November 10, 2017 @ 1:55 pm

Well, I actually can understand why the parents are upset. They enrolled their sons and daughters knowing they weren’t being taught about Jesus, which, which is a story in itself.

If this school is a Christian school why wasn’t it teaching Christianity to begin with. It aeems odd to hear if a school marketing identifying as a Christian school without exposing its students to at least a generic brand if not its own interpretation of Christian principals.

Anyway, the nonChristian parent quoted near the end made the appropriate call and decided to take the children out of the school. School officials in a religious school have a right to teach about thei religion so the only remedy for the non-Christian is to either put up with it or send their sons and daughters elsewhere.

#23 Comment By MikeCLT On November 10, 2017 @ 1:56 pm

Perhaps those parents who object to a Christian preschool teaching Christianity can inoculate their children by having them attend transgender story time at their local library?

#24 Comment By Gromaticus On November 10, 2017 @ 2:17 pm

For preschoolers I can’t imagine that age appropriate religious instruction would amount to much.

This.

It’s a freaking half-day program for two – four year old’s. Other than the nativity story and the golden rule what the heck are they going to teach?

Sorry, little Johnny can’t move on to kindergarten until he gives his oral report on Wesley’s “The Doctrine of Original Sin”

#25 Comment By TA On November 10, 2017 @ 2:38 pm

@DRK hits the heart of the issue here.

This is a cooperative school, meaning that the parents (Christian and not) have been instrumental in building it, growing it, and contributing to it’s ongoing operation.

In terms of its origin and operation, this is not so much a “church school” as it is a school created in partnership with a church.

Completely reasonable and in that church’s rights to decide to no longer want to collaborate on a school with no religious instruction, but it’s not as simple as the headline implies. This is 100% a story about how something was done, not what was done.

#26 Comment By Bob Loblaw On November 10, 2017 @ 2:41 pm

If I was sending my kid to a school knowing they taught this or that way, and then the school decided to change and teach the other way, I might be a bit upset. It’s not like the parents signed their kids up knowing they’d be teaching religion, the school clearly was not doing so, and now decides to do so. More power to the school, of course, but you have to expect some push back from the parents, who now must find another school to send their kids to, which is a giant hassle, as anyone with kids knows.

Of course, they could see it as an opportunity for their kids to learn about a religion, which is how I would see it. On that point, I agree with you. And you can bet that if the school decided to teach about Buddhism or some such other properly exotic faith, the parents would be all for it.

#27 Comment By SusanMcN On November 10, 2017 @ 2:45 pm

Newsflash: Most mother’s day out, preschool, schools, and afterschool care programs operated at religious institution campuses are subsidized by the house of worship’s members. In our parish it is about 28% of the actual cost of educating each child that is covered by the parish budget. So if you don’t want your kid to have a religious education–pony up the extra money to send them to a secular school or make do with public options. Otherwise, aren’t you just freeloading off those you think are deluded?

#28 Comment By EngineerScotty On November 10, 2017 @ 2:47 pm

I should follow-up my remarks by agreeing with others that if the school in question changed their curriculum/focus mid-year, then it’s perfectly understandable that parents who signed up for A are being told that they are getting B instead. Were I in the place of such a parent, I might withdraw my children were the new curriculum to be offensive to my values–and demand a pro-rated refund of tuition (many preschools give a discount for pre-paying for the year).

(The secular preschool my kids attended when they were young is located in a church, but not affiliated therewith. There are always concerns that the church might decide to kick them out. Doing so would be the church’s right, of course).

But assuming the rights of and obligations to current students and their families are respected, the church has the right to say what sort of instruction is offered on the premises.

#29 Comment By Criminal D Lawyer On November 10, 2017 @ 2:53 pm

Of course, they have the absolute right to teach religion, but if they’ve marketed themselves as a secular school, they should do right by the parents who relied on that.

They should delay implementation long enough for parents to get their kids into nearby pre-schools. If it’s easy for parents to switch, there’s no need to delay beyond the end of the school year. But if there’s a 2-3 year waitlist on the area, this change should be put off for that long. If they’ve solicited extra donations from parents, those should be returned on request.

And if they really believe that the tax code requires the change, that means they also must believe that they’ve been wrongly claiming tax-exempt status for years. They should pay their back taxes with penalties or drop this claim.

They have every right to make the change just because they want to. If that’s their decision, they should stand by it and not blame the government.

#30 Comment By EngineerScotty On November 10, 2017 @ 2:54 pm

[NFR: Well, sure, I’d take my kid out of the school too. I might express disappointment, but I wouldn’t be all outraged about it, and act like I had been wronged. These people are mighty privileged. — RD]

If parents had paid a year’s tuition in advance, and told that there would not be a (partial) refund offered if they were to leave, that would be an understandable objection. Might even be grounds for a lawsuit.

(Either that, or grounds for a bit of Cosimonian orthodoxy–instructing the kids to challenge loudly the teacher’s religious instruction, and then informing the teacher that until said kids are released from obligations, further such disruptions would be likely. :P)

Even if refunds were offered, doing this mid-year might still be quite disruptive, given that families might need to make new arrangements on short notice, and other preschools might not have room. (There are often strict limits an adult/children ratios, so other facilities might be full). This is especially true for co-op schools; as parents are expected to volunteer at the place as part of the deal.

[NFR: Scotty, the new policy is not going into effect until the fall of 2018. — RD]

#31 Comment By charles cosimano On November 10, 2017 @ 3:38 pm

The problem, of course, is that by teaching really small children about Jesus the run the risk of crashing into the Bible verse that says, “And when I became a man I put away childish things.”

I’m sorry, I could not resist it. The first snow of the year is making me really filled with grump. This whole thing is ridiculous. I know parents often tend be in the lower percentile of brain matter (as anyone who has had the misfortune of sitting at a table near them and their offspring who prove the wisdom of Justice Holmes when he said, “Three generations of morons is enough!” will attest) but this is abusing the privilege.

“Perhaps those parents who object to a Christian preschool teaching Christianity can inoculate their children by having them attend transgender story time at their local library?”

Taught by none other than Satan itself having a really bad horns day. What more can they wish for?

#32 Comment By EngineerScotty On November 10, 2017 @ 4:17 pm

[NFR: Scotty, the new policy is not going into effect until the fall of 2018. — RD]

Then I have no objection. First Amendment and all that. Easy call.

#33 Comment By Philly guy On November 10, 2017 @ 4:54 pm

Something about the picture… strange hair style and glasses.

#34 Comment By Gina On November 10, 2017 @ 5:18 pm

I totally understand the parents anger here. This is a co-op–teachers and principal report to the parents in most such cases, not the other way around. Parents put their kids in coops precisely in order to have a say over what and how their kids are taught. Yes, a Christian coop would presumably have some interest in teaching Christianity, but that’s not what these families signed up for.

#35 Comment By David J. White On November 10, 2017 @ 5:28 pm

Free-loading secularists need to start their own preschools. Funny how it’s those pesky religious types who even value spending actual time with that lesser life form know as CHILDREN.

Seriously.

I remember reading a few years ago about an “Atheist Monument” put up by the American Atheists, which includes various quotes from Madalyn Murray O’Hair (and possibly others). One reads, “An Atheist believes that a hospital should be built instead of a church.” Considering how many hospitals in this country were, at least originally, built, staffed, and funded by people who were also building churches, that one doesn’t pass the laugh test.

#36 Comment By midtown On November 10, 2017 @ 6:00 pm

I lived in the region for a good while. This sounds like the hyper-privileged thought process of way too many DC-area people.

#37 Comment By Jay On November 10, 2017 @ 6:49 pm

[NFR: Scotty, the new policy is not going into effect until the fall of 2018. — RD]

That doesn’t really help. In (this part of) Maryland, places in good preschools are hard to come by, especially mid-stream. These parents were probably planning on keeping their kids in this school until kindergarten and will have to scramble to find an open 3 or 4 year old slot somewhere else.

#38 Comment By Columbkille77 On November 11, 2017 @ 11:27 am

“Those parents are have signed contracts for this year obligating them to continue working at the school that’s made it clear that that they and their kids are not wanted. Of course they’re upset.”

This is factually incorrect. The school did not make it clear that they and their kids were not wanted.

#39 Comment By bd_rucker On November 11, 2017 @ 1:13 pm

This is rediculous. Whatever your belief about the truth of the Christianity, it is undeniably a world-historic force that has shaped our culture in uncountably many ways. No education can be called complete that doesn’t include more that a passing familiarity with Jesus.

This was the stance taken at the elite, private high school I went to. Predominantly secular Jewish student body, but we read the New Testament in English class and were told it was fundamental to our understanding of Western civilization. And as far as I can recall nobody complained (not even my gang of atheist punk rockers). But that was back in the 80s, when our culture was not as anti-Christian as it is now.

#40 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On November 11, 2017 @ 5:40 pm

In (this part of) Maryland, places in good preschools are hard to come by, especially mid-stream.

Cry me a river. The sense of entitlement here is overwhelming. Because good places in preschools are hard to come by, therefore a church should delay for years teaching about Jesus? Maybe parents should put up with the church being a church as the price of not losing their “really good” place in line for pre-school.

Yes, a Christian coop would presumably have some interest in teaching Christianity, but that’s not what these families signed up for.

Misapprehensions abound in all aspects of life. One lives and learns.

The first snow of the year is making me really filled with grump.

That wasn’t a snow, Charles, that was a handful of snowflakes.

#41 Comment By Jay On November 11, 2017 @ 6:11 pm

Cry me a river. The sense of entitlement here is overwhelming. Because good places in preschools are hard to come by, therefore a church should delay for years teaching about Jesus? Maybe parents should put up with the church being a church as the price of not losing their “really good” place in line for pre-school.

I agree. Of course, this is more reasonable if this argument is made up front. If they signed up for this school expecting one thing and halfway through it is switched to another they have a right to at least be annoyed.

My point is that when you enroll in a preschool it usually isn’t a year-by-year thing. You are implicitly signing on for the full ride.

#42 Comment By David J. White On November 12, 2017 @ 9:07 am

My point is that when you enroll in a preschool it usually isn’t a year-by-year thing. You are implicitly signing on for the full ride.

“Year-by-year”? I don’t have kids, so I have only my own childhood experience to go on, but is preschool really more than just one year nowadays?

#43 Comment By John J. Turner On November 12, 2017 @ 9:22 am

Robert J. Maloney says:
November 10, 2017 at 1:53 pm

Sure this isn’t a satire from the Babylon Bee?!

Robert,

Have you noticed how it is getting harder and harder to tell the difference between real news stories and the B. Bee’s stings?

#44 Comment By mzala On November 12, 2017 @ 1:11 pm

What sort of religious teaching will pre-schoolers get, someone asked above.

That’s the key question, I agree. I attended a religious pre-school, where the teacher taught us that if we didn’t “really” believe in Jesus, we were going to burn in hell.

Ask a four year old to understand what “really” believing in something means, while also telling them they will suffer eternal torment if they get it wrong? Yeah, that wasn’t harmful at all.

[NFR: How common do you think that is, really? How likely do you think it is that a Methodist church in Bethesda, Maryland, will do that? — RD]

#45 Comment By Jay On November 12, 2017 @ 4:31 pm

“Year-by-year”? I don’t have kids, so I have only my own childhood experience to go on, but is preschool really more than just one year nowadays?

Yes. [4] The school in question, for instance, has a three year curriculum for 2-4 year olds.

#46 Comment By Franklin Evans On November 14, 2017 @ 2:16 pm

JoeMerl: The tax exemption regulations are very clear. If the organization (and this applies across all non-profit types, not just religious) contradicts its stated mandate, it can be charged with fraud.

Every such operation is subject to individual scrutiny, starting with the facts it stated on its application for tax-exempt status. The school in the article will have concerns that Gerry’s choice of a Jewish temple might not have, and vice versa. Further, comparisons in this case must include details that are going to be missing in both the article and the examples Gerry and others cite.

Some local to me examples:

A community center, wholly owned and operated by a church, explicitly advertises no religious education or “intervention” for its nursery, pre-K and before/after school programs. An employee of the center was fired for violating that, after several warnings to desist.

A Jewish “Y” community center offered (no longer, alas) similar programs, and offered parents the option of including Jewish religious and cultural education; they were prepared for any parent to decline by having non-stigma separations of such children from those parts of their program.

The synagogue to which we sent our children for Hebrew school included nursery and pre-K programs, all explicitly geared towards the standard Hebrew education. Non-Jewish families signed up and were accepted only upon explicit acknowledgement that no separation of children would happen. I can think of only two such families while my children were there.

#47 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On November 14, 2017 @ 10:38 pm

If the organization (and this applies across all non-profit types, not just religious) contradicts its stated mandate, it can be charged with fraud.

That is not nearly so clear with religious organizations. There is a constitutional mandate that the state shall not infringe the free exercise of religion, nor establish any religion. Federal courts have for over 150 years interpreted that to mean that the state can examine virtually nothing about matters of faith, doctrine and religious teaching.

There is no constitutional mandate that congress or states charter “non-profit” organizations and grant them “tax exempt” status. These could be repealed in toto by a simple legislative majority. And in my seldom humble opinion, they should be. Get the IRS out of the work of giving its imprimatur to those free associations deemed worthy, and let donors donate because they believe in the cause, not because they’re going to get a deduction from taxable income.

But as Chief Justice Marshall wrote, the power to tax is the power to destroy. Churches may not be taxed, period. (Its possible of course that church property could be considered taxable AS property, but that would be different than reaching into the offering plate. Citations available upon request.)

#48 Comment By Franklin Evans On November 15, 2017 @ 1:32 pm

Siarlys, you’re getting off of my beaten track a bit. You make valid points, but if you intended them as rebuttal, they are rather non sequitur, though through no fault of yours.

The Internal Revenue Code (IRC) is a swamp in the middle of a desert surrounded by dense brambles. As a former expert in just one section of it (pension plans), I can tell you without hesitation that it is nearly an oxymoron to label myself “expert”.

Pared away, however, to the relatively clearer intent of the legislation behind the regulations, a clear motivation for statutes prohibiting taxation of churches is in fact a direct expansion of the simple wording of the appropriate clauses of the First Amendment. That, by the way, is based on expert analysis… so have a few boulders of salt handy as you continue to read. 😀

The regulations themselves, again with clear intent, are there to protect the churches, not inhibit them. The admonitions against public commerce, political speech, etc. are definitions of the boundary between church and state. It all comes down to taxation is theft, of course, and when it comes to non-profits the regulatory and documentation hoops through which they must jump are the grudging compromise of the thieves.

I write my opinions from both the former expertise and direct, personal experience in starting and running a non-profit organization. They are directly valid for the state of Pennsylvania and for the federal regulations involved. Other states will have other realities, but they are all very similar.

Besides, the paper trail is there so fraud can be prosecuted. There’s never been any love or trust lost between the Feds and churches, and methinks that’s they way it should be.

Fact: as of 1988, the IRC of 1950 (with subsequent changes) still had hundreds of temporary regulations being used for compliance and enforcement. The flooding swamp makes the desert sand damp.

#49 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On November 16, 2017 @ 1:23 pm

Franklin, my last remarks were not intended as a wholesale rebuttal, but as a kind of polishing off of a rough patch that might be misunderstood due to its broad scope.

I have some familiarity with this subject, because I’ve researched the relevant law with the purpose of telling taxing authorities to buzz off from a type of voluntary association that was neither commercial, nor registered as a “non-profit organization” by permission of the Internal Revenue Service. And naturally my research took me into many lines of cases concerning religious organizations.

There was a time when state constitutions specifically limited the value of property a church could own, for the very reasons you cite: to define the boundaries of church and state. If churches have more property than is needed for a house of worship, space for pot-lucks, and a modest cemetery, they are straying into Caesar’s realm.

This was challenged in the late 20th century by Jerry Falwell’s Caesarean Empire. A federal district court ruled that the relevant provision of the Virginia constitution infringed Liberty Inc.’s free exercise of religion. The case was not appealed, for the same cowardly, opportunistic reasons that the State of California did not appeal a ruling striking down the constitutional amendment enacted by Prop 8: the attorney general and the governor didn’t care about the constitutional section at issue. The case was nicknamed Falwell v. Jefferson.

Yes, inevitably the state must police the boundaries between church and state, not least because outright fraud can be perpetrated by religious leaders under color of God, and unscrupulous operators can use the cloak of a “church” for commercial activities.

But churches do not have a reviewable “stated mandate” in the sense that non-profits seeking IRS approval have. They just have to not be doing things that define them as something other than a church. Or, they can have commercial subsidiaries that file tax returns on “unrelated business income.”

#50 Comment By Franklin Evans On November 16, 2017 @ 4:55 pm

Siarlys, thanks for clarifying, and my condolences that you found it necessary to push through the brambles, cross the desert and get mired in the swamp. 😉