Last July I discussed how Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown, an empty suit who happened to be black, won the Democratic nomination for governor. It appeared a foregone conclusion that he would be governor. After all, only one Republican has been governor of Maryland in the past forty years, and Robert Ehrlich only won because Kathleen Kennedy Townsend ran a spectacularly bad campaign. (Let’s just say Townsend—or “KKT,” as she’s known in Maryland—is smart for a Kennedy, but the Kennedys have always been graded on a very steep curve.)
The political consultants tried to scare us with the dire consequences of having Republican Larry Hogan as governor. There were the commercials warning that women would have to wear chastity belts, padlocked by those creepy hall monitors we all hated in middle school. But Hogan countered that on social issues, Maryland is a liberal state and he wasn’t running on social issues. Other commercials showed Bill Clinton shaking his fist (but not Hillary or President Obama). I read that in African-American communities the whispers of “Ferguson” were at fever pitch.
But I never saw a commercial where Anthony Brown talked about what he would do if he were elected governor. By contrast, I saw plenty of ads where Sen. Mark Warner and his opponent, Ed Gillespie, squarely faced the camera. Perhaps that’s because the consultants realized that Brown had nothing to say.
Hogan’s win was on a simple theme: taxes in Maryland were too high. In the past eight years, Gov. Martin O’Malley and his allies in the legislature raised every tax they could. In 2007, in his first year as governor, O’Malley raised the sales, property, and income taxes, and we reactionaries grumbled, “Yes! Maryland leads the nation again!”
The state raised all sorts of other taxes, and O’Malley didn’t help by saying that if you wanted to cut taxes, you would turn Maryland into Somalia.
But all the high taxes in my state have consequences, as Joseph Bottum writes in this article in the Weekly Standard.
One of the most irritating taxes O’Malley and his Democratic allies in the state legislature imposed was the “stormwater remediation fee,” which Larry Hogan more accurately called “the rain tax.” The idea is that water bounces off parking lots and into the Chesapeake, so if you have a parking lot, you should pay up. Since churches have parking lots, well, they have to pay.
In November, the Washington Post reported that Prince Georges County made a deal with large churches. If you do what the county wants—plant trees, buy rain barrels, and rip up your parking lots and replace them with a more environmentally friendly pavement—then the tax disappears. Oh, and if you put something in your sermons about how we should all save the planet, that helps, too.
In Forestville, Maryland, Rev. Nathaniel Thomas did what he was told in order to save his church $744. “Once Uncle Sam finds a way to take your money,” Rev. Thomas said, “he doesn’t stop.”
This whole effort was sponsored by a group called Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake, who from their website seem to be a group of rabbis and ministers (the one Catholic on the board isn’t a priest) who seem enthused by the idea that there’s no need to preach about the Old or New testament when the stormwater development fee is much more interesting. Here are their deep theological reasons for their excitement:
Through water, we are unmistakably interconnected. Thus, through our respect and stewardship of water, we demonstrate respect and love for each other and for future generations.
Now I realize environmentalists spend a lot of time communing with nature, but it’s hard to figure out what sort of mind would write something like this. Could the greens have been spending too much time baking in the sun? Or were they drenched in the rain? Or possibly could their brains have been both soaked and fried? It’s hard to tell.
Bottum mentions another disturbing story about bureaucrats telling churches how to behave. Earlier this year, lawyers from the city of Houston sent subpoenas demanding that churches opposed to that city’s gay-rights ordinance surrender the texts of all sermons that focused on “sexuality and gender identity.” When the churches rightly told the city to stuff it, Houston mayor Annise Parker canceled the subpoenas, declaring, “I don’t want to have a national debate on freedom of religion.”
What is troubling about these two incidents is the idea that bureaucrats have the unfettered right to tell ministers what to preach—even if it’s the innocuous goal of improving the environment. I’m all for churches saving energy and planting gardens, as long as it’s something congregations want to do rather than what they’re forced to do because of some bureaucrat’s mandate.
“Nothing should make pastors more suspicious of preaching on a particular topic than money offered for sermons on that topic,” Bottum concludes. “No church in America ought to take that bribe. Maybe even more to the point, no bureaucrat ought to offer it.”