A lot of atheists have said this line at some point – “Tax the church.” That sounds like it makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it? I mean, some churches take in a lot of money, the pastors make these extravagant amounts of money, and it doesn’t seem like they do all that much charity work relative to what they’re taking in. Let me make the argument for you for why churches should not be taxed. And then we’ll spend a little time talking about why I might be wrong. In theory, churches are non-profits, and non-profits are in the business of helping other people. And for their services, the government says, “you don’t have to pay any taxes.” But, there are special rules for churches that go above and beyond what other non-profits can do. For example, churches are allowed to discriminate in hiring if they want to. Also, most non-profits have to tell the government every year how much money they’re taking in, and where all that money goes, and how much each staff member gets paid. Churches don’t have to do that. They don’t have to be transparent. There are some megachurches in the country where the pastors make obscene amounts of money, and even their own parishioners are left in the dark as to how much money that is. If I were sitting in the pews, I would want to know how much of my tithe is going into the pastor’s pocket versus say, you know, feeding the hungry. You would hope churches, of all places, would be completely forthright as to where the money is going, but they’re not. Pastors also get to claim something called a parsonage exemption, and that means every year, unlike you and me, they can deduct their mortgage or their rent from their taxes. Alright, that’s a pretty sweet deal that saves them a ton of money. These are all things that other non-profits don’t get to do. Now, in exchange for these perks, churches, like all non-profits, have to follow certain rules, like they can’t endorse political candidates. The Red Cross and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society can’t send you something in the mail that says “Vote for Bernie!” Can’t do it. But in recent years, churches have tried to flaunt this rule too. It’s not enough for pastors to shame you into thinking that voting for a pro-LGBT-rights candidate, or a candidate who supports abortion is somehow anti-Christian. That’s not enough for them anymore. They’re coming right out and telling their congregations exactly who to vote for. There’s actually a whole movement encouraging pastors to do this. It’s called “Pulpit Freedom Sunday.” If the IRS did its job, every church that did this would lose its tax-exempt status, but not a single one has. Not yet. Even though churches are practically daring the IRS to come after them. They want this fight. They think it’s part of their religious freedom to be able to endorse candidates. And you know what? It is! But if they want to, then they have to pay taxes, it’s that simple. By the way, the cost of these religious tax exemptions has been estimated at least by one researcher, to be $71 billion per year. So unless churches want to start paying that money, they need to start following the rules. Okay, so all that said, let me share with you a couple of things you should be aware of. Freedom from Religion Foundation, the church-state separation group, they actually challenged the parsonage exemption in court. The co-presidents of the group actually said the organization paid them a housing allowance but they weren’t able to deduct it from their taxes because they weren’t ministers. That’s discrimination against atheists, they said. Unfortunately, the court system dismissed their case on a technicality, saying they didn’t have standing to bring that case forward. FFRF also sued the IRS for not enforcing the law that says pastors can’t endorse candidates from the pulpit. They were a little more successful there. The IRS said in 2014 that they promise to enforce the law and they would be closely monitoring the churches that were suspected of breaking the law. It’s been well over a year, though, and not a single church, as far as I know, has had its tax exemption revoked. Look, a lot of wonderful non-profits would really suffer if they had to pay taxes. I don’t think the solution is to tax the church and tax non-profit groups. However, churches shouldn’t get special privileges that other non-profits don’t receive. They should have to be transparent. They should not be allowed to endorse candidates. Remember, the wall of separation between church and state is a wall for a reason. We don’t want religion infesting the government, but we also don’t want government getting in the way of religion. If churches actually followed the rules, then the argument that we should tax them would become a whole lot weaker. My name is Hemant Mehta, and I write at FriendlyAtheist.com What do you want to see a video about? Let us know in the comments below, and we’ll be sure to check it out. And don’t forget to subscribe.