Was Romney right when he was videotaped complaining that half of the United States was made up of freeloaders? Those with their hands out asking…and getting… public assistance. What if I showed you pictures of multimillion dollar properties where the owners never paid one thin dime in property tax.
Welcome to your local church.
On average, America forfeits over $71 billion dollars a year. $71 billion in lost property tax revenue.
The logical reasoning of even having a tax exemption for churches is the separation of church and state. But, in reality is there “really” a separation between the two.
Take, for example, this sert from the LA Times, Sept. 23,2008:
“In its 1970 opinion in Walz vs. Tax Commission of the City of New York, the high court stated that a tax exemption for churches “creates only a minimal and remote involvement between church and state and far less than taxation of churches. [An exemption] restricts the fiscal relationship between church and state, and tends to complement and reinforce the desired separation insulating each from the other.” The Supreme Court also said that “the power to tax involves the power to destroy.” Taxing churches breaks down the healthy separation of church and state and leads to the destruction of the free exercise of religion.”
I would argue that there is no longer a wall of separation (Jefferson to Danbury Baptist) between church and state because in many churches the pulpit is used as a Political Action Committee. I’ve personally seen Tea Party pamphlets side by side with salvation tracts on the welcome table at more than one church.
I don’t think you can successfully argue that the Church is primarily a charitable organization doing good works in the community. Most churches have very high administrative costs. In some, it’s over 70%. Secondly, as churches are viewed as “giving” to the poor, one church in particular the LDS over a period of 20 years gave less than 1% of the churches total and collective revenue. Methodist churches collectively donate about 23% of overall revenue to the physical needs of the poor within their community. The insert below is from an article in Secular Humanism, Once and for All, Is America a Christian Nation?
“We recognize that there is a lot of variation in how much religions engage in charitable work, and we don’t want to discourage religions from doing so. However, comparing their charitable giving to the performance of secular charities is informative. The American Red Cross spends 92.1 percent of its revenue directly addressing the physical needs of those it intends to help; only 7.9 percent is spent on “operating expenses.”6 If you use a generous 50 percent cutoff for indicating whether an institution is primarily a charitable organization or not (that is, they spend more than 50 percent of revenue on charitable work addressing physical needs), we doubt there is a single religion in the world that would actually qualify as a charitable organization.”
There is, as a final criticism of church taxation, the argument of a spiritual component churches bring to the table. The two articles I’ve linked above reference spirituality and they do a much better job than I at refuting the notion that just because a church has a spiritual function, they should not be taxed.
My real argument on church taxation is actually a Founding Father argument. A Tea Party argument. Whether you are for or against separation of church and state—it’s moot because each and every person in America contributes to “the Church” de facto. By not taxing the Church, we subsidize what they do and what they are. We’ve– in essence—torn down Jefferson’s wall deus ex machina.
The U.S. Supreme Court, by a vote of 8-1, upheld the tax exemption of churches in Walz v. Tax Commission of the City of New York, 397 U.S. 664 (1970)
Justice Douglas strongly dissented, saying: “one of the best ways to ‘establish’ one or more religions is to subsidize them, which a tax exemption does.” Douglas rejected the idea that it would be “disruptive of traditional state practices” to end the arrangement. “A tax exemption is a subsidy” he wrote. Douglas noted that James Madison, primary architect of the Constitution, famously objected in his Memorial and Remonstrance to any citizen being compelled to contribute even “three pence” to support a church.
I would now argue that it’s unconstitutional NOT to tax the “Church” on property. And, who better to fight for constitutional rights than the Tea Party. But the Tea Party has an unfortunate problem and an obstacle to their self determination. Most of the Tea Partiers currently in an elective office used a church—or collectively “the Church”—at one time or another as a spring board in getting elected.
As the old saying goes,”you dance with the one that brought you.” So, the benefit of $71 billion dollars, year after year, will remain hypothetical. Because not only did the Tea Party hijack the Republican Party, apparently, they hijacked God when He wasn’t looking. Don’t you just hate it when that happens?
By the way, if we did tax the Church the tax rate for the rest of America would only be 3%. All in all, isn’t that what the Tea Party wants? Lower taxes for everyone? Because if the Teapublicans can’t support a tax on church property—lowering everyone’s tax rate down to 3%–then their constitutionality arguments are lacking and they become no better than the politicians they want to replace.