Pay-for-pray: Maryland churches promise green sermons for tax break

The Washington Post’s reporter, Arelis Hernández, doesn’t seem quite to realize just how outrageous this story is about churches angling for exemptions from a state-mandated stormwater fee in Prince George’s County, Maryland:

Thomas and other pastors also have agreed to start “green” ministries to maintain the improvements at their churches, and to preach environmentally focused sermons to educate their congregations.

In exchange for the commitments both as to physical upgrades to church property and the right sorts of exhortation addressed to their congregations, the churches are getting very tangible benefits, some coming directly out of the pockets of Prince George’s County taxpayers (emphasis added):

So far, about 30 churches have applied. Forestville Redeemer was the first. They are planning to install rain barrels, build rain gardens, plant trees and, perhaps, replace their blacktop with permeable pavement. The government will cover most of the cost. In return, a fee that was estimated at $744 a year will be reduced to “virtually nothing,” Ortiz said.

Organized churches play a central role in P.G. County politics, so it is not especially surprising to see a special deal cut for them. What we might not have expected was how openly pastors were willing to trade the content of sermons for government cash on the (rain) barrel. More coverage: WBAL, Derek Hunter/Daily Caller, and Ira Stoll, who writes:

But the bigger point is a problem with big government and taxes in general. The more burdensome the taxes are, the greater is the temptation of those crushed by them to trade their freedom and independence for a discount on them, and the more power the government has to dictate behavior. The tax becomes not a way to raise revenue for the government, but a method for exerting control.

Let’s hope religion-in-public-life pundits don’t pull their punches on exactly how bad this sort of deal is. They should be at least as upset as those of us on the secular side.

About Walter Olson

Fellow at a think tank in the Northeast specializing in law. Websites include Former columnist for Reason and Times Online (U.K.), contributor to National Review, etc.
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4 Responses to Pay-for-pray: Maryland churches promise green sermons for tax break

  1. BehindTheLines says:

    One nice thing about the American model of government is that we have few rules, and they are enforced strictly. I suspect many want to switch to a model where there are a cumbersome number of rules, but they’ll be waived if you know the right people.

  2. Narr says:

    “Few rules,. . . enforced strictly”? Please tell me you’re joking. You MUST be joking.


  3. BehindTheLines says:

    Compared to, say, France? Not joking.

  4. Narr says:

    Fair enough–I realized later that by “model” you didn’t have to mean the present reality, but the original theory. Yes, compared to other places we’re not as far gone.


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