AGs Want Congressional Protection for Churches

     (CN) – West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and 14 other attorneys general are calling on Congress to protect the tax-exempt status of churches that refuse to honor same-sex marriages.
     The letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner July 2 is the attorneys general response to the Supreme Court’s historic decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which declared bans on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional.
     In it they echo concerns raised by Chief Justice John Roberts in his dissent to the decision, in which he worried that the “tax exemptions of some religious institutions would be in question if they opposed same-sex marriage.”
     Like Roberts, they point to Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr.’s admission during oral argument that tax-exempt status for churches opposed to same-sex marriage could be an issue.
     “The government may not decide the truth or correctness of religious beliefs, or attempt to change religious beliefs by penalizing those it disfavors,” the letter says. “Stripping tax-exempt status from religious organizations in this way-a severe consequence that could force groups to exit the public square-would be an unprecedented assertion of governmental power over religious exercise.”
     “The newly recognized federal constitutional right to same- sex marriage must and can peaceably coexist with other longstanding constitutional rights of freedom of religion and speech. There is no need to infringe upon either individual or religious freedoms in carrying out the directive of the U.S. Supreme Court. As Attorney General I will work to both ensure common sense solutions and vigorously protect the right to freedom of religion,” South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley said in a statement on Thursday.
     The letter adds, “We take very seriously the religious freedom of our States’ citizens and believe that Congress should take action now to preclude the IRS from targeting religious groups in this way.”
     Although the majority decision in Obergefell v. Hodges does not explicitly address whether its ruling will impact churches’ tax-exempt status, it does hold that, “It must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.”
     Attorneys general from Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wisconsin signed the letter.

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