In Reason We Trust – Aug 2017
The Hidden Cost of Taxpayer Supported Religious Privilege
Lately I have been hearing of more people who claim they can’t do their job, bake a cake, deliver flowers or serve someone because doing so would violate their religious privilege. These small business owners or employees usually do not have the money to defend their religious privilege and would get swallowed up by the “war on Christianity” unless some miracle happened.
I also hear of well-funded and powerful 501 (C) (3) non-profit legal firms that provide legal representation, free of charge, to those who cannot afford to go to court. The impression these law firms seek to create with the public is what a wonderful, generous, agnanimous gesture for a rich and powerful legal firm to do the Christian thing and offer their legal services to the persecuted without charge. Nothing could be further from the truth.
These law firms are engaged in the business of creating laws that favor Christian privilege. That goal far outweighs any cost to local or state governments in their zeal to, in their opinion, “Make America a Christian Nation Again”. These Christian law firms employ a business model of offering free services up front because they know large and generous tax deductible donations will follow. This business model allows them to take in more money than they ever would if they simply charged their client for their legal services. Defending their clients is important but taking in hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations is essential to funding their religious crusade.
In 2015 the Liberty Council, a Christian law firm, persuaded Kim Davis, the Clerk of Courts for Rowan County, Kentucky who refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses, to participate in a frivolous law suit. The goal of this law suit was simply to make private, personally held religious beliefs trump state law. So far this farce has cost the taxpayers of Rowan County $225,000 in court costs despite the Liberty Council stating the case would cost taxpayers nothing because the law firm was representing Kim Davis free of charge.
Taxpayers are also increasingly being forced to pay to defend religious privilege when school boards decide to teach religion in public schools or government entities attempt to allow only Christian prayer to open their meetings.
In 2005 the Dover, Pa. public school board, prompted by the Thomas Moore Law Center, another Christian law firm, decided to teach Creationism. That decision ended up costing the Dover taxpayers one million dollars. The court ruled the plaintiffs were entitled to two million but the plaintiffs, in recognition of the small Dover school district budget, would only accept one million.
The Thomas Moore Law Center had searched for several years to find a school board that would teach Creationism, would participate in a court case that was sure to follow, and was naive enough to think they could actually win such a case. They found their mark in Dover, Pa.
The Thomas Moore Law Center litigates cases where, in their opinion, the nation’s so called Judeo-Christian heritage, Christian religious privilege, traditional family values, or the sanctity of life is under attack. Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann, both fundamentalist Christian evangelicals and former members of the Senate and House respectively, have served on the law firm’s board.
Another religious privilege case, Bormuth v. County of Jackson (Michigan) is being litigated right now by the First Liberty Institute, a Christian law firm that is also representing Maine’s very own Toni (I will pray for you) Richardson, the Cony High School educational technician. At issue is whether or not only Jackson County Commissioners will be able to offer exclusively Christian prayers at their monthly meetings. The cost to taxpayers is anyone’s guess as the longer a case is litigated the more it will cost. The county won by a district judge’s decision, lost on appeal by a 3 judge panel decision and now the county has asked the entire 15 member appellate court to hear the case. Depending on that decision, SCOTUS may hear the case in 2018.
Christian law firms such as the Thomas Moore Law Center, Liberty Counsel and the First Liberty Institute are in business primarily to win cases that will help create laws that favor Christian privilege. So when you hear of a butcher, baker or candlestick maker refusing service on religious grounds and being defended for free, remember the case is not about them, it is about creating religious privilege for one group at the expense of another, and YOU are paying the bill.