Two days after the Obergefell decision, New York Times columnist Mark Oppenheimer suggested that it is now time to rethink the idea of tax-exempt status for religious institutions: “Rather than try to rescue tax-exempt status for organizations that dissent from settled public policy on matters of race or sexuality, we need to take a more radical step. It’s time to abolish, or greatly diminish, their tax-exempt statuses.”
I don’t write this particular article to engage his primary argument—the rehashed “government owns everything until it says it doesn’t” argument trotted out by liberals. Rather, I write to discuss the tactical strategy of Oppenheimer’s article, its fall-out, and opportunities for capitalizing on a move that Oppenheimer himself calls “radical.”
Mr. Oppenheimer, thank you for showing the left’s cards. You’ve done those on the Wrong Side of History a terrific service in your candor. Usual tactics include deceiving one’s opponents about the stakes of the debate. But you aren’t out to deceive. You’ve made plain how fast this regime of marginalizing and stigmatizing dissenters of the Sexual Revolution should accelerate. When I’m out speaking to churches and other organizations, I can use your article as a prime example of all that’s wrong and illiberal in liberal thinking and how unfair it is to those who don’t agree with the totalizing claims of sexual liberation. You are now the part of my speech where I’ll say, “And if you don’t believe me, just wait until you read what Mark Oppenheimer wrote.” Thanks for putting religious conservatives on notice.
Oppenheimer erred in this column. If I had to guess, he’s received rebuttal not only from conservative critics, but from liberal critics, too. Conservative critics find the proposal completely unacceptable, obviously. As those who believe that not everything is first and foremost an asset of the state like Oppenheimer seemingly does, conservatives think the argument simply statist and harmful for civil society and freedom of conscience.
Liberal critics don’t disagree on principle with Oppenheimer’s article. Of course they don’t. They can’t. Liberals simply disagree with the timing of Oppenheimer’s essay. It was written too soon. The hegemony they desire requires the acquiescence of all dissenting institutions. To succeed, more time is needed to convince the rest of American culture that opposition to homosexuality and same-sex marriage is akin to invidious discrimination. As an ideology built on anthropological fictions, the only way for liberalism to emerge victorious is to cement these falsehoods in law by way of coercion. This makes them prone to overreach. This is why “liberty” so construed by the Evangelists of the Sexual Revolution is so emptied of its richness as an ideal so germane to Ordered Liberty. “Liberty” is merely the will to power, according to the liberal lexicon. It is the liberty to override all limits, if not to restrain the mediating forces that inherently check liberalism—such as religion.
For all too long, we’ve been told that if we’d only allow for “marriage equality,” the Left and gay rights proponents would respond in a “Live and Let Live” détente. If “Live and Let Live” hasn’t worked yet, why would we suggest it would work in the future? Oppenheimer’s article provides the evidence. They’re not interested in pluralism, but in forced affirmation.
Oh, and one other thing. If you’re upset that Yale isn’t sufficiently financially invested in the life of New Haven, do something that non-statists do: Ask rich Yalies to donate money (there are some of those, right?), don’t confiscate it.
Andrew T. Walker serves as the Director of Policy Studies for The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.