Local church, state clashes stir emotions

Augusta State lawsuit, letters on prayers reignite old debate

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Church and state clashes are common. Solutions that satisfy are not.

Jennifer Keeton  Special
Special
Jennifer Keeton

Several recent local conflicts have tested the relationship between church and state and challenged those involved to defend or disparage the role of religion in public life.

An organization of atheists and agnostics asked the Aiken City Council to end the prayers that traditionally open its meetings. A week later, a letter to Augusta's government followed.

Last week, a lawsuit was filed on behalf of a Christian student at Augusta State University who contends she would be required to change her beliefs in order to graduate.

People of faith can find comfort in the fact that "the system is meant to work this way," said Michael Broyde, a professor of law at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University in Atlanta.

"It's a tension that comes from two competing values. We have an anti- establishment clause which mandates the federal government never pick one religion over another. We also have another, which says anyone is free to worship as they choose," he said. "Very few countries have both provisions."

In the eyes of the church, it's more than a clash of values. It's a collision of world views.

The Rev. David McKinley highlighted the ASU conflict from the pulpit of Warren Baptist Church last Sunday. He played a clip of 24-year-old Jennifer Keeton describing her convictions in a video for the Alliance Defense Fund, which filed the suit.

McKinley thanked God for a young lady who is unwilling to violate the authority of God in her life.

"She has been confronted with what I would call a form of academic bias and coercion. And that coercion has ultimately led to this basic premise: The practice of the Christian faith disqualifies a person from a credible practice of counseling. That is the foundation of this debate," he said. "There is a Greek word for that, spelled B-A-L-O-N-E-Y."

Her lawsuit, he said, is part of a larger cultural debate between the authority of God and the voice of culture.

"While our culture has clearly become more secular, you cannot take an eraser to history," McKinley said.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based nonprofit, sent letters to Aiken and Augusta this month, asking that the cities no longer pray before meetings. They are two of more than 200 letters the group will send to municipalities across the country this year. Some letters are ignored; others are resolved; and still others become lawsuits.

Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor helped found the organization more than 30 years ago because she and her mother, Anne Nicol Gaylor, felt the First Amendment was being degraded.

"Our respect for our secular way of life is at stake," she said. "You have people talking about the nation's founding in faith. It's not true. They're going to win if no one stops them. We have a hostile Supreme Court. It's more important than ever to speak out."

The group celebrated a landmark success in April, when a U.S. District Court judge ruled in favor of the foundation, which had filed suit claiming the National Day of Prayer, held in May every year since 1952, was unconstitutional.

A media firestorm resulted, drawing attention to the group's other causes.

"I have to tell you, the best way to end a violation is to go public, go to the media," Gaylor said. "We realized that if we let the public weigh in, sometimes it might not be in our favor, but these things work out."

IT'S TROUBLING TO THINK important matters are left to sways of popular opinion, said South Carolina Rep. J. Roland Smith, R-Warrenville, who is an ordained pastor in the Pentecostal Holiness church.

"There's such a thing as truth. Too few people believe that these days," Smith said. "There are warring factions in the U.S. There's an attempt to drive God out of the public sphere, which is ludicrous considering this nation was founded for the freedom to worship."

He said freedom of religion isn't the same as freedom from religion.

"We open the day up with a prayer and the pledge. We open up our assembly with a prayer and the pledge. We have our caucus meetings on Tuesday mornings, and those start with devotions," he said. "People don't have to participate, but you have to realize, these things are ingrained into public life. I resent being told I can't pray."

When conflict arises, courts should be a last resort, Smith said.

"The problem is the folks on the other side aren't willing to compromise their beliefs against religion but can't understand that we aren't willing to compromise our beliefs in that religion," he said.

The ASU case in particular rings of hypocrisy, said Dr. John Hill, the director of the Center for Care and Counseling for the CSRA, a nonprofit supported by churches to provide discounted mental health care and counseling.

In her suit, Keeton alleges that she is required to complete a remediation plan to alter her views against homosexuality if she wants to remain in the college's school counseling program.

"They want her to respect other views but won't respect her own," Hill said.

Keeton has said professors felt her Bible-based views in opposition to homosexuality are incompatible with the prevailing views in the counseling profession.

Yet, Hill said, it's common for counselors to work with clients they disagree with.

"There are lots of counselors who treat people with views very different than their own," he said.

Hill said the situation amounts to a clear case of discrimination against Christians.

"There is such a clash of world views, and people who have a traditional Christian view are being persecuted," he said. "There are nurses who are fired for not participating in abortions."

Christian pharmacists have also been fired for refusing to dispense birth control.

Broyde, the Emory professor, said such outcomes are to be expected: "I have the right to believe what I want to believe. I don't have the right to have a job with the same protections as my belief."

He says, for instance, that he could choose to be racist, but becoming a police officer and acting in accordance with racist beliefs would not be protected under the First Amendment.

"Just because an idea is protected doesn't mean my job is protected," Broyde said.

IT'S TROUBLING to call such conflicts "persecution," said John Macaulay, who teaches church history at Erskine College, a Christian school in Due West, S.C.

"There's a feeling that the church and Christians are under attack. Is it the persecution of the church in China or Pakistan? No, but in the U.S. it doesn't have to be because there are so many other examples degrading the church's authority," he said. "Historically, the church is at a point that it's never been before."

Since the Roman Empire, the church has gained power and influence and only recently experienced significant decline in authority, Macaulay said.

"I am concerned about the trend. It's not militant persecution, but it's in a form that seeks to take away power that Christians once had," he said.

Warren pastor McKinley hopes and expects a more vocal church body emerges from these conflicts. On Sunday, he reminded the congregation that their tax dollars support the school and they are not without a voice.

"There has always been a conflict with those who come under and receive God's authority in their lives and those who rebuff that," he said. "We're living in a day where the conflict of world views is the most vivid it's ever been. ... What is sufficient and authoritative for life? That is the debate. We won't accept anything less than the word of God."

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kamsmom
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kamsmom 08/01/10 - 04:59 pm
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There always seems to be a

There always seems to be a debate as to why Christians are not more tolerant of "non-Christians" or "other religions". My question is why are the "non-Christians" and "other religions" not tolerant of Christians. It seems that there is always someone trying to take religion out of somewhere. What does a group based out of Wisconsin has to do with demanding anything from somewhere other than Wisconsin. What do they have to do with Aiken or Augusta. What we are doing here does not affect them in the least. I think it seems to just bother them that there are any Christians in the world at all.
As for the young lady at ASU. She has a RIGHT to keep her Christians beliefs and to go throught the training program for counseling without being asked to change her beliefs, attend a gay pride parade or anything like there. There are all types of counselors out there. There are some people, maybe only Christians, I don't know, that prefer to go to a Christian counselor vs a "secular" counselor. That is our preferance. Should insurance companies no longer pay towards counseling if someone goes to a Christian counselor? I don't think so.
As for the praying before meetings. There again is nothing wrong with asking guidance in the decisions you are about to make. If someone in the meeting is not a Christian or does not want to participate in the prayer, that may be a good time to get water or to plan ahead to come into the meeting 5 or 10 minutes late. No one is forcing them to pray or even to participate. Even if there was not a minute long prayer before and the prayer was done in the room 15 minutes before the meeting for those who want to participate, there would still be the same problem because they would be shouting that it was done in a tax payer funded building.
The problem is that there are people who don't believe as Christians do and think that is a false and silly and whatever else they believe about Christianity. That is what they have to deal with in their lives. What I have to deal with in mine is whether I continue to do what God would want me to do and how He would have me to act. He said that we are not to be ashamed of Him, that good deads would not get us to Heaven but only through accepting Him into your life would you get to Heaven-I have to stand up for my beliefs the same as others stand up for theirs. So don't expect me to lay down and allow anyone to take God away from me. You might succeed in stopping a prayer here and there but you won't stop God and, in case you haven't heard, He does win!
All I can do is pray for those who need prayer, help those who need help and let God handle what needs to be handled.

Willow Bailey
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Willow Bailey 08/01/10 - 05:12 pm
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momster, I wouldn't put much

momster, I wouldn't put much stock in your friend's explanation. It doesn't sound like there is much "Christian" to her life experiences.

Don't waste your energy feeling sad for me, I have a victorious life in Jesus Christ. I have peace, comfort, and joy in the midst of every circumstance. I don't have to fear our government, the market, or mankind, because God is in control! He is sovereign and He is King over all.

It has not always been like that for me. So, where did I get this from? Did I get it from the Bibie? Well, I certainly read about it there. But! where it became real to me was through experiencing God in the circumstances of my life. It's something that is not easily explained unless you have had the same experience.

I would like an opportunity to understand your thinking though, who is your God? And how's that working in your life?

baronvonreich
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baronvonreich 08/01/10 - 05:13 pm
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"What does a group based out

"What does a group based out of Wisconsin has to do with demanding anything from somewhere other than Wisconsin."
------------------------
But I guess it is ok for the ADF, based out of Arizona, making demands and filing a lawsuit against ASU? Wow. Can you smell that wretched hypocrisy?

Willow Bailey
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Willow Bailey 08/01/10 - 05:45 pm
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I would like to share with

I would like to share with some of you, who are willing to be shared with, a book that you may want to read.

"When A Nation Forgets God.....Seven lessons we must learn from Nazi Germany" by Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer

scoopdedoop64
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scoopdedoop64 08/01/10 - 06:42 pm
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Willow, I read that book

Willow, I read that book given to me by one of my lifelong friends who is a pastor of a very special church in Martinez and it was excellent reading and gives a clear understanding of where we are and better yet where we are headed if things don't change.

gaspringwater
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gaspringwater 08/01/10 - 06:43 pm
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I noticed the Warren Baptist

I noticed the Warren Baptist Church pastor jumped to support student Jennifer Keeton. And used the used the Greek word, B-A-L-O-N-E-Y too.

Wonder if the good pastor sprang to his feet, mounted the pulpit and condemned going to war with Iraq 2003. Among the nation’s major religious orders, only the Southern Baptist publicly supported war with Iraq. Southern Baptist spokes-man Richard Land said in a published statement that the United States would not enter Iraq as conquerors but as liberators. He called it a just war.

Eight protestant denominations, as well as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Unitarian-Universalist Association all adopted a stance opposing the war. United Church of Christ leaders issued a formal statement condemning a pre-emptive strike. The Presbyterian Church (USA), Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the Episcopal Church, the Greek Orthodox Church in America and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) all took a similar stance.

Three Jewish sects — the Orthodox Union, Union of American Hebrew Congregations and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism — took the position that all alternatives to war should be exhausted first.

Pope John Paul II said Christians should be guardians of peace. “It is a duty for believers, regardless of the religion to which they belong, to proclaim that we will never be able to be happy if we are against one another,” he said.

Sargebaby
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Sargebaby 08/01/10 - 07:12 pm
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"Pope John Paul II said

"Pope John Paul II said Christians should be guardians of peace. “It is a duty for believers, regardless of the religion to which they belong, to proclaim that we will never be able to be happy if we are against one another,” he said."
____________________________

This is fine until someone wants to use their Religious beliefs in an effort to destroy all infidels, and you know who they are, right?

scoopdedoop64
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scoopdedoop64 08/01/10 - 07:19 pm
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The good pastor is just that

The good pastor is just that a very good pastor. I know him personally and he can handle the criticism but I want you to know that it is very rare for him to enter the arena of stuff like this because he is not a "political" guy and mainly he just preaches the Word. But this issue has sparked a lot of conversation as we have seen on this forum and if a pastor is going to relate to the people of his congregation he will have to time to time give his opinions on topics. Last I checked America was still a free nation and pastors could still say what they wanted from their pulpits. I guess that is the natural next step though is to start squealching free speech from those "radical Christians". LOL

Sargebaby, good to see you on. Haven't seen you in a while. You ok? Been praying for you.

Can I say just one more thing to everyone? I know we all get passionate about our beliefs and positions but try to lighten up a little and give each other a little grace and if you wouldn't say it to their face don't do type it from behind you computer. Have a good day!

scoopdedoop64
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scoopdedoop64 08/01/10 - 07:26 pm
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BTW, Sargebaby I like your

BTW, Sargebaby I like your new avatar.

Sargebaby
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Sargebaby 08/01/10 - 07:36 pm
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Hi Scoop! I had to slow down

Hi Scoop! I had to slow down a bit due to leg surgery last Tuesday. I can certainly use the prayers, and thank you for the ones you've offered. I picked the Avatar out of a collection of Eagle photos, as it represents the defense of Freedom! I couldn't have chosen a more representative figure than the American Bald Eagle, my favorite flyer!

momster59
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momster59 08/01/10 - 07:37 pm
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Willow - it is not up to you

Willow - it is not up to you to determine how Christian my friend is, but God. I haven't been given any reason I can see to feel sorry for you, you seem quite happy. I am not saddened over differences in beliefs but that some people are robbing themselves of joy.

My spiritual life is working for me just fine, thanks for your concern.

momster59
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momster59 08/01/10 - 07:41 pm
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sargebaby - the crusaders?

sargebaby - the crusaders? the inquisitors? the conquistadors? the nazis?
Oh, I get it you mean the current islamic version of the above who are doing the same to the name of true Islam that the above have done to Christianity.

Willow Bailey
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Willow Bailey 08/01/10 - 07:51 pm
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freeradical...yes we are

freeradical...yes we are targeted, baited and smeared. Many have left over it. It has been going on for atleast the last 30 years and I am sure before that. We should all tell our stories to the President of ASU. Not planning to send my children there as a result of my experience.

GAterp
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GAterp 08/01/10 - 08:12 pm
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If the State wants to balance

If the State wants to balance the budget, then they should tax the churches!

gaspringwater
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gaspringwater 08/01/10 - 08:13 pm
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Sargebaby - We're talking

Sargebaby - We're talking about Iraqis and they hadn't harmed any Americans. They were not even a threat to American but that didn't save them from attack and occupation. Unfortunately they had oil and 9-11 presented an opportunity for the unscrupulous to go for it.

baronvonreich
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baronvonreich 08/01/10 - 08:13 pm
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scoopdedoop64Sunday, Aug. 1

scoopdedoop64Sunday, Aug. 1 7:19 PM Last I checked America was still a free nation and pastors could still say what they wanted from their pulpits.
------------------------------
Uhhh.....those bully pulpits will not be granted total freedom to say what they want until they decide they want to quit bribing the government in order to continue dodging their taxes. But of course we all know of many who violate this law because, as with most Christians, they have no respect for the laws or other people unless they deem it benefical to them and their cause. We have a word for it here in this great, secular, free county and it is called hypocrisy.

JusticeForEva
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JusticeForEva 08/01/10 - 08:15 pm
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I say if religious

I say if religious institutions want to have so much say so in governmental affairs then allow yourselves to be taxed like everyone else....

Willow Bailey
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Willow Bailey 08/01/10 - 08:20 pm
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momster, maybe I misread you.

momster, maybe I misread you. If so, please accept my apologies. I objected to what I heard, perhaps it did come off looking like judgment. I felt there wasn't much stock being put intoThe Word of God. Our God is absolute and so is His Word. Our interpretation of His Word doesn't change it.

Willow Bailey
20579
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Willow Bailey 08/01/10 - 09:06 pm
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Justiceforeva, if you really

Justiceforeva, if you really do mean it, that is "justice for ever", read the aforementioned book.

And here's a question to ponder. Where does the money come from that is in the church? And what is the purpose of the money?

soldout
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soldout 08/01/10 - 09:43 pm
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Government is restricted from

Government is restricted from interference in religion but our religious influence in governemnt has no restriction.

soldout
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soldout 08/01/10 - 09:45 pm
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If you tax the churches they

If you tax the churches they then have less money to help the poor and government has to help more poor. Do we need to figure out who does it best and at the lowest overhead

freeradical
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freeradical 08/01/10 - 10:18 pm
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Willow, Yes, there was at

Willow,

Yes, there was at least one incident of baiting similar to the professor's

evolutionary inspired meltdown in almost every class I took.

Classes that on the face of it should have had nothing to do

with religion.

The ones who engage in it are generally bitter,unhappy,cowardly types

who were never very much liked or popular themselves in school.

The reality of being in school again,only in power this time, in a school

filled with vulnerable kids less than half their age is absolutely

intoxicating to them,and their only chance at gaining

any momentary relief from the reality of their own miserable past and

present lives.

This amazingly small, little world behind the plantation walls is the only

reality they want to know.

Imagine , not only being oblivious to the fact that over 50 million babies

have been slaughtered on the altar of liberalisim in this country, but then

doubling down on the obliviousness by thinking that "christians" having

all the power, and imposing their will on everyone is what has allowed

this slaughter to happen.

Following their mental gymnastics if the christians were not in power the

number slaughtered would be much higher 600 million, 900 million,

etc,etc,,,perhaps.

If only the christians did not have all the power.

baronvonreich
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baronvonreich 08/01/10 - 10:18 pm
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If some churches want to tout

If some churches want to tout themselves as "helpers of the poor" then they have been colossal failures. Other churches do little if anything to truly help the poor. We have a word for this.....you guessed it....hypocrisy. It is wretched.

InChristLove
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InChristLove 08/01/10 - 10:32 pm
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baron, do you have facts to

baron, do you have facts to back up that accusation. How do you know the church as a whole doesn't help the poor tremendously, seeings how you don't go to church, don't believe in God, and have no idea what the church really does (except the hypocrisy). As for pastors not claiming taxes on the income they receive....I don't know where you get your information. As for our pastor, he claims taxes on his income just like everyone else. I'm sure there may be some who don't but lumping everyone in the same class and all churches in the same category, is being unjustified. You'll find hypocrisy in every walk of like..doesn't make it right but it's there.

No one is perfect, no church is perfect, and you sir are not perfect either. All we can do is live the best way we can and some of us choose to look to a higher being (God) for directions...yeah we get it wrong sometimes but do tell me....with man and all his faults do you really think we are the best judge on how to live a good life. Personally I think I'll leave it up to God to guide me...He knows better.

scoopdedoop64
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scoopdedoop64 08/01/10 - 10:55 pm
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ICL, No Baron does not have

ICL, No Baron does not have the facts to back that up. I have spent my whole life at great personal cost to me and my family and worked with some of the most wonderful people who have done the same to care for the homeless, hungry and broken hearted people of our communities. Now, if someone just doesn't want us to have a tax free status; I am ok with that because personally I don't want the government having any say so in the church and I am glad to pay for that right. But when Baron says we are failures and challenges what we do at such a great cost it is highly offensive. The good part is that I don't do it for Baron's approval. I do it because I love Jesus and but for the grace of God I could be the one out there needing help. This tax free issue is just something Baron uses to put us down. If it wasn't that he would start his other talking points that we have memorized: gluttony; crusaders, etc. We all know that as long as the lost man can pull up a "straw man" to attack the church on he never has to deal with his sin or need of Christ. That is what really scares people like Baron.

baronvonreich
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baronvonreich 08/01/10 - 11:07 pm
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ICL - in your haste you fail

ICL - in your haste you fail to comprehend. I said nothing about the church as a whole. The facts are that poverty in America has grown year after year, decade after decade. The churches who boast about helping the poor have obviously failed to do much good. Some churches, who still exempt themselves from taxes, do little if anything to truly help the poor. Some churches spend MILLIONS on buildings, gyms, monstrous pay to pray palaces, coffee shops, HDTVs, surround sound, stadium seating, lavish digital advertisement signs (some with HDTV) and place much more emphasis on this than helping the poor. Thems be the the facts.

Do your own research on tax laws ICL and try to educate yourself so you can converse intelligently. Your pastor may pay SOME taxes but ordained clergy of any and all faiths have many, many special income tax exemptions from exempting income paid for housing (or the benefit of a parsonage) to their exemption of income tax withholding to their exemption from paying unemployement taxes to their option to opt out of Social Security and Medicare taxes. So no, your pastor does not pay his taxes like everybody else and these exemptions for the tale telling religious snake oil salesmen are completely unfair compared to the tax laws of every other self-employed person.

DaveMustaineRules
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DaveMustaineRules 08/01/10 - 11:22 pm
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None here have questioned the

None here have questioned the pastors right to speak freely. What I have questioned is his statement which suggests everyone in this nation must bow to his church's interpretation of Christianity.

scoopdedoop64
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scoopdedoop64 08/01/10 - 11:31 pm
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Dave, you are right you

Dave, you are right you didn't but Baron has suggested that this is what is happening: Baron says, "Uhhh.....those bully pulpits will not be granted total freedom to say what they want until they decide they want to quit bribing the government in order to continue dodging their taxes"

See how everything gets so screwed up on here. What should be a discussion about how different groups are viewing religion's place in the world outside of the church and the events that have pushed against religion has turned into a slam the preacher and does he have the right to speak on issues from the pulpit. Also, I really don't see where the pastor said anything in reference to the nation bowing down to his interpretation of things. He stated what he saw and why he thinks it wrong. He has the right.

DaveMustaineRules
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DaveMustaineRules 08/01/10 - 11:35 pm
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You may be correct.

You may be correct. Unfortunately, I have only the article to go by, and his comment may appear out of context. I take his comment to refer to everyone. If he just means himself and his congregation, then of course he has a right to say that.

scoopdedoop64
2353
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scoopdedoop64 08/01/10 - 11:37 pm
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BTW, Baron, you who are

BTW, Baron, you who are always talking about abiding by the law and how we Christians just need to accept it. Why don't you follow your own advice. At least for now, churches have been granted a tax free status by the law. So accept or work to get it changed but quit gripping about it because it is the law. To quote your favorite line: Does anyone smell the stinch of hypocristy here?

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