EXCERPTS from Rob Boston at Alternet:
U.S. law is honeycombed with examples of preferential treatment and special breaks for religion. Some of these practices may grow out of the First Amendment command that the “free exercise” of religion must not be infringed. Others are traditions or were added to the law after lobbying efforts by religious groups.
1. Tax Policy
Tax exemption is given to a variety of religious and secular groups, but in the case of houses of worship, they get one huge advantage: They are tax exempt by mere dint of their existence. They don’t have to apply for tax-exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service, nor, absent highly unusual circumstances or blatant law-breaking, can they lose it.
2. Criminal Investigations
The sentencing of Catholic cleric Msgr. William J. Lynn of Philadelphia to three to six years imprisonment for knowingly covering up evidence of clerical abuse of children by priests captured national headlines – because it was so unusual.
Observed the [Dallas Morning News in 2004], “Since the clergy sex-abuse scandal exploded anew in 2002, Catholic leaders have taken the brunt of the blame. Overlooked is the role of police, prosecutors and judges – the people expected to hold abusers accountable when the church itself will not. Law enforcement typically has helped through inaction, but sometimes the aid has been direct.”
3. Political Lobbying
Non-profit groups that want to lobby Congress in Washington, DC, are subjected to strict rules …. Religious groups are exempt from all of this. Have you ever wondered how much money the Catholic hierarchy spends lobbying against abortion or marriage equality in DC? Too bad, because the bishops aren’t required to tell anyone.
4. Employment Law
People who work for houses of worship and ministries have little protection when it comes to being summarily fired from their jobs. This is to be expected with clergy, but the law seems to be moving to a place where even people in clerical positions and other slots without specific religious duties can be let go at will. In the secular workforce, laws protect whistle-blowers from retaliation. These laws don’t apply to religious groups in many cases.
5. Ceremonial Uses of Religion
Government is supposed to be neutral on matters of theology – in theory. In reality, the government leans on religion pretty frequently, especially for ceremonial purposes. In the process, it creates a symbiotic relationship and a climate of preferential treatment that similarly situated secular groups don’t get.