Catering to religious right

This article was published November 10, 2017 at 4:00 a.m.

Dear editor:

The GOP tax plan is receiving a great deal of notice in the media, but the focus has been chiefly on the new tax rates and increasing the standard deduction. The upside of those factors would suggest that many Arkansans would benefit because the majority do not file a long form 1040. Those who do file long form, of course, would take hits with no deduction for medical expenses, which often are very great, and no deduction for state and local income taxes.

However, tucked away are several provisions that have little to do with reforming the tax code, but rather more to do with ensuring future votes for ultra conservative lawmakers. The entire plan consists of more than 400 pages (what else is new at the federal level?). One strange issue includes changes that would codify the rights of unborn children, that would allow tax-exempt religious organizations to engage in political activities (undoing the long-standing Johnson Amendment) and impose hurdles for immigrants seeking to claim refundable tax credits.

President Trump catered to the religious right in strong fashion during the campaign of 2016 in order to garner more votes, and as POTUS, he is continuing such actions. At a Values Voter Meeting in October, he declared he was committed to "stopping cold the attacks on Judeo-Christian values," promising that this country's religious heritage would be cherished, protected and defended like never before.

The biggest win for ultra conservatives socially is the first item mentioned above, the inclusion of the words "unborn child" in the legislation. This language is contained in a provision related to education savings vehicles -- the so-called 529 plans -- which are state-sponsored, tax-free investment funds that allow families to save money for a child's college education. The added language allows expectant parents to designate "a child in utero" as a beneficiary of a 529 plan. Such a provision accomplishes what anti-abortionists have long sought: It enshrines into federal law the recognition of the unborn.

Also, getting rid of the Johnson Amendment that threatens churches who engage in political activities is something that religious right folk have championed for years. Allowing pastors to promote specific candidates that cater to their religious philosophy, of course, helps empower the Christian right without any IRS threats or actions.

Both these tucked-away provisions would add to the criticism by thousands that the GOP has in recent years become a "religious party." There is no doubt that the tide in that direction began in the 1990s. Such a move was the main reason the party left me. What the future holds in this matter, we have yet to see, but in so many ways, the present administration seems to be wanting our great country to retrench and go backward, instead of forward. We can only hope this is not the case. These are some things to ponder. The coffee is wafting strong. We all need to smell it as the days are passing swiftly.

John W. "Doc" Crawford

Hot Springs

Editorial on 11/10/2017

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