ABDUL-HAKIM SHABAZZ Commentary: Render unto the county what is the county’s

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Well, not really. They should, however, fork over a few bucks to the government in the form of user fees.

Like I said, this may be heresy, but I’ve never been mistaken for a true believer. As anyone who’s picked up a newspaper in the past few months knows, the city and county are facing huge budget shortfalls. And depending on whom you believe, it totals between $10 million and $35 million in the upcoming fiscal year alone. Mayor Bart Peterson has announced a number of cuts and hiring freezes to help stem the financial tide.

Something the mayor is not suggesting is charging churches, mosques and synagogues a fee for using city services. It’s high time to seriously consider such a move. A quick call to the mayor’s Faithbased Initiative Office revealed there are nearly 1,000 churches, mosques and synagogues in Marion County. Assuming that every church will likely need some assistance from the city in one form or another at least once a year, I don’t see why a user fee would be a bad idea.

Our most important city services-police and fire protection-are paid for with property taxes. We all pay for them as taxpayers, whether directly if you own a home or indirectly if you rent and the taxes are included in your monthly payment. Churches and other houses of worship don’t pay property taxes. Businesses pay property taxes, and mosques and synagogues get to walk scot-free. However, if I call 9-1-1 because my home is on fire or I’m being robbed, I’m using a service I pay for. If the church is being robbed or catches fire, and it calls 9-1-1, it gets the service free. That just doesn’t seem right.

I know there was a measure proposed in 2001 in the Indiana General Assembly that would have allowed for such fees to be charged, but it died when the masses rose up in protest. But with the current financial situation in Marion County, charging a user fee might not seem out of the question.

I do not think it is unreasonable to ask members of the religious community to help pay their fair share of services. I am not asking that they get a monthly bill from the city, but if they call the police or fire department, or any department, for that matter, they should be sent a bill for the service. Local governments should be able to easily quantify how much responding to particular police or fire

calls cost.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “In America, I thought we had separation of church and state.” You’re right-that is a generally agreed-to proposition. But even the Son of Man is quoted as saying, “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” His point being, take care of your earthly duties as well as your spiritual ones.

I don’t think Jesus, Moses or Mohammed would appreciate someone using a service they did not pay for when they could afford it only to have someone else pick up the tab. I would take some poetic license with Christ’s words and say, “Render unto God what is God’s, but the city and county still have to collect a fee.”

If a house of worship is being robbed or catches fire, who gets the first call, Jesus or 9-1-1? If you’re smart, you call 9-1-1 first and then pray the firetrucks get there in time.

Shabazz is the morning-show host on WXNT-AM 1430 and an attorney. His column appears monthly. He can be reached by e-mail at ashabazz@ibj.com.

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