Getting Taxpayer-Funded Free Stuff Is Not "Religious Liberty"

Tyler Durden's picture

Authored by Ryan McMaken via The Mises Institute,

There seems to be some confusion among religious columnists as to what constitutes religious freedom and what does not. 

In a recent column for Crisis, Thomas Ascik claims that the US Supreme Court's ruling inTrinity Lutheran v. Comer is a victory for "the free exercise of religion." 

The ruling essentially states that church organization can now receive government grants for amenities and activities that are not specifically religious activities. In the case of Trinity Lutheran specifically, the church had applied for a government grant to repave its playground with recycled automobile tires. 

The state of Missouri denied the grant to the church on the grounds that it was a religious organization. Now SCOTUS has ruled such exclusionary policies are unconstitutional. 

That's fine as far as it goes. I have no more of a problem with Trinity Lutheran receiving state funds than with Secular Daycare Brand X receiving them. In both cases, the taxpayers have been ripped off and their money handed over to someone else. The fact that Trinity Lutheran is a church is not the problem in this equation. 

But, let's not pretend that getting a government grant has anything to do with the free exercise of religion or religious liberty. In no way did the grant-selection process mean that Trinity Lutheran or its membership was prevented from freely exercising its faith. As a result of the grant going to some other organization, the building was not seized by the state, the members were not silenced, and the church's publications were not censored. 

The claim that government grants are equal to freedom here is no more convincing than the claim made by certain feminists that a woman does not enjoy "personal freedom" unless the taxpayers pay for her contraception. 

The truth here is that not receiving a government grant for something — whether it be contraception or the repaving of a playground — does not constitute a violation of rights. 

On the other hand, when the state seizes money from private parties in the form of tax dollars, it does indeed restrict religious liberty. 

For example, every tax dollar collected in taxes from the membership of Trinity Lutheran means one dollar fewer than the members can elect to donate to the church. Every dollar taxed means one dollar less to be spent on bibles, or hymnals, or a soup kitchen run by the church.

This fact illustrates why freedom of religion, like freedom of speech, is just another type of property right. After all, if the members of Trinity Luthern (or any other organization) are free from the impoverishing effects of taxation and regulation, then those very people will be more free to support the religious programs and communications they wish. 

This is why Murray Rothbard preferred the precision of property rights to the vague — and thus more easily violated — "human rights" that pertain to speech and religion. 

According to Rothbard

Take, for example, the "human right" of free speech. Freedom of speech is supposed to mean the right of everyone to say whatever he likes. But the neglected question is: Where? Where does a man have this right? He certainly does not have it on property on which he is trespassing. In short, he has this right only either on his own property or on the property of someone who has agreed, as a gift or in a rental contract, to allow him on the premises. In fact, then, there is no such thing as a separate "right to free speech"; there is only a man's property right: the right to do as he wills with his own or to make voluntary agreements with other property owners.

Applied to religion, property rights means that any group of people must be free to exercise their religion freely wherever the owner is willing to let them do it. Anyone who voluntary wishes to take part in a groups religious services must be free to do so and anyone who wishes to read religious materials distributed by the church must be free to accept it or buy it. Churches must be free to donate whatever materials or services they like to whomever they like. Provided the recipient freely accepts it. 

Thus, no extra right to exercise religion is necessary when people's property rights are respected. 

On the other hand, when church organizations — or anyone else — seeks to tax someone else in order to receive a "grant" then this is the exact opposite of religious liberty. It is nothing more than violating someone else's property to receive a free gift. The tax dollars taken from taxpayers to pay for the repaving of a playground are dollars that could have been used by those taxpayers to support their own religious causes, their own speech, and their own freedoms, all of which also stem from basic property rights. 

Obviously, church organizations are no more guilty of this than the myriad of non-religious non-profits that live off taxpayer funds. And, Ascik has a point in noting that the state of Missouri's policies are inequitable. Indeed, if that grant money the Trinity Lutheran seeks ends up going to a militantly secularist organization that teaches people to despise Christians, then the taxpayers of Trinity Lutheran may actually be paying some other organization to attack them. 

The answer to this problem isn't to give more grants to Trinity Lutheran, however. The answer is to end the grant program and the taxes that support it. 

Real Threats to Religious Liberty

Ascik's final error is in confusing real threats to religious liberty with the fake threat found within Trinity Lutheran v. Comer. 

Ascik does identify some: 

In ... Hosanna Tabor (2012), the Court unanimously held that federal disability law could not interfere in hiring decisions of a Lutheran churchand its school. And in the Hobby Lobby (2014) decision and the remand of the Little Sisters of the Poor case (2016) to the lower courts, the Supreme Court effectively ruled that Christian people must be allowed to live their faith all the time, including in business, not just on Sunday morning.

Ascik is correct there that all of these cases posed real threats to religious liberty. In each case, government regulations placed mandates on religious organizations that either directly violated the exercise of religion or hobbled the ability of a church organization to bring on personnel who reflected the values of the organization. Indeed, in the cases of Hobby Lobby and the Little Sisters, the government placed a direct mandate on a religious organization to pay for activities those organizations viewed as contrary to their religious views. 

This is a true violation of the free exercise of religion. 

But, in this case too, a simple respect for property rights solves the problem and does not require any special right of "religious freedom." All that is necessary is to allow organization to hire and fire whom they wish, and pay for whatever type of insurance they wish. 

Similarly, these organizations could support their own cause by not asking the taxpayers to pay for their playgrounds or for any other free gift.


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Never One Roach's picture

Is there a NOLO book that instructs how to become a "religious organization?" You know, one of those step-by-step guides with sample forms included

“Form Your Own Religious Organization: It’s As EZ as 1-2-3!”

I'd like to redo my lawnand repave my driveway. Maye add a few trees and such....

Croesus's picture

"Getting Taxpayer-Funded Free Stuff Is Not "Religious Liberty"

Tell that to the Hasidic Jews living in Lakewod NJ:

Half the kids living there, have parents on welfare...median home price? $300,000+

Billy the Poet's picture

I like the Ron Paul approach to this type of problem. Vote against any grants being awarded in the legislature where such plans start but if grants are approve demand a share of the money for your constituency.

Scrimpy's picture

Religious Freedom is for everybody......except least according to the 95% jew run media.

Stuck on Zero's picture

I claim that my freedom of religion is being curtailed by taxes. The reason is that taxes are so high I have to work Sundays to pay all the bills and cannot therefore attend church.

land_of_the_few's picture

In my area there were suggestions that may be why the recent festivals were a bit empty of people. Idea was that folks are now so poor they work multiple jobs and catch up on sleep instead of attending annual festivities.

This article seems a bit like helicopter money with a mafia-like marketing front. Inefficient. No one needs those churches. Just open the Huey doors and kick the bales of fresh, crisp Fiat currency out.

Georgiabelle's picture

I think you are all over-thinking this. The government was trying to find uses for ground up tires to keep them out of landfills. Ground up tires make an excellent surface for playgrounds. There are only so many playgrounds in any given area, thus limiting the volume of the ground up tires that can be recycled in this way. There was no reason to exclude church playgrounds, most of which are accessible to and used by the community as a whole, simply because they are owned by a church. It's not as though they are conducting religious services on the playground. Everyone wins if all the playgrounds in the area are surfaced with the ground up tires. It's a no-brainer. Some liberal official likely refused to allow the church playgrounds to participate in the program because he/she is anti-religion.    

Never One Roach's picture

They must have read that Hebrew translation of that other NOLO book: “Your Path to Riches! Welfare Fraud in 3 EZ Steps!”

espirit's picture

According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS), more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations are registered in the U.S.

Some of which get taxpayer funded grants -and- tax free exemptions.

Perhaps it's time to reign them in...

Endgame Napoleon's picture

Ugh, I agree about the absurdity of equating free stuff for tax-exempt organizations with religious liberty, but I am not sure about his thesis, which says that only property owners have 1st Amendment rights.

Churches get a lot of voluntary, and less-than-voluntary, free stuff too. They have a lot of babysitting programs, providing services to moms, both for work and leisure purposes.

As a teenager and college student, I had a large babysitting clientele and, sometimes, babysat for their church-sponsored "mom's day out" programs. Umm, good luck getting paid.

They often think you are babysitting for 30 kids for 7 hours so that moms can go to the spa as a service to God. The service is pretty one-sided too, as with anything involving families.

I will never forget the day when the homeless man came go the door, asking for their help, and was promptly turned away.

Not like sexual intercourse out of wedlock and a productive womb would guarantee him free food, free rent and a $6,269 Child Tax Credit from Uncle Sammy, in exchange for 20 hours per week of welfare reform-required work.

He was out of luck when seeking mercy from the church, but moms in need of leisure time were helped in their time of need.

Peanut Butter Engineer's picture

It's time for you to stop be envious of women's womb and join them! A men's stomach can also carry viable baby to term, with modern miracle of technology, you can also make yourself a single birth father of your baby! No mother needed.

You can then join those moms in the church and get those benefits that you want so badly, don't forget the first man to do so will be in the face of history!

On the side note, as feminist, your rights ends where it touches my tax dollar. That goes for freebie random contraceptive or cell phone or any sort government hand out that does not directly benefit the society as a whole. I do support free schooling as that's one of the alternative to stop crime or reduce crimes. Now if the contraceptive is for stopping the spread of HIVs or any other type of disease, then I also may support that as it directly benefits my tax dollar having to spend on more Medicare.

OverTheHedge's picture

Perhaps it's time to join in! I can be as religious as you like, for money.

Librarian's picture

Someone on Ebay once got my ire up a few years ago by showing a picture of a 2x package which then shipped with only one items in the 2x package.

After putting the transaction in dispute I started looking into his background with all of the tools available to volunteer librarian.

This guy went through a multimillion dollar personal and business bankruptcy/reorganization at the end of the dotcom bubble that appeared to still not have been fully discharged.  He had dozens of low quality YT videos of him delivering low-energy sermons.  He also claimed to be ministering to those in need by holding motorcycle rides and camp-outs.  He had some really high-end bikes.  It appeared that he was funding his motorcycle hobby/girls with daddy complex bad habits under the guise of a religious organization.  

He only was trying to screw me out of 15 bucks but it was the complete audacity of his scam that got me riled enough to spend almost 10 hours digging through all the evidence online of his religious scam.  I printed it all out and mailed it to the IRS anonymously.  A year later it appeared that nothing ever resulted.  He was still riding free motorcycles and sexing confused young women on the public dime.  

UmbilicalMosqueSweeper's picture

Reign-in the political parties, foundations, and organized religions. They are the ones with most of the loot. Then, if you really want to go big time,  there is the Federal (not) Reserve (not) and its ownership!

Son of Loki's picture

1)    Make a plan;

2)    Select Church name;

3)    Prepare Certificate of Formation

4)    File that Certificate of Formation;

5)    Draft Bylaws;

6)    Organizational meetings;

7)    Apply for an Employer ID;

8)    Obtain Federal tax-Exempt Status from IRS;

9)    Obtain State Tax Exempt Status;

10) Pray a lot; namely, pray they don’t audit you!

Herp and Derp's picture

But they never audit churches period.  They don't know how and so can't.  Non-profits sure, churches no way.

HRClinton's picture

Re (2)...

Pick a Hebrew sounding name, to make it really audit-proof.

E.g. . Beth-El-Amen, Kosher Torah...

red1chief's picture

L. Ron Hubbard's book spelled it out. You must be very charismatic of course.

scraping_by's picture

Scientologists aren't charismatic. They just have the money to game the legal system. As if we didn't have enough reasons to despise the legal system.

UmbilicalMosqueSweeper's picture

Mind control is a wonderful thing. No dissent among the cult brethern.

Pernicious Gold Phallusy's picture

Look up the Universal Life Church. They became big in the 1970s and they beat the IRS all the way to the Supreme Court. Their overarching creed is "We believe in doing that what is right." I can prove it's a real religion: It's already had a schism. Each surviving sect claims to be the true church. I suspect the split had something to do with money, but what would I know?

You could become a minister by reading a pamphlet, finding another ULC minister to sponsor you, and sending them $25 (a not-insignificant sum in the 1970s.) Now you can get ordained online for free.

Many people figured out how to run at least some of their income throught their church so it was a ministerial stipend rather than salary or business income. Years ago, somebody I know got a ULC ordination. He established the Church of Monday Night Football. The congregants met in their place of worship every Monday evening during the holy season (his living room, no longer on the property tax rolls.) They viewed sermons on a big television set (purchase price and cable bill were religious deductions.) They partook of their sacramental meal (chips, salsa, guacamole, beer, also non-taxable items since intended for religious purposes.) Team paraphenalia served as sacred vestments, also religious deductions.

Lots of entities were set up like this in the 1970s. I don't know how many are still functioning. Somebody in my city tried to set up a prostitution service as a religion, but that didn't work. I don't think churches are allowed to break other kinds of laws. (Many ancient Middle Eastern religions featured temple prostitutes who helped support the temple.)

I was going to become a ULC minister so I could officiate at a friend's wedding in New York. Turns out that state doesn't recognize the ULC. The NY Constitution only recognizes a few denominations, and has a whole section on how to set up a new congregation of one of the chosen sects. It's chilling and interesting at the same time. Once, in the history of the US, freedom of religion was more limited than now.

Oh, and I forgot... another friend became a ULC minister so he could put a Clergy sticker on his bumper, and park closer almost everywhere downtown.

Librarian's picture

Somehow this is all connected to the kids wearing spaghetti strainers on their heads.

Librarian's picture

Thank you.

It's difficult anymore to tell the difference between a cult and a group of motivated sarcastic young people.

xtremers9's picture

This is just as ridiculous as planned parenthood and public funded abortions. If women want to make bad choices, they should pay for it themselves

Urahara's picture

"Getting Taxpayer-Funded Free Stuff Is Not 'Religious Liberty.'"

It is to a Jew.

meditate_vigorously's picture

I would expect nothing less than anti-Christian rhetoric from (((Mises))). LCMS is one of the only true Christian demonimations in the USA.

Mises should be attacking the government grant system, not the fact that Christians get equal access to it.

I would tell Mises to go to hell but their Judeo-Christian dogma does not believe in it.

disclaimer: When I identified as Christian I was a member of LCMS and they are really great people with solid theology, I just abandoned belief in all of it for reasons unrelated to LCMS.

red1chief's picture

The mythology business isn't much different than any other, it's how much they can get.

GeezerGeek's picture

Biggest myth of the last 100+ years: "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help you."

cherry picker's picture

We have often heard about George Orwell's 1984 and the movie V which made the Guy Fawke's masks famous.

It occurred to me the masses loves giving up their liberty to the protective government security blanket.

The reason we have lost or are losing it is courage is no longer practiced or desired.

I see young men all muscled up, tats from head on down, trying to look mean and tough and non conformist.  Often they are the first to say 'Yes Sir, how high did you want me to jump?'

The stuff that made men, men.  That which made them face temperamental forces of mother nature, standing up to those who would steal from them or hurt one of their own, has been watered down into caricatures.

I am old enough to have had a friend who fought in World War one.  Lost an arm and a leg in that one.  He managed to make a living and lived with his wife till the day she died.  He died shortly after.  There were many tough old geezers like that, wouldn't consider taking charity as that would be humiliating.

Unfortunately, our leaders are of the same ilk as the modern population.  Flapping lips, but haven't a clue how to walk the talk.

Deep Snorkeler's picture

Christianity evolved out of wishful fantasies,

observations of sky spooks, the need for fatherly attention,

fear of having one's concubines stolen, and from a bunch of

defectives who really needed priest jobs.


cherry picker's picture

I've studied it some and came to the conclusion that very little of what JC supposedly taught is observed and I am of the opinion the church or religion which had him locked up and tortured is alive and well today.

The only thing I know is there is more to this life than meets the eye.  Whatever that may be is a mystery.

That is only my opionion, everyone that is alive has their own thoughts.  But to call those 66 books that make up the bible as 'Holy' is a stretch.

GeezerGeek's picture

It was primarily the leaders of the Jewish community that had Jesus crucified. There was no church (if by that you mean Christian church) at that time. It was actually the Romans who performed the act, as Israel was under Roman control at the time and lacked the authority to perform capital punishment themselves.

I concur with your assessment that very little of what Jesus taught is observed today. He set an impossibly high standard, and no one can realistically assume he thought anyone could follow him perfectly. But that's the whole point of Christianity, and if you're not familiar with the tenets you might consider educating yourself a bit more.

cherry picker's picture

". But that's the whole point of Christianity, and if you're not familiar with the tenets you might consider educating yourself a bit more."

That is the part about Christians that turns people away. 

Jesus taught that study wasn't required.  Love God and your neighbor is all that was necessary..  He also denied being God, which may shock a few people and denied being 'good'.

According to Jesus, God will make the choice, not you or me.

Abaco's picture

Your last two sentences reveal your ignorance of the subject.

Ink Pusher's picture

When some deity provides a religion that is 100% free of any secular division , that will be the religion that is worth looking into. 

It's a pity that not a single religion that meets that one simple single criteria actually exists on this little ball of rock water and mud eh?

Incidentally, I was playing 8 ball against  Jesus and Mohammed  this afternoon and I kicked both their asses.

Ask anyone that was there...they'll tell you the same story  !

"Both of them were drunk as skunks and were so busy performing miracles and praying ,that they weren't able to concentrate on the game..."



UmbilicalMosqueSweeper's picture

The Pharisees still exist in the Talmudic cult now called Judaism. If you want to be enlightened about those who wrote the Old Testament, then read the Babylonian Talmud. It is the law and basis of the degenerates who now run the debt-slave financial systems and many of the governments of today's world. They are also the creators of the genocidal Marxist and Bolshevik slave systems and the idols of today's so-called "progressive" leftists. Know your real enemy! Be wise as serpents!

Barney Fife's picture

Funny, I could probably safely estimate that I know more about science, the scientific process, and scientific inquiry, and call recall more scientific knowledge of multiple disciplines drunk with a BAL of 0.3 and hallucinating on bath salts then you will ever accumulate in your lilfetime (multiple publications -including 1 presented at an international conference, run a research lab, 15 US patents, 2 trade secrets developed, 4 science degrees, including 2 graduate). 

And you are the one that is certain of this. 

Fact is that you are so fucking full of shit that you are blind to your own delusions of grandeur. You have faith in man's word faith in your own feminine "feels", and given the state of affairs of humanity that makes you look like a fucking idiot. 

You are one closed-minded fucking dunce. 

Salzburg1756's picture

To grant freedom of religion to people whose religion rejects freedom of religion, as is the case with Islam, is crazy. All muslims should be expelled from any country which truly believes in freedom of religion or any other kind of freedom.

GeezerGeek's picture

One America News recently had a brief summary of Teddy Roosevelt's thoughts on immigration. He said, approximately, that people who wish to come to America and become Americans should be welcomed. Those not wanting to integrate? Not so much. [The actual narrative of the summary was much more eloquent.]

As for muslims, we should not forget that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson jointly found muslim attitudes appalling when they were negotiating with the Barbary pirates. As president, Jefferson put an end to the tribute paid by the US to 'buy off' those pirates. Despite efforts to convince us otherwise, Jefferson was definitely not a fan of what were then termed Musselmen.

fangulos's picture

I avoided local Evil-gelical groups by all means, no need to show up at church, they don't need you to do community works, not fund-raising, just monthly fee will do it, honey.

JLO's picture

Christianity is a bad disease..

GeezerGeek's picture

I love your well-reasoned argument. However, I disagree.

Humanity is a bad disease, with or without religions. Indeed, that's the first point of Calvinism: the total depravity of humanity.

I suggest you take some courses in comparitive religion and history. See which religions - and secular isms too - advocate killing, theft, subjugation, etc. Then get back to us with a more informed statement.

Abaco's picture

Ah....John Calvin.  The murderous bloke.

shuckster's picture

WRONG - The answer isn't to change the law to prevent Churches from receiving money from the State. The answer is to take BACK that property which was wrongly taken from taxpayers by the State and given to the Churches. With interest