Local view: Except for charity work, religions should pay taxes like everyone else
Constitutionally, we are a secular society, assuming I am interpreting the Constitution correctly. The First Amendment begins, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof or abridg...
Constitutionally, we are a secular society, assuming I am interpreting the Constitution correctly. The First Amendment begins, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof or abridging the freedom of speech.” Legal minds differ over the interpretation of our Constitution. The Supreme Court has the final say when differences of interpretation are challenged.
Times have changed since Thomas Jefferson wrote, “All men are created equal.” At that time period, he literally meant only men, not women, and only white men, not blacks, and only men who owned property. Women were considered men’s property; in some minds and places they still are.
Before the founding of the American Civil Liberties Union in 1920, individuals or organizations that wanted to litigate a state-church violation had to bear the legal costs. Court decisions rest with the makeup of the court. Now we recognize that and are receiving identical 5-4 decisions. Congressional support in confirming presidential nominations is exasperatingly slow.
We have several religious designations, although Christianity remains in the majority. Others include Jewish, agnostic, atheist, Christian scientist, Latter Day Saints, Mormon and Seventh-day Adventists. The Catholic Church’s strength and influence derives from its being the only institution that has existed continuously for nearly 2,000 years and from its global, monolithic and hierarchical structure that enforces doctrinal discipline. No other religious institution comes close to the Catholic Church’s theological depth and breadth.
Have religion and government been following separate paths? I’m a non-believer and an official member of the Freethinkers. Here a conundrum occurs. I had felt that no negatives were caused non-believers by believers. They are mentally satisfied and comforted by knowing there is, potentially, life after death. No damage to me or other non-believers from their belief and practice. That was my thinking.
But then I read, “Culture Wars: The Threat to Your Family and Your Freedom,” by Marie Alena Castle. She pointed out a number of instances where religions and religious personnel and programs, etc., receive tax breaks that serve their personal efforts above and well beyond their religious responsibilities. As a consequence, non-believer citizens pick up the tab. That isn’t fair in a secular society.
There is no doubt that some strictly charitable work should be tax-free, such as assisting the needy. On the other hand, given our First Amendment religious clauses, non-believers should not have to pay higher taxes so religions can benefit from paying considerably less taxes than secular, non-religious organizations. Examples include religious organizations that do not have to file financial reports to the IRS, as secular nonprofits have to do.
Religious organizations pay no state or federal income taxes, no sales taxes, gas taxes or excise taxes. They pay no user fees; no inheritance taxes; and no taxes on investments, stocks, mutual funds or bonds. They pay no capital gains taxes on the sales of property and no property taxes to cover the costs of fire and police protection, libraries and schools.
Also, religions don’t have to verify to the IRS the income that taxpayers have to claim on their tax forms.
Related businesses - such as religious bookstores and biblical and creationist theme parks, schools, hospitals, fitness centers, and campgrounds - are tax-exempt.
Tax money supporting churches and schools cost several billions of dollars. Bus transportation to private schools alone is more than $1 billion nationally, picked up by taxpayers.
Historically, those in need have received help from religious organizations, although vast sums of money also have been available for building and maintaining extravagant cathedrals, acquiring priceless works of art and, more recently, buying mansions, private jets and thousand-dollar suits for televangelists. Taxes should be paid on all money other than aid for the needy by all organizations and individuals.
Bernie Hughes of Superior is professor emeritus of educational administration at the University of Wisconsin-Superior.