WashU Expert: Religious tax exemptions foster diverse viewpoints​

The Supreme Court decision that the Constitution requires that gay couples be allowed to marry no matter where they live has caused many religious conservatives to feel that the tax-exempt status of religious institutions is under threat.


There is a fundamental reason we should protect religious organizations — even those we disagree with, said a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis.

The federal tax exemption for religious organizations welcomes and encourages a diverse set of viewpoints, argued John Inazu, JD, associate professor of law, in a Sept. 16 essay in The Washington Post.

Inazu’s scholarship focuses on freedom of religion and related legal questions. His upcoming book is titled “Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving Through Deep Difference.”

“Tax exemptions for religious organizations and other nonprofits exist in part to allow different groups to make their voices heard,” Inazu wrote. “Past the preexisting baseline, groups and ideas wither or thrive not by government decree but by the choices of individual donors. In this setting, government has no business policing which groups are ‘in’ and which ones are ‘out’ based on their ideological beliefs.”

Tax-exempt status is available to a vast range of ideologically diverse groups, he wrote.

“Religious nonprofits should not have to worry about their tax-exempt status even if they don’t support gay marriage,” Inazu wrote. “As Justice Anthony Kennedy recognized in Obergefell v. Hodges, millions of Americans maintain traditional views about marriage based upon ‘decent and honorable’ premises, and the First Amendment ensures that religious citizens ‘are given proper protection.’

“Moreover, religious organizations provide enormous resources and significant infrastructure to benefit the public good.”

Inazu’s essay is available at washingtonpost.com/news/in-theory/wp/2015/09/16/want-a-vibrant-public-square-support-religious-tax-exemptions/. He is available for media interviews at jinazu@wulaw.wustl.edu.