When the man who was once called Richard Nixon’s hatchet man steps up to the podium to deliver a statement of conscience along with 150 or so right wing evangelical and catholic leaders, you can safely bet that conscience has nothing to do with what is about to be said. As I write this, the full 4000 plus word “Manhattan Document” Colson and friends are set to announce at the National Press Club today is not yet available for anyone to actually see. But it’s being advertised as a call for “Christians” to, among other things, disobey government regulations giving their gay and lesbian neighbors equal access to jobs and services paid for with tax dollars.

I put the word “Christians” in quotes, not to mock anyone’s identification as such, but to emphasize how often, and how casually, the religious right uses the word as if they are the trademark owners. And they’re not the owners of that word any more then the money they’re declaring today that they’ll spend however they darn well please.

The document they’re calling their “Manhattan Declaration”, even though it will be unveiled today in Washington D.C. not Manhattan, pledges that “…that no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence”. The document attempts to draw a line in the sand when it comes to government attempts to require compliance with any civil rights ordinances the signers find objectionable. So then, it is a document intended, clearly, to intimidate the rest of America that believes in that united we stand, liberty and justice for all stuff.

It declares, according to The Catholic News Agency, that while the signers “…recognize the duty to comply with laws whether we happen to like them or not…” they…

“…will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti-life act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriage or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family.”

Emphasis mine. This would be the same Catholic church that recently announced it would stop feeding the homeless in Washington D.C. if it had to obey D.C. laws forbidding discrimination against gay citizens. Let me say a couple things about this: first, if you take tax money you have to abide by the strings attached to it. There isn’t a government contractor who doesn’t understand how this relationship works. I know, because I have worked in that environment myself. This isn’t religious persecution, it’s called accountability. And the government isn’t accountable to the pulpit, it’s accountable to the pews. It’s their money gentlemen, not yours. Not until it goes into a collection plate anyway.

Secondly, if you run a business or operate a public service, you have to abide by this nation’s civil rights laws. This isn’t a new argument…we’ve been having it for ages. Where is the line between the bigot’s freedom to be a bigot and the nation’s promise of liberty and justice to all? The first civil rights laws ever passed in The United States, so I am told, were passed back in the 1800s in New York City to protect Irish Catholics. You can still find “No Irish” signs at the random flea market, along with the ones reading “Whites Only” and “No Indians After 5PM” (I actually saw one of those). However, nowadays we are The United States Of America, not the Loose Collection Of Various Your Kind Isn’t Welcome Here Signs.

Finally…please….you are not being asked to “bless” anything. Just do the work or provide the services you contracted with the government to do with its money. Your power to bless is very awesome, but governments don’t spend taxpayer money for blessings.

Christians…capital ‘C’ are not being told anything by the government. Government contractors are being told how they must spend government money. Business are being told they must abide by civil rights laws. Organizations that want tax breaks are being told the rules for applying for, and holding onto those tax breaks. Whether they’re Christians or not. I get a tax break every year on the interest on my mortgage, and you’d better believe I stay inside the line when it comes to filing for it. What makes you think you’re any different? Think you’re blessed do you?

There are those Christian groups who get tax breaks for providing goods and services to the public and gladly abide by the rules saying they can’t discriminate against their gay and lesbian neighbors, because they wouldn’t dream of doing such a thing in the first place. So the government is not discriminating against Christians. If that’s not your idea of Christianity gentlemen, then spend your own money.

One more thing. In a column about all this over at The Christian Post, Mr. Colson takes a swing at that horrible state of New Jersey for taking away the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association’s tax break…

It isn’t hard to cite numerous cases where Christian organizations and individuals have been singled out and punished for adhering to their faith. In New Jersey, a Methodist camp lost its tax exempt status for refusing to hold a same-sex civil union ceremony…

Er…no. The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association got a tax break in exchange for allowing the public to use, among other things, its boardwalk pavilion…which the public had before the lawsuit for a variety of activities, including the marriages of people who were neither Methodist nor Christian. When a same-sex couple asked to use it the Association balked, reneged on its deal with the state, and called the resulting revocation of its tax break religious persecution. I suppose a lot of people would like to get free money from the government.

Different boss…same hatchet…