The Radical Center
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The Radical Center

One-Way Bigotry and Tax Funds

One of the basic principles of freedom of association is the right to exit the association, or the right to never be compelled to support them. Freedom of association works both ways.

This principle is NOT something Republicans understand. They want to compel people, by the force of law, to support hateful organizations and justify it by screaming the organizations have “freedom of association” or “freedom of religion.” That means the objects of the prejudices of these organizations may be forced to finance them.

In Tennessee theocratic Republicans are pushing a bill to protect tax-funded bigotry under the guise it protects “religious freedom.” In spite of more children being in the system than are adopted the anti-gay Religious Right is pushing legislation to sanction rejection of adoptees solely on the basis of them being gay. This would apply to all agencies including the 33 major agencies funded by taxpayers to the tune of $229 million in 2018 alone.

On one hand Republicans scream this is “religious freedom” and on the other hand they want to stick taxpayers with the cost of those religious beliefs. They want to have their cake and to eat it as well. If an adoption agency wishes to require religious beliefs they may do so as long as those who don’t hold those beliefs aren’t required to fund them. Freedom of association works both ways.

If the belief is a religious one, qualifying for 1st Amendment protections, it is NOT qualified for tax funding under the same amendment. Separation of church and states doesn’t mean religious organizations get to pick the pockets of taxpayers and then invoke religious freedom to refuse services to the public. Public financing removes all rights to freedom of association. If you a group doesn’t want to serve the public then reject public funding.

This is becoming more and more of a problem as Republicans have pushed legislation, which funds religious outfits at the expense of taxpayers. We have reached a point where much of evangelicalism now exists by picking the pockets of taxpayers. If you think crony capitalism is bad then get a look at crony Christianity.

Fundamentalist Jerry Falwell Jr. is not just a Trump cheerleader but also a “welfare queen” of gigantic proportions. His faux university is in 6th place nationally for the amount of federal funding it receives.

He has an army of recruiters who use Google data to track down people who search for “distance learning” and then calls them and offers to help them secure federal funding to enroll in Falwell’s courses on-line. They help these individuals go deeply in debt so Falwell’s operation gets the funding. The money goes to Falwell and the debt goes to individuals taking simplistic courses under the guise of receiving a college education.

Hundreds of millions flow into Falwell Jr., and his religious-right campaigns, mostly being paid for from federal loans taken out by people who have trouble paying them back. They go in debt and Liberty gets rich. And these people call themselves free market conservatives. Once Liberty discovered how to get rich off of Federal loans the amount students borrow escalated dramatically. The amount of federal aid flowing to Liberty has grown five times faster than actual enrollment.

In fact, more federal aid is paid out to the “students” than the university receives. Many “students” are now living off the loans for Liberty.

These anti-welfare conservatives have put government loans into their business model. The Washington Post says:

Student financial aid is all part of Liberty’s business model. The school has had distance education programs since the days of VHS tapes and correspondence exams by mail. When online courses expanded the capability of schools to provide courses, Liberty was poised to provide a unique curriculum and programs for conservative evangelicals.

Liberty’s enrollment numbers have grown exponentially since 2004, but federal aid has grown even faster. From 2004 to 2009, enrollment tripled to 30,000; federal aid quadrupled. Enrollment then doubled in the next five years while aid quadrupled again.”

Yet, Falwell and his team know many of these loans will never be paid back — they just don’t care. It redistributes money from working taxpayers to Falwell, who earns over $900,000 per year. Liberty doesn’t care if students can pay the debts back, it’s not their problem, it’s their source of income. Politico reported:

Many students have a hard time landing decent salaried jobs and paying back their loans. Within three years of graduating from Liberty University, almost 10 percent of students default on their loans, well above the national average of 6.5 percent among recent graduates of private nonprofit four-year colleges.

In addition, the New York Times reported “only 38 percent of Liberty borrowers manage to pay down as little as one dollar on their student loan principal within three years of leaving school.”

From 2008 to 2012 the loans to Liberty students increased from $92.7 million per year to $241.4 million. No wonder Falwell loves Donald Trump who has bragged about how he uses “other people’s money” whether they consent or not. The New York Times calls Liberty University a “billion-dollar empire” and it’s all built on tax monies redistributed from all taxpayers to Falwell’s fundamentalist cult.

And with over a billion dollars burning a hole in Liberty’s pocket they are investing in businesses. For instance Liberty owns “Freedom Aviation” which has six private planes used by Falwell and leased out for profit. On top of that they have a contract to supply fuel to the Department of Defense and were paid $19,000 by the Trump campaign.

This same sort of bait and switch is pulled by Catholic Charities all the time. They demand the rights of private religion while picking the pockets of taxpayers. The truth is almost none of the funds going to Catholic Charities come from Catholic churches; the bulk of it comes from taxpayers. The conservative Washington Times reported:

Catholic Charities USA, the largest charitable organization run by the church, receives about 65 percent of its annual budget from state and federal governments, making it an arm of the federal welfare state, said Brian Anderson, a researcher with the Manhattan Institute.

In Illinois Catholic Charities demanded the right to discriminate against taxpayers when it came to adoptions in the name of religious freedom. Yet, the New York Times noted: “Catholic Charities in five of the six state dioceses had grown dependent on foster care contracts, receiving 60 percent to 92 percent of their revenues from the state, according to affidavits by the charities’ directors.”

It really is a simple principle at play here. If a religious outfit claims “freedom of association” allows them to discriminate against the many groups these people tend to hate, then they should do so with their own funds. If they have their hands in the pockets of others, helping themselves to the earnings of those taxpayers, they don’t have “freedom of association.”

Freedom of association is always a two-way street. If Bill can’t compel Bob to sell him services than Bob can’t force Bill to pay for services he can’t have.

But this is not the world of Conservatives. They want one set of rules for themselves and another set for everyone else. They want “religious freedom” while you are forced to fund them. So, even as the majority of states allow discrimination against gay customers in the name of freedom of religion it is a crime everywhere for gay businesses to discriminate against religious customers.

In the Newspeak of big government conservatives equality of rights is when religious people have rights denied to others, and special privileges is when you give others the same rights as religious people.



A blog for the Moorfield Storey Institute: a liberaltarian think tank.

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James Peron

James Peron is the president of the Moorfield Storey Institute, was the founding editor of Esteem a LGBT publication in South Africa under apartheid.