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The Yearly Cost of Religious Tax Exemptions: $71,000,000,000

Posted by on Jun. 17, 2012 at 7:26 AM
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 The Yearly Cost of Religious Tax Exemptions: $71,000,000,000

We know churches get tax exemptions, but how much money does that actually come out to?

University of Tampa professor Ryan T. Cragun along with students Stephanie Yeager and Desmond Vega ran some calculations and figured out a number:

While some people may be bothered by the fact that there are pastors who live in multimillion dollar homes, this is old news to most. But here is what should bother you about these expensive homes: You are helping to pay for them! You pay for them indirectly, the same way local, state, and federal governments in the United States subsidize religion - to the tune of about $71 billion every year.

So... chump change.

Their article (with a defense of how they calculated the amount) appears in the June/July 2012 issue of Free Inquiry.

"The issue of religious tax preferment is especially relevant now because the number of Americans living outside any religious tradition continues to grow," said Tom Flynn, Free Inquiry's editor. "That underscores the unfairness of taxing all Americans to subsidize religious institutions that only some Americans utilize."

The researchers already know what they'll get criticized for:

... before we get into our calculations, we think it best to address a criticism that is likely to be raised about this article. By suggesting that these groups should pay taxes, we are likely to be criticized by those who think that religions are largely charitable institutions engaged in beneficial service or charitable work and should therefore be exempt from taxes.

Cue reporter Kimberly Winston‘s article in which she interviews a critic of this finding:

... Mark Rienzi, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said that Americans have made a democratic decision that religious institutions are good for our communities - believers and atheists alike.

"Whether it is the Quakers opposing slavery, Reverend King arguing for equality, or a Catholic soup kitchen feeding and sheltering all in need," Rienzi said, "our history is full of examples confirming the great public benefit of our religious diversity."

Right... because church leaders never use the pulpit to oppose civil rights for gay Americans, or speak out against affordable/accessible health-care for women, or use the extra money to buy themselves a larger house because Jesus wants them to be prosperous...

The researchers also ran a few other calculations:

States bypass an estimated $26.2 billion per year by not requiring religious institutions to pay property taxes.

...

Capital gains tax exemptions for religious institutions may be as much as $41 million a year.

...

U.S. clergy may claim as much as $1.2 billion in tax exemptions annually via the parsonage allowance.

Given the current political scene, none of this is going to change anytime soon. Religious groups have far too much power in Washington and they're not about to ask the government to remove their special privileges. But we can keep the pressure on.

Even if these calculations are proven to be off, the principle isn't going to change: Religion is a business, churches get tax breaks they don't really deserve, and we'd all be better off if they paid their fair share.

by on Jun. 17, 2012 at 7:26 AM
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Replies (1-10):
Carpy
by Ruby Member on Jun. 17, 2012 at 7:32 AM
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Is it a cost to you if I don't give you part of my paycheck?

Della529
by Matlock on Jun. 17, 2012 at 7:48 AM
2 moms liked this

 It's kind of early yet, and I'm not totally awake, but I'll say this:

I want religion out of government.  I don't care for the Office of Faith Based whatever-it's-called.  And I'm on the fence about property taxes regarding churches.  I don't think the homes purchased by churches or the parsonage allowances should be tax-exempt.

My opinion is based on a mega church here in my city that owns 13 blocks of prime downtown property, the $300K+ it pays it's main pastor and it's influence in local city government.

IhartU
by Gold Member on Jun. 17, 2012 at 7:54 AM
9 moms liked this

 I say tax them. We need the dollars to fix the Country, not to send little Johnny to Bible camp for the summer.

KimmyShaw
by Member on Jun. 17, 2012 at 7:58 AM
1 mom liked this

Its not the churches that bother me, its the celebreties that hide behind Scientology to not pay taxes; THAT burns my ass!

TrouserMouse
by on Jun. 17, 2012 at 8:00 AM
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Ideally, I would be willing to accept any cost associated if religion was truly pulled out of the government.

mommajen32
by Platinum Member on Jun. 17, 2012 at 8:10 AM
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Property outside of the parsonage and what the church actually sits on IS taxed (having worked with a UMC charity/church). It isn't fair to look at these mega-churches as the example, the average church is 100 or so people and struggling to keep up with the rising energy costs and other maintenance necessary to keep the doors open. Unlike a business they do not have a "product" to sell, change the profit margins, etc... they exist on the limited resources of their congregation. They should be exempt like all other non-profits. There's a lot more that churches do than send Johnny to Church camp, though I find significant value in that and many times so does Johnny. 

Jesi_79
by Bronze Member on Jun. 17, 2012 at 8:23 AM
6 moms liked this

 I love the way liberals think that by not taxing something it is a cost.

Della529
by Matlock on Jun. 17, 2012 at 8:24 AM

 I checked the property tax roll for the church-owned house the mega church pastor lives in, and low-and-behold, it's TAX EXEMPT.

I agree with you about the smaller churches, but around here, it seems like a number of them just keep getting bigger and bigger.  And they're teaching that "prosperity gospel" more and more - the more one gives to the church, the bigger their blessings will be.  I don't care for the "PG", but that is my opinion.

I'm still not totally awake (I can't drink coffee), so I hope I made sense :)

Quoting mommajen32:

Property outside of the parsonage and what the church actually sits on IS taxed (having worked with a UMC charity/church). It isn't fair to look at these mega-churches as the example, the average church is 100 or so people and struggling to keep up with the rising energy costs and other maintenance necessary to keep the doors open. Unlike a business they do not have a "product" to sell, change the profit margins, etc... they exist on the limited resources of their congregation. They should be exempt like all other non-profits. There's a lot more that churches do than send Johnny to Church camp, though I find significant value in that and many times so does Johnny. 

 

IhartU
by Gold Member on Jun. 17, 2012 at 8:27 AM

 

Quoting mommajen32:

Property outside of the parsonage and what the church actually sits on IS taxed (having worked with a UMC charity/church). It isn't fair to look at these mega-churches as the example, the average church is 100 or so people and struggling to keep up with the rising energy costs and other maintenance necessary to keep the doors open.

So? They can meet at a home or outside if the weather permits- they don't NEED a church building, they just WANT one, it's not a necessity.

Unlike a business they do not have a "product" to sell, change the profit margins, etc... they exist on the limited resources of their congregation.

Oh yes they do. The product is religion. If they need money, maybe they can do fundraisers like everyone else does. Hell, the friggin Catholic churches around here seem to have car raffles and a Casino night every week.

They should be exempt like all other non-profits. There's a lot more that churches do than send Johnny to Church camp, though I find significant value in that and many times so does Johnny. 

As long as the church is running a legit charity and are not forcing people to attend  in exchange for services I have no issues with it but I do with those that run no charity to speak of- or a once or twice a year free dinner thing so they can say they are a charity- and use their tax exempt number to by Sunday School supplies and building materials, They need to pay taxes like everyone else.

As for there being 'value' in Church camp' that's your opinion and the Government has no business bypassing tax dollars in order to do it because in essence, that's endorsing religion which is not allowed per the Bill of Rights.

 

Della529
by Matlock on Jun. 17, 2012 at 8:28 AM
4 moms liked this

 Do you think the churches pay for the added infrastructure (IE. city water and sewer lines, added maintenance to roadways due to more traffic, extra lanes, etc) or does that fall to taxpayers?

Quoting Jesi_79:

 I love the way liberals think that by not taxing something it is a cost.

 

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