Tax the Church! Yes, the time has come.
Posted on March 6, 2019 by Diana Roberts
Americans and our higher courts have always loved our legal fictions. What is a “legal fiction?”
It is somewhat like a myth. Myths, like legal fiction, can be good or bad but totally relied upon even if untrue. If enough time passes, the premise becomes true simply from reliance and time passage. This exists in both religion and law.
To be more specific for understanding the subject matter of this post, a legal fiction is a presumption of fact. It is believing or assuming something not true is true. “It is used in judicial reasoning for avoiding issues where a new situation comes up against the law, changing the law, changing how it is applied, but not changing the text of the law.” (Black’s Law Dictionary)
Twogaa anticipates seeing a good bit of legal fiction reasoning from this supreme court when it comes to separation of church and state issues in the coming years.
The fiction that our citizenry and government have assumed, tried to implement, and accepted through our history on separation is that separation is protected by not taxing religious institutions. Wrong. Failed reasoning for a motivated purpose.
While religious institutions shelter themselves under a tax code exemption as a nonprofit (501 (c)(3), so as to pay no tax, they are not like the charitable foundations normally given that tax payment exemption. While most First Amendment activists fight to keep religion and government separate, giving religion a free ride on the government services they receive has the opposite effect. The premise that no-tax of church, synagogue, Mosque, etc. protects separation between religion and state is a legal fiction.
Religious institutions and their massive structures receive the full and unconditional services of federal, state and local governments. Safety protection domestically and internationally from outside danger, access to the rule of law and law enforcement through our court system, financial and public support for the electoral representative of their choice in all levels of government in our democracy, infrastructure such as roads, water, sewer, electricity and so much more that each of us tax payers enjoy through the payment of our taxes.
Churches, all religious institutions, sell a service, religion, a theology to believe in and live by. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with that and churches, mosques, synagogues, as well as eastern religions have proved their worth to community in the larger sense. But frankly, it is the proselyting and fund raising undergirding the theology that endangers the democracy and destroys fairness and equality.
Televangelism brings in over three billion dollars per year. The Mormon church brings in over thirty billion dollars a year. Pentecostalism, which began in the early 20th century claims to have over 500 million adherents worldwide, but it is impossible to get a grasp on their financial take. Churches in the United States own over 500 billion dollars in property that remains untaxed. How did they get to that level? By selling what they sell and not paying taxes. New York City, alone, loses over 627 million dollars a year by religious institutions not paying tax.
Churches are exempt under the principle that there is no surer way to destroy religion than to tax it. That’s the understanding of the U.S. Supreme Court and that’s the standard that we tax payers live by each April 15. 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.” Truly, a legal fiction.
When you pay your tax bill this year, whether your property taxes, sales tax, road and highway tax, state income tax or federal income tax, all religion thanks you. While they are subsidized by governments by paying no tax, you have just helped pay the debt of that subsidy. Just look at the statistics above for a simple example.
So, what about the most important question of all? If we tax religion, how do we keep government out of religion and religion out of government? First of all, we have failed mightily on keeping religion out of government. Just look at who controls your elected representatives. Nevertheless, our first right, our First Amendment guarantees that our government cannot establish a religion. Yet, look what our religious exempt tax code has done. We have funded mega-churches and mega-religion.
No church, synagogue, mosque or any other religious institution should ask for and receive tax payer gifts for free. Each should pay reasonably for the gratuity of services of a tax-paying democracy that they receive. No citizen should have to support beliefs he/she does not believe in by paying all religion’s public service bills through no tax to the institution. Yes, there are many ways to protect the separation clause of the First Amendment, while religion pays its reasonable share for what it receives.
Next week, Twogaa shall delve into that constitutional protection, so important to us all.