Is it time to start taxing non profits and churches?

I have thought for a long time that probably churches should be taxed, like everyone else.  Yes there are good churches that probably deserve tax free status, but there are also a lot of churches that are run like businesses to maximize profits and power, while their leaders live in luxury.  Why should Par Robertson´s organization, or the Mormon church, or Scientology get special breaks.  They are all self serving organizations.

The other reason why I have a problem with it is that by not taxing churches the government is effectively subsidizing religion, which is supposed to be against the constitution.  Religious organizations benefit from government services, but they do not pay for them.

And while we are at it I think that colleges and universities should be taxed as well.  They put their students into a lifetime of debt servitude, while their to brass live very well.

The problem with all tax exempt organizations is that it becomes almost impossible to make distinctions between those that do genuine good (and probably deserve tax exempt status), and those that are essentially self serving (who certainly do not).  The government has not done its job of keeping non profit organizations honest, and in this climate of corruption, influence peddling and conflicts of interest, I do not think that I even can.

This from Care 2:

Is It Time To Start Taxing Churches?

597 comments 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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2 Responses to Is it time to start taxing non profits and churches?

  1. james says:

    I agree. It would be different if some of these churches weren’t making hundreds of millions a year, and didn’t have pastors preaching in $2500 suits. Many of these mega churches are the pinnacle of gross excess…. huge complexes, sound systems that any rock star would die for… and now many are knowingly breaking the age old separation of church and state. It’s not right, unfair, and quite frankly, disgusting. And now I just read that over 1000 churches across the US *right before an election* are going to preach politics from the pulpit, knowing breaking the tax law because they feel the republicans have their back… they need to be taxed, no exceptions. In this fragile economy, it’s time to make them pay their fair share.

    • internationalguy says:

      Thanks for commenting. I agree, especially now that so many “religions” are little more than money making enterprises. We must remember that tax except status is actually a tax subsidy since the rest of us have to make up the difference from the tax free revenue lost. So, should be be subsidizing organizations who focus is not on doing real charity, but on serving their own interests?

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