Representative Jeremy Gillam, Speaker of the Arkansas House of Representatives is sponsoring a bill in the state legislature that would provide tax credits exclusively to Christians. Named the, “Respect For Religious Belief” bill, if passed, it would provide an additional tax credit per individual for those who check the box on their state tax forms that they are practicing Christians.
Rep. Jim Dotson explained why a majority of Republicans in the legislature support this bill, “Many of the problems in our society, the increasing depravity, hatred, violence and division, come from what’s now too big of a separation between church and state. With this bill, we affirm that our religious beliefs are critical to encouraging us to be good people and treating each other as neighbors.”
Responding to charges by opponents that it would embed governmental prejudice against other religions in the state, Rep. Andy Davis protested that the bill did not favor one religion over another.
“The purpose of this bill is to encourage our citizens to study and reflect the positive qualities that are taught in The Bible so we can have a more peaceful, pleasant and harmonious society. Despite the claims of the bill’s detractors, it doesn’t favor one religion over another. No matter which religion you belong to, as long as you study and follow the teachings of the Bible, you can be Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, any religion at all, all Arkansans are eligible for this tax credit,” Davis stated.
Democrats and civil liberty groups have raised the issue of how such a law would be unconstitutional, violating the First Amendment but Gilliam batted away that charge. “The First Amendment says that government can’t make a law establishing a religion or interfering with the free exercise of it. Last I heard, Christianity was already established, and this bill doesn’t prevent anyone from practicing whatever religion they want to. This nation was founded on Christian principles and all we’re doing is rewarding people who respect and follow the principles of America’s founders. What could be more constitutional or patriotic than that?”
The Arkansas House of Representatives is currently considering a slew of amendments to the bill that may make it even more controversial. They include a reduction in criminal penalties on misdemeanor and felony convictions in cases where the defendant is Christian, discounted state and city services for Christians and allowing Christians to use the car pool lane on highways regardless of how many people are in their car.
“Hey, even if they’re driving without any other people in the car, they’re riding with Jesus so they deserve to be in the carpool lane,” Gillam added.
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