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Americans United for Separation of Church and State
Nashville Chapter
PO Box 210005 . Nashville TN 37221


The following was written a few years ago when our chapter of Americans United was protesting the issuance of these bonds by Metropolitan Nashville. Our opposition won because of the reversal of a court decision. We believe that our point of view is still the correct one.)

The Issue of Tax-Exempt Bonds
written by Charles Sumner

The Health and Educational Facilities Board of the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County Tennessee (hereafter referred to as the "Board") is responsible for evaluating issuance of tax-exempt bonds for institutions. For TEN YEARS litigation has been in process on whether Lipscomb University should benefit from these.

On October 24, 2000, U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger ruled that Nashville cannot issue tax-free bonds in order to expand Lipscomb University or any other school which is "pervasively sectarian." Judge Trauger ruled "If the religious mission of Lipscomb is so intertwined with the academic goals that they cannot be separated, no matter what worthwhile projects the tax-free bonds financed, they were state support for Lipscomb's religious message. ... Metropolitan Government cannot support or promote religion - any religion - and be in conformity with the First Amendment." The attorney working for Americans for Religious Liberty who obtained this decision was Joseph Johnston. That decision is under appeal, but the mayor is enjoined not to approve issuance of any other similar bonds for pervasively sectarian institutions.

The new Pope John Paul II High School in Sumner County was able to get approval of $23.5 million in tax-exempt bonds in November 2000 without anyone protesting. There was no one identified as a resident of Sumner County who would be a plaintiff. What attorney wants ten years of involvement on a PRO BONO basis - or close to that? The time limit for litigating this has now expired.

However, Joe Johnston, Don Peterson and Charles Sumner have been working to block the request of Father Ryan High School for issuance of $8 million in tax-free educational revenue bonds for financing an addition to the high school. At this writing the Board had not met to vote on Father Ryan. If they should approve it in spite of the doubts to its legality we have placed, then our next step is to influence the mayor and the county attorney.

Tax-exempt bonds appeal to those affluent people who want to avoid taxes on their earnings. They return less money, but the income is free of income taxes. The beneficiary of the bonds has to repay less money than would have been necessary had the bonds not been tax-exempt. The institution is using the government to get a better rate. This may seem inconsequential until you look at some figures. A news article in THE SCENE provided some information. These figures may not be exact, but they will give you an idea. Belmont University's tax-exempt bond request was in the vicinity of $25 million. Its denial was estimated to potentially cost them $7.5 million over 20 years. (Belmont's bonds were approved by the Board but at this writing had not been approved by the mayor because of Belmont's Baptist control and the injunction. The injunction has been upheld by the courts.)

We have not taken any action to oppose tax-exempt bonds for the Seventh-day Adventist medical center, the acquisition of Baptist Hospital by St. Thomas, or the bonds for Belmont University. Since our recent effort has been against issuance for a Roman Catholic high school, the following facts are applicable.

The Code of Canon Law of the Roman Catholic Church governs the operation of Roman Catholic schools. The encyclical Christian Education of Youth (Pius XI) states "...not only at certain hours to teach Catholic religion to children but that all other subjects must be made fragrant with the odor of piety." It also states "... all the teaching and the whole organization of the school, and its teachers, syllabus, and textbooks in every branch, be regulated by the Christian Spirit, under the direction and maternal supervision of the Church."

Whether the funding is for a fine arts center is immaterial, according to the judge's ruling. It is also true that funding for such structures permits the institution to have more funds for religious purposes. The school and all the religious buildings of the Diocese are tax-exempt, which represents a significant concession to religion on the part of government. We cannot allow creeping clericalism to gradually claim more and more. The stated objective of Roman Catholicism is to eventually make the government fund their religious education.

You may wish to consider whether our tax monies should be used to propagate religious teachings which are not beliefs of those from whom the taxes would be extracted. This may have been acceptable to Americans in Colonial days, but that was changed when we became a nation. An example would be teaching children that contraception is immoral. It is not only Catholic schools which teach such things. When 16 textbooks used in fundamentalist religious schools were analyzed it was found that they promote prejudice against people of other faiths, distort history, derogate our literary heritage, cast science in a bad light, and indoctrinate children. This is not the stuff which promotes interfaith harmony and unity in our nation.



The Code of Canon Law of the Roman Catholic Church was revised and promulgated by Pope John Paul II in 1983. The Paulist Press published it with commentary in 1985. Canon Law makes it clear that Catholic schools are under the jurisdiction of the "ecclesiastical authority." In Canon 803 we find that "It is necessary that the formation and education given in a Catholic School be based upon the principles of Catholic doctrine." And the commentary states "Both the formation (of character) and education in a Catholic school is to be grounded upon the basics of Catholic teaching ..." Of course the Catholic doctrine is found in the official catechisms and encyclicals. Among the teachings with which many non- Catholics would disagree are reassertions of the authority of the Church to interpret the Bible, reassertion of papal authority, clerical celibacy, condemnation of all divorce, proscription of contraception, artificial insemination, surrogate motherhood and abortion.

The Christian Education of Youth (Pius XI, 1929) states that to be a fit place for Catholic education " is necessary that all the teachings and the whole organization of the school, and its teachers, syllabus, and textbooks in every branch, be regulated by the Christian (i.e., Catholic) spirit, under the direction and maternal supervision of the Church; so that Religion may be in very truth the foundation and crown of the youth's entire training; and this in every grade of school..." "Every subject taught (should) be permeated with Christian piety."

In contradiction to our American tradition and law, Catholic schools teach that the government should subsidize Catholic education. They are taught that government should not be involved with population control or family planning.

Roman Catholic schools urge students and their parents to become politically active to get laws passed to restrict abortion. This means that they wish to impose their beliefs on all of us. There is a wide spectrum of other religious groups which have made statements supporting the woman's right to choose under certain circumstances.

A Gallup poll revealed that only 13% of Catholics agree with "all" church teachings on faith and morality; 84% reject the ban on contraception; 76% favor allowing priests to marry; 63% favor ordaining women; only 41% agree that abortion is morally wrong. The teachings in Catholic schools conflict with the beliefs of the majority of Catholics in this country.

Catholic schools are not just like a public school with a little bit of religion thrown in. They are quite different in principle and practice from public school bound by law and the pluralistic nature of our citizens to be religiously neutral.

The Supreme Court has delved into this issue on numerous occasions. Some of their statements shed light on the issue and should be examined if there is doubt about what Catholic schools are and what they teach.

It was disingenuous of the attorney for Father Ryan High School to begin his testimony to your board with the statement that there is no such thing as separation of church and state. Many on your board are not attorneys and may not have studied the history and legal decisions. He might have stated that there is not an absolute separation, and we would have agreed with him.

The following are merely a few of the many statements from history which acknowledge the existence of this principle even though the words "separation of church and state" are not in the Constitution. Would the attorney deny the existence of "religious liberty" or "the right to a fair trial" because these words do not appear in the Constitution?

"Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between church and State."
- [Thomas Jefferson, letter to Danbury Baptist Association, Connecticut. "The Complete Jefferson" by Saul K. Padover, pp 518-519]

"No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion.

"Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa.

"In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect 'a wall of separation between church and state.' "
- [United States Supreme Court in four decisions.]

"[I]t may not be easy, in every possible case, to trace the line of separation between the rights of religion and the Civil authority with such distinctness as to avoid collisions and doubts on unessential points. The tendency to usurpation on one side or the other, or to a corrupting coalition or alliance between them, will be best guarded agst. by an entire abstinence of the Gov't from interference in any way whatsoever, beyond the necessity of preserving public order, and protecting each sect agst. trespasses on its legal rights by others."
- [James Madison, "James Madison on Religious Liberty", edited by Robert S. Alley, ISBN 0-8975-298-X. pp. 237-238]

"... the industry, and the morality of the Priesthood, and the devotion of the people have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the Church from the State."
- [James Madison, quoted by Robert L. Maddox, Separation of Church and State: Guarantor of Religious Freedom, New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1987, p. 39.]


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