To the Editors:

In last week's op-ed "Theology should play no role in the development of legislation," Caitlin Hurwit argued that the Catholic Church should be stripped of its tax-exempt status because of its role in the current health care debate.

As a liberal, Roman Catholic Democrat, I too am upset by the way President Obama's reform package is being picked apart in Congress. But while I applaud Ms. Hurwit's passion and am fully in agreement with her desire to extend equal coverage to the neediest among us, her proposed solution is in itself "antithetical to constitutional philosophy" and would only serve to further hurt the nation's poor.

As an examination of Supreme Court jurisprudence on the subject demonstrates, the two religion clauses of the First Amendment exist to prevent government from preferring or interfering with any religion, not the other way around, and indeed, the idea of a "separation between church and state" comes from a letter Thomas Jefferson wrote to a religious minority fearing government interference.

Stripping the Church of rights enjoyed by other religious groups both prefers those other religions and interferes with its religious freedom—clear violations of the law.

Further, while IRS guidelines do prevent non-profits from endorsing candidates, they also explicitly allow lobbying on issues subsidiary to the groups' primary mission, and as the Catholic Church is largest non-profit provider of health care in this country (Catholic hospitals admit one in every six hospital admits in the United States), it certainly does have skin in the game.

Finally, as the largest non-governmental provider of all social services to the poor in the U.S., stripping the Catholic Church of tax-exempt status would only rob the nation's impoverished of more direly needed support. Most of the student body and I may not agree with the direction of the Church's lobbying, but we should defend its right to do so as an affirmation of those fundamental freedoms that make our country what it is.


John Connolly '11