It has been traditional over the centuries to extend a rare privilege to all religions: Tax exemption. Is that really necessary anymore?
I was reading an article on mega-churches the other day. I was astonished by the sheer size of these empires of faith. Many have assets calculated in the millions if not billions of dollars—they own real estate, publishing houses, video and film production companies, public relations firms, advertising, radio and television stations, music publishing, farming and agricultural companies, manufacturing; the list can be very long, depending on the sect.
While all churches and religious organizations have a primary duty in the spiritual realm, it is an inescapable fact that they all operate within the physical and mundane world around us. As part of that world, they utilize public services such as roads, police and fire protection, military protection when needed, medical and emergency services. All of which are paid for by public taxes.
It can be argued that as non-profit groups they are allowed a share of those services for taking on tasks such as caring for the homeless, charitable work like food kitchens and other very noble services. These are tasks that are necessary for a civilized society, but admittedly ones that the civil government often fails to perform adequately. Since they theoretically are not in this for a profit motive, they have to have their burden eased in order to perform their good works better. Plus the tax deductions allowed for contributions to these tasks make it easier for people to donate and support these services.
On the other hand, it can be argued that some of these religious sects are the oldest continuously existing corporate bodies in the world. They have accumulated their extensive assets through donations and bequests, often over centuries. They charge for membership (tithes), they charge for services performed for members, they often require periods of ‘voluntary’ labor in one form or another from assisting with the yard work at the local church to mandatory missionary endeavors lasting years.
In many cases, there are books, videos and CD’s offered for sale or for a ‘donation’ that espouse the sect’s viewpoint and theology. Purchase of these items is usually strongly encouraged, often from the pulpit itself. Classes in topics ranging from Biblical study to self-help, meditation, and personal defense are offered and again, a fee is usually charged. Fund raisers are sponsored at regular intervals and all these proceeds go into the accounts of the religious organization.
I am in favor of churches paying taxes. Perhaps at a reduced rate, but I feel very strongly that if you work in this world, sell something tangible or own your own bank, you should pay taxes to support the services you take advantage of. It’s called paying your share, and while a church may be devoted to their God, they are still manned by humans and should be treated accordingly.
Find your peace, friends.
Note added by Rev. Kelly: for those of you who are curious, Heartfelt Ministries and the Practical Heretic are registered as businesses and do not have a tax exempt status. No pot calling the kettle black from us. Peace!