An Imaginary Injustice
January 19th, 2012
I thought I was tired of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association. Anti-gays cite the group constantly as an example of how good Christian folk will be persecuted — persecuted! — by marriage equality. But the story’s back in the news and as it turns out, demonstrates exactly the opposite.
Quick recap: Ocean Grove is a ministry that owns an open-air pavilion which it rents out for weddings and other events. They refused to let two lesbians rent the space for their civil union ceremony, and as a result, lost their property tax exemption on the pavilion.
Oh, the horror. From Ocean Grove’s lawyer:
The government should not be able to force a private Christian organization to use its property in a way that would violate its own religious beliefs.
…ignoring that the group never was forced to rent to the lesbians.
The actual facts aren’t so ominous. Ocean Grove simply applied for the wrong kind of property tax exemption. Instead of basing it on religious grounds, they applied under a state program that gave non-profit corporations a tax break on property that is “open for public use on an equal basis.” Ocean Grove obviously violated that agreement and lost the exemption on their pavilion.
But here’s the thing…
Ocean Grove later applied for a religious tax exemption on the facility, and got it, leaving them free to discriminate without paying property taxes.
And there’s more…
Ocean Grove also owns chapels, chapels that don’t permit same-sex ceremonies, and never have. Those properties are also tax exempt. Why? Because they’re part of the group’s religious work.
Ocean Grove’s religious freedom to discriminate against icky gay people was never violated. In fact, the full story actually affirms the religious right of the Religious Right to discriminate against us.
That’s not how the antigays are spinning it, though. Here’s one juicy headline:
JUDGE: FOLLOWING CHRISTIAN BELIEFS WRONG
You won’t believe latest attack on those faithful to Jesus
Wow, sounds like the judge declared that discriminating against gay people is wrong. But that’s nowhere in his decision. He simply says you can’t break your promises.
Two points: First, Ocean Grove is a favorite anti-gay talking point, brought up over and over again, ad infinitum, ad nauseum, because it’s their best example of how marriage equality threatens their religious freedom in America. What does it say, then, when their best example completely falls apart?
Also, note that Ocean Grove isn’t protecting its religious liberty. No, it’s asking for special rights — specifically, the right to discriminate on its non-religious commercial property. Churches own lots of stuff — restaurants, shopping malls, parking lots. According to Ocean Grove’s lawyer, churches should have the special right to ignore the law, be exempt from the law, on all of it.
For years (literally!) I’ve been searching for an easy way to debunk this imaginary injustice. I think I’ve got it. Next time someone describes the loss of Ocean Grove’s tax exemption as a threat to religious liberty, you can reply:
That was only because they applied for the wrong kind of tax exemption, one that required their property to be open to everyone. Once they applied on religious grounds, they got their exemption back and now they can discriminate to their hearts’ content.
And that is the truth.