Saturday, July 26, 2008

Yelling "God Hates Fags" is not a nonprofit religous activity for property tax exemption purposes

Westboro Baptist Church, more popularly known as a family of damnable loonies who spew hate for lesbian and gay people (and after them, who else?), and demonstrate at funerals for soldiers, sailors, and marines killed in Iraq, recently lost a battle to have their 2002 Ford F-150 homophobe-mobile declared tax exempt under Kansas' exemption for property used for charitable or religious purposes.  In In the Matter of the Application of Westboro Baptist Church For Exemption From Ad Valorem Taxation (Kansas Court of Appeals, Case No. 98443, July 25, 2008) the church argued that its truck should not be subject to ad valorem taxation because it was used exclusively in support of the church's religious activities, charitably described by the court as follows: 

This activity consists of transporting handmade signs to various locations around the country, including churches, military funerals, government offices, political conventions, and other locations. The signs generally express in acrimonious language the WBC's religious message regarding "whether and who God loves or hates." WBC members believe that they are God's messengers on earth, and it is their duty to publish the message that God has punished and will continue to punish the United States because of the country's willingness to condone homosexuality. 

Fred Phelps' grandson Benjamin Phelps, informed his grandfather about the existence of the Internet and made the first "GodHatesFags" page. The cited Bible verse, Romans 9:13, does not mention homosexuality, but is a biblical example of God hating a certain person (in this case, Esau).   Personally, I wouldn't waste a warm pot of urine if any one of the church members were on fire.  I must say, though, that the Appellate Court is on shaky ground in its determination that the messages conveyed by the signs are, as a matter of law, not "religious messages."  The opinion comes dangerously close to establishing what seems to me an unconstitutional content-based test for what constitutes "religion," "religious speech" or "religious activity." 

Basically, the court defines "religious activity" as pretty much anything that fits the Judeo-Christian tradition of worship (of which I am a sinful participant, I might add).  The Court characterized as "circular" the evidence in support of the assertion that the signs transported in its trucks are religious and not political.  I don't mind at all admitting that religious beliefs are ultimately circular, insofar as human understanding is concerned.  Which is to say that Christians believe because the Bible says so, and the Bible is authoritative because we believe it to be so. Yep, that is circular.  See, there is a point beyond which human understanding cannot go; faith must provide the only evidence.   We can proceed only so far and then we must leap in faith (based on some undefined knowledge witin us that there is a God).  Faith, it should be admitted, is ultimately circular reasoning by human standards, though admitting that fact acknowledges only that we cannot fathom the mystery of God, not that God does not exist.  But I digress.  The Court stated that Westboro's beliefs were political and not religious because the church's evidence ultimately rested exclusively on their members own subject beliefs.  At the same time, the Court admits that religion is essentially a set of sincerely (i.e., subjectively) held beliefs.  I think the Court's reasoning is whats circular.  I think the Court is ultimately judging the sincerely held belief, even in a manner with which I agree.  But that certainly cannot be the basis for denying that the beliefs are religious beliefs.  Wrong, yes, but religious nonetheless.


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