Cultural Revolutions

Champion of American Believers

Carole Keeton Strayhorn, the Texas state comptroller, has become the new champion of American believers.  Her office is charged with determining what groups qualify for exemption from state taxation (including sales taxes, property taxes, and other state levies) as religious organizations.  My ancient Concise Oxford Dictionary defines “religious” as “Imbued with religion, pious, god-fearing, devout . . . ,” and this definition appears to be similar to Mrs. Strayhorn’s.  Still, she has taken the position that no exemption will be granted unless the group applying can demonstrate a belief in “God, gods or a higher power.”  This appears to go a bit further than our frequently labeled Judeo-Christian tradition and would certainly include classical Greeks, Romans, and Norsemen, but, nevertheless, Mrs. Strayhorn has recently found herself embroiled in controversy and litigation.

Her office sought to deny an exemption to the Ethical Society of Austin because the society, instead of believing in “God, gods or a higher power,” according to an account in the Austin American-Statesman, “defines its faith through pursuit of ethical ideals and humane behavior rather than worshipping a deity.”  Unfortunately, a Texas trial court, an appellate court, and the Texas Supreme Court have all refused to uphold Strayhorn’s denial of an exemption. ...

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