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To act politically, many liberal Jews believe, is to act religiously.
So it is not acceptable for liberal Jews to ignore what we now know about the IRS. The agency deliberately planned to slow or impede the applications and donations of tax-exempt organizations. Most of those were conservative; now we learn that some were also liberal. The IRS saw itself as the decider — what constitutes permissible private conscience and what constitutes non-permitted public action?
This scandal applies equally to all charities, especially religious ones. If the IRS can tell a religious group that its politically charged actions undermine its tax-exempt status, what’s to prevent the IRS from making the same judgments about Jewish liberal organizations?
The simplest solution is not to pretend, as we all do, that religious organizations can somehow police themselves better than the IRS can. Clearly, religious organizations are going to involve themselves in political affairs. They can’t help themselves, and we should stop pretending they can.
Rather, we should rethink the artifice that leads us down this path of temptation: deductibility for charitable gifts.
One of the surest ways to weaken the wall between church and state is to give the state a veto over whether or not charitable gifts are tax deductible.
What if we simply removed any special tax status for any gifts to not-for-profit organizations of any kind — religious, cultural, medical, educational or political? Such a move, while painful to charities, would reduce the friction that now exists between church and state while simultaneously restoring charity to its proper role, as the purest expression of a holy community of conviction. And when the times call for it, a community of confrontation.
Noam Neusner is a principal with the communications firm 30 Point Strategies. He was a speechwriter for President George W. Bush. Follow him on Twitter @Glutens