Government Entanglement with Religion Policy
Government Entanglement with Religion
Religious Symbols on Public Property
Opponents of the Establishment Clause work to create symbolic government endorsement of their religion by placing religious symbols prominently on public property. Most common among these displays are Ten Commandments monuments and Christmas nativity scenes. While we believe that these displays should always be considered an unconstitutional endorsement of religion, courts have ruled that they are permissible as part of a larger display of diverse content, as long as its history has shown that it has not created the perception that it is an endorsement of religion.
We believe that these displays should be challenged whenever compliance to this standard of diverse content is in question. Responses to be considered include litigation, if a plaintiff can be found. Then we may work with groups that specialize in First Amendment cases, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the Freedom from Religion Foundation and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, or even religious groups that also support the Establishment Clause. Alternately, we may offer a comparable secular monument to create content balance.
Prayer at government sessions
The Supreme Court of the United States has given the federal and state legislatures the right to open their sessions with prayer, and prayer has generally been permitted at City Council meetings. The practice is a prima facie violation of the Establishment Clause, but that if it is permitted it must be non-sectarian and non-denominational. It should be compatible with the views of the entire community, including the nonreligious. The presiding celebrant should be rotated among organizations representing the diverse beliefs of the community.
Government funding of church-based programs
We oppose government funding of social welfare programs that are run by religious organizations. Even if government funds are strictly segregated so that none go directly to religious activities, the tax-paid subsidy permits the organization to divert other funds away from the social program. In addition, the public gets the impression that religious institutions are providing the charity, thus perpetuating the assumption that religions do good works, when in fact the public is doing it through their taxes.
We therefore call for closing the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. We also oppose all earmarks for religious societies in funding bills, and support whatever action is needed to provide legal standing to affected taxpayers to litigate against establishment clause violations.
Taxation of Churches and other nonprofit Corporations
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Walz v. Tax Commision of the City of New York, 1970 that a state tax exemption for churches is constitutionally permissible. Where atheist nonprofit organizations have been denied the same tax exemption, a challenge should be brought to the courts. State laws should be revised to require all property to be taxed equally. However, since it is not, freethought organizations should enjoy the same benefits as religious institutions. To ensure that churches are financially accountable, their reporting requirements should be the same as for other non-profit organizations. We should consider challenges to any regulation that does not apply equally to churches and other non-profits.
Federal law requires non-profit organizations, as a condition for their tax exempt status, to refrain from endorsing electoral candidates. AAI calls for rescission of the tax exemption of any non-profit organization that violates this requirement.