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5 Ways Churches Get Preferential Treatment and Benefit from Legal Loopholes

U.S. law is honeycombed with examples of special benefits that organized religions enjoy.

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Members of the clergy are frequently called upon to deliver invocations before government bodies at the local, state and federal levels. Although some jurisdictions make occasional efforts to add a little diversity to the pool by reaching out to non-Christian groups, it’s rare for representatives from secular communities (humanist, atheist, etc.) to be included. In fact, there’s often great hostility to the very suggestion of including them.

Some jurisdictions even hire chaplains at taxpayer expense. Both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate have chaplains. They are well compensated with excellent benefits. Some state governments have them, too.


These are just a few examples of the privileges religion enjoys in America. There are many more. Consider marriage ceremonies: Clergy are automatically granted the right to preside at wedding ceremonies and sign licenses on behalf of the government. In some states, it’s very difficult for secular celebrants to win the same right. Zoning laws, which under federal law extend special treatment to houses of worship, are another example.

In other areas, such as access to “faith-based” funding to provide social services, legislators’ default position is that religious groups provide services more effectively and cheaper than secular organizations, even though no objective evidence bears this out. Thus, some religious groups have become very adept at tapping the public purse.

Religious groups enjoy plenty of benefits in America, so why do some religious leaders complain so much about persecution? It boils down to this: When religious leaders cry “persecution,” what they usually mean is that they’re angry that the government won’t act as the enforcer for their theology. Having failed to persuade people to voluntarily adopt their rules, they’d like a little government muscle to make people “moral” or “decent” – as they define those terms.

But that is oppression, not religious liberty. Thankfully, most Americans can still see the difference – even if some religious leaders can’t.

Rob Boston is director of communications at Americans United for Separation of Church and State. His latest book is "Taking Liberties: Why Religious Freedom Doesn't Give You the Right to Tell Other People What to Do."

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