You may be aware that the White House has a website where you can create a petition on a particular issue. If you can gather enough support — 100,000 e-signatures within 30 days as of this writing — someone in the administration will respond to your petition. Earlier this year, for example, a petition calling for the legalization of marijuana surpassed the threshold and received this response. It wasn’t a newsworthy response, but you get the idea.
In Brazil, the Senate has something similar. So the Associação Brasileira de Ateus e Agnósticos (ATEA) decided it would be an excellent way to challenge the government on the tax exemptions given to religious institutions.
The argument in part came from the fact that several religious leaders were involved in financial scandals in the country. But even without those incidents, maybe these churches shouldn’t be receiving any tax exemptions, especially since Brazil had a secular government and these churches were often more interested in enriching their leaders and members than the general public.
ATEA also said that churches are practically businesses, fighting with competitors (other churches) for the largest number of customers, always trying to obtain more revenue. They’re not really interested in benefiting society at large, so why were they considered non-profit associations?
The group needed 20,000 signatures within a month for the Senate to consider the bill.
They hit that mark in less than 20 days by asking their members and Facebook fans.
That means Brazil’s Senate will now have to at least consider revoking tax exemptions for churches.
Yesterday, the Senate posted this on their Facebook page announcing that the petition had surpassed the threshold:
Churches paying taxes?
A popular suggestion determining the end of tax exemptions for religious entities earned 20,000 votes on e-Citizenship and will be examined by Senators.
You can also suggest new laws, propose debates, and comment on projects.
Fábio Queiroz, the Executive Director of ATEA, told me that, more than anything, his group just wants to start a public debate on this issue. Even if legislators (many of whom are deeply religious) don’t pass it, maybe the public will realize that these churches don’t always deserve the perks that they receive. It’s a long game, and this is just one major play.
It’s also a wonderful way to let the public know that, despite the Christian majority, there are a lot of atheists in the country, too. (Last September, ATEA put up a series of fantastic billboards across the country to draw attention to their organization.)
If nothing else, ATEA would like to see more transparency within these churches regarding where their donations go.
Hats off to them for mobilizing quickly and forcing their government to pay attention to this issue. Maybe legislators will at least have to confront the hypocrisy of religious leaders acting in their own self-interest than helping those who really need it.
(Image via Wikipedia)