July 13, 2005

When It Comes to Profit, Jesus Comes Second

The alliance between the Christian Right and American corporatists only goes so far. It is a marriage of convenience on many levels, but if a Christian precept or belief gets in the way of the bottom line, profit wins every time.

The reaction by the Christian right to the Supreme Court ruling on eminent domain (the action by local government to take private property and provide it to others who will enhance the use of that property for the public good) has revealed a yawning chasm between them and their ertswhile allies in so many other right-wing causes.

The chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice has said they have received more response on this issue than on the Ten Commandments issue. Focus on the Family and the American Family Association are weighing in strongly about the decision.

Despite the fact that Sandra Day O'Connor wrote what was probably the strongest dissent from the Court on this decision, these right-wing organizations are using the decision to put pressure on Bush to do what he promised he would do, and that is to name a new Justice in the mold of Scalia and Thomas, the two-most radical right-wing justices on the Court.

In reaction to the eminent domain ruling, Grover Norquist, founder of Americans for Tax Reform, and one of the most influential right-wing ideologues in Washington, said "If you are Jerry Falwell, it is probably wise to spend some of your time reminding the head of the chamber of commerce why he and you are on the same team."

While these Christian right organizations pay some lip service to the need to protect private homes and the "little guy", the primary focus of their objections revolves around their worry that churches, as tax-exempt institutions, will be targeted for eminent domain decisions, especially at a time when local governments are suffering significant budgetary distresses. These days, any fight about whether property should be tax-exempt or commercially taxed, is a no-brainer for most local government. This is what the Christian right fears most.

Of course, the irony in all this is that whatever commercial development might be planned to take the place of a church, or, in more common cases, private residences or apartment buildings, is usually granted sufficient tax incentives by the local government to make the potential positive economic impact of the development almost negligible anyway. In the belief that commercial development will have long-term salutary effects on employment, the tax base, and other collateral local development, local governments have been suckered into a vortex of giveaways to corporations that makes the welfare system look puny.

Anyone interested in exploring and understanding how taxpayers across the country are subsidizing a giant corporate welfare system amounting to $50 billion a year should read The Great American Jobs Scam: Corporate Tax Dodging and the Myth of Job Creation by Greg LeRoy . The American taxpayer pays these corporations for low-wage jobs, fewer jobs than actually promised prior to the development, union-busting tactics, long-term tax relief subsidizing their corporate profits, and a host of other "incentives" that end up being paid for by local homeowners and small businesses.

As the Christian Right learns more about its corporatist allies, it should, like Paul on the road to Damascus, eventually have some kind of revelation. The devil works in mysterious ways that these fundamentalist Christians haven't yet figured out.

Opposition to eminent domain for development should be based on the same reasons we should oppose local tax incentives for corporations. It's just one more in a long line of schemes and scams designed to take from the American working class and give to the corporate robber barons.

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