Monday, January 13, 2014

Religious Organizations and Property Rights

This morning over oatmeal and coffee I listened to a recent Econtalk podcast on religious liberty. The guest on the show was Anthony Gill who is a political scientist from University of Washington. He is also the host of a new podcast from Baylor University entitled Research on Religion which has some interesting material for future listening.

The Econtalk was terrific and Gill provides several reasons why social science scholars should want to study religion. One in particular I thought was interesting (I hadn't heard before) was when he stated social scientists are interested in studying organizations their structures, networks, etc. then he asked what has been the most enduring organization in modern times? The Catholic Church. If so, shouldn't social science scholars want to study the Catholic Church to gain insight into organizational theory? Other faiths and denominations also have enduring structures. Shouldn't we want to study them too? He also discussed competition between religious organizations and religious pluralism in the early United States. Obviously there are lots of other reasons to think the intersection of religion and social science is important. Presumably religion impacts decision-making and since (1) All the people on planet earth are decision-makers and (2) Most of them engage in religious practice, this would seem to be a beneficial research agenda.

But the most fascinating portion of the podcast was the discussion on religious organizations and property rights. I had never realized that governments in various places were attempting to prevent the construction of churches. The construction of the churches is often halted because churches "cause congestion". One example he provides, among others, was the construction of the Cottonwood Christian Center in Los Angeles. Before they could break ground the government stopped them and claimed eminent domain (a host of articles through the LA Times can be found here). Gill states that the idea behind dismissing Cottonwood was that there would be "congestion"; however, by excluding them the city of Cypress hoped to erect a Costco on that same land. What gives? Well, Gill provides an elegant public choice analysis noting the differential in property tax revenues and other tax revenues derived from churches v. businesses.

Also, as Mark noted in an earlier post the Kelo decision makes this kind of property fight even more nefarious. The government has grounds to prevent Cottonwood from opening their church because government revenues can be considered a "public good" that is in the public interest. Gill thinks the interaction between Kelo and religious liberties will be a fight the Supreme Court will see in the coming years.

No comments: