When people donate to religious groups, it’s tax-deductible. Churches don’t pay property taxes on their land or buildings. When they buy stuff, they don’t pay sales taxes. When they sell stuff at a profit, they don’t pay capital gains tax. If they spend less than they take in, they don’t pay corporate income taxes. Priests, ministers, rabbis and the like get ‘parsonage exemptions’ that let them deduct mortgage payments, rent and other living expenses when they’re doing their income taxes.
Source: Garry Linnell, Religions Should Lose Their Tax-Exempt Status, The Age, October 1, 2016.
Introduction: Australia – Few Believers But Lots of Favors for Religion
Australia is a nation of non – believers. The Age article stated that two-thirds of the population do not believe in a god(s). Furthermore, only eight percent of Australians regularly attend church and 84 percent strongly believe that religion and the state should be kept separate. (Immigration policies are somewhat friendly toward Americans – something to keep in mind if the Deplorables have their way on November 8.)
In Australia, annual subsidies/tax-exempt supports for religion are estimated to cost all taxpayers $30 billion annually. Yearly income by the religion sector in Australia was $104 billion in 2014; the chief purpose of more than a third of this sum was the advancement of religion.
In America It’s Much Worse
The situation Downunder mirrors the reality in America. Our laws and other government policies blatantly require secular society to pay a large share of the costs of religions. That in itself is horrific, but what makes it grotesque for most secularists is the sense that political religion is a baleful element. It promotes discrimination, intolerance, restrictions on personal freedoms, constant incursions of dogma and rituals upon the public square and schools, all while undermining science (e.g., creationism) and reason. To think that secularists, now estimated to constitute at least a third of the adult population, are paying for toxic superstition and dreadful social ills, seems preposterous and outrageous.
And no wonder: it IS preposterous and outrageous.
The REAL Wellness Connection
Three years ago, subsidizes to the faith-based among us cost all taxpayers at least $71 billion. This, however, does not include local income and property tax exemptions, the sales tax exemption and – most importantly – the charitable deduction for religious giving. The estimated value of religious properties is at least $600 billion, but probably much more because the above figure does not include properties owned by religions besides actual churches, mosques, etc.
Source: Dylan Matthews, You Give Religions More Than $82.5 Billion A Year, Washington Post, August 22, 2013.
Enthusiasts for and practitioners of REAL wellness, which promotes reason and liberty, will want to do what little they can to repair and defend the battered wall of separation that malicious politicians pandering to the faithful have undermined in this country for more than a century.
Besides the blatant unfairness of taxation policies that compel non-believers to bear substantial costs of our national religiosity, this situation is outrageous for two other principal reasons:
Religious leaders (i.e., devout politicians in Congress/the states and local levels, televangelists, political activist organizations, etc.) continuously seek to lower the fragile wall of separation between church and state and complain relentlessly about imagined threats to their freedoms while advancing discriminatory policies, intolerance and restrictions on reproductive and other freedoms.
Religions undermine reason and promote nonsense, which does nothing to advance, and plenty to undermine, mental well being and national harmony. Whereas science uses logic, research and experiments to shed light on the nature of the cosmos, religions offer myth, fear and childhood exploitation (AKA indoctrination of the young). Religions advance many beliefs that cloak natural realities in the darkness of superstitions while compromising an accurate appreciation of life on Earth.
America: Increasingly Secular, Except for the Political Class
The tax exempt custom became official in America in 1894, though churches were unofficially tax-exempt since the founding. All 50 US states and the District of Columbia exempt churches from paying property taxes. Donations to churches are tax-deductible. Clery pay nothing for their homes provided by religious institutions. Justice William Douglas, in a 1970 dissent in the case of Walz v. Tax Commission of the City of New York, stated: If believers are entitled to public financial support, so are nonbelievers. A believer and a non-believer under the present law are treated differently… (by virtue of) a financial benefit to religious institutions, government is supporting religion.
There is nothing in the U.S. Constitution that grants tax exemption to churches. It is considered a privilege, owing to a once unchallenged belief that religion makes a positive contribution to every community. That, of course, is a fertile topic for a national discussion, followed by periodic referenda. (Personal forecast of what would result if there were such a national discussion: For a while, religious privilege would survive, but in time, as educational systems improved, the public might, in the works of Richard Gere’s shyster lawyer character Billy Flynn, catch wise.)
A few additional concerns about the gross subsidy of religions can be briefly noted:
Churches get automatic tax exemption; other non-profits must file for exemptions. Unlike secular tax-exempt 501(c)(3) charities, churches need not file reports, a loophole that facilitates fraud and lesser misuses. (Look up the Rev. Jim Jones and Jonestown, Catholic pedophile priests, or any of the richest televangelists – and remember – you helped pay for it all.)
Religions are active in the public square, injecting their ideas about moral questions (e.g., abortion rights and marriage equality) based upon sacred creeds derived from medieval holy books.
George W. Bush’s faith-based initiative, continued during President Obama’s two terms, allows religious welfare organizations to use public funds to proselytize clients with their assorted dogmas.
In 1991, TIME Magazine described Scientology as a thriving thriving cult of greed and power and a hugely profitable global racket. Yet, the religious organization was granted federal income tax exemption in 1993 which, according to a Times article, saved the church tens of millions of dollars in taxes.
The Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal group, organizes what it calls Pulpit Freedom Sunday every October. The purpose? To encourage pastors to defy IRS non-partisanship rules by endorsing (nearly always Religious Right) candidates from the pulpit. In 2011, more than 500 pastors did so. None of the churches involved lost exemption status.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) has shown that tax subsidies mean all Americans pay for the extravagantlifestyles of megachurch pastors. When U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, (R-IA) investigated pastors with private jets, Rolls Royce cars, multimillion-dollar homes, trips to Hawaii and Fiji and similar lavish indulgences, nothing happened. The preachers ignored him and there were no consequences. (Source: Pro/Con – Should Churches Remain Tax-Exempt?)
What’s a Secular Wellness Promoter To Do?
The Supreme Court has fielded challenges to most if not all of the subsidizes lamented in this essay and, lamentably, said in so many words, Oh well, we do love our cults and superstitions, don’t you know? Yeah, it’s constitutional enough, for our tastes.
Whether you are affiliated with a religion or not, if you care about a healthy, fair and rational society, you might want to think of doing what little you can to support candidates for public office who recognize the problem with massive religious subsidizes. Start with your vote on November 8.
On that topic, let me recall what John F. Kennedy said to an audience of Protestant clergy in Houston, Texas in 1960:
I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute; where no Catholic prelate would tell the President — should he be Catholic — how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference, and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him, or the people who might elect him.
I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accept instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials, and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.
Sad to say, the present Democratic candidate for president, Hillary Clinton, is no Jack Kennedy, any more than was Dan Quayle. (Millennials unfamiliar with this forgettable candidate might want to Google the video of the VP debate when Mr. Quayle compared himself to JFK.
Back to Hillary: At the 136th annual National Baptist Convention on September 8, the good woman passed around large slices of Pander Pie in assuring the Baptists that, we need a president who understands the powerful role that faith-and communities of faith-have always played in moving our country toward justice… A president who will pray with you, and for you… a president who will do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God.
Well, at least she didn’t promise more tax subsidies (e.g., free college tuition if you take a pledge attesting that you truly love the Lord.)
Even if she said that, I’d still vote for her because Trump is worse beyond belief on every imaginable issue. (In fact, I fear if he reads this AWR, he might adopt the facetious idea I offered as a jejune example in the preceding paragraph.)
If all else fails and this bloviator gets elected, I’m going to act on a rumor I just started that Australia has a quota for very old people into REAL wellness who favor no taxpayer subsidies for religions.
All the best. Good wishes, be well and consider putting the elimination of subsidies for religions on your bucket list.