A bill allowing sales tax exemptions for Boy Scouts -- but not other nonprofit youth groups -- discriminates in favor of theists over non-theists, violating the constitutional separation of Church and State, argues Mathew Goldstein of SecularMaryland.org
/By Mathew Goldstein/ The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee has a hearing scheduled March 22 on a bill that has already passed the House, HB 796, (Sales and Use Tax - Exemptions - Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. The House voted unanimously for this bill. The corresponding Senate bill, SB 748, has not been reported by the Senate committee.
This bill privileges (for tax purposes) organizations that discriminate against non-theist youth while not providing sales tax exemptions for many other youth organizations that do not limit their membership to theists – those “recognizing an obligation to God” as the Boy Scouts’ regulations indicate. This, put simply, violates the constitutional separation of Church and State.
This following email has been sent to the members of the Senate committee considering this House bill.
The honorable Chairwoman and Members of the Committee:
Generally, tax exempt non-profits must comply with the same laws which apply to for-profit businesses. Churches and religious non-profits are a special case because the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution forbids the government making a law "respecting an establishment of religion" and also forbids "prohibiting the free exercise thereof." However, government cannot single out particular religious non-profits for a special tax exemption.
The policies of Boy Scouts restrict membership to applicants who "subscribe to the precepts of the Declaration of Religious Principles (duty to God), and abide by the Scout Oath and Scout Law." Boy Scouts of America, Membership Standards Implementation Frequently Asked Questions, 4, available at http://www.baltimorebsa.org/document/implementation-faq-for-unit-leaders-8-15-2013/129466. The Declaration of Religious Principles states, in part, that "Boy Scouts of America maintains that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God and, therefore, recognizes the religious element in the training of the member," and that "[o]nly persons willing to subscribe to this Declaration of Religious Principle ... shall be entitled to certificates of membership." Boy Scouts of America, Manual for Chaplain Aides and Chaplains,
http://www.scouting.org/scoutsource/Media/Relationships/ManualforChaplainsandAides.aspx. The Scout Oath reads, in relevant part, "On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country", Membership Standards Implementation supra, 4.
Because the Boy Scouts of America Scouting programming is closed to non-theists it should not be singled out for special tax exemptions. Girl Scouts would be granted the same tax exemption but all other competing youth organizations, including Camp Fire, Navigator USA, and Baden Powell Service Association, will still be required to pay sales and use taxes. Unlike the Boy Scouts of America Scouting program, these other youth programs do not mandate theism.”
The uncollected sales and use tax problem has at least two appropriate remedies. One is to enforce the state tax law and collect the sales and use taxes. The other is to grant a sales and use tax exemption for all non-profit youth organizations equally. Privileging BSA with a tax exemption is unfair and improper. While pairing the tax exemption for Boy Scouts with the same exemption for Girl Scouts provides for gender balance, it fails to provide such balance for excluded non-theist boys and their families and for competing youth organizations.
Therefore, readers can send two emails, one to the committee, and another to their Senator, opposing this bill. The email addresses of the committee members are on http://secularmaryland.org/lobbying-actions. You can adapt the email, above, sent to the Senate committee, stressing one or the other of the remedies mentioned in the previous paragraph.
Postal mail can go to:
Budget and Taxation Committee, 3 West Miller Senate Office Building, Annapolis, MD 21401
Mathew Goldstein is a member of secularmaryland.org