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Churches should pay taxes

Postby Joel Blazing Pants » Wed Mar 13, 2019 12:19 pm

Churches above a certain size should have to pay taxes unless they can prove charity as a tax write off.

This especially applies to mega-churches, if pastors like Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, and Joyce Meyers are living in mansions (Despite the fact that this flies in the face of their religion), it's pretty clear that they've turned their religion into a business.

Thus, their business should be taxed like a business.

And this problem is compounded by the fact that despite their doctrine, these churches are often the slowest to provide real aid. Like how Joel Osteen denied Harvey victims sanctuary, LIED about it to the people, and only allowed some in after he got caught to save face.

Or the dozens of mega-churches in Alabama, with maybe 1 or 2 providing aid to tornado victims while a Native American Tribe is shouldering the costs of funerals for those who lost their lives.

But it can go even farther, I find it rather astounding that no matter how poor a neighborhood is, the most immaculate building is usually the church.

Small churches are fine, they usually struggle to survive, and Churches that regularly give to the poor are also fine, as they at least follow their doctrine.

But the ones that shut their doors to those in need, (maybe sometimes opening them, but not usually), while their pastors pocket the money to tell their congregation what they can read for themselves, are no different than private tutors or teachers, ...those are business transactions, and should be handled like business transactions.
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Re: Churches should pay taxes

Postby jimwalton » Wed Mar 13, 2019 12:26 pm

I think if we truly believe in the separation of Church and State, churches should never have to pay taxes, no matter what their size. If the FFRF can sue Wisconsin's DOJ chaplaincy program, saying the state shouldn't provide chaplains, even though they are not paid by the state, if they can sue the IRS since they don't require churches to file 990s like every other non-profit, and if they can sue Parkersburg, WV, city council, to stop them from reading the Lord's Prayer at each meeting, then the FFRF really believes that it's not only a matter of establishment or freedom of religion, but instead more so of a total barrier between the two. And if that's the case, then it's hypocritical, in my opinion, to then ask or even demand that churches pay taxes. It has nothing to do with how socially-minded churches are or are not. The FFRF (which I know you didn't bring up) says there should be separation, and is suing left and right to guarantee it. Then churches should not pay taxes.

And this is my point. If these non-establishment situations (Wisconsin, IRS, WV, et al.) are considered involvement of the State in religion, then churches paying taxes should also be considered involvement of the State in religion, and it can't be.
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Re: Churches should pay taxes

Postby Joel Blazing Pants » Wed Mar 13, 2019 1:41 pm

At the same point in time, these churches benefit every social service that is given to the community, and because of that, everyone has to pull the tax burden that these churches create, regardless of what religion they have.

If a church is pulling enough revenue that they can alleviate this tax burden, like every other business that pulls a profit, they should have to, because providing preference to religious organizations also provides a complication to the concept of separation of church and state.

Unless, of course, they are alleviating in said burden by engaging in the charity that they are supposed to do.

It's like in business, raising taxes on large ones while providing breaks if they prove that they are investing in infrastructure and job creation. This gives business a reason to do so, instead of just lowering taxes on them overall and just assuming they will. Which they won't, that much has been proven.
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Re: Churches should pay taxes

Postby jimwalton » Wed Mar 13, 2019 1:54 pm

I agree that churches benefit from the same civil services for which taxes pay: trash removal, public road snow plowing, infrastructure, etc. By the same token, many churches have expenditures that contribute to the social structure and relieve at least some burden on the civil budget: payments to folks to help pay their utilities, rent, property upkeep, food, etc. These contributions allay these individuals' drawing from social services in those same areas. Some churches also help with various job training programs, opening their buildings for AA meetings, and such. It's very difficult to isolate and enumerate all the factors.

You specifically mentioned Joel Osteen, but many Christians and Christian ministries are of the opinion that he's just a huckster and a fraud, like Jim & Tammy Baker from a generation ago. He's not really a good example of a church, though certainly he's benefitting from tax exemption just like real churches do.

Many of the immaculate church buildings in crumbling neighborhoods are buildings from a century ago when the communities were thriving. The congregations in some of those old buildings have died, and either the buildings have been taken over by church plants (and they're not responsible for the ostentatious building), or the buildings have been repurposed for other uses (such as museums, community centers, what have you). In any case, it's a complex situation and not adequately represented by simple black-and-white statements or understandings.

I also might take umbrage to your apparent approval of businesses in the community carrying tax loads. We all know that some businesses hardly contribute to the life of the community at all, use loopholes to avoid taxes, and are frauds themselves (Enron is a classic situation from 2 decades ago). It's just not so clear.

But I still feel that point is valid, that regardless of a church's involvement or disassociation from the community around it, if we're going to be hostile about the separation of church and state (as the FFRF is), then we need to be consistent and keep the two separate. You can't push the church out of every part of civic life but then tax them as if they need to pay their share of civic life. That's just hypocrisy, in my mind.
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Re: Churches should pay taxes

Postby Joel Blazing Pants » Wed Mar 13, 2019 2:59 pm

Yeah, and if they are doing those things, they can document them as tax write offs and achieve the same status.

What it does is actually confirm that church are doing those things, instead of leaving it up to them to decide whether they can just say they do those things or actually do them.

Which many of the largest ministries don't, or just barely do. There's no real incentive to, they clearly don't follow their religion or they wouldn't be chilling in mansions. At this point, it's only fair that they either put up or shut up, so to speak.

And pointing out that some businesses are harmful isn't really relevant, I don't think you fully understand my direction. Several churches are harmful, like the ones that preach snake bite immunity, or the westboro baptist church, which are tax exempt.

And it doesn't make much sense that taxing churches would contradict separation of church and state, we try to separate business and government too, so should we stop taxing businesses? The way I see it, giving churches a free ride is a prime example of preferential treatment, unless, like I'm arguing, they prove that they aren't just getting a free ride.

It's hypocrisy to tax churches while pushing them out of civic life? You mean things like making laws? Because plenty of politicians repeatedly quote God as their source.

We tax businesses, but do we allow businesses to dictate what we teach our children? Do we have companies like Coca Cola and Google write our laws? Do government officials take product deals? Have you seen Obama in a Pepsi commercial? That's where we try to keep religion out of government, and if that's pushing them out of civic life, then taxing every business is also hypocrisy.

Which doesn't make any sense.
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Re: Churches should pay taxes

Postby jimwalton » Wed Mar 13, 2019 3:00 pm

> Which many of the largest ministries don't, or just barely do.

This is almost impossible to generalize, and probably unfair to do so. If you haven't seen the budgets of mega-churches, or have detailed knowledge of their inner workings, this may be quite an unfair and inaccurate stereotyping and caricature.

> And pointing out that some businesses are harmful isn't really relevant, I don't think you fully understand my direction. Several churches are harmful, like the ones that preach snake bite immunity, or the westboro baptist church, which are tax exempt.

All I was meaning is that businesses aren't necessarily and automatically the paragons of virtue. And, of course, the two examples of "churches" you pick are most radical and extreme examples, Westboro and snake-handlers. Geez. It's not fair to use them as examples of churches. Those congregations are WAY out there and not at all representative of the class. It's like saying, you know what politicians are like, such as HITLER. It's just not fair, and you know it.

> we try to separate business and government too, so should we stop taxing businesses?

Again, this is NOT the same. There is no constitutional bill of rights separating Business and State. Man, you have to use reasonable examples if you're trying to press a reasonable case.

> The way I see it, giving churches a free ride is a prime example of preferential treatment,

Well, it's evidence there are different ways of looking at it. Is it preferential treatment, or is it beneficial separation? The constitution says separation.

> It's hypocrisy to tax churches while pushing them out of civic life? You mean things like making laws?

No, I don't mean things like making laws. Churches very much believe in the rule of law. I mean what the FFRF is doing. The Bill of Rights specifies the forbiddance of establishment and the freedom of religious practice. The FFRF is suing entity after entity on the basis of religious expression that has nothing to do with establishment. It's bald-faced misinterpretation of the Bill of Rights, but they press for elimination of religious expression from the public sector, which is not what the BOR was about. But again, if there's going to be separation, we have to be consistent. We can't justifiably say, "You have no involvement, but we'll take your money."

> We tax businesses, but do we allow businesses to dictate what we teach our children?

In many cases, yeah, they do, just as much as churches. Businesses have been changing the culture's values, regulating what goes out on media, making demands on education, and doing everything to influence culture to enhance their bottom line. For sure.

> Do we have companies like Coca Cola and Google write our laws?

Yeah. They're called lobbyists, and they can be quite influential.

> Do government officials take product deals?

They do take bribes to steer public policy in favor of certain business interests, yes.

> Have you seen Obama in a Pepsi commercial?

Have you seen a pastor in one?

> and if that's pushing them out of civic life, then taxing every business is also hypocrisy.

Businesses are for-profit entities. Having been on the inside track of both businesses and churches for budget meetings, I notice quite a difference.
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Re: Churches should pay taxes

Postby Sure Breeze » Sun Mar 17, 2019 12:28 pm

> I think if we truly believe in the separation of Church and State, churches should never have to pay taxes

Why? What about the separation of Church and State requires the Church to gain all the benefits of the State without paying their share of it?

My point is that the tax argument isn't a separation of church and state. That argument is applied when Protestant churches get non-profit status but Catholic or Muslim institutions don't. That's when the wall is broken because the government prefers one religion/denomination over others.

However, the separation isn't that religious entities pay not taxes as if they live on some religious reservations that are not really part of the US.
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Re: Churches should pay taxes

Postby jimwalton » Sun Mar 17, 2019 12:45 pm

> Why? What about the separation of Church and State requires the Church to gain all the benefits of the State without paying their share of it?

The courts, for the past number of decades (at least) have been interpreting the separation of Church and State as any religious expression in the public square—a definition and interpretation far removed from the Founders' intent (which was establishment). My point is if that is how separation is being interpreted, then there must be consistency. If any interaction of Church and State is deemed unconstitutional, then paying taxes falls under that interaction. Churches benefit from the State only in general and indirect means (military protection, infrastructure, etc.), but not in any direct way in terms of funds received, direct services rendered, or any financial benefit, as comes too many other entities. So if Church is truly interpreted as separated from State by all direct interactions, and if churches cannot receive any direct benefit from the State, then they should be truly separate entities and not have a tax burden. I think it's an issue of consistency. You can't say all religious domain is separate, except we (gov't) get your money. In addition, churches are legal non-profit corporations, and as such fall under those IRS categories and rules.

According to data collected by the National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS), there are over 1.5 million registered nonprofit organizations (with combined total assets of nearly $5.7 trillion as of August 2012) in the United States today—many of which are nonreligious institutions and organizations that, like churches, seek to influence public policy despite being tax-exempt. (Source: Catholic World Report)

> My point is that the tax argument isn't a separation of church and state.

It has always been interpreted as such since the founding of the country. It has never been the case that the law has been change or that churches were grandfathered into this status. It has always been the case that "separation" involved tax relief.

> Protestant churches get non-profit status but Catholic or Muslim institutions don't.

As far as I know, this observation is incorrect. Catholic Churches and Muslim institutions do not pay taxes. Perhaps you should check your sources for this claim.
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Re: Churches should pay taxes

Postby Sure Breeze » Sun Mar 17, 2019 3:23 pm

Separation of Church and State (SCS going forward) doesn't mean the government ignores that churches exist. It just means that the government doesn't squash religious organizations as far as representation.

There's a difference between a non-profit and a religious non-profit as far as initial filing and yearly filing. If you want to start a non-profit, you need to file with the government and ask permission to be non-profit. If you claim you're a church, government automatically grants you permission. This is because there's no real test for what the government considers a church which is why atheist organizations are also considered churches.

SCS included tax benefits because it carried over from British law but that's NOT SCS. SCS doesn't mean "oh and you're tax free". SCS means government isn't going to favor one religion over another. Here's the full famous quote from Jefferson talking about SCS:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

Yeah there's nothing above from the man who literally wrote "SCS" that talked about taxes. Why? Because the scope of SCS is NOT about paying taxes, it's about the actual SCS.

> Protestant churches get non-profit status but Catholic or Muslim institutions don't.
> As far as I know, this observation is incorrect. Catholic Churches and Muslim institutions do not pay taxes. Perhaps you should check your sources for this claim.

I said that this example WOULD be a SCS issue if that happened.
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Re: Churches should pay taxes

Postby jimwalton » Sun Mar 17, 2019 3:50 pm

> It just means that the government doesn't squash religious organizations as far as representation.

I'm going to assume you know that SCS is neither in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights, but was a phrase Jefferson used in a letter. What the BOR talks about is forbidding the establishment of religion, and allowing the freedom of religious practice. If we go back to the Bill of Rights itself, it says "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." It concerns making laws to establish religion, which is different from religious expression and has nothing to do with representation. Second, they are not to prohibit the free exercise of religion.

The intent of the establishment clause was to remove the subject of religion and religious expression from the jurisdiction of the federal gov't, leaving it in the hands of the states and the people. Joseph Story, one appointed by Pres. James Madison, in his Commentaries on the Constitution (copyright 1833, book 3, chapter 44, section 1873), remarked, “the whole power over the subject of religion is left exclusively to the state governments, to be acted upon according to their own sense of justice, and the state constitutions; and the Catholic and the Protestant, the Calvinist and the Armenian, the Jew and the Infidel, may sit down at the common table of the national councils, without any inquisition into their faith, or mode of worship.” The Founders explained what they meant by the religion clauses of the First Amendment:

- Article VI, Section 5 of the Constitution: "No religious test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."
- George Mason, "Father of the Bill of Rights": "no particular sect or society of Christians ought to be favored or established by law in preference to others."
- James Madison: "The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established."
- Thomas Jefferson: "I consider the [federal] government of the United States as interdicted by the Constitution from meddling with religious institutions, their doctrines, discipline, or exercise. This results not only from [the First Amendment], but from that also which reserves to the states the powers not delegated to the United States [the 10th Amendment]. Certainly, no power to prescribe any religious exercise or to assume authority in any religious discipline has been delegated to the General [federal] government. It must then rest with the states."

Taxation of religious entities has never been part of the picture in the U.S. From the Founding Fathers and through all of U.S. history, tax exemption was always perceived as a way to protect religious freedom and to keep the gov't from meddling, rewarding, or punishing various sects, practices, or even congregations. We can see in recent negations with Amazon regarding HQ2 how NY was ready to lure Amazon with all sorts of tax breaks and incentives. We can just imagine how this might play itself out with regard to religion in the US.

In 1969, Walz v. Tax Commission of the City of New York challenged the legitimacy of tax exemption for churches. The New York Court of Appeals rejected the challenge, pointing out that "courts throughout the country have long and consistently held that the exemption of such real property from taxation does not violate the Constitution of the United States." (https://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=3419&context=fss_papers)

This particular article from the Yale Law Journal examines the question of whether churches should pay their fair share of gov't expenses since they are benefitting from them (pp. 1304ff.), a point you also made. The author wrestles with what defines a "fair share" and points out a number of defects in the anti-exemption argument.

> There's a difference between a non-profit and a religious non-profit as far as initial filing and yearly filing. If you want to start a non-profit, you need to file with the government and ask permission to be non-profit. If you claim you're a church, government automatically grants you permission. This is because there's no real test for what the government considers a church which is why atheist organizations are also considered churches.

This is, of course, true. It's also why the "Church" of Scientology fought for so long for exempt status.

> Here's the full famous quote from Jefferson talking about SCS

Yes, the quote is from the Danbury letter, expressing Jefferson's thoughts. As you know, it's not in any legal law or right.

> Yeah there's nothing above from the man who literally wrote "SCS" that talked about taxes. Why? Because the scope of SCS is NOT about paying taxes, it's about the actual SCS.

This is correct. But the Founding Fathers also saw fit, as an extension of their understanding of the relationship of Church and State, to give churches tax exemption.
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