Conscientious believers

“A lot of the recent religious freedom debate has taken place in terms of conscience. … That’s important, but it’s also important to maintain the social and institutional space within which Christians can be formed,” he continued. “Conscientious believers aren’t hatched; they’re formed. They’re formed in communities, and we’ve got to get religious freedom protections so those communities won’t be homogenized by the state.”

How do nondiscrimination laws threaten institutions? The best known example is the possibility raised by some liberal commenters that the government could take away the federal tax exemption from churches. Experts said, however, that is not likely to be politically possible. The greater risk is a cutoff of federal funding, both direct and indirect—student loans, vouchers, etc.—to schools that violate federal antidiscrimination law. And if an educational institution loses its accreditation, the value of its diplomas plummets. Graduates of these religious colleges could be barred from law schools and medical schools.

“Most people don’t understand that the government has at its disposal the incredible power of licensing and accreditation rules and public-funding conditions,” the Lawyer said. “The government is able to compel compliance with its norms not only by making you comply with them but by making you an offer that you can’t refuse.”

One reason we grant tax exemptions is because we understand that “the power to tax is also the power to destroy.” What Rod Dreher’s speaking to here isn’t just the value of protecting the cultural space (or cultural nests) that tax exemption helps make possible, but also the ways that state power has developed to coerce and incentivize its own values through its accreditation and regulatory powers.

We might be nearing the point where we need “state exemptions” for corporations, rather than simply “tax exemptions.” In other words, exemptions from the state’s ability to do anything other than recognize the existence of an organization.

I’m hopeful that technology will strip the state of its role in accreditation in terms of both work and school places.

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