The Yearly Cost of Religious Tax Exemptions: $71,000,000,000 June 16, 2012

The Yearly Cost of Religious Tax Exemptions: $71,000,000,000

We know churches get tax exemptions, but how much money does that actually come out to?

University of Tampa professor Ryan T. Cragun along with students Stephanie Yeager and Desmond Vega ran some calculations and figured out a number:

While some people may be bothered by the fact that there are pastors who live in multimillion dollar homes, this is old news to most. But here is what should bother you about these expensive homes: You are helping to pay for them! You pay for them indirectly, the same way local, state, and federal governments in the United States subsidize religion — to the tune of about $71 billion every year.

So… chump change.

Their article (with a defense of how they calculated the amount) appears in the June/July 2012 issue of Free Inquiry.

“The issue of religious tax preferment is especially relevant now because the number of Americans living outside any religious tradition continues to grow,” said Tom Flynn, Free Inquiry’s editor. “That underscores the unfairness of taxing all Americans to subsidize religious institutions that only some Americans utilize.”

The researchers already know what they’ll get criticized for:

… before we get into our calculations, we think it best to address a criticism that is likely to be raised about this article. By suggesting that these groups should pay taxes, we are likely to be criticized by those who think that religions are largely charitable institutions engaged in beneficial service or charitable work and should therefore be exempt from taxes.

Cue reporter Kimberly Winston‘s article in which she interviews a critic of this finding:

… Mark Rienzi, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said that Americans have made a democratic decision that religious institutions are good for our communities — believers and atheists alike.

“Whether it is the Quakers opposing slavery, Reverend King arguing for equality, or a Catholic soup kitchen feeding and sheltering all in need,” Rienzi said, “our history is full of examples confirming the great public benefit of our religious diversity.”

Right… because church leaders never use the pulpit to oppose civil rights for gay Americans, or speak out against affordable/accessible health-care for women, or use the extra money to buy themselves a larger house because Jesus wants them to be prosperous…

The researchers also ran a few other calculations:

States bypass an estimated $26.2 billion per year by not requiring religious institutions to pay property taxes.

Capital gains tax exemptions for religious institutions may be as much as $41 million a year.

U.S. clergy may claim as much as $1.2 billion in tax exemptions annually via the parsonage allowance.

Given the current political scene, none of this is going to change anytime soon. Religious groups have far too much power in Washington and they’re not about to ask the government to remove their special privileges. But we can keep the pressure on.

Even if these calculations are proven to be off, the principle isn’t going to change: Religion is a business, churches get tax breaks they don’t really deserve, and we’d all be better off if they paid their fair share.

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Alexander Unwyn Cherry

    Although I mostly agree with this article, I take umbrage with almost any article that tries to use statements like this: “…
     that only some Americans utilize.” Only SOME Americans use Social Security Disability, but I’m very glad it was there for me.  Also only SOME Americans use libraries, and only SOME Americans use the public school system… They should take another tactic.

  • This is unreal. I knew it was bad, but… wow. I had no idea it was like that. I live in Tulsa where there’s a church on almost every corner, and many of them on the South side of town reside on huge properties. I can’t begin to imagine, with our city struggling with debt, what a difference it would make for these property owners to pay their fair share.

  • kaydenpat

    Not only are churches exempt from paying taxes on tithes/offerings, additionally, some churches get money from the Federal government directly (vouchers for church schools, grants under the Faith Based Initiative).

  • DG

    I’m all for taxing churches.  Pull out the stops and treat them like anything else.  That way, the door will swing both ways and then churches will have free access like any other institution to all things in our country.  Fair call.

  • Atheistbob

    17 billion dollars in tax exclusions in broward county, fl.. ALONE.  Multiply by 50 state w/that size county and it comes to well over 71 billion… add the federal tax exemptions and my figure jumps to well over 150 billion dollars per year…. imagine what we could do for health care, for science, for education with that money?
    What a travesty.

  • I was just talking with Justin Vacula about this the other day. Its very sad, the revenue that could be generated from taxation of at the very least the mega churches would benefit the country at large much more than the work being done in them. 

  • Declevidence

    1.  do the religious institutions have to file as non profit organizations, or are they simply non-taxed by claiming religion?  I think they do not have the same regulation as non-profits.
    2.  many churches own/operate other businesses within their tax free shell– which gives them an unfair market advantage
    3.  since they also accept tax dollars, they should have to play by the rules– nondiscrimination acts, e.g.; 
    4.  and in the case of health care, since they take tax dollars, they are open to public or fulfill a public role, and contract for services outside their religious sect, they have relinquished their ‘right’ to force their religion on their secular clientele (e.g. reproductive choices, end of life care choices)
    5.  one way to force this issue is for everyone to declare themselves a minister or religious leader and form their own ‘church’ and declare themselves tax-exempt.  You can be a certified minister on-line (and as far as I know the government does not regulate who is a minister)– so lets all take advantage of the loophole and nobody pay taxes and see what happens.

  • Hey guys, I just exchanged emails with Hemant on the question of whether or not the “But churches are charitable organizations…” holds water. I have this link here that quotes some figures that certainly calls into question whether churches even are charitable organizations. He’s not able to update the post right now so he’s asked me to post it here in the comments.

    Just quickly,  when comparing organizations that exist explicitly as charitable organizations, 80 to 100% of revenue generated goes to activities that are what we would recognize as charitable. When looking at churches, that might be as low as 2%. And then there’s the $34 billion dollars in financial fraud projected to be committed by religious leaders.

    So, you may not even have to argue with the person that says “churches are charitable organizations, therefore…” by saying “it doesn’t matter, they’re still churches.” You can point out that they don’t seem to do much charity at all.

  • Previously you’ve said something about the right get into the political campaign.  And I don’t think I’d have a problem with that.  Mostly, I don’t think it would make a difference, since I doubt if many congregants doubt who their cleric wants them to vote for anyway.  Although it would probably ad a lot more mud-slinging TV ads to the campaign.

    But ‘all things’- That I’m not sure.  Just paying taxes doesn’t give you the right to ‘all things’.  How about the Catholic church sponsoring a school gym and of course decorating it?  And I don’t like that Coke can essentially do the same thing.

  • Matt Smith

    I… wow.
    To put this in perspective, it’s over four times the budget for NASA in 2008.

  • Sulac

    This is proof that religion is the biggest industry in the world. Can you imagine if religions tax free status is removed worldwide? There would be no such thing as an economic crisis. Makes you wonder what they really do with the money given to them but considering that poor countries are still really poor despite billions going into charities every year is a bit suspicious. 

  • jagadishchandar

    2011 budget of NASA ~$18 billion.

  • Joseph Auclair

    Couldn’t agree more, either with you or with Madison. Or Hitchens. Or Mencken. Or so many others.

  • F1nn3as

    It is well past time to start taxing religious corporations. It is past time to start taxing all corporations effectively. 

  • Joseph Auclair

    Oh, before I forget.

    Up to now the idea has been to not tax them on condition they stay out of politics.

    It was a kind of bribe to get them to shut up.

    They aren’t doing it as honestly as they should but they still feel constrained and want us to give them the tax breaks without the muzzle.

    I say, tax them AND muzzle them.

    And let them choke on their rage.

  • Stev84

    The problem with the charity thing is that churches are just assumed to be charities by default. If a church is actually run as a charity, I have no problem giving them the same status as other charitable organizations. But with the same conditions and obligations. That means having to file financial documents proving their status. Churches do not have to do that! They just get tax exempt status while their books are secret.

  • Reginald Selkirk

     Solution: let’s send churches into space.

  • newavocation

    They are more like country clubs with people waiting in the club house before going to that great fairway in the sky with Jesus as their caddy.

  • TheAnalogKid

    Religion; what a fucking racket.

  • ragarth

    I seem to remember an argument someone made to me about taxing churches, that most run on shoestring budgets and therefore would go belly up if taxed. I personally am not against this since churches that do valuable work could file as non-profits and those that don’t are social black holes, but it does mean that, if true, a good chunk of that 71 billion dollar figure would go poof within a couple years if the tax exemption for churches were lifted.

    Anyone have any thoughts on this?

  • Barbfox63

    I think the actual CHURCH should be tax-exempt. But all other property including parsonage should be taxable. Many churches own vast amounts of real property.

  • CoboWowbo

    I agree that churches should be taxed, but with substantial exemptions & deductions for actual charity work done. 

  • LutherW

     And don’t give them an exemption for shipping money overseas for missionary work, or anything else.

  • HighPriestOfThePainfulTruth

    Tax Exemptions are not a cost.  It’s unrealized income.  The Earned Income Tax Credit is an actual cost and is Socialistic by nature.

  • DG

    I’m not sure how big it would be, but it would be more difficult to justify keeping churches out of public domains if they were compelled to pay taxes.  Sure, there could possibly be some limits, even limits that could be justified if they were applied to others.  But it would make it more difficult to limit them, especially if limits were applied to nobody else.

    FWIW it’s worth noting that congregations don’t always vote the way their leaders do.  I remember in Florida, my nephew was on a soccer team, and one of the coaches was a Southern Baptist pastor.  Nice guy, fun.  Former hippie atheist turned conservative Christian.  In 1992, he gave a sermon railing against Bill Clinton.  The next week, he was made to apologize for giving a sermon against Bill Clinton as he found out that a sizeable portion of his church had every intention of supporting Bill Clinton (and I guess some others who didn’t still thought he should keep it to himself).  I’ve never forgotten that, as it reminds me that the broad brushstrokes with which our popular culture paints things are not always accurate.

  • HighPriestOfThePainfulTruth

    Here’s the COST:

    EITC is One of the Largest Antipoverty Programs
    Last year, over 26.8 million received almost $59.5 billion in EITC for 2010 tax year returns1. Four of five people eligible for the credit claim it. EITC lifted an estimated 6.6 million people out of poverty, including 3.3 million or half of them children The cost of administering the EITC program ratio to claims paid is less than one percent.
    1Source: Report NR. 701-98-11 As of December 31, 2011, Year to Date

  • HighPriestOfThePainfulTruth

    Is the 71 Billion what was “donated” or what the tax on the “donation” would have been.

    Should we start to tax all “donations?”

    Here’s a solutions:  With this, everyone who makes a purchase, pays sales tax.  Families would receive a quarterly rebate depending on the size of the family so low income families would still pay less to no taxes.

  • HighPriestOfThePainfulTruth

    Now that’s an actual cost!

  • ortcutt

    I would be happy enough if churches were treated the same as other non-profits.   Instead they are given certain special privileges like the parsonage allowance and complete exemption from any of the reporting requirements like filing Form 990s. 

  • ortcutt

    Re: #2

    Churches are still obligated to pay UBIT (Unrelated Business Income Tax) if they are operating an unrelated business.  Of course, since they don’t need to do any reporting (#1), they can more easily avoid paying those taxes.  Nonetheless, they are still subject to them.

    Re: #5

    People tried this in the 70s with so-called “House Churches” where people claimed that their households were churches.  This forced the IRS to develop complicated standards for what is a bona fide church. 

  • anon101

    One should stop that
    whining about the tax exempt status of churches. Even if there was no
    special exemption for churches they would still claim and be granted
    the social and / or educational exemption that organizations like the
    AA or the FFRF receive. So if you want to get rid of the tax free
    status of social and educational organizations – fine, but be
    honest about it.

  • ortcutt

    Some tax-exempt organizations, like 501(c)4s, are allowed to electioneer.  All 501(c)3s, whether they are churches, scientific organizations, private universities, food banks, animal shelters, etc… aren’t allowed to electioneer because donations to those organizations are tax-deductible.  We don’t want the government subsidizing people’s campaign donations.   There is nothing stopping a church from sending a letter to the IRS disclaiming 501(c)3 status if they want to get involved in electoral politics.

  • Coyotenose

     “…it would be more difficult to justify keeping churches out of public domains if they were compelled to pay taxes.”

    It wouldn’t. Separation is well established and has a basis that has nothing to do with taxation. The tax-exempt issue was a compromise to try to protect churches from de facto government influence (among other things). The thing is, it doesn’t work unless people act in good faith, and I doubt any law passed with “good faith” in mind has turned out that way. See the Social Security Act and the Patriot Act.

  • ortcutt

    The IRS uses the term “exempt purpose” not “charitable purpose”.  Charitable purpose is one one of the categories of exempt purposes.  The exempt purposes are “charitable, religious, educational, scientific, literary, testing for
    public safety, fostering national or international amateur sports
    competition, and preventing cruelty to children or animals.”,,id=175418,00.html

  • ortcutt

    Fine.  Let them try to organize under the other exempt purposes and make them file 990s.  I’d love to see Benny Hinn explain what educational benefit he provides.  I’d also love to see him open his books to the IRS and the public and explain how he isn’t getting private inurement out of his church. 

  • This article is ridiculously biased. 

    To put this in real perspective, think of all the services that churches provide for society. For example, how many students does the church educate at no cost to the state? Think about all of the savings the government actually gets from churches. What about all of the service work churches do too? 

  • DG

    That’s always a possibility of course.  People may not act in good faith with any law.   And you are right, the tax exemptions themselves were part of keeping the twain from meeting.  However, to eliminate that boon for churches, allowing the government to come in and tax away, while then using the other arm to hold churches at bay, would seem to break down the consistency behind the treatment.  Right now, it’s fair to say Church here, government there, and that’s that.  But build a bridge one direction, it will be difficult to keep things only going in one direction.   But as you point, there would also be quite a few variables to consider on both sides of the debate for anything like that to come close to working for everyone’s benefit.

  • Stev84

    Not all of those services are entirely paid for by the churches. There are tons of examples where churches are merely contractors who get paid to provide a service. And often with horrendous results due them injecting their beliefs in places where it doesn’t belong.

  • unclemike

    If a church can’t survive without federal and state largesse, perhaps god didn’t want it around in the first place.

  • agh

    1)  Church education == childhood indoctrination.
    2) The “savings” come at the cost of an increasingly religiously radicalized population.

  •  Did you actually read the article, or did you read the title and start ranting?

  • I say tax them. I’m sick to death of subsidizing them and still having them whine about “their” money, and continuously demand special rights no other business/organization would be granted. 

  •  Why?  If I decided to form a club of like-minded people (people who really dig Pink Floyd music, for example), then bought a piece of prime real-estate for us to meet in each week, should our clubhouse be tax exempt?  If not, why should religious people be allowed to soak the taxpayers for their clubhouses, which are often on multimillion dollar pieces of land?

  • To be fair, the full quote should be “religious institutions that only some Americans utilize”. Churches are neither government services nor federal institutions set up for use by the general public. Instead, churches are organizations by people gathered for “fellowship”. They are organizations that perform charitable work as an aside, not as a primary mission. Yet churches don’t just get a discount on their taxes; they are tax-exempt. Americans (and Canadians, here in Canada) subsidize their whole operation, not solely the few functions that benefit the general public.

  • Keulan

    Yes, churches should pay taxes. They can afford it, and they’re not keeping out of politics like they’re supposed to under their 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status anyway.

  • What distinguishes churches from REAL 501(c)3’s is that the religious have laxer Federal reporting standards.    To me, that’s the worst part of the whole rotten deal.

  • Is there a category for INFLICTING cruelty on children?

  • All religious things aside… the distinction between “subsidizing” an organization and “not taxing” an organization should be obvious…

  • As has been noted, it’s hard to see how churches should not have the same tax exemptions as other non profits, outside of a particular animus against churches. Nor are non profits prevented from speaking about issues, like churches The question is one of endorsing candidates. The housing allowance, again folks in the military also receive this, exemption from Social Security, as a pastor I can say that puts a financial burden on me that most folks don’t have (but again, this is not because there is some special church category, it’s that we’re treated as independent contractors), I’m hard pressed to find any thing in tax law that separates churches out from a good number of groups

  • I don’t know how small churches would fair, but I suspect the vast majority of the total tax revenue would come from so called ‘mega churches’.  I know, deep insight there.  Amazon and Wal Mart are driving Mom&Pops out of business.  It might be the same thing.  I’m not saying that’s good but I think the revenue stream would probably remain.  It’s not like people are going to stop buying things or going to church.  They’ll just be buying from Wal Mart or going to Saddleback.

  • though many of the walmarts of churches are in fact conservative, politically and theologically. The small ones tend to be the liberal ones in the first place Secondly it is hard to measure charity. For instance much of the church I work for budget is to keep the lights on And yet that provides space for our only soup kitchen in town, a place for AA, Girl Scouts, and other such groups to meet. We don’t fund such groups (except the soup kitchen in some measure) so on paper there is no direct income being moved to them, it’s just going to the space but the space itself becomes a key part (and the organizational skills, knowledge of church members to pull together such a program)

  • Stev84

    It’s a technicality. The result is about the same. Deliberate tax breaks are a form of subsidies that’s used to support all kinds of businesses.

  • Stev84

    Not all churches are charities. They just claim to be. In fact no one knows if it’s actually true, because their books are secret. They don’t have to publish any financial information. Like actual non-profits, you know. If you say they are the same, then treat them the same. By making them prove they are non-profits in order to be tax exempt.

    Oh, and they constantly laugh and wink and the “no candidates” rule. Every radical pastor endorses candidates indirectly. Some even say things like “I have to be careful, since I’m not supposed to endorses candidates, but…” Everyone in the church knows who they are supposed to vote for. Even if they actually advocate for a candidate directly, it’s not like anyone is ever punished for it. Just does not happen.
    Besides, their political activity against all kinds of things, all throughout the year, is infinitely more damaging.

  • brianmacker

    Of course you are correct. I’m still against all tax exemptions for religious organizations and “non-profits”. I know you were not addressing my second point so don’t take it as a criticism.

    The actual costs are in the government services that are provided to nonprofits. Of course, the solution to that can also be to not provide such services where there is no free rider problem. Unfortunately there is an unavoidable free rider problem in the case of the military. Public roads are an avoidable free rider problem by collecting tolls but there are debatable issues on cost effectiveness of doing so. So it does cost, not the government, but the taxpayer who is the victim of the free rider problem, freeloader resources and services when the non-profits do not pay any taxes.

    I do however really hate when people who haven’t given much thought to these issues call uncollected taxes a cost, so I will agree with that point.

  • brianmacker

    Think of all the services doctors, lawyers, dentists, plumbers, and janitors provide. They are all taxed. Now think of all the governmental services that churches consume yet don’t pay taxes to support. That will put it in perspective. The people who donate to churches are buying a product that the church provides. They value certain things that the rest of us don’t or at levels that are different from the rest of us. Just because someone likes stained glass, vaulted ceilings, and choir music more than I do, but wraps it in the cloaked in religion does not mean they shouldn’t have to pay for governmental services. The same is true if you are running a soup kitchen or teaching girls to sew their vaginas shut.

  • brianmacker

    That was “freeloader resources and services” not “freeloader resources…”

  • brianmacker

    Every tax payer has a job which “lifts them out of poverty” so why should that be a tax exempt activity? They get taxed as the beneficiaries of such, so why shouldn’t others being lifted out of poverty be taxed on the income they receive from such gifts? Half the population doesn’t pay taxes, and should.

  • brianmacker

    There are many for profit activities that have gone belly up because of taxation. If an activity cannot pay for the governmental services it receives then why shouldn’t it go belly up?

  • Luce

    I wonder how much of that actually does go towards charitable work. If it was all or the majority, then sure, keep the taxes off. But clearly that’s very much not the case…….. Remind me, again, why the church and it’s leaders still occupy a position that most of society deems above reproach?

  • HighPriestOfThePainfulTruth

    The professionals you mentioned are NOT, “not for profit” though are they.  That is the difference.

  • Country Crock

    Church is not a non-profit. A charity is usually designated by the IRS as a 501c3 non-profit corporation. A free church is a different category, the category of a “church”. It was that way before the category of 501c3 existed.

  • Country Crock

    Most pastors are employees. Most pastors are not independent contractors.

  • Frieso Pouwer

    I find this hilarious, I’m reading the article and thinking about how my church operates and I look to the banners on the side and top and say to myself,”oh there it is, I’m a Mormon to!”  With an unpaid local clergy and only a small stipend for general authorities who travel, we have that part at least covered.  I feel that tax exemptions are a means of keeping religious organizations happy and at bay.  If I am going to obey the “no respecter of person” commandment I would expect my church to pay their fair sure of taxes according to their increase.  Now if only we could figure a way to get taxes out altogether.

  • HighPriestOfThePainfulTruth

    The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is made to non tax payers as well as in excess to what some pay in taxes. 

    In the early 2000’s, I had a guy working for me who I paid contract labor (no taxes withheld).  I knew I was wrong so I had my CPA do his taxes the following year.  Now remember, no taxes were withheld for 8 months.  Because he was a single dad and only made $18,000 he qualified for the EITC.  Not only did he have his Social Security paid, but he received a check for $1,200. 

    Some call this a “REFUND.”  But I ask, what was refunded?  Don’t you have to spend to be refunded.  That is socialistic by nature and IS a COST and a BURDEN to the taxpayer. 

    How many BILLIONS if not TRILLIONS, has this cost the American tax payers of the years I wonder?

  • HighPriestOfThePainfulTruth

    I’m for reducing taxes paid, but not redistributing wealth (aka Socialism) which is what the EITC does.

  • HighPriestOfThePainfulTruth

    Although certainly the lesser of 2 evils, the Republicans have been in the same boat the Mr Thomas spoke about below.  Scarey isn’t?

    Norman Thomas said this in a 1944 speech:
    “The American people will never knowingly adopt socialism. But, under the name of “liberalism,” they will adopt every fragment of the socialist program, until one day America will be a socialist nation, without knowing how it happened.” He went on to say: “I no longer need to run as a Presidential Candidate for the Socialist Party. The Democratic Party has adopted our platform.”

  • true but under tax law they are

  • which is why I’m a fan of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which seeks to keep church honest on such things, while my own democratic leanings are known in the church, our congregation is mixed and they are not likely to take any orders or hints from me to vote for Obama *heh* congregationalists in general are not keen on such things

  • Judithwmoore

    I would end all “tax-exempt” entities, including foundations and family trust funds. Many if not most only exist for the purpose of avoiding tax. 

  • We already send enough garbage into space.

  • Consider for a moment what it -could- do, now think what they probably -would- do. I smell another war.

  • A pretty limited and flawed argument, in my opinion. Why target churches specifically on this issue? Why not bring up non-profit secularist organizations, such as the Atheist Alliance International who also enjoy tax breaks? Many organizations (including corporations) get tax breaks. Let’s face reality, most people in ministry don’t live in million dollar homes (and even the ones that buy homes do pay taxes). 
     There are also millionaire non-profit CEO’s, why isn’t anyone having issue with that? If you look at the list of the top wage-earning non-profit leaders, non are religious. 

  • Ladiealoha72

     There’s been a lot of flak in the Urban Tulsa Weekly about church property ownership, and  Tulsa zoning laws which have been constructed to give churches a huge advantage over the common property owner – some of them even give outright preference to church land purchases.

  • Rich Goranson

    Just another example Red State Socialism. 

  • Bob Clark

    In Italy, the government recently decided to “tax the Vatican” on all their “holdings that were secular,” and having nothing to do with religious purposes.  We should do that everywhere.  Since most “Churchs” are now pushing their “support systems” onto the taxpayers by utilizing government program money.  They no longer support their “down-and-out” members of the congregations… we do.

  • Suzienne

    If churches were TRULY
    charitable, they would realize how their failure to pay their taxes is
    harmful to them and the surrounding communities; then opt in and choose
    to pay their taxes.

  • Trex2000

    Anyone want to take a stab at the estimated value of all the universities, schools, hospitals, homeless shelters, foster homes, charities, personal counseling, drug addiction recovery programs, disaster relief efforts, clothing drives, soup kitchens, battered women shelters, affordable home construction, medical mission trips, etc that churches run?

  • Michaelb

    I don’t this includes the exemption from property tax

  • Simon, you’re not getting something.   The Atheist Alliance is considered religion.  Scientologists are considered a religion.    God/Christ is not required for these deductions, tax breaks, and subsidies.   There are people worshiping alien gods getting them too.  (Yes you Tom Cruise and your scientology group!)

    Technically, Wiccans could form an organized gathering and get these.  

    Non Profit CEO’s…really?  Do you realize how little (the very few) people who work for non-profits actually get paid?   My friend was the director for Habitat For Humanity… she made $21,000/year doing a job a for profit company would have paid her $80K for.   Skilled workers are even required in non-profit settings.   Especially non-profits that have a lot of legal things that need tended.   AND…non profits actually exist to benefit people.   Churches primarily only benefit their members, and in very limiited ways.  As the main article says, you are paying a preacher for a sermon.  

    There is a huge difference between a tax breaks for corporations (who pay 90% of our tax bill by the way…) than tax free for churches

  • @ortcutt:disqus     the funny thing is, they start those “businesses” with the tax free donated money they got.   It’s a double standard!
    Religions do have to file as a non-profit but they have far fewer regulations and reviews/audits.   Kind of like none.

    If you want to get rich, start a religion.  Anything can count.   The church of tree worship would be legal.   Granted, you’d need idiots to join, believe and donate to get rolling… but look how well it worked for the mormons

  • Well said.

  • Churches also are discriminatory and can deny membership.   This is where I have an issue.   If you are tax exempt, you should not be permitted to deny anyone membership.    Technically they aren’t supposed to… but htey do.

  • Unfair generalization. Not all churches, officially or otherwise, inflict cruelty on children.

  • I’m sorta of with and against you.   A lot of non-profits do a lot of good.  (MORE than any church.)   Non-profits don’t make any money… any money made is given away to the cause (research, building homes, feeding the poor).   Churches actually DO make a profit.  They are not non-profit, they are more tax exempt.   There is nothing the says a church cannot make profits, just that those profits can’t be from outside unrelated businesses (like the church owning a mall and leasing spaces.)      The church can take the “profits” they make and buy a mall with them… then pay taxes on those profits they earned by duping taxes.

    There is no requirement a church not make money and use profit gained to do something good with it.  None.  And they really don’t.  Even when churches do food banks for people, most of that is donated my members and not the church.  It’s a racket all right.

  • Maybe because religion is not a business, it is granted tax-exempt status?

  • Joan

    I grew up in California.  I remember in 1963,  The Rumford Fair Housing Act was passed by the state in an effort to end housing discrimination by making it illegal for property owners to refuse to rent or sell to “colored” customers.  Then, in 1964, Proposition 14 was put on the ballot by Real Estate groups.  It’s purpose was to to counteract the effects of the act (in other words, to make discrimination legal again.)

    I remember that the pastor of our community church spoke from the pulpit about Proposition 14, urging the congregation to vote against it, and telling us that it was unfair, immoral and unchristian.  I’m ashamed to say that many people were upset by his words and actually left our church because of this, and I’m ashamed to say that the proposition passed.  (However, in 1966, it was found to be unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court.)

    Anyway, when people say that churches should stay out of politics, I always think about our old pastor, and how brave and moral I thought it was, and I wonder if we’re saying that he should not have been able to preach about this.

  • flyb

    Please send your newsletter. I’d like to join your Pink Floyd club.

  • I agree.  Both religion and politics are about people. Faith and reason go together. 

  • LanceSmith

    If we are going to dump fed support for ideology (through tax breaks), then we need to dump fed support for ALL ideology. That includes dumping tax breaks for NOW, for NAACP, etc…etc.. You don’t get to pick and choose, and all religions – secular and otherwise – should be treated the same. Are you prepared to demand equal treatment for all ideologically driven non-profits, or just those you don’t agree with? That’s the question.

  • angela k

    1) Special interests groups such as various civil rights etc.  Are much more outspoken and active for their rights than churches and/or religious groups  are against their rights.  

    2)No info on the amount of services and what programs and money and items and service to the community, churches are non-profit.  Also how much exemptions status is being given to other special interests.  The other tax exempt Non-profit organizations only push their own causes and agenda, are they helping the community or just their own special interests??

    3) If churches/religion had the power in government there would still be prayer in school and the ten commandments posted in government buildings.  Sadly, Religion actually has the least influence and power in Government. 

    The American people aren’t paying for the church-the members are contributing the funds to their church.   

    I’m ok if you want to take away the tax exempt status for the religious groups-but only IF you take it away for all other groups and interest as well.

    This article is seriously flawed and biased and very inaccurate all around.  

  • John

     So do faith and unreason, but your point is well taken.

  • Good point. But while you’re at it, also calculate the value of all of the above that taxpaying, non-religious organizations run.

  • John

     Do you realize how little most pastors, and most Church support staff, earn?  Most churches are poor. I don’t see any reason to go after one category
    of non-profit over another (e.g. religious vs. secular) just because
    you (and I don’t mean you specifically) have a problem with
    religion. Just to be clear, I’m in the secular camp; but I’d be a liar if I said I agree with you that Church’s (and their organizations) don’t do things to actually benefit people. It is not true, as I can see in my community, where almost all the soup kitchens, shelters, etc. are ran by churches. Christian churches have a commandment concerning the poor from the very lips of Jesus. It is a commandment that some churches have to work very hard to ignore, and most don’t. And frankly, as much as some people think that religion does no good, when I see all those ex-cons and drug-addicts get religion, while I might find their religiosity annoying and a bit absurd, I must acknowledge that it gives them a reason and the inspirational/emotional means to do very difficult things (like not drink, or break off friendships with people who are bad influences, etc.). I also think that religion is particular capable of effecting these sorts of emotional transformations that render genuine change, more capable in fact that most secular things. Certainly, if you tell them that really there is not deep meaning or purpose to life, that when they die they’re just going to be more dirt, that the universe isn’t sentient and doesn’t care whether they shoot heroin in their veins or hack their neighbors heads off for watching too much Jeopardy…I’m a secular atheist, but I don’t pretend that my philosophy has any comfort for the oppressed and in need.

  • Jalj

     I agree. No need of justification for special provisions for religion per se.

  • Joh nn y

     A very interesting point.

  • pete

    I agree religions should pay taxes but I wonder where it would bhe wasted if they did………More welfare fraud maybe?

  • pete

    when will we become Fiscally responsible so raising taxes wouldn’t always be an issue

  • ApostateXP
  • Midwyf36

    Religious charities are just a tiny fraction of the “non profits” in thsi country that pay no taxes.  Groups like The Nature Conservancy take in billions and pay NO tax.  Check the number of non profits in your state, there are hundreds in every state.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Your statement is incorrect.

    There are people out there who make so little that they don’t pay federal taxes. However, they still pay taxes every time they buy things. They still pay taxes attached to things like their home, their car, ETC. 

    The problem isn’t that they aren’t paying federal taxes. It’s that they’re making so little they can’t afford to, and all half the government cares about is making them so they can charge multibillion dollar corporations even less.

  • Baby_Raptor

    What’s *scary* is that you consider the Republicans the lesser of two evils. 

  • Evroty

    That wasnt a cool post.  Not all churches are bad.  No one gets a salary at our church. We have to do all kinds of fund raises to keep it open for our members.  Im not trying to make it like poor us, but churches bring alot of peace to alot of people…..but to say churches are garbage, that isnt right.

  • Baby_Raptor

    It’s really not hard to see at all, unless you feel they have every right to completely disregard the rules as they do.

  • Baby_Raptor

    It’s not “just because people have a problem with religion.” It’s because the Church in general hasn’t been following the rules. If the Church wants a say in politics, then they need to pay taxes. 

    And anyone who isn’t either blind or willfully stupid can see that the Church feels like telling everyone else how to live is their #1 priority nowadays. 

  • Baby_Raptor

    Yeah, and while you’re adding all that up, make sure to factor in all the government money those places get.

    Then get back to us on why they should still get it. 

  • Baby_Raptor

    To you they do. To people like me, when “faith” is one of the biggest reasons my rights are under attack, and just plain being denied to me…

    Keep your religion to yourself. It has no place dictating public laws.

  • HighPriestOfThePainfulTruth

    Please explain.

  • HighPriestOfThePainfulTruth

    You can’t lump the all together just because there are problems in some churches.   They also don’t tell people how to live, they teach what the bible says.  Some misrepresent the bible but that doesn’t mean ALL churches feel that way.

  • Aegis

    It’s not churches bringing people peace, it’s people bringing people piece. Churches are garbage. Space it is!

  • I’m a member of AU before SCA or FFRF or anything else.

  • Pseudonym

    So how about we tighten up the reporting standards, like they do in most other developed countries?  Sounds like a plan to me.

  • Overton

    The largest land owner in New York City is the Catholic Church, and pays nothing, evven for emergency services.  It is time to end this madness and then move on to others.

  • Pseudonym

     To be fair, any non-profit organisation can start a subsidiary business (e.g. a charity opening an “op shop”), so there’s actually no double standard in that respect.

  • Pseudonym

    Bingo. Your local church should be no different from your local sports club when it comes to its tax status. Hold all organisations to the same standards, regardless of religious status.

  • Overton

    Did you just say Consumers Laboratories?  What about that tax exempt Insurance Agency and Lobbying organization [Liberal of course] AARP?

  • Pseudonym

    If the Church wants a say in politics, then they need to pay taxes.

    Maybe. I’d feel bad if a disability advocacy group had to pay taxes just so it could engage in political debate.

  • Pseudonym

    I agree that religion has no place dictating public laws. Nobody has a place dictating public laws.

    Everyone should be allowed to make their case in public square. Nobody should be allowed to monopolise it.

  • ortcutt

     AARP is a 501(c)4.  Donations to AARP aren’t tax-deductble and they aren’t subject to the limitations on 501(c)3. 

  • amycas

    Please define “socialistic,” and explain why you capitalized it.

  • amycas

     How much was withheld during the other four months? You seem to have forgotten that bit. Also, do you really think $18,000 is a good yearly income for a man and his son to live off of?

  • amycas

    I would argue the same for many churches as well. 

  • Aegis

    He didn’t make a generalization. You assumed one. Learn to read.

  • Phantoboy

    Joan, as I see it, that pastor should be able to speak to his congregation on any topic he chooses, as long as he and his organization are paying taxes like anyone else. The muzzle on political speech is an attempt to keep taxpayer dollars from being funneled into partisan political causes, and allay suspicions of political favoritism toward certain churches or denominations. But that hasn’t really worked. The answer is to remove the religious tax exemption altogether, and take the muzzle off churches. Level playing field for all ideas to be heard.

  • brianmacker

    He is referring to the fact that it’s redistributive which is one if the tenants of the socialist ideologies.

  • Penisenlargementpills4urkids

     Telling children that god will send them to hell for eternity if they don’t believe the right way is not cruelty? Telling gay children that they are an abomination and they are better off dead is not cruelty? Telling children that their favorite cartoons, books, and music are of the devil and burning their possessions is not cruelty? Telling children that question the irrational things in the bible that they are demon possessed and bound for hell is not cruelty? I guess sexual abuse is the only thing you consider as cruelty.

  • brianmacker

    If an activity is not profitable then why do it? All these activities are designed to generate some kind of profit. When I buy music I profit from the enjoyment of listening to it. When church goers listen to choir music they are doing the same thing. The donations are a payment scheme for the things they value. Which can include a church based insurance schemes (a soup kitchen). Surely the church goers plan to benefit from the charity if they end up down on their luck.

    Besides his comment wasn’t based on profit, but on sevices provided to “society”, however such services are never provided to society as a whole, only to specific individuals.

  • brianmacker

    ” If the Church wants a say in politics, then they need to pay taxes”

    Do you think the same reasoning applies to voting, because that gives you a say in politics. Should you only be allowed to vote in federal elections if you have a net positive federal tax contribution.

  • brianmacker

    Why is that scary. One can easily make the case that the things democrats complain about Republicans doing they are far worse at. Like when did Obama get congressional approval to get involved in two more wars? Iif you are paying attention you’d also know that it was Democrats that got us in WWII and Vietnam. One can do this on a whole host of other issues, like drone attacks, deficit spending, etc.

  • So is yours. I agree. Faith, just like anything else, can be abused.

  • CurmudgyOne

    I’ve only read through 50 comments,but the general thread of them overlooks something. Do you all know the old saying about throwing out the baby with the bath water … cutting off your nose to spite your face.. ?  The Next Big Problem that would arise if you are successful in removing churches from 501(c)3 status would be that the money they receive and don’t pay taxes on would simply go somewhere else. The fact that donations are tax deductible is a major reason why many individuals donate to churches. If the donations are no longer deductible, those billions currently going to churches just won’t go the the churches anymore. Maybe that’s a comment on the true spirituality of many congregants, and that is beside the question, but it would probably happen.

    The article states that all of that money that churches do not pay in taxes would suddenly be paid in taxes is simply wrong. The premise is that the churches would get the money and pay taxes on it, but the truth is that the churches would not get the money, hence they would not be able to pay taxes on that amount. At the same time, the good things that churches do would be diminished. Nobody would win … where’d that baby go, it was here in the tub just a minute ago … ?

  • brianmacker

    I was referring to federal taxes, of course. Everyone receives federal services and around half of earners do not pay for those services and are therefore freeloaders on things like the military, and federal highways and should be paying for them like I said. Sales tax only pays local services, and many items like food aren’t taxed also. Plus there are many who make no money who are receiving services. If I have ten kids I shouldn’t have to pay less taxes but more for the services they consume.

    You are I’ll informed on corporate taxes. We had the second highest corporate tax rate in the world and may now be in first place if Japan lowered their rate. We in fact have a very progressive tax system. Silly of you to complain that people paying zero federal tax on their income, or with no income, or receiving an earned income subsidy, are somehow being taxed more to lower corporate taxes. How can zero be more taxes without the insane concept of negative taxes?

    I’m considering the balance of services to the money contributed to pay for those services. It’s obvious some paying zero over a long period and receiving services is freeloading. Also everyone who earns even only $100 has something to contribute to taxes, and yes they are freeloading even if they did pay taxes on such a low income just so long as the services they received cost more.

    Fact is that there are lots of freeloaders on the system and that is why it will eventually collapse or need to be readjusted just like Greece.

  • Danchuckles

    On this basis you should have been admitted to Harvard or any other university you want to attend.

  • Danchuckles

    apply that same logic to a university.  Your prof’s had no political bias in their teaching?  If someone teaches something unpopular they might get fired from their post.  If a church teaches something unpopular people will leave.  If a church continues to teach the same stuff they’ve taught for 2000 years its the religious equivalent of a “classics” study.  This is a renowned educational concept and is practiced at the most revered secondary educations throughout the world. 

  • My apologies. Please educate me. The discussion was about having a category for granting tax-exempt status to churches in general. How was his comment not a generalization?

  • Hmm. First of all, I think there is no one “faith” but rather multiple ones, and I doubt all of them deny you what you think are your rights.

    Second of all, no one is dictating anything to anyone. My religion cannot require and does not have the power to require the State to follow its teachings. The most it can do is convince its members, who in turn make their voice heard.

    Third of all, and related to the second one, though you may disagree with my views that are based on my religion, they are still my views, and as a citizen of a democracy have a place in crafting public laws.

  • I’m sorry, but all churches teach this? I know mine doesn’t, you see.

  • Penisenlargementpills4urkids

     Well glad that your perspective
    is so narrow as to think your experience with religion is the norm
    for everyone else. Pray tell, what DOES your church teach? If they
    teach that there is a hell and that god will send you there, then how
    is that any different than what I said? Everything I have said has
    been the norm for most people in religion. Did you casually forget
    the big stink Christians made about Harry Pottery? The book burnings,
    the condemnation? Also, only 15% of Christian denominations fully
    support gays and the rest are anti-gay and not only preach out
    against it but spend large sums of that tax free cash to prevent gays
    from having rights. Lastly, have you every went to your religious
    figures and told them you doubted say the Noah story and they feed
    you the typical god works in mysterious ways crap every-time you have
    a legitimate question and once you push far enough they conclude that
    your questioning is the devils work bringing you to doubt.
    Oh…no…you haven’t because I doubt you ever did question anything
    stupid in the bible. You are just assuming that they will react with
    acceptance and reason. It’s fine if you have your personal faith but
    there is no reason to have faith in churches and Jesus was in fact
    against the idea of churches.

  • 1. I did not say that my experience with religion is the norm for everyone else. What I was saying was that your sweeping generalization about the evils of religion do not hold true for all faiths because it does not hold true for mine, which is Roman Catholicism.

    2. You said, “Telling children that god will send them to hell for eternity if they don’t believe the right way is not cruelty?” Yes, my Church believes in hell but we believe that God does not “send” anyone, and we do not believe that children (or anyone) goes there just because they do not believe as we do.

    3. My Church never officially condemned Harry Potter. On the contrary, it recognizes that the arts have a rightful place in the development of man.

    4. My Church teaches quite clearly that gay people, before anything else, are people, created in the image and likeness of God and thus deserve full respect for being such. If we believe that homosexual marriages should not happen, then that is a legitimate difference in opinion, I think.

    5. I have raised many questions about the Bible and my faith to the priests of my Church, and they have affirmed that questioning is good, for only in asking does one move toward the answer. They taught that God gave us a brain and that He meant for us to use it, and that He wanted not blind faith but an informed one.

    6. On the contrary, Jesus instituted the sacraments, the Eucharist, the command to baptize and to do these things in memory of Him. He established a Church of His own with Peter at its head and said that the gates of hell will not prevail against it.

    7. It seems to me that you have had a mostly negative experience of religion. I am sorry for that. That is not the way it is supposed to be. Christianity is about love, even if its members are not always so loving.

  • Christian

    Disappointed by the ignorance displayed here.  ALL 501(c)3 Non-profit organizations receive the same tax exempt status.  This does include the church and it also includes the University of Tampa, where the study was conducted.  Creating misleading arguments that attempt to sway the masses is irresponsible and very short sided.  

  • Jaswinder sandhu

    O’ Balley balley

  • Cold Logician

    This assumes that every American agrees that the ‘good things’ that churches do are indeed good enough for our tax dollars to subsidize it.

    Essentially it amounts to taxation without representation due the fact that taxpayers give money to institutions where they have no input on the decision making process of how the money is spent.

    Taxation should not be based on intent of institutions. Taxing or policing based on the intent of the end user is the last step before ‘thoughtcrime’.

  • Country Crock

    A church is not a 501c3.  There is a difference.  The article discusses the IRS designation of the 501c3 non-profit corporation.    The article does not discuss churches except to state that a church organization can qualify to become a 5o1c3.  But a church is not automatically a 501c3.

    The article states ”
    Qualifying organizations include…churches”  It does NOT say all churches are a 501c3.  Because they aren’t.A church or free church is a separate entity from a non-profit corporation.  Some church organizations have chosen to incorporate and become a 501c3.  But churches by definition are not a 501c3.  

  • Country Crock

    That is simply not true.   In the vast majority of churches, the pastor is employed by the church, pays fica and ss tax like other employees.  Some independent churches may hire the pastor, musicians and others as contract labor, but that is not the common practice.   

    Do a survey yourself.  Call ten churches or ask around and you will discover that the pastor is hired and paid as an employee, just like the secretary and janitor.  Trust me (he says), I have been on the payroll of several churches or an evangelical organization for over three decades.  In every case, the pastor was an employee, not contract labor.   In every case the pastor paid fica and ss like all the other employees.  The difference was, up to 40% of the pastor’s salary was designated as housing allowance.  So virtually every other employee paid more taxes and often higher rates than the pastor.

  • Country Crock

    I have been everything on a church staff except the senior minister.  So I possibly assumed too much, but not entirely incorrectly.  Most ministers have a “dual tax status.” That means that although ministers are always self-employed for Social Security purposes (for their ministerial income), they are usually employees for income tax purposes.  That allows them deductions for insurance and those massive housing gifts from the church.  However some ministers are self-employed for income tax purposes.   I have been considered contract/self-employed in a few cases and employee in most cases, depending on the position.  Ministers who receive gifts for weddings, funerals, etc., like musicians also have the joy of reporting that as contract/self-employed income.  One year I received NINE 1099 forms and two w-2 forms.  It certainly makes $$ for the guy who does my taxes.  

  • Exactly, pseudoym.

  •  #1 Roman Catholicism is one of the worst offenders in this category of conversation, both for child abuse and tax evasion.
    #2 The RCC has recently rescinded the doctrine of belief in Purgatory. Unbaptized/saved children go straight to hell according to the pope.
    #3 Though it did not ban that one series it has banned hundreds if not thousands of other texts, then persecute, excommunicated or murdered their writers.
    #4 Your church comdemns gay people to hell and orderes you to kill them for being who they are. That’s on biblical commandment that the church has never rescinded or condemned.
    #5 You have clearly not been asking the right questions. Such as…”Why did Judas Iscariot die twice and in two different ways?” or “Why are there two different and contradictory creation accounts?”
    #6 I have nothing to say about this. It’s not an argument with any merit.
    #7 Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the
    earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to
    turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a
    daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law–a man’s enemies will be the
    members of his own household.’ Anyone who loves his father or mother
    more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter
    more than me is not worthy of me. Matthew 10:34-37

  • That’s not social discrimination. That’s merit based discrimination. If you are gonna take that tact we might as well have a mentally handicapped quadriplegic with dementia running the White House or it might be considered discrimination if we don’t.

  • Txtom56

    Not every entity on your list is charitable. Why should we care about religious universities, schools or hospitals when they aren’t free? We already have public universities, schools and hospitals! The amount of charitable work done by churches is very small when you compare that to the amount of money they avoid paying due to tax exemption.
    Also, some of that charitable work you list, such as drug addiction programs, women shelters, soup kitchens, foster care systems and disaster relief are receiving tax payer funds from state and/or federal agencies.
    Which basically means, in some cases, the churches are double dipping!

  • The “Separation” that you speak of was established to protect religions from the government.  It just so happens that it also would serve to protect a government from being taken over by one religion, such as the King of England’s chosen religion was doing prior to the Revolutionary war.

  • “more than any church) is a bold statement to make.  Can you back that up with a source?  Can you back anything you stated above with a source?  I’ve seen the financial books of several churches, some small, some large, and none were making money or profits.    Statistically on average, only 3% of members were donating 10%  or more of their income to the church.  I’ve witnessed a large church give various amounts of cash in sealed envelopes to it’s adult members and the pastor instruct them to give it directly to somebody in need in the community.

    Sure, any situation involving money could be turned into a racket, but to lump all churches into one evil racketeering ploy is evidence of paranoia.  

  • whats it to you

     Burden of proof.  Please provide sources before making claims, It makes you like a retard when you don’t.

  • Minami

    Wow. The USA needs to tax religious institutions. It’s ridiculous that they’re bypassing all that money.

  • Ilovegod

    I need to become a pastor.

  • Fed up!

    We would all be much better if the government didn’t pay $300 billion dollars a year to the Federal Reserve in interest…$76 billion to corporate banks in subsidies. That is free money who knows what kind of tax exemptions the banking industry gets. Let’s start talking about the big money and quit attacking people/organizations on religious, sexual, and racial grounds and work together to expose the real fraud in this country.

  • Harumph

    Church Gay = Jew for Hitler

  • Amy Pond


  • Hodjaz

    The Mormon church built and is running a six billion dollar mall tax-exempt how is that possible? How is that fair to other business trying to compete? How is that fair to non LDS tax payers?

error: Content is protected !!