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How much does religious exemptions cost us?


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#1    Magicjax

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Posted 19 November 2012 - 11:44 PM

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Should churches receive tax exemptions on their property? Should religious organizations be tax exempt in their businesses even those which compete with for-profit companies? Should individuals receive tax deductions for expenses at private religious schools? It is important to understand what sorts of exemptions exist, why they exist, and how the various court cases have proceeded. The more you know, the better informed your judgment will be.

http://atheism.about..._Exemptions.htm

I stumbled upon the above page and it got me thinking. With all the political talk lately about the nations budget during the election. I wonder how much more money would be in the budget if churches and religious organizations didn't receive tax exemptions.

Where would I find the real numbers?  Not the opinions. The real numbers. Any suggestions on where to find this information accurately?

Thanks.

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#2    freetoroam

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Posted 20 November 2012 - 12:19 AM

"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."

And thats the US.
But  the usual religious lot still ask us to donate to one of their charities.

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#3    Orcseeker

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Posted 20 November 2012 - 12:59 AM

So much for following their religions rules, greed is a sin is it not?

I guess some of us will be rubbing shoulders with the proclaimed "holy men" in hell.


#4    Ashotep

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Posted 20 November 2012 - 01:25 AM

These smaller churches I don't think they should have to pay property taxes but some of the multi million dollar facilities and expensive homes yes.  If they are going to involve the church in politics yes.


#5    Magicjax

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Posted 20 November 2012 - 03:36 AM

Why not the smaller churches?  Businesses, schools, club houses, stores, take your pick. They all have to pay regardless of size.

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#6    Cybele

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Posted 20 November 2012 - 04:19 AM

Some time ago I saw Oprah interview Joe Osteen, televangelist and pastor of a mega-church in Houston. She asked him, while sitting in the middle of his huge and opulently decorated living room, what he thought of biblical passages advocating giving up all your possessions and living the life of a beggar. To this he replied that he thought God was most concerned with people being happy, fulfilled lives for his sake, and doing work for the good of others.

I have nothing wrong with this belief in principle, but I can only conclude that such people intentionally ignore biblical passages such as the following:

"Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

http://bible.cc/matthew/19-24.htm

Edited by Cybele, 20 November 2012 - 04:20 AM.

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#7    CommunitarianKevin

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Posted 20 November 2012 - 05:38 AM

I have always found it odd that an all-powerful God needs people to donate money...

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#8    eight bits

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Posted 20 November 2012 - 06:52 AM

If you're serious, it's a little hard, because the religious exemption is not just "churches," but that portion of religious activity that is indistinguishable from secular charity. For example, Is Boston College to be counted as an arm of the Roman Catholic Church, or as an educational instituion? If an arm of the Roman Catholic Church, then why would nearby Harvard, founded as a seminary for (what is now) United Church of Christ ministers, not be a religious institution?

Define your terms, and you can have your number easily enough (*). But the curse of crispness is that there's a good chance that other people will disagree with your definition, and the difference between you could easily be some multiple of $ 100 billion (which used to be a lot of money before quantitative easing made us the world's first banana republic that imports bananas).

On a point arising, no other unit of government is directly forced to follow the federal tax code's idea of tax exemption. In practice, however, most staes and localities do anyway. So, schools are usually tax exempt (except those that are run as businesses, like some vocational training firms), and pay no state or local income or property taxes.

Note that any charity may make a "payment in lieu of taxes," and many choose to do so, since especially for local services like fire and police, the charity does use the service, and it is good public relations to be a good neighbor. On the other hand, some charities choose to replace the local service "in kind." Boston College, for example, has its own police force. When you make your definition, be sure to state how you'll account for these things, as offsets to the deduction, I would think.

Size matters, too. Localities may well choose to tax charitably owned land and buildings to any extent that they are not currently in use to further directly the charitable mission. This is analogous to the income  (business profits) taxes that charities pay on business activities that don't further the charitable mission.

Anyway, it's accountancy. Say what's a credit and what's a debit, and you'll have a number soon enough.

(*) Well, kinda. The narrowly defined religious institutions are not just exempt from taxation, but also from much charitable trust fianancial regulation. So, while secular charities typically file a quasi-tax return (Form 990; if you're interested, these are usually available from Guidestar dot org, membership required, but it's free for the basic service), "churches" don't. You can partially reverse-engineer some of churches' income from the donors' tax deductions, but lots of people take the unitemized "standard" deduction, or don't report their charitable deductions completely.

Hope that helps.

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#9    willowdreams

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Posted 20 November 2012 - 06:57 AM

my issues with taxes and religion is, WHY EXACTLY are the tax exempt?

I honestly do not 'get it'.  is it because churches are to do charity? Then every single penny needs accounted for that was used for charity, and THOSE pennies are tax exempt.. but otherwise, they should pay taxes.

most places that accept donation for support, do not have 'bosses' running around wearing expensive jewelry and fancified hair do's that was put up by someone employed to do hair :P

anyways, i just do not 'get it', for some odd reason it has never been explained to me exactly what all parts of a church/religion is tax exempt.

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#10    eight bits

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Posted 20 November 2012 - 10:11 AM

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my issues with taxes and religion is, WHY EXACTLY are the tax exempt?

Exactly is hard, because the United States has a Shylockian mandate: no level of government since shortly after the Civil War can establish a religion (benefit a religion by regulation or subsidy) nor inhibit the free exercise of religion (less well defined). So, we might as well try to cut a pound of flesh without shedding any blood. We run up against a total mess:

By standards of legal interpretation, any grant of rights is to be read liberally, as opposed to narrowly or merely literally (think "free press" - this forum has no presses, but it is protected by that very grant of rights). Although it arose as dictum in a Supreme Court case, and so is not really legally biding, nevertheless that "The power to tax is the power to destroy" is widely assented to. Finally, the government chooses to grant tax exemptions to other non-governmental organizations based on what the organizations do with their money.

Put it together, and it becomes very difficult to tax religious organizations. You could have a law that there are to be no  nongovernmental tax-exempt organizations whatsoever, and that would help if you wanted to tax churches. However, political campaigns are nongovernmental organizations that raise donations for a specified purpose. Campaigns do the same objective activities that churches do (hold meetings, publicize their views, extoll the virtues of selected people, suggest good and bad ways for people to behave, ...) What are the odds, do you think, that a politician will vote to tax political campaigns?

So, if campaigns are not taxed, but churches were taxed, then the tax would be imposed on them solely because of their purpose, that it is religious instead of political. No court is going to go along with that as a valid distinction to grant a kind of free exercise to one expressive activity and deny that same grant to black-letter constitutionally protected religious expression of the same objective kind.

(Donations to campaigns are not usually tax-deductible for the donor, unlike church donations. But donations to Harvard are also tax-exempt for the donor, so the same problem arises, a distinction based on the purpose, discriminating against churches based on their purpose.

Worse, as noted in an earlier post, Harvard is a seminary for UCC ministers, Sure, Harvard's  legal team have cleverly created a rat's nest of sham "secular" academic departments to divert attention from the College's true purpose. We're not fools; we see what they've done there.

If Harvard is tax-exempt, how is another church's seminary not tax-exempt? That would be what establishment looks like. In fact, Harvard was founded as a key part of a program of intentional church establishment, a program which Harvard conspires with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to perpetuate even into this very day.

But, so long as every church gets the same deal as UCC, there's no problem, is there?)

Edited by eight bits, 20 November 2012 - 10:21 AM.

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#11    GreenmansGod

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Posted 20 November 2012 - 11:24 AM

I think any money going for real charity (feed the poor, help with utilities, etc.) should be exempt like with any other business.   I think they should be treated as a  business and taxes should be applied. Face it religion is big business and it makes for big profits.

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#12    eight bits

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Posted 20 November 2012 - 11:48 AM

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Face it religion is big business and it makes for big profits.

So's Harvard. It's been a while since any Harvard exec has missed a meal, and supposedly they're the second wealthiest operating nonprofit in the world (I'm told by people who monitor such things; apparently the category does not include grantsmaking-only foundations). I don't need to tell you who's number one.

On what basis, then, can I tax a Roman Catholic parish's religious activities, which are constituionally protected, and not tax Harvard's "real charitable" activities, which aren't (directly) constitutionally protected (outside of Massachusetts, whose constituion has a section devoted to Harvard's privileges and immunities)?

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#13    White Crane Feather

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Posted 20 November 2012 - 03:30 PM

I once had the pleasure of eas dropping on a group of Christian men in a small bible study in a coffee shop. In one conversation they were quoting the bible about charity, then in the next they were complaining about the potential for low income housing comeing to our area and what it would do to their property values.

There was even a statement to the effect of " god wants us to be successful right?"

"I wish neither to possess, Nor to be possessed. I no longer covet paradise, more important, I no longer fear hell. The medicine for my suffering I had within me from the very beginning, but I did not take it. My ailment came from within myself, But I did not observe it until this moment. Now I see that I will never find the light.  Unless, like the candle, I am my own fuel, Consuming myself. "
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#14    Magicjax

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Posted 20 November 2012 - 07:47 PM

Good points.

If I need to narrow it down just to a glimps of the over all answer. I guess ill just choose the most obvious. If all the churches in the United States, from the big ones to the small ones in tiny villages, that do not pay taxes where to pay taxes. How much money would that be?

On the issue of charity work making a difference in being tax/no tax. Then many more should be able to claim that. Not just the obvious. There are so many organizations that raise a lot of money for charity. Heck the bike gang hells angels have done a lot for charity. How many headlines would there be in the paper mad about that if their gang didn't have to pay taxes? (That was just one example).

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#15    eight bits

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Posted 21 November 2012 - 09:35 AM

What I suggest, then, is to look at the study that was the source for freetoroam's $71 billion figure. The authors show what they include, and what they don't include (for example, the value to donors of tax deductions for gifts to churches). Although I think it was "partisan," the work does seem to have been done with a serious attitude.

See if that's close enough to what you're looking for. If not, then looking at what they did may help frame your search for something more tailored to your interest. Let us know.

http://www.secularhu...age=cragun_32_4

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