A couple of Church-related items in the news.
One is about a church that is getting targeted by the IRS.
A liberal California Episcopal church plans to fight an Internal Revenue Service investigation into whether the church violated its tax-exempt status with an anti-Bush sermon during the 2004 campaign, church leaders said Thursday.
Now, as much as I disagree with churches that bring politics into the church, I’m wondering what justification the IRS brings into this arena. The IRS says that it’s not politically motivated, which I can believe. There’s no way that Bush would warrant attacking a church for disagreeing with him, risking losing the goodwill of Christians everywhere.
The other is a court case where the judge concluded that “religious speech is categorically different than secular speech and is subject to analysis under the Establishment and Free Exercise Clause without regard to the jurisprudence of free speech.”
Wow! Your kidding me, right? What a horrible precedent, that now anything you say that has religious connotations is now not covered under the first amendment!
Eugene Volokh, as usual, takes this apart.
So the judge has no hostility towards religion, but "the excesses of the zealous" - apparently just the religiously zealous - are something that must be avoided even by discriminatorily excluding religious groups from the benefits available to comparable secular groups.
The issue is not, contrary to what the judge argues here and earlier in the opinion, "whether one can distinguish between religious speech" (which I take it means "between religious speech and nonreligious speech," especially given the other quotes I give immediately below), nor is it about "the High Court's purported inability to distinguish between a sermon and a speech" or "[t]he purported inability of the High Court to adhere to the distinction embodied in the First Amendment" between religious speech and nonreligious speech, nor about the Court majority's supposed "doubt about the ability to distinguish between religious practice and secular speech." While the majority opinion does turn on whether courts can consistently distinguish (without undue side effects) between religious worship and other religious speech, of course the courts could distinction between religious speech (such as sermons) and secular speech.
The question is whether courts ought to draw such a distinction, in a way that strips religious speech of the same Free Speech Clause protection that secular speech has, and thus discriminates against religious speech, in order to somehow "insulat[e] civil society from the excesses of the zealous." It seems to me that if one really wants to avoid "hostility towards religion," equal treatment of religious speech and nonreligious speech - regardless of what one fears from the "zealous" - is the proper approach.
Somehow, possibly because of events of late involving extremism in another religion, some people with the power to say otherwise think it’s possible in this country for Christianity to become the same. Disregard the fact that Christianity hasn’t tried gaining power and converts through violent means in hundreds of years. Perhaps this judge thinks that the safeguards already in the Constitution and law-books aren’t good enough for him. Perhaps he thinks that only he is the voice of reason in a religion-infected society.
Or perhaps 200 years of Christian and Jewish organizations sharing public facilities equally with other secular groups without abusing or trying to take over isn’t enough evidence that allowing them to continue probably won’t stir up the “excesses of the zealous.”