The outrageous subsidies to religion in America

If you want to get angry about the preferential treatment of religion in the U.S., read this new report by The Council for Secular Humanism: “How Secular Humanists (and Everyone Else) Subsidize Religion in the United States.” This piece, published in the June/July issue of Free Inquiry, is written by three academics who did extensive research: Ryan Cragun, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Tampa, Stephanie Yeager, a senior business management major and a liability insurance broker, and Desmond Vega, a psychology major at the University of Tampa.  Their goal was to estimate how much the American government (and state governments) subsidize religion by giving them tax breaks and other benefits. That is, what is the revenue lost to the nation through such subsidies?

The summary of revenue income to churches is on the left side of the following figure, and government subsidies on the right.  Most of us already know that although churches garner considerable income from donations, fund-raisers, and even gambling activities like bingo games, they’re not subject to the taxes that corporations would pay—or many other taxes. To wit:

  • Churches pay no taxes on the donations they receive.
  • Religious institutions pay no property taxes, though those taxes (paid by property-owning citizens) go for public services like police protection and firefighting, which also benefit the churches.
  • Religions, though many of them have investments such as stocks, pay no investment taxes (e.g., capital gains tax).
  • When buying goods and services, religions don’t have to pay state sales tax.
  • Ministers, unlike everyone else, can deduct the cost of their housing (mortgages, rent, furnishings, upkeep, etc.) from their taxable income. This can be considerable in the case of rich megachurch pastors like Rick Warren.

Here’s the flowchart (this and the following table from Free Inquiry):

So what does this add up to? The chart below gives the estimates of government subsidies to religion, which the authors consider conservative—especially because they couldn’t estimate several subsidies.  The bottom line is that the U.S. government, i.e., the U.S. taxpayer, subsidizes religion to the tune of at least $71 billion per year!

As the authors note:

To put this into perspective, the combined total of government subsidies to agriculture in the United States in 2009 was estimated to be $180.8 billion. Religions receive at least 40 percent of the subsidy that agriculture does in the United States. Another way to illustrate the size of the subsidy may be to illustrate how much tax revenue would increase at the state level if religious institutions had to pay property taxes. In Florida, where the state government’s budget was $69.1 billion in 2011, the amount of tax revenue lost from subsidizing religious property was $2.2 billion or 3 percent of the state budget. The additional revenue would have mostly prevented the $1.1 billion cut to firefighter and police retirement plans and the $1.3 billion cut to public schools.

They conclude as well that while these subsidies may not encourage the growth of religion, they may still keep some small denominations or churches alive that would otherwise fold.

What about the counterargument that religions should be subsidized because they engage in charitable work? The authors show early on in the article that direct charity is actually quite small for many churches (the Mormon Church, for example gives only 0.7% of its annual income to charitable causes, while Methodists give 23%, but these are still considerably less than charitable organizations like the Red Cross. which gives 92.1% of its revenue as direct help to the afflicted). But for those who want religion given a break for its charity, the authors offer a solution:

For those individuals who argue that religions should receive subsidies because of their charitable work, there is an easy solution for that problem. If religions want to engage in charitable work, they should separate religious activities and finances from their charitable activities and finances. The charities run by religions could be tax-exempt, but the religious organizations would be treated like civic leagues or sports clubs or any other volunteer organization that exists for entertainment or the benefit of its members. Those groups are not tax-exempt and are not subsidized by the government.

And they reach a reasonable (and somewhat humorous) conclusion:

Finally, as the perceived “benefit” to society of religions becomes increasingly irrelevant as more and more Americans cease to utilize their “services” by disaffiliating, it will also be increasingly unfair for a large percentage of nonreligious Americans (almost 40 percent in some states) to subsidize the recreational activities of others. These subsidies should be phased out. But since that is unlikely to happen, we’d accept the following alternative: the ability to write off our annual entertainment expenses as “donations”; the subsidizing of all of our housing expenses, including utilities and maintenance costs; being exempt from paying taxes on businesses we start related to our primary purpose in life (say, a micro-brewery); direct cash transfers to us from the government for trying to convert people to our worldviews while claiming to provide social services; and, most important, the right to host games of bingo without reporting our income as gambling revenue!

I love the characterization of religion as a “recreational activity,” but of course that’s precisely what it seems like to an an atheist.

The more I thought about this piece, the more I realized how manifestly unfair it is for the state and national governments of a secular country to subsidize religion.  Yes, in Europe there are state-supported churches (also unconscionable, in my view), but in the U.S. we have constitutionally mandated freedom of religion—and that includes the freedom to not be religious.  To me, that means that nonbelieving taxpayers should not be supporting, however indirectly, religious organizations. In fact, nobody should be supporting the activities of religious organizations except through their direct donations. The United States government should not be in the business of propping up religions, many of which are wealthy and should pay their fair share for the government services they receive.

And it’s curious to me that nobody but atheists seem to question these subsidies. Perhaps some religious folks who favor secularism have done so, but I’m not aware of it.

We need to stop subsidizing Americans who purvey fairy tales.

218 Comments

  1. Posted August 10, 2012 at 6:09 am | Permalink

    “Ministers, unlike everyone else, can deduct …”

    I wonder what constitutes being a ‘minister’ .. it’s not a protected title. Anyone can (and does) call him/herself a minister.

    Heck, I’m an ordained member of the clergy myself!
    See: http://spiritualhumanism.org/

    • Kevin
      Posted August 10, 2012 at 8:14 am | Permalink

      Check with the IRS. Their definition is quite specific.

      And don’t claim a deduction you can’t back up with evidence that you deserve.

      The IRS takes a very dim view of such shenanigans.

      • FastLane
        Posted August 10, 2012 at 9:08 am | Permalink

        It depends…if you are part of a large, established religion, or a well known member of the community (think megachurch), the IRS is well known to turn a blind eye for a long time.

        It’s usually only a loud group of concerted protests, or letter writing campaign, and the occasional flagrant violation, that might get the IRS’ attention.

      • RFW
        Posted August 10, 2012 at 9:12 am | Permalink

        I wish they’d take an equallyh dim view of the miserable grifters who fly the religion flag while pocketing untold amounts of cash.

        At the very least they could start requiring organizations that get any kind of deal on taxes to provide detailed, audited financial statements that account for every penny of income or expenditure (or corruption). The IRS may think it doesn’t have the staff to winnow through all the paperwork, but the unpaid taxes and penalties they’d collect from the grifters could easily offset the cost of hiring more staff.

    • Douglas E
      Posted August 10, 2012 at 10:56 am | Permalink

      The most blatant example of claiming the ‘minister’ deduction is the Churches of Christ. Since all members are considered ministers ["the priesthood of believers"] every household is offered a letter of substantiation to claim the standard ministerial deduction.

      On another note, I did not see any reference to the deductions that most folks take for charitable contributions to churches on their individual tax forms. Again, support for churches and lost revenue.

      • Posted August 10, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

        “The most blatant example of claiming the ‘minister’ deduction is the Churches of Christ. Since all members are considered ministers ["the priesthood of believers"] every household is offered a letter of substantiation to claim the standard ministerial deduction.”

        Interesting. The Quakers also regard all members as ministers, since all people are equal, there is “that of God in every one”, and anyone can minister at a Meeting for Worship, but they have no ordained clergy, and I’m pretty sure they don’t do this for anyone. Are “the priesthood of [Church of Christ] believers” ordained?

        • Douglas E
          Posted August 10, 2012 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

          Nope. Many denominations accept the idea of the priesthood of believers, but as far as I know, the CofC is the only group that uses the housing deduction en masse. CofC congregations have ‘regular’ pastors/ministers, but my understanding is that the board of elders will issue letters stating that congregational members are indeed ministers in the perspective of the CofC. I chided a member once about this and his less-than-satisfying answer was “Well it’s allowed so I might as well use it.” I am incredulous that the IRS has accepted this for many years.

      • RF
        Posted August 11, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

        My understanding is that housing allowances are tax deductible. If Churches of Christ members are getting away with deducting other income, I’d like a cite for that. Also, if you look at the upper right of the first chart, it mentions that donations are tax deductible.

        • Douglas E
          Posted August 11, 2012 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

          As far as I know, the housing allowance is the main, if no only, deduction taken. But, I believe that such deductions often run in the tens of thousands of dollars. It’s unclear to me how a person not employed or paid by a congregation, and generally employed elsewhere, can wrangle such a deal.

  2. Simon
    Posted August 10, 2012 at 6:09 am | Permalink

    jolly well said.

    now, back to my “primary purpose in life (say, a micro-brewery)” he he.

  3. Alexander Hellemans
    Posted August 10, 2012 at 6:15 am | Permalink

    How do the $71 billion compare to the total funding of (non military) scientific research?

  4. 00001000_bit
    Posted August 10, 2012 at 6:15 am | Permalink

    Cost of Curiosity: 2.6 billion.

    Lost property taxes to churches: 26.2 billion.

    Let’s charge them tax and put 10 more rovers on Mars.

    • Posted August 10, 2012 at 8:29 am | Permalink

      Hear, hear!!!

    • Sigh
      Posted August 10, 2012 at 9:16 am | Permalink

      U.S.A. Could have funded several world changing science projects on the scale of the Large Hadron Collider and have enough left for a family space telescopes or Mars robots. Thanks for poisoning the world religion.

      • RF
        Posted August 11, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

        I take it you mean “Thanks for poisoning the world, religion”?

    • Simon
      Posted August 13, 2012 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

      Lets take this additional revenue & put men on Mars!
      Firstly you need to fix schools & education, healthcare for all, social security etc, etc. Then expand the bounds of humanity!

    • teacupoftheapocalypse
      Posted August 14, 2012 at 5:26 am | Permalink

      Your comparison is too simple. The $2.6 billion cost of Curiosity is based upon the project spend since April 2004 through to the expected project end in July 2014. With luck, Curiosity will last longer and the entire project will stretch beyond the original 10 years, but additional costs will be minimal.

      Annual project cost is therefore $260 million

      Annual tax lost to churches is $26 billion

  5. Posted August 10, 2012 at 6:16 am | Permalink

    Tax them all. Eliminate all subsidies for all religious institutions that don’t apply to direct, non-sectarian, non-prostylitizing charity work. Do not exempt personal homes, and put a cap on the exemptions for places of worship mortgage deductions. If insurance companies have to pay a refund for monies collected and not spent on client care, then do should places of worship.

  6. bernardhurley
    Posted August 10, 2012 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    I love the characterization of religion as a “recreational activity,” but of course that’s what it is to an athiest.

    Jiddu Krishnamurthy used to call religious ceremonies “religious entertainment.”

    • Graham Martin-Royle
      Posted August 10, 2012 at 9:13 am | Permalink

      I refer to religion as a hobby. For some strange reason that upsets the religious. Can’t think why?

      On a side note, the Charities Commission over here in the UK has started to look at religious charities and, of course, they are getting mighty upset about it. The question I always ask is, why is promoting religion considered a charitable enterprise in the first place?

      • Gordon
        Posted August 10, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

        Dates back to Charitable Uses Act 1601, an Elizabethan statute.

        • Posted August 11, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

          Would that be a remnant of common law rather than Constitutional law?

  7. Harbo
    Posted August 10, 2012 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    Lets go for back taxes, and a hundred rovers!

  8. Posted August 10, 2012 at 6:22 am | Permalink

    Yeah, that is outrageous. Especially as people question the $2.6 billion to put Curiosity on Mars because of the stumbling US economy.

    • Posted August 10, 2012 at 9:11 am | Permalink

      That is quintessentially representative of short-sighted, right-wing thinking: penny wise, pound foolish.

      (Although in the case of the rover, it’s not even “penny wise”. The rover will most certainly prove worth the cost. But the point is still there. You’ve got people complaining about the cost of the rover, Sarah Palin complaining about money spent on fruit fly research, etc. All of which represents peanuts compared to the amounts that are ill-spent due to conservative policy.)

  9. Hempenstein
    Posted August 10, 2012 at 6:31 am | Permalink

    Both the lost property taxes vs. cost of Curiosity and the total vs. agricultural subsidies are great points against anyone griping about either. And raising such comparisons can only help crack the foundations of the tax-free status.

    • Posted August 10, 2012 at 8:33 am | Permalink

      Agree!

      For example, how do the lost property taxes compare with the cost of universal healthcare with a simple, single payer?

      As in, why should a clergyman drive a Lexus when productive workers can’t afford a doctor visit?

      • RFW
        Posted August 10, 2012 at 9:13 am | Permalink

        You sound like one of those evul socialists. I bet you wear red undies with Marx embroidered on the front and Lenin and Stalin on your butt cheeks.

        Avaunt, vile socialist!

        • Draken
          Posted August 10, 2012 at 10:50 am | Permalink

          Wrong. Today I have Rosa Luxemburg on my socks.
          /sorrycouldntresist

        • Posted August 10, 2012 at 10:51 am | Permalink

          Well, if you’re single, male, and cute enough…

      • Posted August 10, 2012 at 9:16 am | Permalink

        That kind of inequity absolutely makes my blood boil.

        I can’t understand how society deems it acceptable.

        How can we fix it?

      • Gary W
        Posted August 10, 2012 at 10:04 am | Permalink

        For example, how do the lost property taxes compare with the cost of universal healthcare with a simple, single payer?

        The comparison doesn’t make much sense. Just because we could fund policy X if we collected taxes from churches doesn’t mean X is a good policy, whether it’s single-payer health care or tax cuts for millionaires.

        • Posted August 10, 2012 at 11:39 am | Permalink

          The details would overwhelm this current discussion, but as a physician with experience in private solo practice, private employed practice, and military government practice, whose patients came from as wide a range and imaginable here in the USA, both socioeconomically and geographically, I make this statement and stand by it: If workers could get the healthcare they need when they need it, they’d cost far less to treat and return much more in taxes by returning to work quickly. It would be one of our best national investments, much like good public education, back around the 1960s plus or minus a decade or so.

          • Gary W
            Posted August 10, 2012 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

            Fair enough. But there doesn’t seem to be a consensus among either physicians or health care economists, let alone people in general, in favor of single-payer health care. The issue is incredibly complex.

            • Posted August 11, 2012 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

              There is needless, extreme, undue complexity in having multitudes of health insurance companies, each with further multitudes of varied contracts. I think the real argument against single payer is the privacy issue. An individual’s right to privacy from government snooping is important for our freedom. Moreover, if one doctor record’s a patient’s history incorrectly, the patient is assumed to be at fault, either for lying or being too “mental”, pardon the expression, to realize the break with reality. These are very serious issues, and once they or any misdiagnoses or other reporting errors are on the record, they cannot be removed, nor is a later correction guaranteed to be known to those who should find it. That said, the only difference between that scenario and our current situation is waiting to reach the current Medicare age to fall into it. Better to go, now, and build correction-mechanisms into the system yesterday. Or,at least, go tomorrow and put those mechanisms in today. In terms of privacy, different departments don’t share, so Social Security can’t tell HHS that a student is disabled and should be forgiven his student loans. The poor student must apply separately, jump through more hoops, and government doesn’t care how harsh this is on the disabled. Insane.

        • RF
          Posted August 11, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

          Wait, are you saying that budgeting and financing are separate issues, and decisions regarding one should be made independently of the other? Heresy!

          • Posted August 11, 2012 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

            Budget: assets and income vs. outgo. No separating the two. Never.

  10. alexandra
    Posted August 10, 2012 at 6:35 am | Permalink

    I have believed that this was a huge unfairness & unconstitutional, for years. Why has there never been a legal case that would wind its way to the supremes? They couldn’t say there was no standing because nobody was harmed!! This court would find a way out of a secular-favorable decision but at least there would be a discussion.

    • FastLane
      Posted August 10, 2012 at 9:10 am | Permalink

      Actually, the SCOTUS has specifically ruled that a citizen of the US has no say in how their taxes are spent. Welcome to the US. Give us your money and STFU. (The FFRF, Hein (sp?) case was the seminal case on this topic.)

      • Gary W
        Posted August 10, 2012 at 9:46 am | Permalink

        Of course citizens have a say in how their taxes are spent. It’s called the political process.

        • Posted August 10, 2012 at 11:26 am | Permalink

          You mean the one that is now, thanks to SCOTUS, bought and paid for by corporations as people, using their excessive wealth as free speech? My tiny little chirp of a voice can’t even begin to be heard.

          • Gary W
            Posted August 10, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

            No, the real one.

            If you really believe the political process is owned by corporations, why should anyone else bother voting, or participating in any way? According to you, they’re just wasting their time.

            • Tim
              Posted August 10, 2012 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

              That’s the plan isn’t it? Anyone informed enough to vote finds the choices so execrable that they conclude they are indeed wasting their time. People stupid enough to think they’re not wasting their time are those who are most manipulable by corporate media.

            • Posted August 11, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

              Yep. Until and unless enough voting citizens recognize this and vote real representatives into office in place of corporate puppets. Only real representatives will vote in laws to give the power back to the people. Mind you, Six Flags Over Jesus is quite a corporate power, too, so that nonprofit tax exemption will stay until then, too.

          • RF
            Posted August 11, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

            Can you quantify this at all? How much money is:
            1. given directly to candidates by individuals
            2. spent by individuals independently
            3. spent by corporations that are funded by individuals who gave them money for the express purpose of it being spent on political campaigns
            4. spent by commercial corporations
            5. all the non-monetary contributions, such as, say, people posting on blogs complaining about some political issue worth

            • Posted August 11, 2012 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

              Are you deliberately missing the point? Trying to give you the benefit of the doubt, I have to wonder.

              • RF
                Posted August 12, 2012 at 11:40 am | Permalink

                How about you just say what your point it.

  11. lezurk
    Posted August 10, 2012 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    Forty years ago when I was working for RCA Service repairing televisions, a good part of my route was working in the ghettos on Chicago’s south side. Whenever I had a call that was at a minister’s residence in these neighborhoods, one thing was starkly obvious, ministers lived better than their congregation – a lot better. I say tax them all. It is a much fairer policy.

  12. Posted August 10, 2012 at 7:08 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on JE Baugh and commented:
    Interesting data…

  13. marksolock
    Posted August 10, 2012 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Mark Solock Blog.

  14. Posted August 10, 2012 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    We need to stop subsidizing Americans who purvey fairy tales.

    Ahem!

    I agree with your criticism of subsidizing religion. However, I do support NEH (national endowment for the humanities), even if part of what they do happens to subsidize creative writers who purvey fairy tales.

    • Posted August 10, 2012 at 7:22 am | Permalink

      Fortunately, there’s nothing in the Constitution about the separation of church and art!

    • Don
      Posted August 10, 2012 at 7:23 am | Permalink

      Well, of course, purveying fairy tales as instructive truth is one thing; purveying them as fiction is quite another.

  15. Posted August 10, 2012 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    tax exemption is just that… there is no tax collected. Therefore not taken from anybody else. I can build a reverse case against the union superpacs and planned parenthood,any other nfp org. get real your bigoted agenda is showing. Mr Wizard

    • onkelbob
      Posted August 10, 2012 at 7:54 am | Permalink

      Your argument overlooks the burden placed on others. As the report authors point out (and as other studies have shown) some of these “charities” alienate or otherwise discriminate against segments of the population with whom they disagree. It is one thing to give away food, it is another to demand one sit through proselytization in order to receive that “charity.” An appropriate analog is the health care debate which focuses on the problem of the free-rider. Those without health care drive up the costs for those with it by placing demands (and usually costly ones) on the system. The only way to recoup those losses is to charge those who do contribute more. Likewise, churches and other religious organizations rely on the same services, fire protection, roads, sewer, municipal services, etc., and yet do not contribute to their upkeep. (Property taxes are the main revenue source for those services and structures.) Indeed, it could be said church buildings and property are a greater drain on society. If vandalism occurs on the neighborhood bodega and the neighborhood church, which is going to be given greater scrutiny and attention? Which is going to be a more inviting target? The use of the commons is not without cost, and if you only take and do not contribute, then indeed, something is lost by the majority to the benefit of the minority. So your argument that a tax exemption is without cost is unfounded and falsified. The report authors have a reasonable proposal, divest activities that are truly charitable (and so benefit all) from proselytizing ones, which benefit solely and wholly the organization.

      As to your assertion you could build a similar case against other non-profit agencies, I (and I am sure others) invite you to do so. Your skills at rhetoric and argumentation would be greatly enhanced as you will discover that flimsy assertions and liberal use of logical fallacies will be soundly refuted. Your ego may be bruised at first, but such is the price we pay to learn.

      • Posted August 10, 2012 at 8:06 am | Permalink

        tax exempt is not a grant or funding thrown out since that actually comes from my money directly to be used, in most cases, ignorantly.

        • onkelbob
          Posted August 10, 2012 at 8:27 am | Permalink

          So you are OK with fire departments not responding to emergencies involving churches, with police ignoring crimes committed against such properties, and with sewer and roads supporting them going unmaintained or not provided at all?
          Again, your argument is nonsense and rife with logical fallacies. It is clear that it is better to ignore you than to respond since you are incapable or unwilling to provide a logical justification to your position.

          • Posted August 10, 2012 at 8:39 am | Permalink

            @Onkelbob, I think you’re onto something! Yes, cut out the services normally covered by taxes. That is, do not provide tax-paid services to tax-exempt religious organizations, as that is government support of religion. Let the religions pay for their own. If they want to argue “charitable services”, let them separate out those charities. Professional organizations wanting to support political candidates do just that, creating separate sister-organizations, PACS, which run on donations separate from professional dues and such.

            • Posted August 10, 2012 at 9:22 am | Permalink

              Many churches should be all over this.

              Go ahead, conservative churches! Show us how the private, for profit sector will do it better!

      • FastLane
        Posted August 10, 2012 at 9:15 am | Permalink

        I would agree that superpacs, union or otherwise, are probably facially unconstitutional, but I note that you only want to apply that to the unions….and yet you claim that other’s bias is showing?

        Note the comparison of churches’ charity work to actual charities (secular or otherwise). I would be totally ok with churches getting the exact same exemptions as any other 501(c)(3) organization. But, and here’s the part that annoys the godbots…they have to meet the same requirements, and be subject to auditing. And that, boys and girls, is where the religious privilege in the US shows again and again. When asked to compete on a level playing field, and follow the same rules as everyone else, they whine about being persecuted, and the spineless politicians back down.

      • Gary W
        Posted August 10, 2012 at 11:53 am | Permalink

        An appropriate analog is the health care debate which focuses on the problem of the free-rider. Those without health care drive up the costs for those with it by placing demands (and usually costly ones) on the system. The only way to recoup those losses is to charge those who do contribute more. Likewise, churches and other religious organizations rely on the same services, fire protection, roads, sewer, municipal services, etc., and yet do not contribute to their upkeep.

        I favor eliminating the tax exemption for non-charitable religious activity, but your argument here just doesn’t make sense. First, roads, sewers and fire protection are public goods (that is, goods that are effectively non-rivalrous and non-excludable) and most health care is not, so they can’t be analyzed in the way with respect to public funding. Also, health insurance does not eliminate free-riding, it just changes the way the subsidy is structured. Sick people who consume much more in health care services than they pay in health insurance premiums still get a “free ride” on healthy people who do the opposite. Indeed, that’s the only way it can work. This isn’t to say that it’s wrong to force healthy people to subsidize health care for sick people. I think that’s the right thing to do. But it’s still free-riding. You can’t justify mandatory health insurance by claiming that it eliminates free-riding.

        • RF
          Posted August 11, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

          I think that’s stretching the meaning of the phrase “free rider”. The term implies more than mere subsidy, but rather some level of choice. While to some extent, there is a “free rider” insofar as people might consume less drugs, engage in safer sex practices, eat less food, etc., if they had to pay for all of their health care, most of the health disparities are not amenable to financial incentives (and those that are might more accurately be referred to as “moral hazard” than “free riding”).

    • Neil
      Posted August 10, 2012 at 8:04 am | Permalink

      I guess that means that if I don’t pay my taxes it doesn’t hurt (ultimately raise the taxes) of anyone else. I wonder why tax evasion is a crime then.

    • raven
      Posted August 10, 2012 at 8:39 am | Permalink

      tax exemption is just that… there is no tax collected. Therefore not taken from anybody else.

      This is false.

      Property taxes not paid by the churches are made up by taxing everyone else. The tax burden gets shifted from the churches to corporations and individuals who have nothing to do with the churches.

      get real your bigoted agenda is showing. Mr Wizard.

      Ooo, an insult. BTW, your clumsy lies are showing.

      I hope my agenda is showing. Thanks to people like you, I’m an ex-xian turned anti-xian.

    • teacupoftheapocalypse
      Posted August 10, 2012 at 8:49 am | Permalink

      Amusing uses of ‘bigoted’, and ‘humble’ in your soubriquet.

      Perhaps you should look both up (in a dictionary, rather than the glossary to your holy babble).

      • Posted August 10, 2012 at 9:14 am | Permalink

        Humility is your strong point I can see.
        As for the bigoted agenda.. freedom of religion
        and the free exercise thereof. Government was not to be involved in the churches affair read papers by TJ closely as well as Other founders.
        So why tax the religious organization that is impinging on its territory (freedom)

        • Linda Grilli Calhoun
          Posted August 10, 2012 at 9:31 am | Permalink

          “So why tax the religious organization that is impinging on its territory (freedom)”

          Huh?

        • teacupoftheapocalypse
          Posted August 10, 2012 at 9:51 am | Permalink

          “Humility”, another word you need to look up.

          I did suggest that you seek another source other than the glossary of your holy babble. Your exceedingly narrow definition of ‘bigoted’ shows that you haven’t.

          Here, you seem to be insisting that government should not be involved in the affairs of religion.

          It is reasonable to to suggest that there should be quid pro quo and that religion should not be involved in the affairs of government. As it is the responsibility of government to provide education, does that mean that you support the suggestion that creationism and other religious dogma should be excluded from school curricula?

        • Posted August 10, 2012 at 10:53 am | Permalink

          I’m gonna need some hip-waders. With this troll around, it’s getting mighty deep, in here.

        • pjlandis
          Posted August 10, 2012 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

          Freedom of religion means they should not be treated neither favorably or impeded. It’s been argued that tax exemption violates the establishment clause (See Section I, B).

          More importantly, do you agree that pastors who live in mansions and drive limos should be free from taxes?

          • pjlandis
            Posted August 10, 2012 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

            forgot the link

            http://lawandreligion.com/sites/lawandreligion.com/files/livingston.pdf

          • Posted August 11, 2012 at 7:57 am | Permalink

            Do u believe that the senator from nevada reid should live in the ritz carleton hotel
            not displaying his taxes and corruption contain in it. While being majority leader in the senate …on our dole.??

            • Posted August 11, 2012 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

              Based on your own statements, he receives what he’s worth. Now, you can leave to argue with yourself.

              • Posted August 12, 2012 at 8:20 am | Permalink

                based on my own statements he is funded by Navada casino bosses raising money from prostitution for is election. That is not what I refer to in previous post. It is u changing the subject from your earlier accusations. It was my analogy that convicted u in your obamoland.

    • RF
      Posted August 11, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

      Donations to PACs are not tax deductible. You might want to actually get your facts right, seeing as how your logic is probably a lost cause. Also, this is an English language blog, so it’s just basic etiquette to post responses in English. Doing otherwise shows disrespect for other people.

      • Posted August 12, 2012 at 7:56 am | Permalink

        As non-for profit organizations they are tax exempt. Who is having trouble with the facts.

        • RF
          Posted August 12, 2012 at 11:17 am | Permalink

          By “they”, do you mean “the organizations”, or “the donations”?

          • Posted August 13, 2012 at 8:05 am | Permalink

            nfp 501 3c

            • RF
              Posted August 13, 2012 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

              Clearly, it’s impossible to have a conversation with you.

              • Steve in Oakland
                Posted August 13, 2012 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

                That’s the nonprofit tax code. Not very conducive to discussion all alone by itself like that. But that is no doubt for the best.

  16. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted August 10, 2012 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    The subsidies to the super-mega-churches is I think the most grating.

    However, I am more annoyed by the flagrant disregard by conservative churches of the requirement to be non-political to maintain tax-exempt status by various loopholes. And the whining that churches are being “persecuted” re other church-state separation issues such as removing prayer from public schools.

    In the 1970 case of Walz vs. the Tax Commission the courts ruled that “if churches were taxed, the government would then be “excessively entangled” with religious institutions. Through the tax codes, the government would necessarily establish some type of economic regulation of religion, and this kind of control would inhibit the free exercise rights guaranteed by the 1st Amendment.”

    OK, grant that the 1st Amendment is interpreted that way- there’s a 1stAm basis for tax-exemption for churches-, then let churches stop whining about keeping religion out of public schools and let’s examine more closely the mandate that churches be apolitical.

    • Posted August 10, 2012 at 8:40 am | Permalink

      Regarding those super-mega-churches, I hear their nickname is Six Flags Over Jesus.

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted August 10, 2012 at 8:48 am | Permalink

        LOLOLOL

      • FastLane
        Posted August 10, 2012 at 9:21 am | Permalink

        There are at least two in Wichita that our local atheist group referred to that way. :)

  17. jpsullivan
    Posted August 10, 2012 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    I am for repeal of the parsonage exemption and elimination of all the “Faith-based initiative” subsidies, however before any of us advocate repeal of all tax exemptions for churches we should reflect that the Center For Inquiry, parent organization for the Council for Secular Humanism, is itself a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization, as is the Freedom from Religion Foundation and many other secularist advocacy groups we support. Thus, religious taxpayers are subsidizing atheist advocacy, just as we are subsidizing the Jesus cult. (Yes, of course these are a drop in the bucket compared to religious subsidies.) Also contra what Jerry says here, many civic organizations like Eagles, Lions, Moose, Elks, Kiwanis, Rotary, etc ARE 501(c)10 tax-exempt organizations. Like churches, in many states they can conduct tax-free bingo for revenue. (Would like to know more about the history of this: I suppose CFI could do this, too, if they wanted. Atheist bingo anyone?) Undoubtedly one of the primary functions of all of these is the provision of psychological benefits that accrue to people by belonging to a group of like-minded people. These are not inconsiderable for us social primates. I am less interested in enacting legislation that would disable churches and civic groups through taxation (since I don’t see other institutions capable of performing their social function) than I am seeing secular groups grow and those based on harmful superstitions shrink by means of us all putting our shoulders to the great wheel of American culture and slowly getting it to turn.

    • FastLane
      Posted August 10, 2012 at 9:28 am | Permalink

      jpsullivan, there is one major difference between a 501(c)(3), and a church. Churches don’t get audited, they don’t have a minimum amount of actual charitable work (note the comparison in Jerry’s discussion), and they don’t have to validate their tax-exemption in any way. One simply claims that one’s organization is a church, and is automatically granted tax-exempt status. Other charitable organizations are subject to auditing, have strict bookkeeping requirements, and some other regulations they have to follow.

      It sounds minor, and in some ways it is. If churches simply had to do the same, I’d be completely ok with it (as noted in another post).

      • Jeff D
        Posted August 11, 2012 at 12:27 am | Permalink

        I’m a tax lawyer as well as an atheist and secularist. “Churches” are subsets of the more general class of “501(c)(3) organizations,” which in turn is the label for the set of organizations that are tax-exempt (no federal income taxes on revenue from operations) and that can receive donations that are income-tax deductible to the donors.

        The charities run by religions could be tax-exempt, but the religious organizations would be treated like civic leagues or sports clubs or any other volunteer organization that exists for entertainment or the benefit of its members. Those groups are not tax-exempt and are not subsidized by the government.

        jpsullivan is correct that civic leagues and trade organizations such as chambers of commerce or the NFL ((501(c)(6)), fraternities & sororities and social clubs (501(c)(7)), labor unions (501(c)(7)), and fraternal societies and associations operating under the lodge system (501(c)(8) and (10) are also exempt from federal income taxes (and state income taxes in most states), so long as their earnings don’t provide a financial benefit (“private inurement”)to any member, shareholder or other individual apart from reasonable compensation paid to officers, directors or trustees. Another category of tax-exempt organization is the 501(c)(4) “social welfare” or advocacy organization, such as Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS.

        One big difference between all of these other 501(c) organizations and the 501(c)(3) organizations (including churches, libraries, museums, arts organizations, the NCSE) is that membership dues and donations paid by individuals to a tax-exempt organization are not deductible from the individual’s own income unless the recipient organization is a 501(c)(3) organization. The “flip side” of this distinction is that a tax-exempt organization that derives its exempt status under section 501(c)(4), (c)(6), (c)(7), etc. is usually freer to engage in significant political lobbying and electioneering (consider the current abuse of 501(c)(4) status by organizations that do nothing except lobbying to influence elections and keep their donor lists secret). Finally, all 501(c) organizations can end up owing excise tax, at corporate income tax rates, on revenue that is not related to their exempt, nonprofit purposes. Unfortunately, for churches, this rule is applied in so lax a fashion that virtually all net revenue generated by church operations is exempt from the federal income tax.

        The main reasons that the income tax exemption for churches has endured are (a) political inertia and laziness and (b) the sense that taxing the religious activities of churches would violate the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment.

  18. shoutabyss
    Posted August 10, 2012 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    And yet look at the stink over the paltry (by comparison) federal funds spent on Planned Parenthood. I say we give ‘em what they want and get big government out of it all.

  19. raven
    Posted August 10, 2012 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    I love the characterization of religion as a “recreational activity,” but of course that’s precisely what it seems like to an an atheist.

    Not at all.

    It can be.

    But it is usually a cover for the human drives for money, power, and sex.

    The fundie perversion is mostly a cover for right wing extremist politics.

    It is sometimes a cover for mental illness.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted August 10, 2012 at 8:50 am | Permalink

      Fun-dam-mentalists have little fun, spread fear of damn, and are sometimes a bit mental

  20. raven
    Posted August 10, 2012 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    What about the counterargument that religions should be subsidized because they engage in charitable work?

    The vast majority of money the churches take in, is not charity.

    The churches take in ca. 90 billion USD/year.

    Around 88% of it is used internally to pay utilities, upkeep, salaries, homeostasis.

    Of the rest, 12%, some is kicked up to the national organization, used for missionary activities, and a small fraction is used for “charity”. A lot of that “charity” is a cover for proselytizing.

    • Posted August 10, 2012 at 8:43 am | Permalink

      As I wrote in an earlier comment, let them make the charitable work a separate sister organization with separate funding. Then, the church can be taxed and the charity, tax exempt. The tax exempt status should include a non-discrimination clause, too. Let all tax exempt organizations be held to the same nondiscrimination standards to which government is (supposed to be) held.

      • Posted August 10, 2012 at 8:53 am | Permalink

        Of which he pays taxes on. The pastor is not exempt from paying taxes.

        • teacupoftheapocalypse
          Posted August 10, 2012 at 9:05 am | Permalink

          As the report states:

          Ministers, unlike everyone else, can deduct the cost of their housing (mortgages, rent, furnishings, upkeep, etc.) from their taxable income. This can be considerable in the case of rich megachurch pastors like Rick Warren.

          • Posted August 10, 2012 at 9:22 am | Permalink

            You are in error with this comment.

            • FastLane
              Posted August 10, 2012 at 9:37 am | Permalink

              Here is the partial list of ministerial exceptions:

              http://clergytaxlaw.wordpress.com/2011/03/22/deducting-clergy-professional-expenses-on-your-tax-return/

              Please to point where his post is incorrect.

            • teacupoftheapocalypse
              Posted August 10, 2012 at 9:58 am | Permalink

              Please substantiate your claim.

              I am quoting the above text, rather than making a bold, unsupported statement of my own. The above test is supported by the original report by The Council for Secular Humanism, which, in turn, is supported by facts and figures.

              • Posted August 10, 2012 at 10:05 am | Permalink

                It is just from a unholy babblony
                I prefer my info coming from the Holy Bible there u find the truth study it. http://www.creationartnsoul.com/id4.html

              • teacupoftheapocalypse
                Posted August 10, 2012 at 10:09 am | Permalink

                You really do need to look up ‘bigot’ in a dictionary.

              • Posted August 10, 2012 at 10:17 am | Permalink

                from that comment I guess I’ve already received the definition through example
                have a great day and weekend ps don’t forget church
                sincerely Paul the Humble
                who used to be Saul the Powerful

              • Posted August 10, 2012 at 11:41 am | Permalink

                Yes, S/Paul, do spend your time in church. Spend it anywhere you can lock yourself up behind closed doors and away from society. It’s just better, that way.

            • Posted August 10, 2012 at 11:19 am | Permalink

              Where is your evidence of error?

          • Posted August 10, 2012 at 9:34 am | Permalink

            report is wrong. As business use of your home office or store etc in which money is acquired. Income is deductible to that extent of the use for every owner or business owner

            • blitz442
              Posted August 10, 2012 at 10:42 am | Permalink

              From http://www.irs.gov/taxtopics/tc417.html/

              “For income tax purposes, a licensed, commissioned, or ordained minister is generally treated as a common law employee of his or her church, denomination, or sect.”

              Also, who else is not taxed on housing benefits?

              “The gross income of a licensed, commissioned or ordained minister does not include the fair rental value of a home (a parsonage provided), or a housing allowance paid, as part of the minister’s compensation for services performed that are ordinarily the duties of the minister.

              A minister who is furnished a parsonage may exclude from income the fair rental value of the parsonage, including utilities. However, the amount excluded cannot be more than the reasonable pay for the minister’s services.

              If you own your home, you may still claim deductions for mortgage interest and real property taxes. If your housing allowance exceeds the lesser of your reasonable salary, the fair rental value of the home, or your actual expenses, you must include the amount of the excess as other income.”

            • blitz442
              Posted August 10, 2012 at 10:56 am | Permalink

              Also, a minister can apparently petition to opt out of paying payroll taxes for Social Security.

              http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/i1040sse.pdf

              • tomh
                Posted August 10, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

                Whole sects can opt out. For instance, the Amish pay no Social Security tax, nor do they pay into Medicare.

  21. Posted August 10, 2012 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    Churches are nfp organizations so why are u singling them out for taxation as though with taxation money? As a rule funds from bingo (That method which I think is error) are, as most church donations, used to help others, the needy, the aged etc. therefore taking the burden from the government and its expensive bureaucratic handouts.

    • Posted August 10, 2012 at 8:44 am | Permalink

      A religious leader living at a high level than the least of his congregants, working in a better building than they, too, is demonstration of his profit.

      • Posted August 10, 2012 at 9:26 am | Permalink

        you get paid for your worth in my country up until now

        • Posted August 10, 2012 at 11:07 am | Permalink

          Explain, please, how Mitt Romney is “worth” over $20,000,000/year. Be sure to do the math and note how much that is per second, every hour of every day of the year, not just work hours, when you clarify the matter.

          • Gary W
            Posted August 10, 2012 at 11:24 am | Permalink

            Explain, please, how Mitt Romney is “worth” over $20,000,000/year.

            You might just as well ask someone to explain why J.K. Rowling’s writing is worth a billion dollars (or whatever she’s worth now), or why the Apple Corporation is worth $500 billion, or why a famous painting is worth hundreds of millions of dollars or why the Large Hadron Collider is worth $9 billion, and so on. The short answer is that these things are worth what they are because that is the value our society has decided to place on them. If you think we ought to place a different value on something than we actually do, then it’s up to you to make an argument for that change.

            • Posted August 10, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

              Wrong. Mitt Romney is being paid over $2,283 per second for manipulating others into scheming to skim the value and productivity off the employees who are actually earning it.
              In contrast, J.K.Rowling produced. She produced art, sitting alone in her own home (at least for the first couple volumes), and not delegating the production of art to anyone else. Her art, then, was mass produced, generating real jobs which created income paid to real taxpayers for doing real work. She earned her income and created jobs so others could earn their own.
              What has Romney created, all by himself? I mean, outside of six kids. No, wait. He didn’t do that alone, either. Never mind.

              • Gary W
                Posted August 10, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

                Mitt Romney is being paid over $2,283 per second for manipulating others into scheming to skim the value and productivity off the employees who are actually earning it. In contrast, J.K.Rowling produced.
                She produced art, sitting alone in her own home (at least for the first couple volumes), and not delegating the production of art to anyone else.

                “Manipulating and scheming” is just your personal judgment. Someone else might say that J.K. Rowling manipulates and schemes to get people to buy more of her books, or that Apple manipulates and schemes to get people to buy more of its gadgets. Unless what Romney is doing is illegal, you can’t claim that his income does not reflect the value of his labor to society as determined by our system of laws and policies that regulate economic activity.

              • Posted August 10, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

                And what, prey tell, is Mitt Romney selling?

              • Gary W
                Posted August 10, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

                Financial services.

              • Posted August 10, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

                Translation: Biblical money-changer.

              • Gary W
                Posted August 10, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

                I’m not sure why you think we should believe that something is wrong because the Bible says so.

                Do you have a bank account? A mortgage? Any kind of insurance policy? A credit card? A car loan? A 401k or some other kind of managed retirement account? Those are all examples of financial services.

              • Posted August 10, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

                Mitt Romney receives, today while not working even for Bane Capitol, over $2,000 per second, every single second of the year, every single year. Explain what could ever justify this. You said he is worth it. Then, whey aren’t all “financial services” people, including those who actually did the work Romney got paid for overseeing, receiving that sort of income?

              • Gary W
                Posted August 10, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

                I said that’s what society has decided he’s worth. Just like it’s decided that J.K. Rowling is a worth a billion dollars, or whatever it is. Singling out Romney and demanding a justification for his income doesn’t make sense.

              • Posted August 11, 2012 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

                You still don’t get it. We don’t all start on a level playing field. Money is power. A know a county in boonies of Kentucky which only let Walmart in when Walmart’s executives agreed (probably in some contract hidden from public view) not to pay its employees so much that the wealthy of that county would have to compete by raising the subsistance wages it paid to office staff. Why don’t the staff just move to where the pay is better? They can’t afford to, nor can they afford to move their entire extended families, and it’s too far from such places to be able to visit enough to stay as close. Family trumps money — unless you’re too rich. Then, you can have both by underpaying those who prop up your lifestyle.

              • Tim
                Posted August 10, 2012 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

                Mitt Romney is a parasite – he is a walking, talking reductio ad absurdum who demonstrates that the idea that “whatever one can manage to get for oneself” in society is “justified” by the mere fact that you found a way to get it. It is pretty absurd that anyone can make a billion dollars, much less Mitt Romney.

              • RF
                Posted August 11, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

                ($2,283/sec)(60sec/min)(60min/hour)(24hour/day)(365day/year) = $72 billion/year.

                Do you have a cite for your claim that Romney is being paid $72 billion/year? Romney increased the efficiency of businesses, and he shared in the financial benefits of that increased efficiency. You have presented nothing to show that your characterization is accurate. One could argue that the bestseller industry falls under the economic category of “tournament”, and thus JK Rowling doesn’t “deserve” her money. And no one creates anything by themselves.

              • Posted August 11, 2012 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

                I concede the math error, however, I stand by the rest. He receives, as I previously stated, over $20,000,000 a year, boiling down to over $2283 per hour, every single hour. Make sure the math is correct. Too many Americans, human beings whose lives and families, alone, are worth the respect of a decent wage, don’t make that in a month.

              • RF
                Posted August 11, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

                Also, it’s “pray tell”.

              • Posted August 11, 2012 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

                @RF wrote, “Also, it’s ‘pray tell’.”

                Nope. When I’m feeling snarky toward some predatory extremist troll, I turn the tables, making it a pun, “prey tell”, not bothering to add a comma, as they are too st00pid to get it, anyway. They certainly don’t deserve it capitalized.

              • RF
                Posted August 12, 2012 at 11:20 am | Permalink

                Umm… what you just described constitutes YOU being a troll.

    • teacupoftheapocalypse
      Posted August 10, 2012 at 9:09 am | Permalink

      How can you claim that most church donations are used to help others?

      As the report states, the Mormon Church, for example gives only 0.7% of its annual income to charitable causes, while Methodists give 23%, but these are still considerably less than charitable organizations like the Red Cross. which gives 92.1% of its revenue as direct help to the afflicted.

      How is 23% of income most of its income?

      • Posted August 10, 2012 at 9:36 am | Permalink

        Salvation army

        • FastLane
          Posted August 10, 2012 at 9:41 am | Permalink

          1) The salvation army isn’t a church, although it has a significant religious basis as it’s organization.
          2) You chose a poor example, because their ‘charity’ often comes at a price of forced proselytizing.

        • Posted August 10, 2012 at 11:20 am | Permalink

          What is the Salvation Army’s stance on same-sex marriage, pray tell?

          • Posted August 11, 2012 at 7:28 am | Permalink

            That is a non-issue made up by the agenda-driven bigots in order to give them purpose.

          • Posted August 11, 2012 at 7:28 am | Permalink

            That is a non-issue made up by the agenda-driven bigots in order to give them purpose.

    • RFW
      Posted August 10, 2012 at 9:25 am | Permalink

      What you say is quite wrong, I’m sorry to say.

      Charities are notorious for hiring fund raising companies, with the result that only a very small proportion of donations actually goes to the unfortunate.

      Many religious organizations are notably stingy: the mormons do very little in the way of charity, and their “charity” comes with strings attached — and is only available to mormons. Catholics engage in no-strings-attached charity, but oddly enough it seems to mostly be via things like St. Vincent de Paul and the Ozanam outfits. The RCC church itself does very little in the way of charitable work afaik. [I may be wrong and would be glad to be corrected.]

      However, because religious organizations aren’t required to reveal their financial statements, almost no one knows what the exact figures are.

      • Posted August 10, 2012 at 9:39 am | Permalink

        Not so

        • FastLane
          Posted August 10, 2012 at 9:43 am | Permalink

          You keep making stupid assertions like this, but the data is right there. It is so.

          Now either back up your assertions with some kind of evidence, or stop wasting our time.

          • Posted August 10, 2012 at 9:49 am | Permalink

            our time… are u in cahoots in your agenda

            • pulseteresa
              Posted August 10, 2012 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

              Paul, c’mon. You’re doing nothing but trolling. You’ve offered no evidence whatsoever to back up your claims despite repeated requests for it. What you believe to be true is irrelevant if you can’t offer up evidence to back up those beliefs.

              Many of your comments consist of two or three words. You are not arguing respectfully. You are merely throwing out false assertion after false assertion. If you have nothing to add to the conversation (and so far you haven’t) then why do you persist in posting here? Many here have answered your question and provided data to back them up. You’ve not offered them the same courtesy. Why is that?

              • Posted August 11, 2012 at 7:24 am | Permalink

                Are u accusing me of being Harry Reid or a Obamaloonie surrugate??????

              • Posted August 11, 2012 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

                No, you’re being accused of you of being who and what you are. Add “ignorant coward and rude bully” to that, too.

              • Posted August 12, 2012 at 8:13 am | Permalink

                Still name calling and changing the subject
                because u see the analogy with the ignants

        • Posted August 10, 2012 at 11:23 am | Permalink

          Yeah, huh!

          Seriously, how about some proof — something more than “Uh uh!”

          • Posted August 11, 2012 at 7:15 am | Permalink

            You couldn’t handle the proof.. You are truth challenged little help here
            http://www.creationartnsoul.com/id4.html

            • bernardhurley
              Posted August 11, 2012 at 8:15 am | Permalink

              The quotation from Thomas Jefferson being especially pertinent.

              • Posted August 11, 2012 at 9:17 am | Permalink

                I agree!! It has been and is happening…
                Raises reasons to be concern about.. And his understanding of the mindset of the follower mentality.

              • bernardhurley
                Posted August 11, 2012 at 11:36 am | Permalink

                Ah but, Paul, the implication of Jefferson’s prediction is that Christianity is no different to any other religion. At no point does he expres regret at the prospect of its eventual demise.

              • teacupoftheapocalypse
                Posted August 11, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

                Paul’s little website betrays a great deal of confusion, not least with regard to the carbon cycle.

              • Posted August 12, 2012 at 7:49 am | Permalink

                Small? still working on it since u and yours need what it attempts to share. I will continue. Reread Jefferson’s comment in the light of what the words at that time meant.
                You will come up with a completely different
                conclusion.

            • Posted August 11, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

              Waste of time.

              • teacupoftheapocalypse
                Posted August 12, 2012 at 8:12 am | Permalink

                Agreed. An amusing diversion for a while, but he is so wrapped up in his own dogma that he just snaps at any bait thrown, so it can no longer be considered sport.

  22. Posted August 10, 2012 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    Religions are actually power collection and retention ideologies so of course, the power structure is going to pay them — for votes and support.

    Magical thinking has always been the best power tool, because there is zero empirical basis so any lie that triggers a strong emotional response can be used.

    All religious texts are just the earliest written examples of advertising and marketing by power seekers and holders.

    The Jewish bible is great example of this as early power factions made up stories to capture and keep power.

    Republicans and evangelicals are the same.

    • Posted August 10, 2012 at 10:33 am | Permalink

      So, despite studies crossing evolution with psychology and history, you’re going to claim Jews started this whole bad mess. Yeah. Right.

      • pulseteresa
        Posted August 10, 2012 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

        He said the Jewish bible is an example of what he’s speaking about. He never blamed Jews for government/religious entanglement. The Israelites were only one of many many cultures in human history to make government and religion the same thing.

        • Posted August 11, 2012 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

          If he’d said “Old Testament”, I’d have said nothing. “Jewish bible” falls into the category of code words used by anti-semites.

  23. Posted August 10, 2012 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    Christianity is so persecuted in the United States.

    • Posted August 10, 2012 at 10:34 am | Permalink

      Other Christians would argue that with you. Look up CCC Impact.

  24. RFW
    Posted August 10, 2012 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    To speak very generally:

    Politicians love exemptions from taxation because the subsidies implicit in them are off the books. The alternative, to require taxes be paid and then offset them with explicit grants presents the nasty problem that it’s all visible.

    Here in BC, farm land gets highly preferential treatment by the property tax system. Ca. 20 years ago I was involved in estimating just what the cash value of the hidden subsidies was. It turned out to be in the billions. When the figures were presented to the BC Federation of Agriculture, even they were taken aback by the amount of money involved.

    As farms, so non-profits, charities, churches, etc. And everywhere, not just in this province at the back of the beyond.

  25. Posted August 10, 2012 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    If faith based groups want the ability to opt out of paying for birth control, I want the option opt out of paying taxes for services that go to benefiting these organizations (police protection and firefighting).

  26. FastLane
    Posted August 10, 2012 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    A couple of minor quibbles as presented here:
    Some counties/cities actually charge property tax (it’s not a federal tax that I’m aware of). The number is pretty small, and I’ve never done the exhaustive research it would take to figure county by county, but there are some. So at least, in some places, the locals are only subsidizing the police/fire protection by a small amount. From what I understand, though, even in those areas, the churches get lowered rates.

    The abuse of ministerial exemptions extends to things like daily maid service, limosines, and other extraneous ‘expenses’. A little googling of ministerial exemptions can net quite a list of things that don’t show up on anyone else’s tax returns as being deductible….

    • Jeff D
      Posted August 11, 2012 at 12:33 am | Permalink

      It’s true that because property taxes are levied and collected under state law, there is considerable variation in which real and personal property of churches and other non-profit organizations are exempt from property taxes. However, under most property tax laws, the buildings and contents that constitute “places of worship” (and in most cases parsonages) are exempt from property taxes.

  27. darrelle
    Posted August 10, 2012 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    Though there are exceptions, there is always variation, a typical church in the US is not a non profit organization. Going into the church business is a favorite for free loaders, con artists, carnies, authoritarian wannabes and others who value easy money but are not too troubled over scruples. They can make a good living and be held in the highest respect by their flock. All without the burden of actually needing to make a useful contribution to their society, or being particularly respectable.

    It is hypocrisy on a Brobdingnagian scale that the people that so vigorously pursue, and defend, subsidies of all types for religious organizations also scream bloody murder – or worse, socialism – at the slightest hint of legislation designed to help the general population directly. Like universal health care, for example.

    • teacupoftheapocalypse
      Posted August 11, 2012 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

      Time for a song, I think:

  28. Posted August 10, 2012 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    Government never does anything best or directly
    so why promote it over Christian values America would not exist if it wasn’t for Christian principles

    • teacupoftheapocalypse
      Posted August 10, 2012 at 10:00 am | Permalink

      Careful now, you have just walked into a minefield.

    • Gary W
      Posted August 10, 2012 at 10:17 am | Permalink

      Government never does anything best or directly

      So you favor eliminating the Department of Defense and the criminal justice system and funding the national defense and the maintenance of law and order through voluntary donations, do you?

      • Posted August 11, 2012 at 6:58 am | Permalink

        look at Holder he aint worth a —–
        pulling funding from military at the risk of safety to our forces. sending mix messages to terrorist. DONE WELL???????

        • Posted August 11, 2012 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

          I believe this is what’s known as “trolls hijacking the discussion.” Pardon me if anyone pointed that out, already.

          • Posted August 12, 2012 at 8:07 am | Permalink

            As a troll under the bridge, I can see your bridge is crumbling. Maybe Billy Goat Gruff u should take a closer look. Than u can get involved in creating another one of your fairy tales.

    • Posted August 10, 2012 at 10:22 am | Permalink

      Human values are human, not Christian. Human societies exist because humans exist. People like you with their agenda, so visible, so transparent, so clueless, is the reason why Christianity is losing customers daily.

    • blitz442
      Posted August 10, 2012 at 11:04 am | Permalink

      How Christian is the concept of representative democracy and individual liberty?

      If you read the Federalist Papers, the Declaration of Independence, or the Constitution itself, you are reading the products of that rational, skeptical, anti-revealed truth movement known as the Enlightenment.

      And if the Constitution was based on Jesus, one would think that the document would actually mention Jesus.

    • darrelle
      Posted August 10, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

      It always amazes me how people like you just don’t seem to care about being intentionally misled about such important things, by others for their benefit, and to your detriment.

      You have been conditioned to deny large aspects of reality, including little things like the fact that your god does not exist and that there is no evidence that any god like being does. Not to mention the actual history of the US (or the world for that matter) which your religious leaders are continually striving to revise in an effort to instigate feelings of righteousness, superiority and persecution in people like you, the pawns they use to grow their personal power and wealth.

      Wake up. You have no idea how ridiculous your arguments sound in a rational crowd like this. If you did you would be ashamed for having allowed yourself to be duped so badly.

      • Posted August 11, 2012 at 7:03 am | Permalink

        You can leave America and should . If u live here if not stay out

        • darrelle
          Posted August 11, 2012 at 10:14 am | Permalink

          Is that the best you’ve got? Truly pathetic.

          You and your kind are the reason the US is headed toward banana republic status. You are willfully ignorant and proud of it.

          How’s that working out for ya lately? They say ignorance is bliss, but that really depends on ones vantage point. From the vantage point of decent people in the US and around the world your type looks pathetic, not blissful, and the raw data unambiguously backs it up. In short you and your kind are dragging us down, cramping our style.

          What is really pathetic is that you are working against your own best interests even though you have been smacked in the face with directly detrimental results nearly every single time that your masters have been able to enact their policies. It’s like the old joke, “please master, may I have another!” Wake up!

          • Posted August 12, 2012 at 7:39 am | Permalink

            Thanks for your extended babel.. Building towers lately? in essence you and your ignants are responsible for the bananas here.
            The master says go back to your plantation in your republic and play with your bananas there.

        • Posted August 11, 2012 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

          @Paulthehumble, you and your bully-style behavior and trolling are not welcome here. Please leave, if you haven’t already.

  29. Bruce Cochrane
    Posted August 10, 2012 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    The focus should not be on whether or not churches deserve nonprofit status, but rather whether the constitutionally protected “freedom of religion” entitles them to tax exemptions and preferences. If so, then what about newspapers (“freedom of the press”)? Or, for any fans of the second amendment (which I am not) gun dealers?

    • Posted August 10, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

      Good points, all.

    • darrelle
      Posted August 10, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

      Interesting point of view, but it seems to be more or less the same thing. But, hey, subtle differences are sometimes very relevant to outcome.

    • DV
      Posted August 10, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

      Beside the point. The tax code gives exemption based on not-for-profit status, not based on constitutional freedom guarantee.

      • FastLane
        Posted August 10, 2012 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

        DV, this isn’t true for churches (at least not how the current tax code is set up). A church gets NP status specifically because it’s a church. In theory, the only restriction that it comes with is that the church/pastor is not allowed to campaign for a specific political candidate. They are entirely within their rights to speak out on issues, but even this broad leeway is often broken by churches who advocate specific parties and politicians.

        And if you want to talk about something the IRS really tends to ignore, that’s one of them.

        I’ve worked (been on the board of directors) of a 501(c)(3) organization, and we worked closely with another that also had a sister organization setup as a 501(c)(4) (similar to a PAC), and they had to be meticulous about where each penny went and who made political statements and what organization they were speaking for.

        Again, I re-iterate that I would be totally ok with churches having all these abilities, if they also had the same restrictions.

        • DV
          Posted August 10, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

          Yes, that’s my point, as I also posted in a new thread below. My point is that constitutional freedom of religion is not the basis for this exemption, so the original poster’s argument is beside the point.

          • Jeff D
            Posted August 11, 2012 at 12:40 am | Permalink

            Churches have advantages, under the tax law, that other 501(c)(3) organizations do not. 501(c)(3) organizations other than churches have to file a formal and detailed application (Form 1023) in order to get IRS recognition for their tax-exempt status and to receive tax-deductible donations. 501(c)(4) advocacy and social welfare organizations file Form 1024. “Churches” need not file any exemption application at all. Unless the “church” label is abused (and only the small-time grifter operations seem to get noticed and hammered by the IRS), a “church” never has to file a formal application for exempt status. Secondly, 501(c)(3) organizations that are NOT churches must file annual “information” returns on IRS Form 990 or 990-PF unless their assets and annual revenues are extremely small; these returns are required by law to be accessible to the public. But a “church” is not required to file a Form 990 return of any kind (although some do voluntarily file), no matter how large its revenues are.

      • pulseteresa
        Posted August 10, 2012 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

        On the contrary, according to a comment upthread, the 1st amendment was used as justification for not taxing churches. To quote that comment (JonLynnHarvey @16):

        “In the 1970 case of Walz vs. the Tax Commission the courts ruled that “if churches were taxed, the government would then be “excessively entangled” with religious institutions. Through the tax codes, the government would necessarily establish some type of economic regulation of religion, and this kind of control would inhibit the free exercise rights guaranteed by the 1st Amendment.””

        • Gary W
          Posted August 10, 2012 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

          I just looked at the ruling in Walz v. Tax Commission and I don’t see where it states that “if churches were taxed, the government would then be ‘excessively entangled’ with religious institutions.” Nor does it say that taxing churches would necessarily violate the Free Exercise Clause of the 1st Amendment. The opinion charts a middle ground, suggesting that both taxing churches and exempting them from taxes *could* violate the 1st Amendment, and that “the test is inescapably one of degree.”

          • Jeff D
            Posted August 11, 2012 at 12:47 am | Permalink

            Unfortunately, in the wake of the Walz case, no court, and no legislature, has been eager to be the first to argue that taking away the tax-exempt status of a church would NOT violate either the Free Exercise clause or the Establishment Clause. “Luxuries [and subsidies] once sampled become necessities,” and it is no more likely that tax-exempt status for 501(c)(3) organizations of ANY kind will be “taken away” than that the income tax deduction for home mortgage interest or the exclusion of employer-provided health insurance from [taxable] gross income are going to disappear from the Internal Revenue Code.

            • Posted August 11, 2012 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

              And yet ,the 100% tax deduction for interest on student loans was taken away — during the Reagan administration, if I recall correctly. I think a measly 10% was later returned. (Around that same time, federally backed medical school loans were charged 13 3/8% interest, compounded every six month. A decade later, government wondered why more and more medical students aimed for high paid specialities rather than primary care.)

  30. DV
    Posted August 10, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    The guidelines for tax exemption are actually very clear:

    -not for profit
    -specific exempt purpose (includes charity, religious, scientific, educational, literary, testing for public safety, fostering amateur sports, preventing cruelty to children and animals)
    – may not attempt to influence legislation
    – may not campaign for or against political candidates
    – must not be operated for the benefit of private interests
    – earnings may not inure to the benefit of any individual

    We can argue that religious purpose should not be exempt, especially since it is on the gray area on a few of the other rules. For example, while the churches officially may not campaign or lobby, their members do campaign and lobby based on church teachings. Also churches are for the benefits of its adherents and do not provide benefit to believers of other faiths and non-believers, so in this sense it is not for the public interest. And earnings for the most part do inure to the benefit of the head of the church or the pastor of the megachurch.

  31. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted August 10, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    You know what this is, right?

    It is socialism.

    [I note darelle in #27 is touching this too.]

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted August 10, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

      Oops! In reference to this observation:

      To me, that means that nonbelieving taxpayers should not be supporting, however indirectly, religious organizations.

      • grumpy1942
        Posted August 10, 2012 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

        While reading these comments I have been thinking what if atheists were given a tax exemption to offset their taxes spent on providing public services to churches.

        What kind of shit storm would THAT cause?

  32. DrBrydon
    Posted August 10, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    Although I think that churches should not have tax-exempt status, I find the characterization of the exemption as a subsidy to be disingenuous. The money I don’t pay in taxes is not a subsidy.

    • Hempenstein
      Posted August 10, 2012 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

      The extra taxes you pay to offset the taxes they don’t pay is the subsidy.

      • bernardhurley
        Posted August 10, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

        It doesn’t really matter what words you use for these things, unless you are into political propaganda. What matters is the social justice of the situation.

        But to politicians the words matter enormously. Many years ago in the UK, the Heath government, being ideologically opposed to giving subsidies to private industry, instead gave them interest-free permanent loans.

        • pulseteresa
          Posted August 10, 2012 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

          “…interest-free permanent loans.”

          That’s like saying “Officer I didn’t steal that car. I just permanently borrowed it.” or
          “I didn’t murder that man. I retroactively aborted him.”

          BTW, is Heath the same “Mr. Heath” the Beatles laughed at in Taxman?

          • bernardhurley
            Posted August 10, 2012 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

            Yes, it’s the same one.

    • onkelbob
      Posted August 10, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

      Disingenuous? How so? The definition is:

      Not candid or sincere, typically by pretending that one knows less about something than one really does.

      Perhaps inapplicable or incorrect; however, I do not see evidence where one is attempting deceit or is “sandbagging.”

      And churches receive the same amount of public services without making any contribution, so the perception is they are subsidized. For example, down the street from me, a local church received a nice new building, free of charge because the local research institute wanted to build on land adjacent to their property. The institute, a research arm of a prestigious hospital, is a not for profit corporation. The institute pays local taxes, and now pays a much higher rate for their new building while the priory still pays nothing, despite receiving that large windfall. And the new sewer lines, the resurfaced streets, and upgraded public facilities – all were subsidized by the city and taxpayers because the church doesn’t pay taxes and does not contribute to the upkeep. You may disagree with that assertion, however, there is no attempt to deceive or otherwise avoid candid disclosure.

    • Explicit Atheist
      Posted August 11, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

      Places of worship are non-profits and as such they entitled to all of the tax- exemptions generally available to non- profits with the same qualifying restrictions and reporting mandates. The problem is not that “churches” have tax-exemption, the problem is that they have charity exemptions they don’t qualify for because they are not charities, they have parsonage exemptions that no other organizations receive, they are not subject to the same enforcement of tax-exemption qualifying restrictions that other organizations are subject to, and they are exempt from filing tax returns (form 990). All of these are double- standard privileges and arguably it is this priviliging of religious non-profits over all other non-profits that violates the EC.

    • RF
      Posted August 11, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

      I think that you are a bit unclear on what a “subsidy” is. It includes not merely payments to someone, but payments on their behalf, payments that reduce their payments, etc. If a bar gives women drinks for half-price, then the men are subsidizing the women. If Americans pay for movies, but Chinese people buy pirated copies, then Americans are subsidizing the Chinese. If atheists pay taxes, and churches don’t, then atheists are subsidizing religious people.

    • Gary W
      Posted August 11, 2012 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

      Although I think that churches should not have tax-exempt status, I find the characterization of the exemption as a subsidy to be disingenuous. The money I don’t pay in taxes is not a subsidy.

      If you’re receiving goods or services funded by taxes paid by other people but not you, then you’re getting a subsidy. Churches are obviously subsidized in this way. For example, local roads are funded in part by property taxes. Churches get the benefits of local roads, but they do not pay property taxes.

  33. MAUCH
    Posted August 11, 2012 at 6:07 am | Permalink

    There is money For us to make out there. Perhaps atheists should start the Wiseblood-Flannery O’Connor Church of Christ without Christ. Where blind don’t see, the lame can’t walk and the dead stay that way.

  34. Neil Schipper
    Posted August 11, 2012 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    Interesting comment by Douglas E under comment #1:

    every household is offered a letter of substantiation to claim the standard ministerial deduction

    The very fine comment by jpsullivan at #17 is worth reading more than once.

    Consider both of the above in relation to the scorn heaped on de Botton by “the community”.

    One can disagree with and even be contemptuous of his specific suggestions, so this is not to be taken as a defense of de Botton.

    After all, his proposal was a subset of the more general idea that certain people with purported common goals should consider building something.

    The vociferousness with which prominent people shut down that conversation is a “data point” worth reflecting on.

  35. Steve in Oakland
    Posted August 13, 2012 at 2:55 am | Permalink

    Madalyn Murray used to promote the taxation of churches. My father used to receive a magazine called Church & State that would document the big buck subsidies that the churches received. Somehow when politicians bellyache about the economy and what we can do to make it better none of them hit on a great source of revenue: Making the churches pay their fair share.

    • Posted August 13, 2012 at 8:10 am | Permalink

      also equally funny is that they don’t decrease stupid spending..

      • Steve in Oakland
        Posted August 13, 2012 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

        I think I know the identity of the latest troll: http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/08/03/i-get-email-from-people-with-anger-management-issues/

        • teacupoftheapocalypse
          Posted August 14, 2012 at 5:38 am | Permalink

          Actually, it’s this guy:

          http://www.classmates.com/people/PaulPeterson/8719710598

          Didn’t take long to find him.

          • Posted August 14, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

            I’m impressed! How did you do that? I mean, how did you identify him like that? And how do you know it’s really him? Boy, would I like to learn how to do such a thing. Trolls are so irritating!

            • bernardhurley
              Posted August 14, 2012 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

              Well, he did give a link to his web site when he said you were truth-challenged. I think that helps, especially as it has his name on it!

              • Posted August 14, 2012 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

                I must sheepishly admit I missed it. There is zero interest on my part to visit the blog of any troll. I think the visitor count boosts their ego and promote further bad behavior. Good thing someone else did it, then, for all the rest of us unwilling! That’s one visit vs. who knows how many, right?

            • teacupoftheapocalypse
              Posted August 14, 2012 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

              Well, the clues are in his blog and it’s fairly obviously him because (a) I doubt that he’s bright enough to leave a red herring and (b) you’ll notice that on the page that I provided a link to, he references his blog.

              There are other pictures of him with just a moustache.

              He has one daughter and two grandsons. He is a former salesman of office supplies and pizza (among other things) and also used to be a Chicago school teacher.

              In retirement, he likes to collect things like lapel pins (probably mostly from Repugnant Party conventions).

              He hates CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC as they are all “pushing a left-wing agenda”. Seems to like Fox and Rupert Murdoch.

              He thinks of himself as an exponent of Fine Art, but if you visit his blog, you’ll see that he is as misguided about that as he is about the carbon cycle, evolution and the quotes of Thomas Jefferson.

              He also likes to post some pretty awful religious claptrap on YouTube.

              I have his address and shoe size, but this is not the place to publish them.

              None of the above was difficult to find if you have a huge ego like Mr Peterson and, thus, leave a huge digital footprint.

              • Posted August 14, 2012 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

                Sounds like he drank the Kool-aid and jumped right on the bandwagon. I almost feel sorry for the poor sap. Only almost, though.

  36. Batty007
    Posted February 9, 2013 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

    Are there any legislative efforts afoot to correct this? If not, there needs to be, and soon. As religion becomes increasingly irrelevant the sacrifices the bulk of us make for their existence become onerous. This is a fight worth picking right now.


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