When Congress Taxed Churches: Religion & Politics in the District of Columbia After the Civil War

When Congress Taxed Churches: Religion & Politics in the District of Columbia After the Civil War


>>From the Library of
Congress, in Washington D.C.>>John Haskell: Welcome
everybody, to the Kluge Center, or right next to the
Kluge Center here at the Library of Congress. My names John Haskell
and I’m the director of the Kluge Center. The center, just to give
you a little background, was founded in 2000, based
on a very generous gift from philanthropist
John W Kluge. And I’m going to read a couple
of lines from our charter so you get a feel for what
purpose of the Kluge center is. Its mission is to quote,
reinvigorate the interconnection between thought and action, bridging the gap button
scholarship and policy making. So to that end, the
Kluge Center brings some of the world’s great thinkers
to the library to make use of the collections and engage
in conversations like this one, addressing the challenges facing
democracies in the 21st century. We also administer an award,
the Kluge Prize for Achievement in the study of humanity. Which was recently
awarded, just last month, to renowned historian and outgoing Harvard
president Drew Gilpin Faust. I encourage you to visit our
website to get a boarder sense of the different things
we’re doing at Kluge, with the residential scholars
and others, other things. As well as the fact that, if
you’ve visited the website in the past, it’s been,
also been reinvigorated and it’s readable
and navigable in ways that is really quite exciting. And we also have a blog
on there called, Insights. And we regularly
have new blogs going. Either just boring
ones that I write to update what Kluge is doing, as well as more dynamic
ones written by our scholars and our staff. Today’s speaker, Sally
Gordon, was in residence in the Kluge center last fall as
the, Cary and Ann Maguire Chair in Ethics and American History. This position was created to
enable a distinguished thinker to spend a period of
residence at the Library, using the collections and
exploring the history of America with special attention
to ethical dimensions of economic and social policy. Although Mr. Maguire couldn’t be
with us, we’re very appreciative of course of the
endowment of the Chair and his generous donation. Which has attracted, really
some of the best scholars in the field and it’s been
a treasure for the Library. And in fact, two
of the librarians, Dr. Carla’s Hayden’s scholarly
advisors, it’s called the, Scholar’s Council, which
advises her and me. Two of them were drawn from
the ranks of Maguire chairs. So we’re excited about that. Today’s lecture by Sally is,
When Congress Taxed Churches, Religion and Politics
in District of Columbia after the Civil War. A little bit about Sally, she’s
the Arlin M. Adams professor of constitutional law and
also professor of history, at the University
of Pennsylvania. She’s well know for her work
on religion and American life and the law of church and state. Especially for the ways that
religious liberty developed over the course of our history. She’s a frequent
commentator in news media on the constitutional law
of religion and debates about religious freedom. Her current book project is
quote, Freedoms Holy Light, Disestablishment in America,
1776 to 1876, end quote. Which is about the
historical relationship between religion,
politics and law. Her first book, the
Mormon Question, polygamy and constitutional conflict
in nineteen century America, 2002 from the University
of North Carolina Press, won the Mormon History
Associations in the Utah Historical
Associations best book awards in 2003. Her second book from Harvard
University Press in 2010, The Spirit of the Law, Religious
Voices and the Constitution in Modern America, explores
the world of church and state in the last, just
the last century. We will have a question period as Dr. Gordon has
concluded her presentation. Please joining me
in welcoming her. Thank you Sally.>>That was such a lovely
introduction, thank you so much. And I’m so thrilled to be
back here at the Kluge Center, where I was in residence
last fall as John said. And I’m particularly glad
to see friends from PAN, from other schools
and the district and of course from the Center. When I was here I not only
enjoyed exploring this library, but also the city itself. And visiting many of the
locations that I’ll be talking about today, including this
one, the National Cathedral. My lecture as you have
heard, is about taxes. And I’ll be honest, taxes
can be really boring. But, this story is
about slavery, religion, the civil war, the constitution
and of course, money. Lots of money. Just to give one example, in 2016 tax exempt religious
property in New York City alone, was valued at 12
billion dollars. Traditionally, local
governments assess the value of tax exempt property
very conservatively. So, it’s undervalued
significantly. But even then, even
at it’s low rate, it’s clear that New York City
lost about a billion dollars in taxes in 2016 and values have
only sky rocketed since then. So what I like to say is,
you know, a billion here, a billion there, pretty soon
you’re talking real money. And what’s more, nationwide at
least, nobody knows for certain, but at least 10% of all
private property belongs to religious organizations. That is as much as the states,
all the states own combined. And the interest of religious
organizations are evident. In particular, the
wealthiest churches, can you say National Cathedral. Have been the biggest
winners from tax exemption. And when churches
have been taxed, the poorest have suffered most. There doesn’t seem to be a
just system available here. In the 19th century,
for example, when there were relatively
robust tax regimes for religious property, many
tax assessors tended to go after minority churches. In California, especially
African American and Chinese churches suffered. And in some border states,
especially assessors went after southern supporting
churches after the Civil War when republicans were in control and they could get away
with punishing them. So there’s plenty of
finality, honestly, as well as big questions
as constitutional law of religious freedom
in local government that I’m focusing on today. From where I stand, your humble
neighborhood legal historian of religion, this
is like ground zero. This is command central
this is what I care about. And the truth of the
matter is, that religion and taxes have been at the
center of many disputes in our own era as well. Think about funding for
public and religious schools, commercial uses of
property owned by religious organizations. You know, they have Starbucks
in they, and gyms and so on. And whether churches and other
religious structures can be excluded by zoning
boards and city planners. So this history has a
contemporary relevance, a subject I’ll return
to in my conclusion. But for the lecture
today, I want to focus on how Americans navigated
politics and religion. Especially what separation
of church and state, or what we formally
call disestablishment, what that meant. By the early 1830’s, every
jurisdiction had disestablished, which meant that no
government collected taxes for religious organizations
any long. That’s about all it meant. Beyond that, nothing
much was clear. Which was clear though,
was that the states, not the federal government, were the important
actors in the story. Congress only got
involved in the 1870’s. And then, only as
the local government for the District of Columbia. Our story is about local
power and how it was deployed. And taxes are always important
to those who pay them, especially if it comes
from where they live. This city, Washington, became
important as an epicenter of debate over taxation
of religious property because of the Civil War
and its consequences. Congress imposed taxes on
religious property here in 1874. In became one of
several places to do so. California did in 1868. Missouri taxed religious
property between 1865 and 75. My own home state of
Pennsylvania, debated the issue and decided narrowly against
taxation in the 1870’s. In Massachusetts, a bill hastily
drawn up and hardly debated at all failed but got more
than a third of all votes cast. Iowa and Wisconsin
were embroiled in debates in the 1870’s. And in New York state, a
special committee appointed by the Episcopal Diocese
reported on rumblings about taxation around
the country. The report complained
that, intemperate men, by which they meant republicans,
were at the root of the problem and right-thinking men of conservative habits
supported exemption. So clearly this was a
hard-fought topic in the 1870s. And the truth is,
that it was related to all the major
issues of the day. The relationship of church
and state was big news. In part because the opponents of
slavery had argued for so long and so effectively,
that churches were as much a main stay of the slave
system as governments were. Many people remember, if
you don’t I have it here, that abolitionist William
Lloyd Garrison burned a copy of the constitution of July 4th,
1854, to cheers from on lookers. He called the document,
a covenant with death, because the constitution
protected slavery. Only after the Civil War
was the constitution amended in the late 1860’s to ban
involuntary servitude, protect against discriminatory
laws and official treatment and guarantee the right to vote. But, religious groups were
just as fiercely attacked by anti-slavery activists. Many of them deeply religious
individuals themselves. And so here I just need
to take a quick detour to setup the background for
what unfolded in Washington after the war ended in 1865. What happened then was deeply
influenced by events starting in the late 1830’s, when
dedicated abolitionists began to argue that American
churches were what they called, The Bulwarks of American
Slavery. There you see this, the toga
is particularly attractive on this guy I think. Another said, the only
escape for the slave from his bondage is over the
ruins of the American church and the American state. In other words, they condemned
both church and state. And they condemned what they
saw at the union of the two, the union of church and state,
in a conspiracy to promote and protect slavery in law. And to hold congregants to what
they called, spiritual servitude in church, when the
denominations would not broke any questions about slavery. These activists had a point. They understood that American
denominations had pioneered the theory that silence on slavery
was key to national influence. Political parties had learned
from the example of churches. For some abolitionist who
opposed the growth of slavery and increased legal
protections for it, to push back meant making, you
know, jumping up in the middle of a pro-slavery
lecture and screaming about how you —
please don’t jump up. Screaming about how
much you opposed it. Or interrupting the preacher
in the middle of a sermon or holding protests
at party conventions. But for many of them, voting with their feet
meant actually leaving the institutions that they
thought were so corrupted. To purify themselves, abolitionist left
behind organizations such as Baptist associations,
that were known to do what they called,
exclude the infant sprinkler. Baptist believe in
adult baptism, not sprinkling of infants. Exclude that person and
welcome the infant stealer. Welcome the slave
catcher, the slave dealer. They even accused
southern preachers of supplying themselves
with sexual partners, by using slave women
to satisfy their lust. I mean, this got
really personal. Many of those who shared this
deeply religious abhorrence for slavery, participated
in their own exodus out of organized religion. In the book of Revelation
in the New Testament, a voice from Heaven called
to the Jews of Babylon, “Come out of her, my people. That ye be not partakers
of her sins.” Those abolitionists who took
this injunction literally became known, I kid you
not, as come outers. They were come outers. Because they left their churches and they often abandoned
political parties as well. They condemned their former
denominations as sinful for their hand in glove
relationship with governments. Major Christian denominations
including Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterians, Episcopalians,
and Catholics, officially remained neutral
on slavery because they argued that enslaved status
was as civil, rather than a religious
question. Even the Congregationalists, my own New England
Congregationalists, could not be trusted to
hold a strong stance. As their shabby treatment of
this very distinguished person, Alexander Crummell at
Yale, in 1840 demonstrated. He founded St. Luke’s
Church here, which some of you may know. And I had fun going to that too. And after 1830’s, even the
Quakers abandoned direct engagement on slavery. In the process, these
church bodies abdicated any responsibility for the
peculiar institution. In the eyes of abolitionist,
they washed their hands just as Pontius Pilate had, turning
their backs on sin and violence. And in their turn,
added the abolitionist, political institutions and
judges worked assiduously to protect slavery through
inhumane laws and claim that their hands were tied
by the national constitution. This was the union of church
and state that produced such outrage and
shielded sinners. In this perspective, disestablishment
was a cruel joke. An excuse for violating the most
basic principles of justice. Those who came out of
their houses of worship, therefore were critical
of government and organized religion. There were a lot of come outers. It’s difficult to recover
numbers for a movement that was local and ephemeral
and anti-authoritarian. But the best estimates are
that about 250,000 people across the upper north and
Midwest, left their churches, because they would not
compromise with slavery. And they extended the
radical religious critique to other forms of coercion too. In their eyes, enslavement could
and did come in many forms. To some, membership in
churches that failed to speak out against, man
stealing, as they called it, was itself a form
involuntary servitude. The great anti-slavery
activist, Frederick Douglas, a come outer I should say. Explained that he
remained a fugitive, even after escaping
from the south. Because American religious
institutions condemned him and their own members,
to continued bondage. Spiritual bondage. He — Douglas said, he had
been given authorization to understand what sin was
by Jesus and his message. Something that clearly these
denominations had not been engaged with. Another observer, the acid
tongued English woman, Frances Trollope, I don’t know if anyone’s ever read
her, she’s so much fun. Wrote of her four years in
Cincinnati in the early 1840s’. She said that she had learned that religious tyranny
survived disestablishment and had become much more
oppressive than the paying of a religious tax
has ever been. “Church and state”, she said, “hobble along side by side, notwithstanding their
boasted independence.” These activates that I’m
talking about this afternoon, worked to eradicate that
Ecclesiastical tyranny and other form of servitude. Eventually even including,
the authority exercised by husbands over wives. A cause that Frederick
Douglas embraced at the first Women’s Rights
Convention Seneca Falls in 1848. And it made sense, that the
first Women’s Rights meetings were held in a small church in a
small town, in upstate New York. Because that’s where
the action was. Think of it like, upstate New
York was then what California is now. It was the place
where experimentation and exciting ideas came to life. The people who came out of
churches in the late 1830’s and early 1840’s, had also
witnessed a great recession, which cemented what
they attacked as the true union
of church and state. So now I’m going to shift back
to taxes and the issues raises by tax exemptions for
religious property. In 1837, a major financial
crisis revealed the shaky nature of many financial institutions
in the United States. Bad loans, failure to
investigate expensive and ridiculous projects,
careless state governments and so on, were the center piece of widespread bankruptcies
and bank failures. Kind of sound familiar? Right? [laughs] Did
some of us live through something
like this recently? The president at the time,
Martin Van Buren a democrat, was so opposed to any relief
for state and local governments, that he counseled those left
penniless from the recession not to look to the national
government for help, right? Presidents have learned
since then. He earned the nickname, Martin
Van Ruin, and lost his bid for re-election in 1840. But state governments changed. They changed drastically, especially across the
north and Midwest. For the first time, they
established more regular regimes of taxation, leaving property
taxes to be collected and used by local governments and reserving income
taxes for themselves. This rough divide
still describes much of our state system of taxation. But there’s a problem here. And I want to explore it. The states set the policy for
property as well as income taxes but left the assessment
and collection and most of the spending of property tax
revenue to local governments. Anyone here think that
their taxes are too high because local spending on
schools is out of control? Right? That’s a familiar. Or maybe, they come
from the other side of the spectrum saying
that, those people who gripe about taxes should stop whining because education is the most
important local responsibility. Well, property taxes as the
mainstay for local governments, has been in place
for about 180 years. But the problem that
I mentioned just now, is that state legislatures
have control over what property is taxed, even though local governments
are in charge of just about everything else
associated with property taxes. And this sets up a
perverse relationship. Put roughly, state governments
don’t lose any funding when they exempt a given class of tax payer from
property taxes. So for example, a
retirement community called, Holy Cross Village,
was constructed by the Catholic church
in South Bend Indiana. And, my favorite, theme
park, Holy Land Experience, was built by a Baptist
minister in Orlando, Florida. Both were denied
claimed tax exemptions by their local county
tax assessors and both tax assessors
were overruled as the state legislature granted
exemptions at the state level. Often, local tax
collectors argue that these are profitable
businesses. But, state legislatures are
always much more accommodating. The role of states versus
local government in granting such exemptions, has
been the key problem from the very beginning. Massachusetts was
the first state to exempt religious property
in response to the new system of taxation in the late 1830’s. This is literally the
first tax exemption for religious property
in American history. This is notable,
it did not start with the revolution
or the constitution. Then New Hampshire, New York,
Iowa, Maryland, Connecticut and Wisconsin followed
all before 1845. By own home state of Pennsylvania amended
its constitution in 1838, providing for exemptions
for the first time. I’ve read the constitutional
debates and the controversy was hot. Eventually, the amendment
passed but some delegates who opposed the exemptions said
that they were so exhausted by the fights over the issue,
that they finally voted for it so that the entire
convention would not fail. In other words, a
constitutional convention was about to fail over this. Everyone was assured that
the exemption only extended to buildings used
exclusively for worship. And they promised never
to exempt parsonages, giving in on this one
benefit they said, would not be the
prequel for others. And ahem, I’m sorry to report that Pennsylvania exempted
parsonages in 1873. [laughs] One study
in the 1850’s brought by the Philadelphia county
tax assessors, argued based on a review of all property in
the county, that the exemption for religious property
raised taxes for other residence
by at least 10%. And if religious property
were fairly assessed so that the privilege
was accurately valued, the number would
be closer to 20%. And this is where our
abolitionist come in. They opposed tax exemptions. They opposed anything that
would treat religion specially, all should live according to
the same rules, they argued. Add to this, and this is where
it gets really complicated, the fact that the
same legislatures that protected religious
property also protected slave holders from taxation,
at exactly the same time. In other words, legislatures
delivered special tax status to slave holders and
religious institutions just as the religious critique
of them both gathered steam. More powerful and wide ranging
state governments were drawn ever more tightly into
the defense of slavery and of privileges for
religious institutions. In light of this pattern, abolitionists had some
good reason to complain about the relationship between
religious denominations, state governments and slavery. The strings connecting them
had only gotten stronger in the late 1830’s
and early 1840’s. Our dissenters however, argued
for much more diffuse government and much more diffuse
religious life. They believed in true localism. The village level, they said,
was the only reliable place where freedom and
democracy could be protected. In state capitals by contrast,
priests and tyrant’s lived cheek by jowl, they use this kind
of language all the time. It’s so much fun. Each feeding the other and
trading away the rights of persons to serve their own
lust for power and wealth. Institutional bodies,
like church corporations, state legislatures,
were recognized as legal persons to be sure. But they were not human
beings, said abolitionists. They exercised power, not on the
basis of individual conscience, but on the search for
a political identity and religious authority, as
opposed to the individual who whose conscience and
access to understanding of what human rights truly
mean, was uninterrupted by this corporate identity. So any elected or anointed
men of power, they said, were prone to tyranny. Slavery was the most
aggression oppression, but others traveled alongside. And in truth, it was a lot
harder to do away with slavery than northern officials
had expected. The violence, and this is where
I get to Drew Faust, John. The violence and length of the
Civil War that started in 1861, exceeded anything seen
in prior human history. And during the war, minister
sermons on both sides, stoked the bloodlust, turning
the war into a religious event of apocalyptic proportions. Historians of religions have
shown how crucial this religious interpretation was to the
willingness to persevere in the face of unheard
of death and suffering. Historians of the war itself, have begun to piece together
how the dead were dealt with. [laughs] This is a gloomy topic. How the dead were dealt
with, not children laughing. The great explosion of
[laughs] of death in war, meant that everyone was
affected by the carnage. And Drew Faust for example, has written that we have no
accurate account of deaths to rely on, even of soldiers. By an enormous margin this was
the bloodiest war Americans have ever endured. Faust and others have begun to
explore the industries of death and medical treatment
that emerged in the war. But nobody has really
explored the ways that that war increased
religious authority, influence and wealth. Here is where the city of
Washington provides insight into the institutional aspects of religious life
after the Civil War. And helps put into context
the debate over tax exemption. Because the relationship
between religion and government that had been the target
of radical abolitionists, that relationship had only
deepened across the war. The numbers tell the story
and president Ulysses Grant, was horrified by what he saw. He was a veteran
of the war and one of Lincoln’s most
trusted generals. A man who oversaw
many battles and many, many thousands of deaths. But he did not expect to learn
how much wealth was shifted to religious control. His final state of
the union message to congress dealt
extensively with this issue. In the lead up to the
Civil War, 1850 to 1860, church property doubled. Valued at about 83
million dollars to about 165 million dollars. Just between 1860 and 1874. So after the first doubling,
it grew five times over, to about a billion dollars. What’s more, the economy was
mired in another deep recession when Grant spoke, which
began in the early 1870’s and did not truly lift until the
early — until the late 1890’s. But, church building was a
phenomenal growth industry. New stone churches, commemorative stained-glass
windows and plaques, enormous steeples and many
naves and crypts dedicated to fallen soldiers
appeared everywhere. This boom featured church
architecture that favored ornate and imposing buildings
in desirable locations. Even for say, like
Baptist or Methodist, who traditionally had
built very modest churches. And in turn, these
new buildings catered to far more well-heeled
congregants, who gathered much
more often in cities than in those villages we talked
about in upstate New York. In the process, many
churches drifted away from plausible identification
as charities. The respectability exposed them
to critiques of another sort. They had become, established. With all the vaguely threatening
implications of at term in American religious
life and law. Historians speak of a
moral establishment, or a second establishment, that characterized post-Civil
War American culture. What I want to stress, is an
aspect that nobody has studied. This establishment, if that’s
the right term, was grounded in material fact, built
on wealth that reflected and in turn nurtured
political power. Grants claims about the
value of church property and it’s relation to tax
exemption hit raw nerves. Ostentation had long been
a favorite theme of those who posed tax exemptions. They didn’t like
gold plated domes, or ornate silver alter services,
or flying buttress and so on. These struck many observers
a entirely inappropriate to the American landscape. Yet the construction of magnificent churches
continued apace. Especially, but not only, by
Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and Roman Catholics and
they’re wealthier congregations. Equally important, an editorial
in the new magazine, The Nation, now a very old magazine, charged that these ornate piles
were more like social clubs than sober houses of God. The benefits of these
palaces, the argument went, flowed to those who were
already well clothed and shod and attended churches
according to their prosperity, while ignoring the poor that should have been
their primary concern. In Manhattan in particular, a charge like this had
a real basis in reality. Between the end of the
Civil War and the turn of the 20th century,
lower Manhattan mushroomed in population and poverty. But churches, even Catholic
ones, moved up town. See St. Patrick’s
Cathedral here on the screen. A massive, decorated, neogothic
structure, which opened in 1878, much to the outrage of
opponents of exemption. And the preacher,
Henry Ward Beecher, rector of the Plymouth Church
in Brooklyn, was criticized for the fact that he didn’t
notice people striving around him. He condemned striking railroad
workers, telling them to go down bravely into poverty. And last but not least, banging
on New York, Trinity Church of Wallstreet, they didn’t move,
but they attracted worshipers by investing heavily in talent. They had a beautiful organ, a
highly accomplished organist, a choir of well trained
men and boys, to sing. An orchestra of string
and wind instruments. A beautiful chime of bells. And several clergymen
trained to chant the service in harmony with the music. The rector of Trinity, I
can’t believe he said this, he acknowledged his success in
attracting congregants as quote, “The blessing of God
upon good music”. [laughs] Honestly, honestly. Even Andrew Carnegie
argued in a piece he titled, The Gospel of Wealth,
that the true cure for inequality was
redistribution through philanthropy
by industrial and financial tycoons just like
him, not so much by churches. But instead by these
great industrialists. And as that long recession that
I just spoke about, unfolded and began to really take bite,
opponents of exemption, reunited and called on their
anti-slavery roots to once again, attack
denominations. The Liberty League was headed
by this guy you see there, Francis Ellingwood Abbot, who
founded a magazine called, The Index, in 1870 to promote
liberal religious causes. First among them, the
revocation of tax exemptions. In 1872, he published
a nine point platform and I’ll only read
you the first one. Demand number one, churches and other Ecclesiastical
property shall no longer be exempt from taxation. They wanted to ban every kind
of privilege for religion and a religious freedom
amendment to the constitution, including what they called
indirect taxation, in any state for support of any
sect or religious body. And one thing I should say, is
that remember that photograph of Elizabeth Cady Stanton? She added her voice to the
mix, by now a much older woman, saying that gender should
be added to the list of injustices worked
by tax exemption for religious property. Every poor widow, she
said, who struggled to feed and cloth her children, was taxed on the narrow
lot and humble home. While the magnificent cathedrals with their valuable
lands in Boston. Philadelphia and New
York, pay not a cent. So one thing to recognize here, is that these were not
anti-Christian arguments. They we are deeply based
religious arguments. And they resonated not only
with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Frederick Douglas,
but after the Civil War, rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise
and many reformed Jews, also supported the
liberal league. As did liberal wings
of either some of those hated denominations,
including Baptist, Quakers, many Unitarians and
some Episcopalians. In the 1870’s the campaign
brought the Washington to revoke tax exemptions, was
actually well received here. Especially, because
the economy had tanked and because Abbot showed up and
gave to senator Charles Sumner, a thousand foot long petition
with 35,000 signatures on it. Congress responded in 1874 when it directed
Washington city officials to tax religious property. Under the new law,
the commissioners of the district created
an assessment board, which assessed taxes
on church property, totaling 46,500 dollars. All but three of the district
churches refused to pay it. In response, the district
foreclosed on all but three of the churches in the district. By uncomfortable moment. At an impasse of potentially
disastrous proportions, the churches collectively
appointed a two-men committee chaired by the reverend A.W.
Pitzer, a Presbyterian minister and lobbyist and as
far as I can tell, the poor second person never
said a word back Pitzer talked all the time. He was to review the situation
and present the subject to congress and procure
if possible, a bill to relieve the churches from what he called
this illegal tax. Even then, Pitzer met with
determined opposition, especially from the chairman from the senate judiciary
committee, always a powerful individual. This was republican
George Edmunds of Vermont, a strong proponent
of publication. Excuse me, of public education. He pointed out that the
district schools were about to be closed
for want of funds. And that the approximately
50,000 dollars long overdue in tax payments by the churches, would just about keep
the churches going and fulfill the duty
of Christians to instruct the young. Pitzer fought back,
claiming that churches were by their very organization,
charitable and educational. And the reporter, you can hear
the report laughing [laughs] when he says that. He says that he said
it apparently without any self reflection. But, Pitzer wisely conceded that
some groups may have indulged in a degree of ostentation that
was unbecoming in a city full of impoverished children
and powerful politicians. The churches now agreed that
only buildings used actively for worship would be exempt and that any new buildings
would be more modest. And any income from
rental and any other form of religious property,
can you say parsonages? Would remain taxable. Evidently relieved, both
houses passed legislation to that effect unanimously
and without debate. That was a disappointing moment
in the archive, no debate. And also returned the
2,500 pitons [phonetic] that had been collected. So in 1879, congress officially
abandoned it’s experiment in taxation. And the reverend Pitzer, noted
with satisfaction in an article on the topic, that the political
situation had become untenable for them. And it is true, especially
with reconstruction collapsing. A pace, republicans
were in retreat. And Pitzer changed to
suit the circumstances. As I mentioned he promised that he would reduce the
ornateness of churches. And I am sorry to say, he
spoke with forked tongue. Congress granted a
charter, where are we? There we are, in 1893, to the Protestant Episcopal
Cathedral Foundation for the erection of
National Cathedral, the sixth largest
church in the world. The project was enthusiastically
supported by our friend, the reverend Pitzer,
despite his earlier promises to d nothing of the kind. So, as I wind up,
let me just ask, “What should we think
about this history?” What lessons should we take? First, nobody knows this stuff. It’s amazing. It’s just been papered over. Most Americans and many
experts in the law of religion, believe that exemptions
have always been granted. And honestly, the supreme court
has been part of the problem. In the late 1860’s,
a sustained campaign by New York based religious
groups made a strong attack on the widespread
exemptions available there. In the 1970 case, Walz
against Tax Commission, the plaintiff argued that
his taxes were higher because even though he was a man who had no religious
affiliation, he had to support by paying higher taxes, New York’s tax-exempt
religious property. This, in other words, was a tax
imposed to support religion. The United States Supreme
Court upheld the exemption, on the basis of a
historical argument. Chief Justice Warren Burger,
emphasized that two centuries of uninterrupted
freedom taxation, I mean right next door, right? They got it wrong. Had not produced the remotest
sign of favoritism to religion, but rather protected all
forms of religious belief. This history, he said,
supported the idea that tax exemptions
were entirely consistent with disestablishment. And of course, all of
us in this room know that just isn’t the case, that there have been
sustained critiques and important exceptions
to tax exemption. And that, just there,
they taxed churches. So that’s one lesson,
with should wake up and smell the humus and start
doing some historical research. Second, it is always the case
in each of these episodes, that economic down turns produce
impatience with exemptions. And increase into the wealthier
of religious institutions. And our almost great recession,
produced several such inquiries. The state of Colorado
conducted an investigation into the exponential growth
in tax exempt property there. And found that exemptions had
grown increasingly generous over the past generation, and often in way
unbeknown to legislatures. In 2008, calls to revoke
tax exemption spread as the financial crisis
deepened and the most — and they lasted pretty
steadily through about 2015, so until quite recently. Finally, and I want to
return to that point that there’s big money at
stake and a great history full of politics and broken promises and racial prejudice
and oppression. And to point out, the Supreme
Court upheld tax exemptions in Walz, against
a challenge based on the establishment clause. But it has never held that religious freedom
requires exemption. So there’s still
plenty to feet about. And I hate to predict the
future, because I’m much better at predicting the past. But this will come
up, I promise you. The next big recession
this will come up. So I just want to
say, stay tuned. Thank you.>>Thank you Sarah. [ Applause ]>>John Haskell: And we
have a couple minutes to take a few questions, and we
might just take a few rat a tat and see what Sally has to say
about them, because we have, I hope you all will stay
and enjoy the reception that the Maguire Endowment
is paying for today and that is for all of you. And so, raise your hand if
you have a question for Sally. Do not be shy. Andrew, right here.>>Hello.>>John Haskell: So we’ll have
these two gentlemen right here, just a quick question and
then we’ll hand the microphone over to the gentleman
next to you and then we’ll see
what Sally has to say.>>Thank you very much for
a most interesting talk. Given that you mentioned there
is some movement in the states, particularly in the
western period also, and there is interest in the
federal government in toying with Washington D.C. as they
frequently do, were there any in congress in the 1870’s who
were interested in pursuing some of these exemptions
policies in the territories?>>Dr. Sarah Barringer
Gordon: That’s a great.>>John Haskell:
Okay, hold onto that, we’re going to let this
guy ask the questions. And then, you can
handle them both. Whether they link or not.>>Dr. Sarah Barringer
Gordon: Yeah.>>So you annihilated the idea
that this was always out there. But you know, under the
idea that, you know, sometimes taxes are done to
discourage things, I’m thinking for example syntax’s, I
always thought it was sort of, you know, a difficult
topic to think of taxing religious institutions
because you didn’t want to discourage religion, even
though there is a separation. And then what about other
western governments, other western countries.>>Dr. Sarah Barringer
Gordon: Mmm-hmm. Should I answer now?>>John Haskell: Yeah. I haven’t got anybody
else indicating.>>Dr. Sarah Barringer
Gordon: Okay, good. So the question about
the territories is really interesting. There was, congress officially
disapproved in the late 1850’s, the incorporation of the
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, because
it had no limits on the amount of property it could hold. So one of the things that
you can see happening, is that there was this
commitment through the onset of the Civil War, to keeping
religious property pretty tightly contained. In other words, not
allowing them to become extraordinarily
wealthy. That is gone, by 1875. So what’s interesting
is to see that. In terms of other
western states, California is really interesting
because it’s constitution of 1850 promised equal
taxation for everybody, which was a standard,
protect slavery clause, that was included in many
southern state constitutions. In other words, you
couldn’t tax slavery higher than you taxed anything else.>>I was thinking about
other countries, though. Other country, European
countries. Other countries with
democracies.>>Dr. Sarah Barringer
Gordon: Okay. So, in the U/.K. for example, which has an established
religion, even churches have to prove that they’re charitable
to receive government. Even the church of England
has to prove every year that it engages in
significant charitable activity. You don’t just get it
because you’re religious.>>Germany, France,
that kind of place?>>Dr. Sarah Barringer Gordon:
As far as I know, Germany, you can — there’s a box
you can check on your taxes that will allow a certain
proportion of them to go to religious organizations. And I think you can specify
a little bit, you know, you can’t just say, “Send it
to the Jehovah’s Witnesses down the street and definitely
not those creeps across the way, because they’re not
really Jehovah’s Witness.” You know what I mean. In terms of tax exemption, being
the, really the only country with a stable disestablished
column, at least, the United States was
kind of on it’s own, which is really,
really remarkable.>>John Haskell: Any
other quick questions? Luke has one over here. Last question.>>Okay. Sally, I was
interested in the fact that you mentioned
Massachusetts was the first to pass tax exemption,
and they’re the last to disestablish the
church, right? So they’re the state where there’s still
tax dollars, you know. They’re actually supporting, I guess the congressional
church up until 1833. Is there a link between
Massachusetts, I mean is that sort of the
backlash to disestablishment that they get tax
exemptions at least.>>Dr. Sarah Barringer
Gordon: There are a couple of backlashes, I think
that’s a great question. The other thing, so in 1837,
they passed tax exemption. In 1835, they prosecuted
a man for blasphemy and sent him too jail, right? So mean, there’s
this remarkable — one of the things
see for example, when a government takes
a really big step, they often walk it
back, you know. Say, “It’s not going to be
that radical of change people, don’t worry too much.” And so yes, I think that Massachusetts only
reluctantly disestablished and they did so truly because, I
mean, they were so duplicities, you know, before the revolution
they kept saying to the church of England, we have a beautiful
established church here, it’s according to the
congregational form of the Church of England,
but it’s beautiful. And then right after the
revolution they said, “Establishment? We have no establishment. We just have a policy
of supporting a teacher of religion in each town.” Right. So I mean it really,
they caught themselves, they were hoist on
their own petard.>>John Haskell:
Thank you again Sally.>>Dr. Sarah Barringer
Gordon: Thank you!>>John Haskell:
This was fantastic. And please, enjoy a drink
and passed hors d’oeuvres.>>Dr. Sarah Barringer
Gordon: Thank you so much. [ Applause ]>>This has been a presentation
of the Library of Congress. Visit us at loc.gov.

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