Church must pay fair share

by Kenneth Leonard

Taxation is a hot-button issue during every election season. As the politicians play their roles in the grand, stupid electoral process, there are actual ways for the government to generate revenue without increasing taxes on Americans like you and me. One painfully obvious way to create some much-needed tax income at both the state and federal levels is to begin taxing churches.

There is simply no good reason why churches should continue to benefit from tax exempt status. The tax exemptions enjoyed by churches are not only unreasonable but are detrimental to society as a whole. Average American taxpayers can use all the help they can get, and the tax exemptions given to churches, mosques and synagogues enhance the taxpayers’ financial burden. While the 99 percent complain the wealthy don’t pay enough in taxes, the religious organizations enjoying the most lucrative tax breaks of all are flying under the public radar. At least the extremely wealthy contribute a percent of their wealth to the collective pot.

Churches consume government resources while paying virtually nothing back into the system and it is costing taxpayers billions of dollars. Beyond the fiscal reasons for churches to pay taxes, there is a huge problem with the Internal Revenue Service granting tax exempt status to a religious organization.

The Bill of Rights opens with the words: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Commonly referred to as the Establishment Clause, these words are the blueprint for American policy regarding separation of church and state. Granting tax exemptions to churches is an egregious violation of the Establishment Clause and it needs to stop.

Why should it stop, you ask? Well, dear reader, allow me to pose a question. Who determines what is or is not a church? For tax-related purposes, the IRS determines who gets to be a church and who does not get the preferred tax status. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say this is a flagrant example of our government respecting certain establishments of religion, considering the government maintains the right to declare certain religious institutions as more valid than others. At the risk of redundancy, allow me to make this point clear: The federal government is currently in the business of determining the legitimacy of establishments of religion.

This aberrant and flagrant violation of the Establishment Clause means the separation of church and state is a myth. Current policies on tax exemption for churches place the government in the position of endorsing or sanctioning certain religions Furthermore, the churches, mosques and synagogues that receive millions of dollars of subsidized relief in the form of tax exemption do so at the expense of American citizens.

Churches should be able to qualify for tax exemptions in the same way other nonprofit organizations are required to. Nonprofits must keep their books open to audits.

They must be able to demonstrate a purpose pertaining to the public good and cannot be organized around the profits of a private individual. The exemption requirements for a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization should be easy for any refutable ministry to abide by and in doing so they maintain their tax-exempt status.

No reasonable argument exists in defense of tax breaks for churches. Churches provide services to their communities, one may argue. I would counter by saying teachers, police officers, firefighters and a whole slew of public workers provide essential services to their communities. Do they get tax exemptions? Of course not. Why should clergy members, whose contributions to their communities are often defined by the subjective, intangible experiences of their congregations, benefit in a way other public servants do not?

The services rendered by many churches certainly do not justify the exorbitant tax relief they receive. The bottom line is this: Tax exemption is not an entitlement. No organization – or private citizen – possesses an inherent right to tax exemptions. It is a privilege and it must be earned. Countless charlatans, masquerading as religious leaders, have taken advantage of tax exemptions to amass great wealth at the expense of their fellow man. It’s time to close the tax loopholes so that those who sincerely wish to serve their communities may continue to enjoy tax exemptions as a fruit of their labor and the delinquent opportunists scamming the American public under the guise of religion can finally start paying their fair share on the profits of a deceitful enterprise.