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October 08, 2006

In the States, religion is above the law.

There’s a fascinating article in today’s New York Times. Diana Henriques reports on the growing trend for U.S. legislation to have exemption clauses which benefit religious groups over others. For instance, in Alabama, day care centres are subject to rigourous inspections to ensure that children are not being abused. But for no especially good reason, religious-based day care centres are not.

In Boulder County, Colo., the Rocky Mountain Christian Church is using a new federal law to fight a county decision preventing it from expanding on land designated for open space.

In some places, religious organisations are not subject to planning restrictions, meaning they can build in locations that others can not.

The Inland Revenue aggressively investigates all businesses in the U.S. to ensure they are paying their taxes correctly. But not religious organisations, even those that aim to make huge profits. The I.R.S’s ability to investigate these investigations has been limited by legislation.

Religious organizations defend the exemptions as a way to recognize the benefits religious groups have provided operating schools, orphanages, old-age homes and hospitals long before social welfare and education were widely seen as the responsibility of government. But while ministries that run soup kitchens and homeless shelters benefit from these exemptions, secular nonprofits serving the same needy people often do not. And rather than just rewarding charitable works that benefit society, these breaks are equally available to religious organizations that provide no charitable services to anyone.

It’s a brilliant article, and while long, well worth reading to understand who governs the world’s most influential nation.

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