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Freedom of religion or a license to hate?

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Churches have enjoyed tax-exempt status since 1913, and have operated with complete authority over who can be members, what rights those members have and how members are to conduct themselves. While societal shifts have moved churches to expand their doctrine and even their dogma through the years, we have also witnessed a greater movement into politicking and dangerous inflammatory influences.

The most prominent example currently is Westboro Baptist Church. With its reach across the United States, members are involved in protests at military funeral services, private family funeral services and most recently at the services for Sandy Hook Elementary School victims. The Westboro members use the funeral services as a platform against same sex marriage, blaming gay behavior and society's tolerance of it for anything tragic that happens on a large scale as God's punishment.

Communities have been able to thwart most attempts at such protests by accepting protection from local groups such as motorcycle clubs and off duty fire and law personnel during services. More recently, petitions have been started on the White House “We The People” web page.

Nick Wing of the Huffington Post wrote, “Users of the White House's "We the People" digital petition platform have flooded the site in support of an effort to officially designate the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church as a hate group.” “The individual push has since received the support of nearly 250,000 signees, making it the most popular single petition ever created through the White House initiative. It recently cruised past a call for federal action on gun control, which along with a number of other petitions on the issue of gun rights, drew a response from President Barack Obama last week.

One step toward protecting military funerals from disruption was made when President Obama signed the Honoring America's Veterans Act which limits the action of protests.

Other petitions have been gaining ground on the government site including the following.

  • Investigate the IRS Tax-exempt status of the Westboro Baptist Church, signatures of 70,478

  • Remove the Westboro Baptist Church's 501(c) (3) tax-exempt status, and make it retroactive, signatures of 47,634

  • Revoke the tax-exempt status of the Westboro Baptist Church & re-classify Westboro Baptist Church as a hate group, signatures of 63,919

Churches have been granted tax-exempt status with the understanding that they are to remain neutral in political affiliation and will not engage in any fund raising activities that benefit any political entity. That agreement has since been broken time and again. Now, with the hate filled language and activity of many churches including Westboro, it is time that we as a country look at what is appropriate regarding church activities and tax-exempt status.

Freedom of religion is the right to worship or not to worship in any way a person wishes so long as it does not infringe upon another's rights. A religious organization's obligation to the community in exchange for the tax-exemption should be charity, spiritual education, neutrality and goodwill. Any other type of activity resembles a club, not a church and therefore should not be tax-exempt. Some feel that by allowing churches like Westboro to continue operating at a tax-exempt status gives them a license to hate. And, in a sense, taxpayers are being forced to support their efforts.

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