Why “Taxing the Church” Isn’t the Answer


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.

100 thoughts on “Why “Taxing the Church” Isn’t the Answer”

  1. Did you seriously just argue that we shouldn't tax churches because taxing all non-profit organizations US bad? Is conflating a subset with the entirety of the parent set an acceptable argument these days?

    We shouldn't imprison people who break the law because imprisoning all people would be bad.

    We shouldn't block the sale of toxic food because blocking the sale of all food would be bad.

    And so on.

    Churches shouldn't be tax-exempt just because they are churches. Or, to put if in a legal way, churches shouldn't be considered a non-profit just because they are churches.

  2. Tax breaks only got non-profits who provide a BROAD PUBLIC BENEFIT that is BENEVOLENT … and that is ALL they do …

    Once you start promoting religion or proselytising IN ANY WAY, you're activity is narrow/for your 'member clients' only, so no taxpayer support for you – it is not warranted, if you're not only working to benefit the broader community.

    Tax the churches. They can proselytise/pray/own income generating real property, on their own dollar …

  3. Churches SHOULD BE TAXED because according to Mark 12:13-17 God's FACE is NOT ON MONEY and that money is NOT OF GOD……… they are LYING to people telling them that their money is going to God when it shouldn't.

  4. the reason churches are getting away with it because they have people inside the governement. shame on religious group for attacking the state. we have law that stating church and state seperation and yet they ask "why?"

  5. jesus said give to God what is Gods and to ceasar what is ceasars the ahould pay taxes as a comandment of christ

  6. Woooooooow. Religion isn't a government Institution, it's only a business institution. They aren't non profits. If they were, they wouldn't profit. 10% of your entire money to tithe throughout your entire life is definitely a tithe regardless of whether it's a person or an organization as long as it's a church. Religion shouldn't be endorsed by the government only taxed for the people. One nation, "under God" is bullshit. Stahp "atheist" stahp.

  7. You're dead wrong, dude. Churches are a multi-billion dollar business and it's a simple fact that most of them break at least some of the rules, such as endorsing candidates, already. Instead of trying to do the impractical and expect the IRS to do a politically unpopular job and monitor all the fucking churches in the country, we should just revoke the churches' tax exemption status and tax them. Not tax the fuck out of them, but tax them fairly. The taxes they currently don't pay is either payed for by us or goes to the national debt.

  8. the interesting thing about churches telling ppl who to vote for is the following: many us citizens are anti catholic saying that catholics are not loyal to the usa but instead are taking orders from the pope. however in fact mainly protests are the ones endorsing candidates and parties not catholics. thus jfk has been our only catholic president and even that was achieved with much difficulty

  9. To those saying with full confidence (and much disdain) that the church should be taxed, you clewrly have not thought this "brilliant" idea through. As stated, there is a separation between church and state. More importantly, you have forgotten your lessons in U.S. history: "No taxation without representation". Do you really want members of legislature and congress to be actual representatives of the church and its interests?

  10. So what you're saying is that we should all open up a church so that we can start driving a Benz? Sign me up.

  11. Taxing a church is in no way putting government in a religion, Taxes are what you owe your country for the mere crime of EXISTING. If you want to exist on this planet you have three choices, Go poor and never work and don't pay your country what you owe them for occupying space and resources, Work and pay them what you owe for taking up space and consuming resources or move someplace else where there is no government which doesn't exist. Churches consume resources, they take up space and thus must pay like the rest of us. The difference between religion and a non profit is as clear as night and day-A Non profit exists to help people and nothing more, a church exists to get more money to buy a bigger building to get more money to buy more buildings to get more people and so on, it is to make money to get more people and that is it.

  12. I'm an atheist as well and I think you made some very good points,but even though I don't go to church every preacher that I hear about does speak their opinion on which Government officials they would like to see get elected!!!They do not try to hide it or sugar coat it in any way!!I think churches/preachers get away with way too much,and it needs to be stopped!

  13. The answer is simple. Religious organizations only get tax exemption on money that is actually spent on charitable works.

  14. Not all church's are like that though, my church always freely and openly shows where every single dollar goes.

  15. Very well said, Hemant! I wish religious organizations had to follow the same rules as other non-profit organizations. It's unreasonable that they don't.

  16. you people are ridiculous, Church's do more for people in this world than any other group of people. yet all you atheist want to punish them for anything and everything, stop being cowards and explain the real reason for feeling this way.

    by the way the last time I read it the constitution does not say "separation of church and state" you use this term to misrepresent what it actually says. so I suppose we could call you a liar… wonder what else you lie about…

  17. I can get a video of this church telling member to vote Hilary will that be enough proof? Cus the pastors just go all out saying vote Hillary don't vote trump

  18. I'll be praying for you Hemant Mehta, thank you for the videos it gives me a good insight. May God always bless you
    and take care of you.

  19. I'd say that the tax-exception rule should be made to a no-tolerance one. That is to say that religious organizations can't do lobbying, can't promote any candidature and can't do shit in the political area. Break it and you gotta pay taxes.

    I read several here praising the catholic church as the biggest aid organization in the world, and while I am not going to deny that it could possibly be the case, i will argue the other side.

    The same catholic church has done in the past and continues today to protect pastors who have been found guilty of pedophilia and sexual abuse. Yes true, i know the church does pay out a substantial amount to make amends for this, but here is another interesting thing. They will always ask to let the church police (not the real name but the papal office that deals with these matters) to deal with it rather than let the officials in any given country deal with it. The victims make the final call, but so far I have yet to hear of one case this papal office dealt with end up with the pastor being dismissed and jailed.

    Then there is the bigger issues. Lets start with WW2. How many here know that the pope that died just before WW2 started was against joining hitler. He was, what happened? He died and the next dude, who happened to be his personal assistant (not really but he was working under the pope at the time) took his seat and was pro-hitler. Why? To promote the church and kill jews while at it.
    Mind you the jews where not forgiven by the catholic church for killing jesus until after the war was over, so they resented jews for almost 2000 years. Long time to resent someone whom we do not even have confirmed evidence actually existed yet.

    How about all the other wars in history? Well in more recent wars the catholic church has been involved there too, not just as a church but politically. True they never actually gave people weapons, but religious people have been encouraged to blindly follow their faith into death, something that still happens today. Jugoslavia, Bosnia, Croatia and many other countries suffered a great deal because of the strife that the church was part of.

    I am not saying that we should resent them for this. I am simply stating that we can't ignore any church despite how charitable they may seem.

  20. Most congregations give a minute amount of money to charity. So we SHOULD tax them, get that 70 billion dollars, and actually do something worth while with it. According to the UN, to end world hunger, we would need 30 billion dollars. So, essentially, we could end world hunger by taxing churches.

  21. Hey Buddy, you need to get your head on straight here. Have you any idea how easy it is to become a minister and start a church? Well It's really easy to do. I am an Atheist/ Agnostic. I do however practice Wicca. I find it satisfying. They need to be taxed or shut down.

  22. Churches should lose their tax deductible status and pay taxes on the land they use!! if they are oging to keep promoting homophobic and anti-science , they should be classified as a hate group

  23. The only taxes churches should pay are property taxes. I mean why should I pay if someone gives me money? You wanna tax my birthday cards too? I don't think any nonprofits should be disallowed to endorse candidates, I mean that makes zero sense to me. You have to pay to endorse candidates, why?

  24. John hagee "Pastor of the corner stone church" is worth over $5,000,000. That's disgusting. But he will stand up and talk about saving people and feeding the hungry. Yet he will drive his rolls Royce back to his mansion, take of his $12,000 suit, and eat his fancy steak and truffles while half his church members r barley scraping by and feed into his message of false hope. It's disgusting. And it's depressing to think I wasted 4 years of my life being one of those people.

  25. We need to after the IRS again the evangelical christian churches were clearly endorsing Donald Trump, they need to be paying their taxes

  26. keep in mind that even though pastors do get the housing allowance deduction Pastors also pay 100% of Social security and medicare (self-employment tax) which heightens the tax liability substantially.

  27. I like this idea, to a point… Yes, I wouldn't want to see any of the churches that actually help the homeless or sick, etc. lose the money they need to accomplish those goals. But, as soon as they start holding their sandwiches hostage, as they preach to them about god and all that nonsense, I think they need to be taxed. If they're going to help people, great, more power to them, but if they're gonna sell their fake products along the way, they have no right getting special treatment, because now they are officially a 'business'.

  28. If you are Secular and agree with removing Religious tax exemptions, like the fb page! https://www.facebook.com/SARTEglobal/?fref=ts

  29. it is part of tyhe answer
    religion as it is now is nothing more than a economic black hole that offers nothing in return

    if we could tax them and somehow put that money into education and research then we could start fixing some of the damage they have done to humanity over the past millenia

    if anything they are the organisations that should be the most heavuily taxed out of them all

    with any luck we could tax them into bankruptcy and shutdown

  30. I'm atheist and don't love churches at all but damn there's a lot of disgusting comments on here that are totally missing the point.

  31. wait, so you gave every reason that they should be taxed(they don't follow the rules, get special priveleges that other nonprofits don't, etc.), and then say they shouldn't be taxed? what?

  32. So one of your big arguments is "keep them out of our politics", but can priests and other church workers go to a city council meeting that's open to the public? Let me answer for you – yes, they can. They are part of the public, so they can go to these public forums and influence decisions made by our government. And they are. Constantly effecting public policy. But yet they don't pay taxes to help support those policies. So lets tax them, because there is absolutely no way to stop them from influencing public policy.

  33. June 18, 2017 Isn't it amazing how quickly the Trump government took away the last restriction the Churches (supposedly) had to obey.

  34. there's no reason our nation , based on a separation if church and state. They don't pay what everyone else pays, but they make up nine kinds of bullshit.
    It's as big a line of hypocritical bullshit as was slavery.

    You use too many words too say so little time.

  35. No more tax free status for the business of Religion. By being exempt from taxation, it puts the government in the position of sanctioning religion.

  36. .Tv Churches are horrible when it comes to breaking the rules, but as someone who goes to a smaller church and someone that has an uncle as a priest, I guarantee their are good churches that don't violate the rules.

  37. Churches should be taxed… any argument against such is stupid.
    Obviously churches affect politics and if they do they should be taxed…

  38. The focus of a lot of comments here are mega churches, which are definitely a huge problem but removing tax exempt status would punish small churches that either just tithe to give some sort of compensation to their ministry or that plus some charity work.

  39. Atheists: “Separation of church and state!!!”

    Also Atheists: “Tax churches!!!”

    So which is it? Tax churches or separation of church and state? You can’t have both.

    Separation of church and state goes both ways whether you like it or not. Yes, the church stays out of the government but the government also stays out of the church . Taxing churches and mandating where a certain percent of their (donated) funds go is the government interfering in church matters. Which is a violation separation of church and state.

    So you’re either for separation of church and state, or you’re for taxing churches. Again, can’t have both.

  40. NON PROFITS??? CATHOLIC INVEST IN STOCKS AND BUSINESS AND OWN PROPERTIES AND THEY ENDORSE POLITICIANS LIKE INC IN THE PHILIPPINES. AND HAVE PRIVATE GUNS TOO.

  41. bullshit!! It's time to REPEAL the 501c3 tax-exempt religious organizations clause that was put in place in 1954 by Senator lyndon Johnson. it's time for the church to start paying their fair share of taxes since they don't pay any at all currently. This issue needs to be brought onto the Senate and Congress floor for a vote immediately!! If the church actually paid taxes we could easily pay for our infrastructure problems, our health care problems and our education. I am personally sick and tired of seeing the church trying to have their say in the political arena without paying for a ticket to the show. If churches want their say in the political arena they need to pay the price like everybody else.

  42. the problem is that they still do those things and nothing is being done about it.!! taxing the church is logical! the church cost the American taxpayer 71 billion dollars a year in subsidies and you think taxing the church is bad? Bullshit!

  43. Respectable opinion. Not quite sure how I feel about this but I just talked about this with my aunt. I think you're very right on everything about this. Small churches pastors shouldn't take the hit with corrupt mega church pastors that actually deserve to lose their tax exemptions.

  44. People in the comments…you can’t tax organizations like churches and then NOT tax: Red Cross, SPCA, and environmentalist groups.

  45. It dosnt do much to keep pointing. out these types of probblems if we cant do ANYTHING ABOUT IT. WHAT CAN A PERSON DO ABOUT THIS KIND OF CHRISTIAN BULLYING ???

  46. People saying churches aren't charitable organizations is RETARDED… People give money freely… Of their own accord. You are just taxing people for being religious when you tax the church… This is simple shit… What's to stop people from giving weekly 'gifts' free of tax to a pastor
    As for the building, more than enough charity is done by pastors and congregation to be considered charity tax free….. All taxing the church would do is stop many churches from existing or for being kept, lowering revenues AND charity. But then that's the point if you are anti-religion isn't it? Then that can't be considered separation of church and state.. It makes religion beholden to the government in one fell swoop. No logical contradictions here, move along!!!

  47. Why can't they be treated like other non-profit organizations? They would have to be accountable for the amount of money they donate, and they get to keep their tax exempt status. As long as they don't get political.

  48. The idea of no transparency is total bs, Members VOTE on the budget, Members CREATE teh budget. Any church has its budget available to see. SO ok tax my church and reimburse us for social services. You owe us at least a million bucks. and i have the documentation and receipts to prove it.

  49. I disagree. I believe other non profita can remain tax exempt but all religions should be taxed. They are getting away with highway robbery

  50. I understand your reasoning. But I fully believe that there should be a new line drawn or category made and that category be called "For profit churches" because that is exactly what a mega church would fall under. Your simple Synigogog, temple and church are nothing like a mega church and should be able to keep their standings. But mega churches are a business and should be taxed as such.

  51. Whether taxing the church is "the answer" or not depends on the question. Churches are big business today and should be taxed just like other businesses.

  52. I don't believe in taxing churches that money comes from donations why are we taxing money willfully given away by people who already pay taxes?
    Not all churches are bad, when my family was hungry they get us, when we almost lost our home they helped us make rent.

  53. If taxing the church does not work, the nonprofit status should just be repealed. There is nothing about the first amendment that states that you are granted an ability to pay no taxes. Plus, when a vast majority of these religions do not use money for charitable causes giving them nonprofit statuses would be a mistake.

  54. The government is scared of churches. They actually have incredible social power and creating a direct conflict would have democratic consequences. They just need to wait till the demographics of church attendees falls enough.

  55. Listen folks the biggest law breakers is by hands down the government… isn’t it funny how they make the law to their benefit then they claim to be the only ones with free speech or thoughts.??? Does that sound correct. If a 501c3 organization is in fact a part of the government then should they not share the same rights of the government in as far as free representation and free speech goes. If the government can represent itself to the people with political views and opinions the. Why can’t the church also have views and freely express them. Why is an atheist so afraid of freedom of thought and freedom of speech inside the church. If you do not subscribe to those beliefs being proclaimed then that is your purgative. Ask your self my friend how do the rules even make sense. Are not the rules in actuality anti freedom of religion??

  56. I don’t think most of you understand why most churches are tax exempt… it is because most if not all of there funding comes from donations… and 80 to 90 percent of what they do bring in goes back into the community through serving there members and local communities. Churches are the ones who help when no one else especially the government will not or can not. It was the church who gives storm and natural disaster victims the most help.. it is the church that gives values to society, it is the church who feeds the poor and runs countless community programs…. Folks just do not understand what they are talking about hear.

  57. Hey I'm a pastor. Can I clear up some issues on your video with pastor pay? We still are taxed on patronage or housing allowances. We still have to pay the full 15.3 percent on this. Pastors are considered self employed. Good video though.

  58. Why not tax churches and use the tax revenues to payoff the national debt. After the debt is paid off remove the tax.

  59. "If holy people are so interested in politics, government, and public policy, let them pay the price of admission like everyone else." – George Carlin

  60. Tax Churches!! No more Tax Havens!!. If non profits have to pay taxes so be it!! I have to pay taxes and I'm working poor!!

  61. Let’s collect old canned food and used clothes and make sandwich’s that’s our contribution so they get thousands in tax breaks, and all with the obligation that they have to hear the gospel.

  62. they don't have to account for where the money comes from or where it goes .they are known crown blue blood line ,inbred blood line.

  63. do [bob hope sex ring ]then do [the dozier school for boys]then do[the origins of war in child abuse]then do [republican theocracy]then go fuck your self.

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