Taxes violate freedom of religion?

The laudable goal of increasing recognition for the right to religious freedom takes a strange twist in an editorial in the newspaper of the Diocese of Brooklyn, which links the issue to taxes. The newspaper makes the argument that high taxes prevent people from donating money to religious charities, including the annual bishop's appeal. "Personal income is eroded through taxation, therefore freedom to practice ones religion is also limited," the editorial states.I am aghast at this reasoning, especially since I am aware that the publisher of The Tablet, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, appointed a panel from outside the paper's regular staff to weigh these editorial stances carefully. According to the editorial board:

When over 50% of federal spending goes to entitlements or social services and the total tax burden is rising to the highest level in history, we are confronted with a situation in which the role of the state reaches so deeply into the everyday lives of citizens that it is affecting our ability even to support our religious institutions.

The Tablet's focus on spending for social services contradicts the budget analysis the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued. It says: "The nation needs to substantially reduce future deficits, but not at the expense of hungry and poor people. Funding focused on reducing poverty should not be cut." The Tablet blames such spending for taxation at "the highest level in history" - which is factually wrong - to say nothing of whether it is wrong for the church to stoke resentment against those who rely on social services the government provides.Rather than recommend the bishops' conference as a source of information, The Tablet refers readers to the Web site of the Heritage Foundation, which has nothing to say about the poor in its briefing on tax policy.It is unfortunate - I'll leave it at that - that the diocese, launching its annual appeal this week, is complaining that government spending on social services is depriving its parishioners of the freedom to donate money to the church. Aren't my donations tax-exempt?

Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses. 

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