An Alabama law professor who argues that fair taxation is a moral issue will present her case June 19 at a luncheon meeting sponsored by the Baptist Center for Ethics. The gathering is in conjunction with the 18th General Assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, scheduled June 19-20 in Memphis, Tenn.
Susan Pace Hamill, a professor at the University of Alabama School of Law, reached national prominence after publishing a paper in 2002 evaluating the state’s tax laws in light of the Bible’s teaching about justice and concern for the poor. Her newest book, As Certain as Death, analyzes state and local laws in all 50 states by standards of right and wrong.
Hamill, a Methodist whose interest in the topic began with a divinity degree she earned at Baptist-affiliated Beeson Divinity School while on sabbatical, has accepted an invitation to speak at a BCE-sponsored luncheon beginning at noon on Thursday, June 19, at the Cook Convention Center in Memphis.
Hamill appears in “Golden Rule Politics,” a 2007 DVD produced by the Baptist Center for Ethics, in which she distinguishes between “low-sacrifice” and “high-sacrifice” moral issues.
“Low sacrifice does not mean theologically unimportant,” Hamill says. “Low sacrifice means the resolution of the issue means very little to you. For example, the stem-cell research issue–if you are not facing a debilitating or life-threatening illness and no one you love is–that is a low-sacrifice issue for you, because either way it doesn’t affect you personally.”
Other issues, like changing tax laws that are unfair to the poor, carry a cost for more-affluent citizens who must bear a greater portion of the tax burden.
“We have become a nation of low-sacrifice issues,” she maintains in the DVD. The Bible, on the other hand, “clearly requires high sacrifice.”
“Jesus Christ did not preach a low-sacrifice gospel,” she says.
Hamill’s 2002 article, which attacked Alabama’s tax laws as immoral under principles of Judeo-Christian ethics and challenged the state’s 90-percent Christian majority to meet moral obligations to work to reform the system, drew immediate attention when an article appeared in the Mobile Register even before it was published. Hundreds of requests for the paper flooded her office, prompting her to post it on the Internet. Several Alabama newspapers ran editorials supporting her idea. It entered politics in 2002, when Gov. Bob Riley, a Republican and Southern Baptist, proposed major tax reform based on biblical ideals.
The Wall Street Journal gave the story national prominence with a front-page article in 2003. By then she was receiving inquiries about how moral principles would apply to tax laws outside the Southeast and federal tax policy, particularly President Bush’s first-term tax cuts that largely benefitted the wealthiest Americans. She has spoken in 25 states.
Her latest work, a 600-page survey of state and local tax laws, takes a “helicopter approach,” a term coined by Hamill, which is much more detailed than a one-page summary but much less detailed than treatises–enough information for her to evaluate the states under moral requirements of “reasonable opportunity” and “moderate progressivity.”
Tickets for the luncheon are $31 and can be ordered on-line. Individuals or organizations may reserve an entire table, which seats 10 people and costs $310.
Organizations sponsoring tables so far include the Alabama CBF, CBF of Arkansas, CBF of Georgia and Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists.
BCE also sponsors a workshop that morning from 9 to 10:10 a.m., featuring a screening of its newest DVD, “Good Will for the Common Good: Nurturing Baptists’ Relationships with Jews” followed by a panel discussion.
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Law Professor Pushes Tax Reform in Alabama
Budgets and Taxes as Moral Issues
Federal Tax Policy Falls Short of Biblical Teaching, Article Claims