Bill aims to shield religious freedoms from taxman

Wants no one to feel heat for views on gay marriage

A House bill being introduced Thursday seeks to protect the religious freedom of individuals, institutions and businesses that are increasingly being punished or harassed for their beliefs on marriage.

The Marriage and Religious Freedom Act is intended to “prohibit discrimination through the federal tax code” against citizens and institutions who think marriage is the union of one man and one woman, said Rep. Raul R. Labrador, Idaho Republican.

The bill does not address state tax rules or laws, and therefore would not have affected, for example, recent state actions against a New Mexico photographer or the Oregon bakery that each refused to participate in gay marriages.

However, the proposed legislation would ensure that individuals who want to donate to a church that holds to the traditional teaching on marriage would not see their donations challenged by the Internal Revenue Service, Mr. Labrador said.

The legislation would cover corporations, companies, associations, partnerships and societies, as well as individuals. It would prohibit the federal government from taking “adverse actions” against them, such as denying or revoking a tax-exempt status, and denying or excluding people from receiving federal grants, contacts, certifications and employment.

Denial of tax exemptions was one weapon the federal government used to stamp out racism by private parties, such as Bob Jones University, and some gay activists have said they are eager to take the same action against what they see as a similarly immoral hatred.

The bill has the support of some 30 co-sponsors, including Rep. Mike McIntyre, North Carolina Democrat, and Republican Reps. Joseph R. Pitts of Pennsylvania, Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Vicky Hartzler of Missouri.

A similar bill is being discussed in the Senate.

Mr. Labrador said the bill was inspired by the Supreme Court’s Windsor ruling in June, which found the federal definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman unconstitutional, and declared the federal government’s traditional-marriage law was based on “improper animus” against same-sex couples.

The new legislation is intended to be a “narrow” solution for potential problems raised by Windsor, the two-term congressman said.

Brad Dacus, president of Pacific Justice Institute in California, applauded the bill.

The U.S. Constitution, which protects freedom of religion, “theoretically already grant[s] this protection,” Mr. Dacus said. However, given questionable gay-marriage court rulings, scandals in the Internal Revenue Service and “atrocities” such as SB 323 in California, lawmakers should act “pre-emptively” to protect people, churches and institutions against government intolerance of religious freedom, he said.

SB 323 is the California bill introduced by state Sen. Ricardo Lara that would have revoked the tax-exempt status of the Boy Scouts of America and other youth-serving groups if they did not admit youth or adults based on sexual orientation, gender identity, religion or religious affiliation.

Gay-rights groups, such as Equality California and National Center for Lesbian Rights, said Mr. Lara’s bill was needed to prevent groups that discriminated against gays from receiving privileged tax treatment.

Mr. Lara recently pulled his bill from consideration, but promised that it was “alive and well” and would be reintroduced in 2014.

The Lara bill “is what concerns me,” Mr. Labrador said. “Clearly, there are people who believe that if you support traditional marriage, you have no rights to receive tax-exempt status. … I believe religious liberty is under attack.”

On Capitol Hill, the Labrador bill is supported by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, National Organization for Marriage, Heritage Action and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

About the Author
Cheryl Wetzstein

Cheryl Wetzstein

Cheryl Wetzstein covers family and social issues as a national reporter for The Washington Times. She has been a reporter for three decades, working in New York City and Washington, D.C. Since joining The Washington Times in 1985, she has been a features writer, environmental and consumer affairs reporter, and assistant business editor.

Beginning in 1994, Mrs. Wetzstein worked exclusively ...

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