In his letter to the editor, "If the church wants to play politics, it should give up its tax-exempt status" (July 6), David Johnson seems to be misrepresenting the separation of church and state. It is clear that our founders believed that people should not be compelled to observe a state religion in order to gain the benefits of citizenship. There is nothing suggesting people must choose between their religion and their rights as citizens. By extension, churches can express views on behalf of their members, just as labor unions can speak for their members.
Mr. Johnson's comments about taxation may be equally misguided. It is arguable that churches are exempt from taxation not because they are religious organizations but because they provide valuable social services in lieu of cash. The tax code simply recognizes those contributions, just as it recognizes other charitable contributions.
Finally, this kind of misunderstanding of the separation of church and state underlies the current debate about providing insurance coverage for contraceptive services. The issue is not about insurance but whether religious organizations may follow their consciences in fulfilling their charitable missions. In many religions, providing charitable services is as important as their worship services. If the government can deny people the right to live their religion fully through their religious organizations then the government is in effect dictating an alternative religion that permits only worship but not service. Are we ready to accept such a church of the US government?
What, in fact, would America be if the Rev. Martin Luther King, the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, and others with social principles based on their religious convictions could not speak out without endangering their churches?
Joseph E. Hartka, Bel AirCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun