Tax-free Churches? There’s No Such Thing!

You pay what churches don’t! US churches* received an official federal income tax exemption in 1894, and they have been unofficially tax-exempt since the country’s founding. All 50 US states and the District of Columbia exempt churches from paying property tax. Donations to churches are tax-deductible, making for a double-dip loss of revenues by the government. They are not tax free. YOU pay their taxes.

Grant’s prophecy prediction (below) seems to be off by at least a couple hundred years. We can poke fun at that, or see if there’s any sense in the rest of the quote:

I would call your attention to the importance of correcting an evil that, if permitted to continue, will probably lead to great trouble in our land before the close of the Nineteenth century. It is the acquisition of vast amounts of untaxed church property…. In a growing country, where real estate enhances so rapidly with time as in the United States, there is scarcely a limit to the wealth that may be acquired by corporations, religious or otherwise, if allowed to retain real estate without taxation. The contemplation of so vast a property as here alluded to, without taxation, may lead to sequestration without constitutional authority, and through blood. I would suggest the taxation of all property equally, whether church or corporation.” (Ulysses S. Grant, 18th U.S. President [1869-1877], Message to Congress, December 7, 1875; Congressional Record, Vol. 4, part 7, page 175; from George Seldes, ed., The Great Quotations, Secaucus, New Jersey: Citadel Press, 1983, p. 288)

Churches and corporations are artificial entities created by people and authorized by government. In a sense, an unrestricted religious or corporate leader could exercise multiple votes—his own, plus whatever he could influence from his employees or congregation from his power position. That said, why are religions allowed property-tax exemptions? I would suppose the threat of taxation had been expected to keep them from acting like ordinary people with an interest in the works of government, and so would prevent religious groups’ hands from interfering. It appears that cannot work without a government agent posted in every edifice during every meeting to assure complete adherence to the law. That would happen only at great expense and set a regrettable precedent.

The govern, itself, is an artificial entity created and authorized by its subjects. The various layers of government perform many necessary functions for which they prepare annual budgets. Many of those layers suffer deficits even while billions are handed out to religious and corporate enterprises for questionable reasons. Overall, our government seems senselessly generous with our money, with both political parties equally guilty. Allowing massive acreage to go untaxed while some favored enterprise holds the title is but one example. The government should maintain titles to all properties from which it does not collect full taxes, and collect rent otherwise.

The following quote inspires questions about how it leads to governmental interference in religion, still at taxpayer expense:

The government has leverage on religious groups because of the tax-exemption privilege. Church leaders, eager for the church to be free to be the church, should ask for the removal of this privilege. If there were no tax privilege for religious groups, hucksters and people who are using religion as a cover for political movements would be discouraged.” (William Stringfellow, lawyer and lay theologian, as quoted in the Dallas Times Herald, December 9, 1978, p. A-27, according to Alan F. Pater and Jason R. Pater, compilers and editors, What They Said in 1978: The Yearbook of Spoken Opinion, Beverly Hills, CA: Monitor Book Co., 1979, p. 447.)

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Email Response

On Sat, 27 Jul 2013 21:49:23 -0000 “christiankc13” <deleted> writes:

“ I am not ready to lose my faith and i refuse to. That would be giving up my best friend, real or imagined. Who wants to loose a friend that has promised you eternal life? If there was no God, then I would die and that’s it, no afterlife, so technically I’d never really know that i was wrong or right.”                                       _____________________________________________________

How egocentric. That is true, you will die and know nothing, god named God or not. You will die, your god (the one named God) will fade from your brain, and its existence will cease. That leaves nothing open to discussion. Your imaginary friend will disappear and your fantasies will end. You will not know nor care what truths you avoided for your whole wasted lifetime in the name of that pretended friend while you serve those who created it for you, and enrich them while you suffer the stress that comes from living a lie. You will, of course, deny that and insist you feel quite happy. You have made your choice and will stand by it. That leaves nothing the rest of us can do for you.

Because you made a choice, you assume in error that atheism is an alternative choice. We who are apostates know atheism as a simple absence of goddish belief, with which some of us struggled for years to avoid acknowledgement. Unreinforced belief ebbs when life gets overwhelming, dedication goes unrequited, prayers go without response, you are blamed for your own illness and debt, and recognition of cognitive dissonance begins. It is not that belief gets rejected; it erodes away till nothing of it remains. The choice it leaves behind is between honesty and insanity. To become an apostate involves only a choice between apostasy and hypocrisy. Atheism arrives on its own, and rides in on the failure of God’s messengers to be believable.

Atheism involves an open acceptance of falsifiable facts and principles of logic learned as we go. That no god exists can be rendered false by the verified presence of a god. Any god will do. That is true of all the multiple thousands of them, including those effigies represented by idols. It remains true of those same multiple thousands that not one of them can make that claim. For your claim that “a god does exist” to be falsified requires the complete disappearance of something that has never been present.

That is illogical and absurd, even were you willing to proclaim, “That is exactly what has happened,” that your claim of immaterialism amounts to. Where would you find witnesses from that time whose signed documents attest to that as fact? In your bible? I see a god of several names in there, ordering genocides and abortions, but no signatures witnessed by others of those ancient times, and only the words of apologists making their excuses.

People never exposed to reasons to question their beliefs are innocent of wrongdoing except for their criminal acts. People who chose honesty over insanity and hypocrisy feel no need to apologize for that. We may need to find excuses for whatever else we’ve become, but never for a god’s absence. That is for you to do. Yet, you insist upon its presence by gas-lighting, the opposite of a correct approach. The god named God awaits in abeyance for you to draw it forth. What I don’t believe in is not mine to demonstrate; what you profess to exist is yours to demonstrate. If you show nothing, that is the same as my belief. I did not choose that. When I looked for a god, that’s what I found. If I cannot trust my own senses, I surely can’t trust yours.

We have equal rights by law. By that same law we can judge each other only for criminal acts and not for our beliefs, as some would have it. We will not be arrested for our beliefs unless they incite a criminal act. The right to state our beliefs and speak out in their defense is a matter of good stewardship honored in our laws. As  awareness of cognitive dissonance increases, the number of people forced to make that choice between honesty, insanity and hypocrisy will increase. Keep up the good work.