...I'm okay with being REALITY-based.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004
      ( 9:26 AM )
The Wall Crumbles

Not that there was much of a separation between church and state anymore anyway. But once again, Texas leads the way by example! After adding to their state-sponsored killing record last night (this time it was a mentally handicapped person - yay for Texas!), this morning we read that Texas Comptroller Carole Strayhorn has declared that the Unitarian Church is not a religion for tax purposes. (Warning: Mom, Dad: your 37-year marriage by a Unitarian minister may be void if you got to Texas).

AUSTIN - Unitarian Universalists have for decades presided over births, marriages and memorials. The church operates in every state, with more than 5,000 members in Texas alone.

But according to the office of Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, a Denison Unitarian church isn't really a religious organization -- at least for tax purposes. Its reasoning: the organization "does not have one system of belief."

Never before -- not in this state or any other -- has a government agency denied Unitarians tax-exempt status because of the group's religious philosophy, church officials say. Strayhorn's ruling clearly infringes upon religious liberties, said Dan Althoff, board president for the Denison congregation that was rejected for tax exemption by the comptroller's office.

"I was surprised -- surprised and shocked -- because the Unitarian church in the United States has a very long history," said Althoff, who notes that father-and-son presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams were both Unitarians.

So now the government of Texas has decided that it can determine what a "system of belief" should be. This goes right along with that article Michael Miller pointed us to yesterday in the Village Voice about the Bush administration consulting with apocalyptic pentacostals about our Israel policy (their belief is: if Palestinians are allowed to have their own state, then Jesus can't return to a unified Israel. I'm not sure why, if these people believe that Jesus is returning to rule the earth, they don't think he has the power to go ahead and do it, whether or not Palestians are allowed to live in dignity and self-determination, and why they think Jesus needs their help for his return trip anyway.)

Anyway, despite the fact that some of our most solid and beloved founding fathers were Unitarians, the state of Texas believes that their religion doesn't quite meet the test. I suppose that whole idea of

creating a welcoming community of diverse individuals; to promote love, reason, and freedom in religion; to foster lifelong spiritual growth; and to act for social justice

is just abhorhent.

Oh, I get it now. Unitarians are interested in social justice. Social justice has no place in religion. True religions should only be concerned with the curtailing of individual rights, the Second Coming and oh, lest I forget, not letting people who love each other get married. Forgive my cynicism, not feeling broadly accepting today.

UPDATE: Reader Tom has provided us a link to a discussion at Evangelical Outpost on the issue of the Unitarians. While many of the readers don't appear to have problems with Texas defining what a religion is, the original author points out the exact issue concisely:

If the government is going to decide that religous organizations are tax-exempt then they shouldn't exclude religions that are clearly "real religions" just because they don't fit into a theistic paradigm.

But the issue isn't just about a tax-exemption. The reason, I believe, that its a liberty issue is because once the government has the power to define whether your belief is "religion" then it has the power to exclude that belief from certain constitutional protections.

And once the government can define some of us for its own purposes, none of us are truly free.

UPDATE 2: Colorado Luis has a great post up about the response in Colorado to Bishop Sheridan's edict. The comments are great reading too.

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