A new study has found that churches in the United States are ripping off the American people for a whopping $71 billion in tax breaks.
According to the Secular Policy Institute, which conducted the study, “If religious organizations (ie. churches, synagogues, mosques, etc.) were taxed like for-profit agencies, it was found that this could generate upwards of $71 billion per year in tax revenue. Even if churches were merely held to the standards of other non-profit agencies, this could generate $16.75 billion in tax revenue per year.”
Churches annually receive $35.3 billion in federal income tax subsidies, $6.1 billion in state income tax subsidies, $26.2 billion in property tax subsidies, $41 million in investment tax subsidies, $1.2 billion in parsonage subsidies and $2.2 billion in faith-based initiatives subsidies.
Note that this study did not account for local income and property tax subsidies, sales tax subsidies, SECA exemption subsidies, donor-tax exemption subsidies, increase in donations from donor-tax subsidies, related business income tax subsidies, fund-raising subsidies, or volunteer labor subsidies.
Wait, you say! Churches do good deeds and charitable works with that money! That’s why they have tax exempt status! They deserve to be tax-free because they care for the less fortunate! Well, not quite. Secular Humanism reports a very different reality.
Religions are quick to trumpet when they do charitable work—ironically for Christians, since the Bible explicitly says not to (Mathew 6:2). But they don’t do as much charitable work as a lot of people think, and they spend a relatively small percentage of their overall revenue on such work. For instance, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the LDS or Mormon Church), which regularly trumpets its charitable donations, gave about $1 billion to charitable causes between 1985 and 2008. That may seem like a lot until you divide it by the twenty-three-year time span and realize this church is donating only about 0.7 percent of its annual income.”
“Other religions are more charitable. For instance, the United Methodist Church allocated about 29 percent of its revenues to charitable causes in 2010 (about $62 million of $214 million received).3 One calculation of the resources expended by 271 U.S. congregations found that, on average, “operating expenses” totaled 71 percent of all the expenditures of religions, much of that going to pay ministers’ salaries.4 Financial contributions addressing the physical needs of the poor fall within the remaining 29 percent of expenditures. While these numbers may be higher as a percentage of income than typical charitable giving by corporations, they are not hugely higher (depending on the religion) and are substantially lower in absolute terms. Wal-Mart, for instance, gives about $1.75 billion in food aid to charities each year, or twenty-eight times all of the money allotted for charity by the United Methodist Church and almost double what the LDS Church has given in the last twenty-five years.”
“Altar welfare” is the term Occupy Democrats has coined to refer to the tax-exempt status of churches.
According to Patheos, it is a violation of the separation of church and state, as declared by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the US Constitution, for the government to grant tax-exempt status to religious organizations.
“Bottom line: Taxpayers should not be in the business of subsidizing religious superstition. It’s time to tax the church.”
I could not agree more!
Featured image via Salon