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.