Reader Chas wants to get your ideas about a way to tax churches:
I had an employee several years ago who belonged to a pretty liberal church. Somehow the topic came up that their church building needed some work and in debating their budget the church elders compromised and decided they would do the work only if they also raised and spent an equal amount on charitable works. That always seemed to me a pretty responsible ideal.
It made me think… tax-exempt status for churches does have the effect of subsidizing them. They also get the benefits of things like police and fire protection without contributing towards it. Rather than eliminating it entirely, what if we limited the tax-exempt status to churches who are willing to open their books to show that a certain minimum percentage of their income goes to real charity work?
My first thought was I liked the idea, but I think it’s impossible to implement. Churches already flaunt their tax-exempt status by endorsing political candidates and nothing happens. Where’s the IRS in those cases? Adding the additional burden of getting auditors to look at churches’ books to verify everything is asking too much. And we can’t trust the church to handle the bookkeeping correctly.
Not to mention: Which charities would be acceptable to give to? Only Christian-based ones?
I’m not the expert in these matters, though. Can someone shed more light on this particular idea? What are the biggest problems (and are there any ways to get over them)?
If — and it’s a big if — churches were forced to pay taxes, is there any compromise to get out of it that would be good enough for you?