A Quiet Faith? Taxes, Politics, and the Privatization of Religion

33 Pages Posted: 25 May 2006


The government exempts religious associations from taxation and, in return, restricts their putatively "political" expression and activities. This exemption-and-restriction scheme invites government to interpret and categorize the means by which religious communities live out their vocations and engage the world. But government is neither well suited nor to be trusted with this kind of line-drawing. What's more, this invitation is dangerous to authentically religious consciousness and associations. When government communicates and enforces its own view of the nature of religion­i.e., that it is a "private" matter­and of its proper place­i.e., in the "private" sphere, not "in politics"­ it tempts believers and faith communities also to embrace this view. The result is a privatized faith, re-shaped to suit the vision and needs of government, and a public square evacuated of religious associations capable of mediating between persons and the state and challenging prophetically the government's claims and conduct.

JEL Classification: K1, K19

Suggested Citation

Garnett, Richard W., A Quiet Faith? Taxes, Politics, and the Privatization of Religion. Boston College Law Review, Vol. 42, p. 771, 2001; Notre Dame Legal Studies Paper No. 06-08. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=904225

Richard W. Garnett (Contact Author)

Notre Dame Law School ( email )

Room 327
P.O. Box 780
Notre Dame, IN 46556-0780
United States
574-631-6981 (Phone)
574-631-4197 (Fax)

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