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Is It Time To Start Taxing Churches?

Is It Time To Start Taxing Churches?

As institutions of faith, churches are not forced to pay taxes like the citizens and (usually) corporations in the rest of the United States.  The original argument was that, like charity, church profits and donations go to doing public good — feeding the poor, caring for the sick and other projects that help to build a better, stronger community, and that those advantages outweigh the tax revenue lost.

Churches have grown to take greater advantage of this exemption.  The surge in “televangelism” allowed many corrupt pastors to house themselves and keep themselves in luxury without paying taxes by declaring them allowable living expenses.  Megachurches began popping up, buying cheap land to build on and using subsidies and avoiding paying property taxes while still taking full advantage of the services other residents pay out for.  Some have businesses on site — coffee shops, book stores, all tax exempt by funneling their “profits” back into the church.  Others have taken their earnings both from their businesses and donations and used them to evangelize and increase their missions, supporting the church and recruiting new members.

All of this is legal.  And despite the growing stretch of the definitions of non-profit, of charity, and living expenses, most Americans would agree that all of this should be allowed.

But the only firewall that was set up is now breaking down.  Churches weren’t supposed to get involved in political issues.  No endorsing, no campaigning.  It’s a rule that many religious organizations have been tiptoeing to the line on for years.  “Family values” religious organizations have sanctioned off 501c4s to allow them the ability to advocate for candidates and issues, with donations kept separately from their main group and taxed accordingly.  Pastors and priests have allowed candidates to come in and give testimony during services while winking that they aren’t endorsing a politician or party.  And a growing number have actively endorsed despite the law against it, daring the government to come down on them.

Within the last few years, the “evangelical vote” has been a major driving force behind elections, and the United States Council of Catholic Bishops has actively become a political force, sending missives to their priests telling them to preach to the congregation about the evils of the Affordable Care Act, or convincing the Komen Race for the Cure Foundation to drop Planned Parenthood as a group they donate to — a move that would free up more funding to go to Catholic charities and hospitals to provide mammograms.

Apparently, even this hasn’t been brazen enough.  So now, one church is collecting donations explicitly to oppose a gay marriage ballot initiative in Maine.  The Associated Press reports, “Scores of Maine churches will pass the collection plate a second time at Sunday services on Father’s Day to kick off a fundraising campaign for the lead opposition group to November’s ballot question asking voters to legalize same-sex marriages. Between 150 and 200 churches are expected to raise money for the Protect Marriage Maine political action committee, said Carroll Conley Jr., executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine evangelical organization and a member of the PAC. Conley is also trying to drum up support for the Maine campaign from religious leaders from around the country.”

Again, totally legal, as long as they don’t advocate for a specific candidate.  The churches are following the letter of the law, but not the intent.  Religious institutions now get all of the benefits of tax exempt status, but have become one of the most politically active groups in the nation.

Should churches continue to keep their tax exempt status while become key players in elections? Let us know what you think in the comments.

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6:43AM PST on Feb 7, 2013

Pay taxes or shut your doors. Tax the bums or shut them down.

5:34PM PST on Feb 6, 2013

YES! WIPE OUT THE DEFICIT.

2:59PM PST on Feb 6, 2013

I think everyone should pay taxes.......

8:29AM PST on Feb 6, 2013

YES!!! Please start with the Roman Cathoilc Church.

12:48AM PST on Feb 6, 2013

Churches make receive more tithe than what they were receiving. Also the progression of being a faithful has grown over the past few years. This is one method of uniting the faithful although most do not support this ideology. How can a few make a stand against the majority?


7:54AM PST on Nov 25, 2012

A tax break for churches forces all American taxpayers to support religion, even if they oppose some or all religious doctrines.

As Mark Twain argued: "no church property is taxed and so the infidel and the atheist and the man without religion are taxed to make up the deficit in the public income thus caused."

Tax breaks for the churches actually require non-religious people to participate through them being taxed themselves. When we subsidies ANYTHING through tax breaks or direct funding, then we are placing those interests above everyone else.

Tax exemptions for churches violate the separation of church and state required by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the US Constitution. By providing a financial benefit to religious institutions, government is supporting religion.

Associate Justice of the US Supreme court, William O. Douglas, in his dissenting opinion in Walz v. Tax Commission of the City of New York, decided May 4, 1970, stated: "If believers are entitled to public financial support, so are nonbelievers. A believer and nonbeliever under the present law are treated differently because of the articles of their faith… I conclude that this tax exemption is unconstitutional."

6:25AM PST on Nov 25, 2012

please do not tax churches which do not take part in political causes like abortion

6:33AM PST on Nov 24, 2012

YES......YES....YES,......ARGENTINA, ...SPAIN ..ARE THE TWO COUNTRY I KNOW WELL ,CATHOLIC CHURCH NEVER PAID TAXES ...THE DAMAGE OF THIS INSTETUTION ON CHILDRENS IS TERRIBLE ALL OVER IRLAND ,USA,ETC ...THIS ORGANIZATION THRUGH HISTORY LIKE SOME ROYAL DID NOT PAID TAXES.. THIS IS THE REASON OF THE MONEY TODAY ...PLEASE WE NEED TO CHANGE.....GOD DOES NOT HELP ON THIS BILL ....THEY NEED TO PAY.....

9:27AM PDT on Sep 2, 2012

Yes, they should pay taxes because they are enterprises not faith based organizations. Also, the mormon church had a huge impact on Prop 8 in California. If the mormon church hadn't poured millions and millions of dollars into the campaign, the outcome would have been different. Tax them like any other corporation and while you're at it, delete the disastrous Citizens United decision!

4:15PM PDT on Jun 20, 2012

YES by all they should pay taxes !

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