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Religious freedom, religious fairness

July 16, 2014

The folks at Hobby Lobby (which apparently is an evangelical ministry disguised as a craft store) took out a full-page ad in the papers recently, touting the notion that the United States was from the outset intended to be a “Christian nation” (whatever that is supposed to mean—but that’s another column). I guess they were reveling in the heady feeling of victory, following the Supreme Court decision that recognized their right to apply their religious beliefs to the benefits package that they offered their employees. Many liberals and progressives were upset by the decision, but not me.

It was just the opening I’ve been waiting for.

You’re probably aware that members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) like me are pacifists and oppose military spending. You might not know that some Quakers (and members of other “peace churches,” like the Mennonites and Brethren) take this matter so seriously that to avoid paying for war they withhold some or all of their Federal taxes—with all the consequences that you might expect, from garnishment of wages to actual imprisonment. It’s called “war tax resistance,” and I wrote about it in this space some years ago. (To learn more about war tax resistance, see www.nwtrcc.org, or www.warresisters.org/wtr_menu.html.)

American law has long recognized the right of citizens to refuse to participate directly in war, when that refusal is based in religious or moral belief (you might remember the phrase “conscientious objectors”). I have maintained that we should also be able to direct our tax dollars away from war, or from any government activity, that violates such beliefs. This is a principle that transcends denomination; that is to say, it’s not just for us peaceniks. Conservatives should have a similar right—and it is precisely that right that the Supremes have brought to the fore in the Hobby Lobby case.

So what I want is simple enough. All taxpayers should be able, by means of a simple checkbox on the tax form, to tell the government where not to spend our tax contributions. For me, that means defense; for a conservative Catholic, that might mean family planning. I don’t know how far people might go. Would an orthodox Jew or Muslim object to pork subsidies? Would vegetarians prefer to not support the USDA meat inspection program? But it’s not our place to judge the sincerely held beliefs of others, right? Religious freedom, right?