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reijinni's avatar

Would you support a law that would do away with religious exemptions?

Asked by reijinni (5221 points ) June 7th, 2012

If there was a measure that sweep away ALL privileges that religion has ever held like tax exemptions and breaks, insurance exemptions, policy exemptions, access to public buildings.

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24 Answers

wundayatta's avatar

Not sure. Seems like charitable activities should get the same breaks that other, non-religious charitable activity gets. Anything that is based purely on religious beliefs and that has no other benefit to the world—not so sure.

syz's avatar

In theory, The IRS prohibits churches from campaigning, unless they want to pay taxes as other political groups do. And yet I see headlines like this one constantly (not just about gay rights issues):

Catholic Church Vows To Overturn Same-Sex Marriage Bill

Why the hell don’t churches pay taxes?

AdamF's avatar

Tax exemptions should be based on the organization meeting certain minimum requirements of open accountability, public service, etc. religious or not.

Hint: There’s something seriously wrong if these dudes qualify.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/19/best-paid-pastors_n_1214043.html

Blackberry's avatar

Of course.

tinyfaery's avatar

Oh, yeah.

thorninmud's avatar

I empathize with those who want to tax the bastards, but the bastards would do just fine anyway. The organizations that would be most hurt wouldn’t be the ones you’re thinking about.

I help run a little Zen temple. It’s an unpretentious house on a residential suburban street that has belonged to the group for almost 40 years. It really doesn’t cost much to keep the doors open; utilities, insurance on the building, maintenance, etc. I’m one of two people who are paid; our combined salaries are less than 10K, and we do pay income taxes on that. All these costs are covered by modest dues that the 40ish members pay. Most years, we barely cover costs. If we exceed costs, the extra gets put aside for the next roof or furnace.

If we had to pay property taxes, ours would be at least $10,000. That would be about a 60% increase in our costs. Zen doesn’t tend to attract a well-heeled demographic, and many of our members already pay less than full dues because they can’t afford them. We’d be sunk.

I don’t have a great moral or legal argument to make here, but removing the exemptions might kill off the organizations that most of you have the least quarrel with, while barely fazing the big boys.

digitalimpression's avatar

@thorninmud I suppose I was thinking of similar organizations which is why I wouldn’t support such a foolish, cover-all law. The problem is as you mentioned… the general public seem to see “the big boys” and assume that all other organizations are a cookie cutter duplicate and must, therefore, be attacked with a vengeance. Guilty by association.

For some people, their eagerness to oust religion from society makes them blind to these sorts of details.

90% of the posts in this thread have made me want to watch Blind Fury .

nonexpert's avatar

Yes.

@digitalimpression and @thorninmud – ever heard of the greater good? Of course, some smaller organisations will suffer to some degree, it’s inevitable with any legislative changes. But you can’t let that stifle progress. I think the “general public” understand this.

ragingloli's avatar

Yes. Such exemptions should be based on what the beneficiaries do, not what they are or claim to be.
If they are non-profit charities, give them exemptions based on that, not based on wether they are religious or not.

thorninmud's avatar

@nonexpert Oh yes, I’ve not only heard of “the greater good”, it’s the driving force behind our little institution. It’s why we do what we do.

If you were a cancer researcher looking for a new treatment, and you found one that really had very little effect on the malignant cells, but did manage to kill off a lot of benign or beneficial ones, would you pursue that line of research? Or would you keep looking until you found something that did a better job of targeting the malignant cells?

bewailknot's avatar

I would support it. I think open financial accountability would be a good thing. I think pastors should pay taxes on their income from the church instead of calling it an allotment or parsonage allotment. I think fees paid to guest speakers should be reported as taxable income for that speaker. I could go on and on.

Maybe there could be a set amount of gross income a religious body would have to have before they had to do this, so smaller groups could be exempt.

reijinni's avatar

Thanks for the responses, I see I shouldn’t wipe away all privileges that religion gets, just the one from the more vocal of the bunch.

fundevogel's avatar

I’d love to do away with any financial breaks they get, but I’m down with special exemptions (within reason) when it comes to the actual practice of the religion.

@thorninmud “If you were a cancer researcher looking for a new treatment, and you found one that really had very little effect on the malignant cells, but did manage to kill off a lot of benign or beneficial ones, would you pursue that line of research? Or would you keep looking until you found something that did a better job of targeting the malignant cells?”

I don’t want to eliminate exemptions in an attempt to hurt churches. I just don’t think there’s any reason religious organizations should be getting breaks just for being religious organizations. Personally I think it is an example of government favoritism towards religion and a violation of the separation of church and state. If there’s some other grounds for an exemption that’s just dandy, but religion shouldn’t even be part of the criteria.

woodcutter's avatar

If they get themselves involved in politics then they should pony up. Corporations are not people and neither are churches so they either forfeit the 1st amendment or get out the checkbook. If they want in the game then get in all the way.

thorninmud's avatar

@fundevogel _“I just don’t think there’s any reason religious organizations should be getting breaks just for being religious organizations. Personally I think it is an example of government favoritism towards religion and a violation of the separation of church and state.”

But the tax exemption wasn’t just a bone some God-loving legislators tossed to the churches. It has its basis in the very same text of the constitution that mandates church/state separation. The “free exercise” clause of the first amendment says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” If some religious institutions, like ours, were to be scuttled as a result of a tax law, that would be unambiguously unconstitutional.

Legally speaking, it’s not just a law that would be required to remove the religious exemptions, but a constitutional amendment.

King_Pariah's avatar

I believe there are certain exemptions they shouldn’t have, but all of them? Not so sure about that…

ETpro's avatar

I think Bill Maher said it beautifully. If you’re doing mostly charitable work with the giving, that’s a charity. If you’re building castles and collecting art, opening more branches, financing your religious political agenda, etc. that’s not a charity, it’s a business.

augustlan's avatar

I’d rather have a more nuanced solution. Something based on what the religion does or does not do (if they stay out of government affairs, the government can stay out of theirs), and/or the amount of income the institution has.

digitalimpression's avatar

@nonexpert Lots of very evil things have been done in the name of “the greater good”. It is my humble opinion that blindly attacking all of religion with a very non-specific and all encompassing law such as the one proposed is one of those evil things.

I’m with @augustlan on this one. I have zero qualms with putting a tax on Johnny Knockdown or whatever tv “evangelist” is making millions of dollars by selling stage-religion to fools. But there are organizations all over the country (and all over the world) that don’t remotely fit into that category.

Everyone wants separation of church and state when it benefits them… but when it comes to this all bets are off. Hypocritical?

syz's avatar

If this guy fronts a church, and these guys can call themselves a church, and these hateful people are a congregation – hell, yes. Freedom of speech is one thing. Being tax exempt is bullshit.

Does it need to be across the board? I don’t know.

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