The U.S. government is estimated to lose $810 million in taxes as a result of churches’ tax-exempt status. While megachurches and televangelists make fortunes and live lavishly without paying taxes, American taxpayers bear the burden of subsidizing churches and religious places of worship throughout the country.
A tax exemption is a privilege, not a right. Churches received an official federal income tax exemption in 1894 for their positive contributions to the public, but time has revealed multiple reasons why the U.S. government should revoke this privilege.
We are in an era of megachurches. Congregations of tens of thousands make millions with little supervision. Televangelist Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston is the biggest in the country, with 45,000 weekly attendees and annual untaxed revenue reaching $76 million. Why should American taxpayers support the extravagant lifestyles of wealthy pastors? Churches should be taxed like the big businesses they have become.
Hospitals and homeless shelters are justified in receiving tax exemptions because the services they provide would fall to the government if they ceased to exist. If churches ceased to exist, it would not be the government’s responsibility to provide religious services, therefore, making churches tax exempt is unjustifiable.
Last year, Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian group, declared itself a church. They do not have any congregations, but they do fund radio and programming that is often political to millions of people. A group like this probably became a church because of the many political and financial benefits that come with it.
While other nonprofits are required to file a tax return to the IRS to receive tax-exempt status, churches automatically receive tax-exempt status. This favoritism by the IRS is not only unfair but unconstitutional.
Normally, tax exempt groups are required to disclose where their money comes from, but according to The New York Times, "churches are required to disclose essentially nothing about who or what supplies them with their funds." This allows politically-motivated people to operate with discretion.
Churches and places of worship enjoy tax-exempt status as long as they abide by IRS statutes, which prohibit political campaigning and lobbying. Focus on the Family is politically active and in violation of IRS statutes. Organizations such as this should not receive tax-exempt status.
By providing a financial benefit to religious institutions, the government is supporting religion in disregard of separation of church and state. A tax exemption is a form of subsidy, and the government should not be responsible for subsidizing religion.
Former President Ulysses S. Grant warned Congress, “I would call your attention to the importance of correcting an evil that, if permitted to continue, will probably lead to great trouble in our land … the accumulation of vast amounts of untaxed church property.”
Grant was right to warn us. Today churches hold an estimated value of $300 billion to $500 billion in untaxed property. Churches are tax exempt, but they utilize public services like roads and police. This causes a tax increase for average citizens, who the government relies on to pay the taxes churches refuse to. By issuing this tax exemption, the government forces American taxpayers to support religion, even if they do not agree with some or all doctrines.
The tax break restricts churches’ freedom of speech because it deters pastors from publicly supporting or speaking against political candidates.
Taxpayers are essentially giving churches extra money for nothing in return. This needs to end immediately. The separation of church and state is imperative in a successful democracy, but churches receiving tax-exempt status is completely unjustifiable. American taxpayers deserve better allocation of their tax dollars.
Max Nedanovich is a 21-year-old mass communication junior from Mandeville, Louisiana.