August 31, 2005

Thoughts on religious tax-exemption... with twist ending!

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at August 31, 2005 6:06 PM

You know an article is flamebait when it begins with a sentence like, "Thank God for child-molesting priests, I always say." That piece from last week's East Bay Express seems to have been written as an entry in a hate mail collection competition. The topic: why we should collect property tax from churches.

Now, my gut response is generally that of course churches should be subject to the same taxes as other non-profit organizations. But while reading this article, a couple of caveats occurred to me. Maybe this isn't such a good idea...

For one thing, this wouldn't really be a tax on churches, but a tax on church parishioners passed on by collection plate and fundraiser. I seem to recall that church attendance decreases with increased socioeconomic status (if anyone has statistics supporting or rebutting this let me know), so this tax would be highly regressive. This alone might be reason to continue the tax-exempt status. Meanwhile, I would guess that most secular non-profits draw more donations from higher-income donors, so the same argument wouldn't apply. [The relevant statistics for determining whether the tax is in fact regressive would be donations by socioeconomic status; if donation amounts increase faster with income than church attendance decreases, which is plausible, it might not be so bad. These statistics are probably harder to come by.]

Another factor is that churches will streamline operations so as to mitigate the amount of additional funding necessary. This will lead inevitably to the Wal-Martization of churches in the US, with smaller congregations either closing shop or being absorbed into increasingly large numbers of those scary megachurches that meet in sports stadiums with tacky laser shows and bad Christian rock. (I suppose "bad Christian rock" is redundant.)

So this atheist says: don't tax the churches. However, I would like to request tax-exempt status for my own Cathedral of His Noodliness the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Tags: Religion

Well, churches and non-profits should be subject to the same taxes and mitigation fees at the same rate as any other organization (group or individual) within a taxing area (city, county, state, federal).

1) For churches failure to do so appears to violate the constitution: they are subsidized by our taxes.

2) For both: they may be good or bad, your mileage may vary, but not a single dollar should be taken from you or I to support them (streets, fire protection, police, etc.) That should be a voluntary choice on our part.

3) As to this being regressive:
a) Not where I live. There are many, many small parishes habituated by quite well off folks.
b)The wonderful thing is, though, it isn't regressive at all. For the parishioners it isn't even confiscatory like sales taxes, income taxes or, yes, property taxes. Why not? They do not have to pay it; they can choose not to contribute.

4) Of course, 3b leads to your last point: that many of the small churches may disappear. Perhaps to be absorbed into the megachurches. Well, as to the disappearing, good riddance, yes, on many levels, good riddance. If the parishioners choose to attend some megachurch, well, their choice. Not a wise one, but their choice. Especially if that megachurch and its charlatons are being taxed the same as the rest of us (now taxation is another interesting discussion...). Oh, and cities and states shouldn't be financing big stadiums for baseball, basketball, football or cars going in circles teams with tax money.

Posted by: Steve | September 2, 2005 3:26 PM
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