The Time has Come To Tax the Income of the Churches.

I have just finished reading a collection of essays by Gore Vidal entitled “The United States…Eassays 1952-1992”. In his essay “State of the Union” on page 944 he writes:

The time has come to tax the income of the churches. After all, they are essentially money-making corporations that ought to pay tax at the same rate secualr corporations do. When some of the the Founders proposed that church property be tax-exempt, they meant the little white church house at the corner of Elm and Main–not the $25 billion portfolio of the Roman Catholic Church, nor the even weirder money producing shenanigans of L. Ron Hubbard, a science fiction writer who is now the head of a wealthy “religion” called Scientology, or of that peculiar Korean gentleman who or may not be an agent of Korean intelligence but who is certainly the boss of a religion: that takes in many millions of tax free dollars a year.

I tend to agree with Vidal. Anyone can arbitrarily initiate a "new’ religion at anytime by simply “hanging out a shingle”. According to the Encyclopedia of American Religions, at last count there were 1,584 religious organizations in the U.S. and Canada, from A Candle to Zotheria; most are Christian.

I don’t know about you but I think the time has come to for them to help with the tax burden.

I would be morally opposed to the taxation of churches. You cant tax God.

Don’t have much to add except that I agree that they should be taxed and there is absolutely NO chance they ever will be.

If god wants to earn an income in the U.S. than he can pay taxes on that income, too.

The IRS can do anything.

The IRS can do anything.

…sad but true.

If the church should be taxed, then the government should have to help the churches when they ask.
It would be unfair to us, as individuals, if we pay taxes, but we would never be able to benefit from it.
Anyway, you’re right. The IRS can do anything they want. I guess we’ll see.

Also, if they tax the church, they would have to tax all non profit organizations equally.

That wouldn’t go over well.

I tend to agree with you that churches should be treated the same as other non-profits–no more and no less–and we therefore shouldn’t begin taxing churches while not taxing other non-profit organizations. However, churches do receive government services; it’s not as if municipal fire departments just say “Oh, a church; guess we’ll just have to let that burn to the ground.”

Just make donations “non-deductable”.

There are some other non-profits I wouldn’t mind seeing taxed. My nominations would include The Ford Foundation, The ACLU. I’m not picking on just one side, I just can’t think of any conservative nominees at the moment.

And MEBuckner is correct, churches benefit from taxes right along with the rest of us.

All, non-profits should see the same tax rates. The government should be religion neutral.

But then, if I had my druthers, that rate would be 0.

My big problem is that religion (some people and some faiths more than others) wants so damn much for THEIR religion to be posted all over the place in schools and courthouses and what have you, but won’t pay taxes.

Don’t want to pay taxes? Fine, just keep out of government.

However I’m definetly with the “they should but they never will” crowd. It would be political suicide to support and I doubt a fair system of it could ever be worked out what with all the other non-profit orgs out there.

The IRS cannot “do anything they want.” To assert that is naive at best, dishonest at worst. This is, after all, still a land under the rule of law.

The real problem with exempting churches is that it puts the IRS in the position of having to decide which religions are “legitimate,” and which ones aren’t. If I decide to make my house the headquarters of The First Church of the Gooey Death (apologies to Imus, from one of his routines of many years ago), I’m not automatically tax-exempt. Only the IRS can decide whether my “church” is real or not. And, as far as I’m concerned, having the IRS decide which churches are “real” violates the First Amendment.

The proper approach is the one that others in this thread have suggested: treat churches just like other corporations. If they meet the standard tests for nonprofit institutions, fine, tax them the way nonprofits are taxed. If not, tax them like WalMart.

And even if they’re determined to be nonprofits, if they engage in political advocacy, contributions to them should not qualify as charitable donations. (Those of you who detest the ACLU should be aware that contributions to the ACLU are not deductible, precisely because the ACLU lobbies for and against legislation.)

Churches shouldn’t be treated like corporations because they are not corporations. They are non-profit organizations. As such, they should be treated like all other non-profit organizations - and they even have a right to lobby for and against legislations, although that should make their contributions non-deductible, just like any other lobbying, non-profit.

It is the citizens that receive fire and police protection.
And they pay taxes. Come on now.

Are churches in fact treated any differently, tax-wise, from other non-profits? I had thought they weren’t.

I’m pretty sure that preacher and priests do have to pay taxes.

They do. A lot of people aren’t aware of this, however. That’s one reason that many people pay for mail-order certificates saying “Mr. So-and-so is an ordained preacher in the Church of the Posioned Mind.” A LOT of those people think that, once they’re “ordained,” they don’t have to pay income taxes on the salaries they get from their real jobs, and that their homes are now “churches” and exempt from property taxes.

In reality, if a clergyman is paid a salary by his congregation, he has to pay income taxes on that salary like everyone else. Father Andrew Greeley has to pay income txes on royalties from his romance novels. Rev. Reggie White had to pay income taxes on his salary from the Green Bay Packers.

As for property taxes, buildings and land used directly for explicitly religious purposes ARE exempt from real estate taxes. But ONLY that property is exempt. If the Austin diocese owned a small chapel sitting on a large tract of land, ONLY the land occupied by the chapel is exempt from property taxes is tax-exempt. The diocese WOULD have to pay property tax on the rest of the land, just as any ordinary owner would (in fact, a few years ago, the diocese DID get rid of a large tract of land used for retreats, precisely because the land had become highly desirable, and the real estate taxes were crippling).

Now, I happen to think Gore Vidal is full of beans (again???!!???), but have no adamant, philosophical objection to the idea of churches paying taxes. Historically, the U.S. has NOT done so, but that’s not part of a divine mandate. If it ever happens, churches will learn to cope.

But let’s also acknowledge that:

  1. Churches do NOT presently get any huge breaks that aren’t equally available to secular non-profit institutions.

  2. We are NOT talking about a huge cash windfall for the government here, in any case.

They are treated the same as all other non-profit organizations. And the IRS rules to determine what is a legitimate church are not essentially different from the rules to determine what is a legitimate non-profit organization.

And Gore Vidal’s original statement:

is simply incorrect. They are non-profit organizations, like the American Cancer Society or Alcoholics Anonymous.

I would disagree that paying taxes would entitle a church to have their beliefs posted in schools and court houses.

If that’s what you’re arguing.