Churches will earn discounts on their Maryland taxes — particularly a "stormwater remediation fee" applies even to non-profit property-owners — by agreeing to "preach environmentally focused sermons to educate their congregations," the Washington Post reports.
It doesn't seem to have occurred to the Washington Post reporter, Arelis Hernandez, that there might be anything wrong with the government influencing the content of sermons, though the Post headline-writer seems to have understood the issue: "Churches receive stormwater fee discounts by starting 'green' ministries, sermons."
From the article:
Churches, synagogues, mosques and other houses of worship are an "untapped resource" to help inspire the larger community to "do what is right," Jon Capacasa of the Environmental Protection Agency said.
There seem to me all kinds of First Amendment problems here (not to mention Article 36 of Maryland's state Constitution). And the EPA official's view of religious institutions as a "resource" to be marshaled for the service of the state seems to me repugnantly instrumentalist.
But the bigger point is a problem with big government and taxes in general. The more burdensome the taxes are, the greater is the temptation of those crushed by them to trade their freedom and independence for a discount on them, and the more power the government has to dictate behavior. The tax becomes not a way to raise revenue for the government, but a method for exerting control.