Estate taxes as anti-progressive As a tax professional, I take slight issue with your July 26 article "Tax on heirs in Congress's cross hairs," which seems to defend the rationale behind estate taxes. The government has no right to redistribute wealth upon one's death. If a family works hard to accumulate wealth, it should have a right to keep every penny within that family for however long they choose. If there is perceived political need to redistribute wealth, it should be done by some other means.

I challenge anyone to show me one lower-income family that was brought onto an even playing field with an upper-income family because the upper-income family had to pay estate taxes. In my opinion, estate taxes are just another way for the government to get their hands on people's money.

As for the argument that it helps advance the progressivity of the tax system, I think a better place to focus for that cure is the Social Security tax. This is a regressive tax in which anyone at or under the wage base is taxed on 100 percent of their income; while the higher one's income over the wage base, the lower percentage of it is subject to the tax.

John M. Talton So. Plainfield, N.J.

Science and religion complementary

I was deeply offended by the Great American Think-Off ("Deep thoughts in a small, rural town," June 11) and the subsequent op-ed piece "Science vs. religion" (July 20). Science offers a reliable means of understanding the physical world. The application of that knowledge to new technologies, and subsequent public and private decisions on how to use them, leads to good or bad outcomes. Religion at its best offers moral imperatives such as "treat others the way you want them to treat you" that can lead to better relations between people, but at its worst religion supports wars, torture, slavery, and hate crimes.

Religion can provide the moral imperative to cure disease or to provide the energy needed to feed the starving and purify their drinking water, but it can not provide the knowledge necessary to do these things. Science provides the knowledge but not the moral imperative. Only by coupling the positive ethical system of most religions with the ontology of science can we make the public and private decisions that will lead to a better future and a sustainable civilization. Debates that try to cast science and religion as diametrically opposed are self-destructive, and should be avoided.

Tom Hopper Clarkston, Mich.

Marriage and gender

Your July 19 article about marriage was a reasonable and balanced summary, even if it was slanted in favor of gender bias in civil marriage laws ("Debate heats up over same-sex marriages"). But Vincent McCarthy's closing comment that marriage "can't be modified without destroying it" is simply ridiculous.

We have different marriage laws in all 50 states, different definitions of marriage in every religious tradition, and we have significantly broadened civil marriage rights in the United States over the last half of this century. Civil marriage law has historically been used to legally encode notions of segregation and superiority. Today, marriage is seen by many as the last line of defense for encoding the supposed supremacy of heterosexuality, and thus gender is described as the most important part of a common (but not universal) definition of an institution that is "the chief vehicle for passing on values in American society." Many religious organizations and people of faith see other values in marriage, and do not see gender as integral to the definition.

Barbara Purdom Philadelphia

Christopher Purdom

Interfaith Working Group

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