Ending Tax Loopholes for Millionaire Ministers March 10, 2011

Ending Tax Loopholes for Millionaire Ministers

Sean Faircloth of the Secular Coalition for America wants church leaders to be treated just like the rest of us:

Right now, church leaders receive all sorts of special privileges because of current tax loopholes. To fix that problem, Sean offers Congress three suggestions:

1) Eliminate the tax loophole for clergy
2) Subject churches to an IRS audit
3) Churches should file tax returns

It all makes sense. But you won’t hear Christian leader clamoring for fairness when it comes to this issue. Many of them have gotten rich precisely because church income doesn’t get taxed.

Who needs social justice when you’re getting rich off of Jesus?

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • CanadianNihilist

    I would love to see these asshats get taxed the proper amount. They would still make ridiculous amounts of money but at least the country would have a little more cash for infrastructure.

  • Joy

    This is definitely a complicated issue. Maybe certain charitable parts of churches could be written off (my mother’s church, for example, also runs a community food bank), but churches shouldn’t be exempt from taxes just because they are religious organizations. Especially megachurches that have gyms and coffeehouses that should definitely not be tax-exempt.

  • Ron in Houston

    This guys suggestions are gross oversimplifications of a complicated tax code. Churches are 501(c) non-profits. Ministers are taxed on their income like everyone else, but they enjoy certain special tax status since historically churches previously would have housing for their ministers.

    Some ministers definitely blur the line and abuse the tax exempt status of the organizations that employ them. However, most ministers of mainstream protestant denominations pay taxes much like the rest of us.

  • Ian

    There’s also the added issue that the same Constitutional amendment that keeps religion out of government is supposed to keep government out of religion (secularism’s double-edged sword). This means they could sue that the government has no right to tax or audit them (of course this is void when they get political).

  • Anonymous

    Frank Zappa agrees! Tax the church!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wLVUHknb-Is

  • Most ministers pay significantly LESS income tax than non-clergy workers. The housing allowance is a huge tax break that allows many ministers to pay no income tax. Ministers can also opt out of social security. Ministers can also incorporate and contract with the church rather than being an employee. As it is ministers are dual status workers, self employed for social security purposes and a church employee for income tax purposes.

    Bruce

  • Lost In The Bible Belt

    I agree w/some sort of tax on religious organizations but the bigger concern for all Americans regardless of faith or lack of is the indecent state of big business tax loop holes.

  • Rest

    Some groups should have their tax exempt status withdrawn for making spurious claims. I think that money grabbing faith healers like Benny Hinn, Peter Popoff and their ilk, who take advantage of vulnerable people, shouldn’t be allowed to make miraculous claims on their infomercials without proof. They should lose their tax exempt status and be fined for deceiving the consumer.

  • Defiantnonbeliever

    Religion is a con game, most selling fraudulent ‘goods’, they should go to jail for their scams. Short of jail, they should be considered entertainment businesses. If they choose to contribute to worthy causes, food kitchens and such of non religious nature that’s fine and should be separate and entirely secular to not violate discrimination laws. Any complication is the result of unconstitutional privileges, it seems to me.

  • Dan W

    I agree, they should be taxed. The only parts the shouldn’t be taxed is the money churches get that actually goes to charitable purposes. They can afford to pay taxes on the rest.

  • PJB863

    They should also look at the role some of the “ministers’ are also performing within the churches, especially megachurches. I know of one relative who was ordained, whose job was basically as an administrative assistant during the week, and showing congregation members to their seats during services, yet she got tax breaks. The most outrageous of which was a “parsonage stipend” which was a tax exempt housing allowance, even though she lived 30 miles from the church. I’m not sure if she had to pay property taxes.

    I also know of another church, whose membership is greatly reduced since its glory days, that owns several properties, which are currently rented out as income property. Do they pay taxes on them? Also, at least here in Illinois, many if not all municipalities do not bill churches for services like water, trash pickup, etc. Guess who picks up the slack? The taxpayers!

  • Erp

    I should point out that there are three issues here.

    1. Should church employees have special tax breaks? Note this goes two ways, quite a few low level church employees have discovered, after their recent layoffs, that the law exempted their former employers from having to pay unemployment tax (the church could have chosen to do so but didn’t [some do participate]) and so they aren’t eligible for unemployment benefits.

    2. Should the churches have to reveal the same information as other non-profits as regards to income, expenditure, and top paid employees? Reputable churches do have their books at least as open as reputable non-profits but some don’t even tell their own members how the money is spent or how much there is (unless they end up bankrupt).

    3. Should the churches have to pay taxes? And if so what sorts.

  • This is similar to my Tax the Churches protest project last month. With signs in hand, I and a few other separation-minded Texans picketed the Texas State Legislature while they met at the Texas State Capitol Building in Austin. They were working hard cutting education all across the state.

    Our message was clear and friendly, and we got a lot of positive responses. It wasn’t such a wild idea afterall. :o)

  • Jane Smith

    If you want a truly scandalous example of accumulating wealth under false religious pretences, you can do no better than the so-called Missionaries of Charity.

    Over the years, their late founder (Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu) was given huge sums of money specifically for poor relief. This money has never been audited and now sits in various unknown bank accounts in Rome.

    What it’s used for is a complete mystery, because the houses run by this organisation have little or no facilities, and those unfortunates who end up there are simply left to rot on stretchers or cots.

    At least some of these super-wealthy US pastors do have to go to the trouble of drumming up business, as it were (and the Secular Coalition is quite right – it is a business, and it should be taxed as such).

  • I’d prefer to see fewer taxes for everyone. In order to have a fair tax system that matches the religious organisations exemption anyone who runs any kind of club should be able to avoid taxation entirely.

  • PJB863

    Jane Smith: Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, a.k.a. Mother Theresa of Calcutta is either in the process or has been already declared a saint by the church. Yet there’s been no check on the financial dealings of her order? Good catch!

  • Freemage

    hoverfrog: All that does is push the tax liability onto others who still don’t qualify for the exemption. In general, the best tax schemes are those in which the entire population pays, capped by what they can reasonably be expected to manage. Adding more exempt groups just worsens the unfairness for others.

  • Freemage

    All that does is push the tax liability onto others who still don’t qualify for the exemption. Adding more exempt groups just worsens the unfairness for others.

    Sorry. Sarcasm doesn’t come across well. If everyone who formed a club escaped paying taxes like churches do then, of course, everyone would start a club. Nobody likes paying taxes.

  • Pseudonym

    The reason why you won’t hear Christian leaders in favour of it is that anyone who is in favour of it isn’t rich enough to have a media outlet at its disposal.

    Having said that, there is a downside: Poorly-paid clergy will have their workload slightly increased as they have to deal with the tax man. It’s only a tiny downside (after all, clergy in most countries deal with it just fine), but a downside nonetheless.