Yes, our founding document does guarantee that the government not interfere with the "free exercise" of religion but that such non interference does not convey license to ignore the law doesn't need to be restated every time some group decides it's exempt from restraint ( or subject to taxes.)
Certainly I am not opposed to the right to build churches or attend them and I am very much opposed to a government suggesting or forcing anyone to attend or not to attend or to worship or to recite allegiances to belief systems or gods -- and I suppose I'm not in a minority in that respect, unless we're discussing Islam. In fact I've frequently irritated people by defending Muslims from unfair criticism and bigotry. I've also irritated many by insisting that my freedom of speech and my freedom of belief trumps their efforts to keep me from criticizing their saints and deities and highly criticism worthy personages like Joseph Smith and Elron Hubbard.
It's often be explained to me that Islam is a "transcendental" religion, attempting to convert the world and so is dangerous, while religions like Christianity are not of that sort and so "Christian" or more ludicrously, "Judeo-Christian" law is the basis of our constitution and perhaps takes precedence. Sharia law alone is a clear and present danger say so many Americans. Can we really say that the enormous efforts Mormons make to convert the planet are different than other Christian efforts?
So why are there accusations of bigotry against Businessweek and Caroline Winter's article How the Mormons Make Money, which examines the finances and enterprises of the LDS? It's an
"in-depth look into the business side of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with much attention given to the tax benefits the church enjoys and the extent of its holdings of property and stock in multinational corporations"
says Dan Merica at CNN Belief Blog. And why is that off limits? Why is the anger more justified than the anger against pictures of Mohammad with a bomb in his turban? Of course a spokesman for the Church of Later Day Saints was quick to tell us the article was in poor taste and intended to insult Mormans, but then I haven't noticed the same attitude as concerns the Book of Mormon and its vile insults against American Indians and people of color nor the same sort of thing as concerns Jews in the Gospels. Unfair and often vicious criticism isn't exactly uncommon in religion or religious texts.
The LDS is a Church, but also in fact, a huge international business enterprise claiming special treatment and special exemption from inquiry or criticism as a religion. It's not unique in that respect but I don't think any church is off limits when it comes to business interests and the obligations that obtain. Is freedom from taxes on income and capital gains and the right to secret dealings really part of the protection of free exercise? No more than the freedom to traffic in underage girls. We have the right to criticize, to contradict, and yes to laugh. As an old friend of mine used to say "one man's religion is another man's belly laugh."
As the Businessweek article says,
"A recent study by Ryan Cragun, a sociology professor at the University of Tampa, estimates the church receives around $8 billion in tithing from members each years and is worth around $40 billion."
They don't have to report it or disclose it and they do get to spend it on influencing Congress to make our laws more in line with their sometimes abhorrent moral doctrines. To me that puts them in the same category, only with more money behind them, than those American Muslims, a few of whom would like to see our laws more in line with Sharia.
Was our bill of rights intended to protect the right of belief, of worship or was it intended to allow organizations to operate as separate countries within our own, free to tamper with our laws, but exempt from taxes and from criticism? I don't think so and I'm far more offended by money they earn at the taxpayer's expense being used to deny freedom to others then I am by a cynical magazine cover.