May 20th, 2004

default, pepper


The good folks in Texas have decided that
Unitarian Universalism is not a religion because it "does not have one system of belief." The state comptroller's office denied them tax-exempt status, and says for any organization to qualify as a religion, members must have "a belief in God, gods, or a higher power."

Now, I'll grant that UU is an unconventional religion -- being less about the destination than about the path (which is, I submit, what attracts people to it) -- but it has a long deist history, not to mention a close association with several of America's founders. And what about Buddhism, which isn't a theistic religion at all? Do we deny it religious status as well?

While it's easy to wonder why this is coming up now in particular, the more concretely disturbing issue is summed up in a brief excerpt from the Star-Telegram article that reported on this: "What constitutes religion? When and how should government make that determination? Questions that for years have vexed the world's great philosophers have now become the province of the state comptroller's office."

So when did the idea of separation of church and state fall so far out of favor? The country was undeniably founded on Christian principles, but it was explicitly not founded as a Christian state. Anybody else remember that? That was the specific intent of many of those founders -- people like Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Paine, Unitarians or Universalists all. (From the very beginning, they were the denominations of "freethinkers" -- deist and, in most ways, Christian, but always willing to question authority, even seemingly divine authority. The actual doctrines that both unitarianism and universalism name are, by canonical Christian doctrine, heretical.)

Quite frankly, I'm not sure how many of them would have approved of the idea of a tax-exempt status for any religion. (Ethan Allen, who UUs claim but who had little use for anything resembling organized religion, surely wouldn't have.) Yet I can't help suspect they'd be uncomfortable with how Texas is drawing the line.