A lot of atheists have thought or said this line at some point “Tax the church.” that sounds like it makes a lot of sense doesn't it? Some churches take in a lot of money, the pastor's make these insanely huge amounts of money and it doesn't seem like they do all that much charity work relative to what they're taking it. Allow me to make the argument for you as to why churches should not be taxed and then I'll spend a little time talking about why I might be wrong.
In theory churches are non-profits and nonprofits are in the business of helping other people and for their services the government says “You don't have to pay any taxes.” but there are special rules for churches that go above and beyond what other nonprofits can do. For example, churches are allowed to discriminate in hiring if they want to. Also most nonprofits have to tell the government every year how much money they're taking in and where all that money goes and how much each staff member gets paid. Churches don't have to do that, they don't have to be transparent. There are some mega churches around the world where the pastor's make insane amounts of money and even their own parishioners are left in the dark as to how much money that is. If I were sitting in the pews I would want to know how much of my tithe is going into the pastor's pocket versus feeding the hungry. You would hope churches of all places would be completely up-front as to where the money is going but they're not. Pastors also get to claim something called a Parsonage Exemption and that means every year, unlike you and I, they can deduct their mortgage or their rent from their taxes. That’s a pretty sweet deal that saves them a lot of money. These are all things that other nonprofits don't get to do. In exchange for these perks churches, like all nonprofits have to follow certain rules, for instance, they can't endorse political candidates. The Red Cross and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society can't send you something in the mail that says vote for this guy, but in recent years churches have tried to flaunt this rule too.
It’s not enough for pastors to shame you into thinking that voting for a pro LGBT rights candidate or a candidate who supports abortion is somehow anti-Christian. No, that's not enough for them anymore they're coming right out and telling their congregations exactly who to vote for. There’s actually a whole movement encouraging pastors to do this, it's called pulpit freedom Sunday. If the tax agencies like the IRS did their job, every church that did this would lose its tax-exempt status, but not a single one has. Not yet, even though churches are practically daring the tax agencies to come after them, they want this fight.
They think it's part of their religious freedom to be able to endorse candidates and you know what.., it is, but if they want to then they have to pay taxes, it's that simple. The cost of these religious tax exemptions has been estimated at least by one researcher, to be 70+ billion dollars per year in The US alone. So unless churches want to start paying that money they need to start following the rules. So all that said let me share with you a couple of things you should be aware of; Freedom From Religion Foundation the church-state separation group, challenged the parsonage exemption in court. The co-presidents of the group actually said the organization paid them a housing allowance but they weren't able to deduct it from their taxes because they weren't ministers, they said that's discrimination against atheists. Unfortunately the court system dismissed their case on a technicality saying they didn't have standing to bring that case forward. FFRF also sued the IRS for not enforcing the law that says pastors can't endorse candidates from the pulpit. They were a little more successful there. The IRS said in 2014 that they promised to enforce the law and they would be closely monitoring the churches that were suspected of breaking the law. It has been over 3 years now and not a single Church as far as I know has had its tax exemption revoked.
A lot of wonderful nonprofits would really suffer if they had to pay taxes I don't think the solution is to tax the church and tax nonprofit groups. However churches shouldn't get special privileges that other nonprofits don't receive. They should have to be transparent, they should not be allowed to endorse candidates. Remember the wall of separation between church and state is a wall for a reason we don't want religion infesting the government but we also don't want government getting in the way of religion. If churches actually follow the rules then the argument that we should tax them, would become a whole lot weaker.
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