Church Tax

It has always been fascinating to me that some of the most ardent supporters (sometimes hatred of religion is cloaked under this too) of the separation of church and state support ending non-profit status for churches and than taxation of them.

I support the separation of church and state but for the original purpose, not the rewritten history of its origins. The original purpose was to protect churches from government intrusions and to keep it from becoming an extension of state power.

The government hardly needs protection from religion. The biggest possible effect of a state religion is the suppression of other religions, I encompass the suppression of those who choose not to have one in this category. I do that because if asked “what is your religion?” and you were an atheist, you would presumably say so. So for my purposes here, I count atheism as a religion, although it is not one. As is often pointed out, atheism is a descriptive position. A religion for me, in this post, is any reasonable answer to the above question.

As it stands, non-profit status severely restricts a churches ability to engage in political activity. They are not allowed to support candidates for example. What they are allowed to do is take positions and work on behalf of referendum questions and lobby legislative bodies as all other non-profits can. Stripping them of their current status would allow them the same rights as other tax paying individuals, that is, the ability to engage in the shaping of our governments elected members.

One of the arguments I’ve heard is that churches use government services and should therefore help pay for them. There isn’t a lot of truth in that, they use only the services that other non-profits do, does anyone want to strip the NAACP or the ACLU of their status because they don’t pay taxes to support roads and bridges etc?

Another Interesting argument is that unlike the NAACP they don’t provide any service to society. This is probably the worst argument. Churches provide multitudes of services that the government would have a hard time filling in for if they were taxed away. Think of all the soup kitchens, food pantries, homeless shelters, run away shelters, etc that churches run. Where do they think that money is going to come from?

It’s important to remember, and everyone should remember this, that the power to tax is the power to destroy. The Catholic church and other large denominations might conceivably have the resources to survive under reasonable taxation but many smaller churches would not. The government could effectively end organized religion, if so inclined, by raising the tax level high enough. Would that not interfere with the religious liberties guaranteed under the constitution?

The Supreme Court has found that the constitution does not protect churches from taxation. However the cases in question dealt with very low amounts of taxation, mostly levied on every non-profit also in the jurisdiction. I’m pretty confident that if taxation were to shutter very many churches that the outcome would very different.

It’s not a discussion of whether taxation should be or is allowed, it’s a discussion on whether the government should have that power of destruction and whether those who advocate ending non-profit status believe that churches should have more say in the formation of our local, state and national governments. Those two things would be the results of an end on non-profit status of churches. I would say we don’t want or need either.

  1. 2011/01/31 at 12:08

    Where to begin?

  2. 2011/01/31 at 12:36

    The first line is typically a good place. You could begin at the bottom but it seems more difficult.

  3. 2011/01/31 at 14:24

    For the record, you’re right, of course, that atheism is not a religion (and attempts to say otherwise are always amusing, one because they’re factually incorrect, and two because it seems that the apparent denigration of religion isn’t exactly what the believer wants), but the Supreme Court does consider it to be protected as one.

  4. 2011/01/31 at 15:50

    It’s good that it does. For the purposes of discussions like this it really has to be considered one, if only to not muddy the waters. The real topic is religious freedom, the right to believe or not believe and anything in between the two.

  5. 2011/01/31 at 16:17

    Churches have rarely if ever been taxed in the US; and it wasn’t until the Fifties that there was a ban on political speech tied to the exemption. Personally, I think it’s an abridgement of the 1st amendment prohibition clause – it shouldn’t be ‘either, or’, the Federal government simply has no power to make laws that prohibit the free excercise of religion absent a compelling interest.

  6. 2011/01/31 at 16:59

    Well I like it the way it is.

    They are both insulated from each other financially and politically. Keeps them both safe from each other, particularly when talking about the freedom to have whatever ‘religion’ you wish.

    Religious institutions can take part in issues but not candidates. As it happens advocating an issue can turn people to a particular candidate, but it keeps religion from getting too involved in the actual running of government.

    It’s interesting to note that of all the religions in the world, the only one I know of that prohibits it’s priests, or equivalent, from running for office is the roman church. That should say something about the modern catholic church’s stance on the separation of church and state.

  7. 2011/01/31 at 19:58

    I think it is still problematic when you have IRS agents sitting in pews monitoring the content of sermons for political speech. Plus it’s a bit of a farce when you have candidates being invited to speak at churches to congregations. I like a wide berth when it comes to such issues.

  8. 2011/02/01 at 03:30

    I agree that the speech of individual ministers shouldn’t be restricted. Many non-profits come come out as being opposed to or for individual candidates

    What should be is the ability of churches to make campaign contributions to politicians.
    Politicians shouldn’t be financially beholden to churches anymore than churches should be financially beholden to the government.

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