Sunday, November 13, 2011

Tis the Season of Taxation

Looks like taxation on toys and trimmings during the Christmas season has extended to the beloved tree as well. Over the past week, President Obama’s Agriculture Department announced that there would now be a new 15-cent tax on all fresh Christmas trees, which will support a new federal program aimed to improve the image and marketing of Christmas trees. Christmas tree growers support the tax because they wish to build a stable source of revenue in order to fund a marketing campaign. The 15-cent tax was created by the Christmas tree industry, not by the Obama administration despite all of the provocative headlines and outrage.

The new Christmas tree tax attracted complaints from Rep. Scalise and many others. To Scalise, the fee was a “Grinch move by the Obama administration” and promised to challenge it. Matt Lehrich, White House spokesman, informed Fox news that the administration was putting a stop to the proposal due to the controversy of the program. In his interview, Lehrich announced that the Obama administration was not taxing Christmas trees but that an industry group was deciding to impose fees upon itself in order to fund a Christmas tree promotional campaign that would be comparable to the “Got Milk” campaign. He informed viewers that the USDA was going to delay the program but it would be revisited.

The new program and fee was proposed earlier this year and would have reflected on the yearlong efforts by the fresh Christmas tree industry. This program was aimed to help promote the Christmas tree industry in times of increasing competition from producers of artificial trees. There were previous efforts to collect voluntary contributions to help create a fresh-tree marketing campaign but these contributions were not enough. The government then felt the need to help mandate a fee to support the Christmas tree board.

If passed, the government would impose the15-cent-per-tree charge on producers and importers of fresh Christmas trees. However, there were two problems found with the new fee. It was believed that the new 15-cent tax would be passed on to consumers of the trees, as well as thought the government was helping out the fresh-tree sellers and not the artificial tree sellers, which has been deemed inappropriate. The Agriculture Department continued to defend the program by saying that the fee does not count as a tax because the industry is imposing it on itself.

I agree with the outrage and the complaints surrounding the issue of the Christmas tree tax. I support the decision of the White House to sideline the proposed fee on Christmas trees. This case is an example of the government working with a private industry to promote a religious symbol. Christmas trees are identified by the Supreme Court to have secular and religious meanings. Therefore the government is then violating the Lemon test. Its involvement in supporting the Christmas tree board by mandating a fee advances the Catholic faith and creates excessive entanglement. Even though there are taxes on other objects of religious symbols such as a Menorah, the tax created here was going to be used to build a program to promote the Christmas image. This creates direct involvement of the government supporting the Catholic religion. There would have been no issue with voluntary contributions to support the program but the entanglement of government is inappropriate and creates an establishment of religion. If there is a promotional campaign supported by the government for one religious symbol, there must be one for other religious symbols as well.


Harry R. said...

I disagree with Molly that this program would constitute government establishment of religion. This tax would be imposed directly on the producers and importers and would therefore use no tax dollars. There is no more government collusion in this program than there is with any other similar program such as the "Got Milk" campaign. There can be no establishment of religion in the private campaign to support a producer which is not funded by the government.

Andrew Lichtenauer said...

I'm going to have to agree with Harry on this one. The tax on Christmas trees in this situation should be no more controversial than the successful "Got Milk" ad campaigns that promoted the drinking of milk.

The celebration of Christmas in the United States, in my opinion, has become too commercialized to make this issue controversial. Although the Christmas tree is a symbol of a primarily Christian holiday, imposing a tax on the Christmas tree would not violate the establishment clause in any way. If the tax were to actually be enforced, it would have a secular legislative purpose (many Jews in America recognize Christmas as a holiday and buy Christmas trees and decorations to celebrate), it would not in any way "advance or inhibit religion," and it wouldn't result in an "excessive government entanglement" with religion, because the primary purpose of the tax would be to support the Christmas tree industry - which is not particular to any faith or religious tradition.

Christopher J. said...

The issue here has absolutely nothing to do with the governmental establishment of religion. It is totally absurd to think that the government is barred from trying to help spur growth in an industry because that industry's product is inherently religious. The Establishment Clause bars the government from promoting a religion, not from promoting capitalism.

On a side note, Molly ended her post by arguing "If there is a promotional campaign supported by the government for one religious symbol, there must be one for other religious symbols as well." She already argued that such a program would be a form of establishment, so what she essentially said is that establishment is ok so long as the government establishes all religions equally. I'm sure that's not what she meant, but that's the way it came across.

Liz Petrillo said...

Molly said that the Christmas trees are both secular and religous. Can something be both? I don't believe so. Christmas trees are secular, almost everyone I know, regardless their religion, purchases a Christmas tree during the holidays. Also, in Lynch v Donelly,the Supreme Court ruled an entire nativity scene to be secular, therefore, they must remain consistent and say the Christmas tree tax is secular (even though religion is not an issue in this matter)