Should churches be taxed?

Just to prime the pump for a latter entry about the churches Hubby and I saw in Quebec City. That is, the dead and former churches and synagogue (singular) we saw, and how some served a civic purpose and others didn’t.

Why should a church be tax-exempt? Presumably to keep the state from interfering with our right to worship, perhaps because it serves a charitable purpose, or both. But what if a church has a huge honkin’ chunk of property that depresses the neighborhood economy? What if it has very few members in proportion to the size of the property, or if all of them are from outside of the jurisdiction that provides services? Or what if it provides no services for the public good? These aren’t hypothetical situations.

I’m inclined to think that this kind of church should pay taxes in proportion to its in participation in the city or county. That should be reasonably provocative.

Feel free to comment.

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Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.

4 thoughts on “Should churches be taxed?”

  1. -My only concern is that taxation of churches has happened in some European nations, and intentionally or not, it tends to be soft persecution of small and unpopular religions; while larger and better connected bodies pay their taxes while also getting government funds. That last aspect is already becoming part of the American equation with government funding of faith-based initiatives and parochial schools (which are allowed to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, creed, gender, etc.).

    Additionally, tax exempt status also is an American device for regulating religioous meddling in politics. As pastors of churches we can advocate for issues, but not for specific candidates if we want our church to retain its tax exempt status. Since I will almost always be part of a religious minority, I dread the evolution of America into a state with Iraqi-style sectarian endorsed parties, candidates, and platforms.

    In the rural community where I once served, our church was not taxed for services; but did have to pay fees for the sanitation services we used (sewer, community well water, and garbage removal), and for maintaining the sidewalk put on the road in front of the church. That felt more like a feee for service arrangement with the local government. We were always able to refuse the fee, but if we did so we would get none of those services. And for a time we did refuse the garbage fee, and members packed out the trash themselves.

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