Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Westboro Baptist Church Prevails in Supreme Court


The Westboro Baptist Church has the right to protest and picket at funerals of military servicemembers who died on the battlefield, according to an 8-1 opinion released by the United States Supreme Court today.  They are a despicable bunch, these people, but its hard to argue against the determination that the First Amendment protects their right to protest and otherwise voice their opinions on public property. This case reminds me, though, of Bob Jones University in which the Supreme Court ruled that tax exemption may be denied to a religious university based on its racially discriminatory policies.  I haven't read the Westboro opinion yet but a quick word search reveals that Bob Jones was not cited and I guess it should not have been since the case did not deal with tax exemption.  Still, it seems there are subtle implications relating to tax exemption.  I wonder if the First Amendment would prevent the IRS from revoking the Church's tax exemption based on the murky public policy rationale.  I'm pretty sure the answer would be "yes," but then why doesn't the First Amendment prevent the revocation of tax exemption for a religious institution that enforces a ban on interracial dating?  Maybe the two cases are apples and oranges but I am still bothered by my inability to articulate an easy answer. 



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The difference is that one is a school and the other a church. The 1023 application form for tax exemption contains explicit checks for discrimination on Schedules B and H (which could pertain to schools), but nothing in this regard on Schedule A for churches - indicating a longstanding IRS policy distinction in this regard. I think the differences are easy to spot. Discrimination in educational institutions directly impacts minorities, segregating them and indirectly keeping them in poverty. A church that dislikes a group of minorities is not really furthering segregation or inflicting poverty on anyone (except maybe themselves by limiting their own numbers of potential members) - a church might deeply offend someone with their rhetoric, but it's simply not the same as excluding people from an educational opportunity. Another difference is that schools, like Bob Jones, charge tuition and cover their costs by having paying customers (the students) - which conceptually makes them a very different type of "nonprofit" or "charity" than a church that depends entirely on donations or "charity" from donors. I think it makes sense to impose stricter requirements for tax exemption on an entity that gets paid by its customers (and could even charge enough tuition to have surplus revenue) than one dependent on donations. Finally, I'm not sure Westboro Church is discriminatory against other races - your photo shows picket signs attacking people for their sexual preferences. Academicians may treat sexual-orientation minority groups the same as racial minority groups, but our legal system does not - especially in the federal statutory and regulatory framework. I'd be surprised if the IRS yanked even a school's exemption over discrimination against gays at this point.

Posted by: Dru Stevenson | Mar 4, 2011 2:18:34 PM

Harassment by religious extremist

Jehovah's Witnesses instigated court decisions in 1942 which involved cursing a police officer calling him a fascist and to get in your face at the door steps,....this same JW 1942 court decision upheld infamous Phelps hate church in 2011
Danny Haszard

Posted by: Daniel Haszard | Mar 5, 2011 11:51:46 AM

The kids in this picture have no idea what they are doing. This cult exploits children and then sits in judgement of the very freedom given to them . Tell Marge Phelp to go to Iran and try to speak. She would get stoned to death and she would deserve it.

Posted by: kevin | Mar 7, 2011 12:13:14 AM

On the racial issue for tax exempt status, does the government not consider discrimination to Jewish individuals the same as any race discrimination? It seems to me that this organization is openly inciting people to aggression, openly slandering individuals with their taunts and chants, they openly admit illegally going into Canada and back purposefully avoiding border patrols. I believe many of their practices are child abuse to the kids they are brainwashing. If our laws protect such animals at the expense of military and veterans of military service members and their families, we need to make some changes.

Posted by: Sara | Apr 23, 2011 5:44:27 PM

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