By Rob Boston | 27 July 2012
Many conservative religious leaders insist that houses of worship in America today struggle under intense persecution. To hear some of the Catholic bishops tell it, religious freedom may soon be a memory because they don’t always get their way in policy debates.
It would be highly ironic if the United States, the nation that perfected religious liberty and enshrined it in the Constitution’s First Amendment, had become hostile to the rights of religious groups.
But that’s not what’s happening. In reality, U.S. law is honeycombed with examples of preferential treatment and special breaks for religion. Some of these practices may grow out of the First Amendment command that the “free exercise” of religion must not be infringed. Others are traditions or were added to the law after lobbying efforts by religious groups.
Here are five ways American law extends protections and preference to houses of worship.
1. Tax Policy
Tax exemption is given to a variety of religious and secular groups, but in the case of houses of worship, they get one huge advantage: They are tax exempt by mere dint of their existence. They don’t have to apply for tax-exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service, nor, absent highly unusual circumstances or blatant law-breaking, can they lose it.
Contrast this with secular non-profits. If a group of people get together and decide to solicit donations to protect endangered species, they have to apply for tax-exempt status with the IRS, fill out voluminous paperwork and jump through various hoops. If the IRS has problems with the application or determines that endangered species won’t really be protected, tax-exempt status can be denied.