American religious institutions already receive large tax breaks from the Internal Revenue Service. Churches pay no property taxes on huge plots of land that would normally generate revenue for struggling communities like Prince George's County, home of numerous megachurches.
By helping Hurricane Katrina victims, churches followed the biblical command to love your neighbor. To reimburse organizations for fulfilling their appointed spiritual mission sets a dangerous precedent that could weaken the principle of separation of church and state. Ellen G. White, a 20th-century religious liberty author, vividly warned the country about this unhealthy union in her book "The Great Controversy."
-- Rocky Twyman, Rockville
Some Americans want no tax dollars going to any charity in general and religious charities in particular. They see government reimbursement as crossing the battle line dividing church and state. Reimbursement, though, does not equal endorsement of one creed over another.
Without federal help, the religious charities that aided evacuees will have no coin to respond to the next natural disaster. Nor can such groups rely on alms from the public to build up their cash reserves. Collecting donations takes time. Hurricanes and tornadoes recognize neither clocks nor calendars.
-- Lawrence P. McGuire, Waldorf
One role of the church is to "speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those who are perishing . . . speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice" (Proverbs 30:8-9). Therefore, the federal government does not need to reimburse religious organizations for this service.
In reimbursing religious organizations, the government must now also consider reimbursing the other countless individuals and organizations who, of their own cost and volition, have stepped in to assist the evacuees.
-- Erica Vaughns, Brandywine
The federal government should reimburse religious organizations for services that the government requests or previously has arranged for in times of disaster. That's helpful, businesslike and fair.
But the answer is no for all other types of reimbursement or payments, for it would blur the line between government and charities, religious or not. With such nonsense going on, why should I donate to a charity if it's going to be repaid for its services by the government? What then happens to my donation? Given some charities' track records, I hate to think about it.
-- Joseph Snyder, Alexandria
Next month's question: Does a pastor have the right to deny membership in his or her congregation to someone who is in a same-sex relationship? E-mail your answer (100 words or fewer) to email@example.com. Include a daytime phone number.