Expatriate Owl

A politically-incorrect perspective that does not necessarily tow the party line, on various matters including but not limited to taxation, academia, government and religion.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Suing to Increase their Tax

Last week's Budlong v. Graham decision of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia has just come to my attention, via a proprietary reporting service to which I have access. I have found no publicly available texts of the decision yet (though I fully expect that some will soon be posted somewhere on the Internet), but it is Civil Action No. 1:05-CV-2910-RWS, and the Court's opinion was released on 6 February 2006.

The Court has ruled unconstitutional the Georgia statute that exempts "Holy Bibles, testaments, and similar books commonly recognized as being Holy Scripture" from Georgia's sales tax or use tax. Apparently, the exemption does not apply to the Bhagavad Gita or Zen or other non-Judaeo-Christian writings recognized by their respective religious faiths as Holy Scripture.

And so, instead of requiring Georgia to grant a similar tax exemption for sales of the Bhagavad Gita, the Court has enjoined Georgia from allowing the exemption on the "Holy Bibles, testaments, and similar books commonly recognized as being Holy Scripture."

It is a long-standing American tradition to level the religious playing field by allowing followers of the minority religion the same legal privileges and relaxations accorded the dominant religion. Even before American independence, the General Assembly of the Colony of New York, on 12 July 1729, specifically allowed persons of the Jewish religion to serve as governmental officials, and to take an oath of office which, while pledging to faithfully and dutifully discharge the duties of the office, omitted the words "upon the true faith of a Christian."

Nowadays, the mixture is a bit more diverse than Protestants, Catholics and Jews. Nevertheless, the logical and real American thing to do would be to expand the sales and use tax exemption to include Bhagavad Gita.

It is not uncommon for a lawsuit to have some sort of plaintiff's (or even a defendant's ) agenda which is not entirely obvious from the text of the judicial opinion. Left to their own devices, taxation agencies will invariably find ways to increase their opportunities to exact revenue from the populace. Why did Bart Graham, the Georgia Commissioner of Revenue, actually oppose the plaintiff's motion to compel him to collect more taxes? When the Georgia Revenue Commissioner, whose job is to collect revenue, resists a motion to require him to collect tax money, that is a sure sign of an agenda lurking in there somewhere.

Moreover, the lead Plaintiff, Thomas Budlong, described in the judicial opinion as "a retired librarian, and the former President of the Georgia Library Association," was the one who moved for relief that would cause librarians throughout Georgia to have to pay more to procure certain classes of library materials. Whythehell is Georgia's ex top bibliotechie trying to INCREASE the costs of running libraries when librarians throughout America are whining that their libraries are in a budget crunch (though many public libraries solve this by increasing taxes)? This, too, is an indicium of an ulterior motive.

At this juncture in time I have yet to see any of the pleading papers behind this judicial opinion. Nevertheless, I can tell you that the hidden agenda is not Bart Graham's. I know this because:

A. The lawyer representing the Plaintiffs is Maggie Garrett, who is employed by the Georgia ACLU as a Staff Attorney.

B. Tom Budlong has a long record of activism within the American Library Association, a far, far left organization which is pro-terrorist and pro-pornography and all the rest of the far left anti-family and anti-American and anti-G-d agenda.

The lawsuit is just one more attempt to chip away at our American freedoms. If the plaintiffs TRULY wanted equality, they would have moved for the court to require the Georgia sales and use tax exemptions to include the Bhagavad Gita.

This is not to say that a tax exemption such as Georgia's is simple to administer. Another "religious" text specifically mentioned in the court's opinion is a tome entitled "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance." Now I am not going to rule upon whether this book is or is not really a religious book (but if it is, then it certainly ain't my own religion). This is America, and we have freedom of religion here.

[Some years ago, when I still worked for Uncle Sam, I got into a conversation with some other Jewish employees regarding how we intended to work the compensatory time for our religious observance days off (a standard procedure for religious accommodation of the Federal workforce). Another co-worker in our proximity (who happened to be a practicing Catholic and an avid Yankees fan) interjected, only half jokingly, that he wanted to take time off to see the Yankees game and work comp time for it because Baseball was his religion. I mentioned this little exchange to my Rabbi, who, as basketball fan, very much appreciated the humor. The Rabbi's comment was that he wished more Jewish people would have just half the fervor for learning Torah as they do for the baseball and football and basketball games.]

A tax exemption for religious organizations is relatively simple to enforce if it is based upon limiting the benefit that may inure to private individuals or non-tax-exempt entities, rather than upon the merits of the underlying "religious values." Thus, one claiming the benefit of a real property tax exemption can be scrutinized by the property. If there be a manufacturing plant on premises, and the goods manufactured there are sold in general commerce, then the exemption can be questioned.

Also, a sales tax exemption based upon whether the seller or buyer is an organized religious entity is also open to abuse. Churches can sell objects having some sort of tenuous religious significance. At one point in time my Rabbi was approached with the idea that our synagogue sell kosher wines for religious purposes, so that they can be tax-exempt. His response was that he was not out to undercut the local merchants' businesses.

The problem with Georgia's now invalidated sales and use tax exemption was that it was content-specific. If all books and/or newspapers were tax-exempt (or taxed) then there would be no need to make a religion-specific determination. And, quite frankly, given the nefariousness of the Income Tax and Estate Tax as we known them today, I would prefer to abolish those taxes in favor of a national sales tax, even if religious articles were taxed on the same basis as everything else.

But whatever merits there may or may not be in Georgia's sales tax scheme do not alter the agenda behind the lawsuit by the ALA and the ACLU. Do not confuse Freedom of Religion with freedom from religion!


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