Folly 4: The Churches, U.S. Government, and Land—Pt. 1

*Folly post 4

[The following radio talk is excerpted with permission from the book, Atheist Heroes and Heroines by Madalyn Murray O’Hair.]

madalyn_murray_ohair     Good evening. This is Madalyn O’Hair, American Atheist, back to talk with you again. I try to keep current with all the land and buildings which the United States government gives away to churches—in defiance of the Constitution of the United States, of course—but I just can’t do it. The federal government can give this away faster than just one little old American Atheist Center can keep up with the records of what is happening.

     The reason that I say this is unconstitutional is that I rely on one of the men who was there when the First Amendment was drafted and interpreted. The Baptist church tried to get some land from the federal government way back then. The church leaders even had a bill introduced into Congress and, with the usual pressure that a church can bring on congressmen, managed to have the bill passed to give them some land in the Mississippi Territory. Well, James Madison was president then, and in no uncertain terms he vetoed the bill. Let me tell you what he had to say in his veto letter. And I quote:

Because the bill in reserving a certain parcel of land of the United States for the use of said Baptist Church comprises a principle and precedent for the appropriation of funds of the United States for the use and support of religious societies, contrary to the article of the Constitution which declares that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.

     Well, Nixon is no Madison. So he did not interfere with the usual giveaways. I have not reported on these for several years now in this radio series and I may as well bring you up to date.

     The Church of Christ, which has funds for investment in stocks and bonds of about half a billion dollars, was interested in the Baker Air Force Station in Baker, Oregon. That has 15.37 acres of land with thirty-nine buildings on it. So the United States government, wanting to be friendly to these poor, poor people, gave them the land for their Baker College. It had cost us taxpayers $1,518,365 to acquire this land many years ago, and of course the land had increased in value.

     The game plan for these giveaways is that the land is given a ridiculous value by the Health, Education and Welfare Department. In this case, the value was placed at $692,869. Then, since no one wanted to offend the Church of Christ or to ask it to use some of its half a billion dollars with which it plays the stock market, the government decided that it would give a little discount on the land. Now, what would be fair? 5 percent or 10 percent? After all, the land had been arbitrarily reduced in value already to less than half of its purchase price and probably about one quarter of its actual price. What do you think would be a fair discount to a church for 15.37 acres of land and thirty-nine good buildings? Well, the government decided to give the church a discount of 100 percent. That’s right—the Church of Christ got the land and the buildings for absolutely nothing. And that land and those buildings are forever henceforth withdrawn from the tax base of Oregon.

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     I like to check on what goes on in Texas. Do any of you know there was an excess building at the Bergstrom Air Force Base? The Roman Catholic Church knew it and got right in there to acquire it. Oops, I mean them. There were three buildings which had cost the U.S. government $178,500. The Health, Education and Welfare Department evaluated them at $3,700. Well, why would anyone want them if they had deteriorated that much? The answer is because they had not deteriorated. The evaluation is always ridiculous. And seeing that it was the Roman Catholic Church and that church swings a heavy political punch in and around Bergstrom, the church’s “Dolores School” was given a discount on the buildings. What percentage?—95 percent, of course, dear taxpayer. This means that these three buildings which cost the government and you $178,500 were sold to the Roman Catholic Church for $185. No mistake. That’s what I said, for $185.

     That church also wanted fence and poles which were at the Ellington Air Force Base and which had cost the taxpayers $6,000. They got the fence and the poles for their Shrine of the True Cross School and it cost them $131.50. That’s quite a bargain.

     I had some land in Kansas and was going to start a school there and through litigation directed against us because we were Atheists I lost the land. And during that time I surveyed land costs in Kansas, and so I have a wild story to tell you here. Would you believe 572.68 acres? In this case, the government couldn’t really get away with this depreciation business again. It had acquired the land for $39,997 (probably from the Indians!) and the government now had to admit that the “fair value” was really $209,000. This was just for the land. There are no buildings on it. Well, the Methodists wanted that for the college, so that good old Health, Education and Welfare Department said, “Sure, here you go. And how would you like a 100 percent discount?” And the Methodists liked that, so they received 572.68 acres of land for nothing. That’s what you call a real bargain.

     One would think that land near a big city would be worth something. But when the New Orleans Naval Activity Facility did not need three parcels of land, the churches were right there. The Archdiocese of New Orleans of the Roman Catholic Church heard about that land right away. You know, it’s funny… You and I never hear that such land is available. I mean, did you ever read about any of this in your newspapers? So, how do these churches find out about it? Well, 3.74 acres, purchased for $40,275 and now worth $100,346, was just given to the Roman Catholic Church. Another parcel of 16.56 acres, which was purchased for $223,216 but actually valued at $347,867 was sold to the church, this time at a 90 percent discount. This means that the land cost them $34,786. No tax on the sale, naturally. The great champions of the notion of separation of state and church kept ever so quiet about this sale because the Jewish community, which always guards separation, picked up the third piece of land, which was 5.48 acres. That cost the taxpayers $70,837. It was worth $101,560 now, at the very lowest estimate that could be put on it, and the Jewish community took it for the use of its Touro Infirmary at a 100 percent discount. That’s right: free.

     If only HEW would give me $100,000 worth of land, maybe I would shut my mouth too. My husband says he doubts it. And he’s right: nothing will ever get me to shut up about all this fun and games with taxpayer money.

 NEXT—Folly 5: The Churches, U.S. Government, and Land—Pt. 2 →

About René Salm

René Salm is the author of two books on New Testament archeology and manages the companion website

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