I’ve been wanting to write on this subject for a while. Well, procrastination allows me to ride on the work of others, as Jeff Schweitzer makes an excellent case for taxing churches just like the rest of us.
[T]he Supreme Court ruled in 1970 that exempting church property was permissible, but not required by the constitution (Walz v. Tax Commission of the City of New York). We have no obligation to exempt churches from property tax.
What has been obscured by time is the nature of the Supreme Court’s decision in Walz, a close vote of 5-4. The minority wrote an opinion supporting the argument that state exemption for church property indirectly caused the state to make a contribution to religious bodies, in violation of the First Amendment. Exempting churches from property tax was one vote away from being declared unconstitutional.
The Tenth Circuit Court further clarified the Walz ruling in 1972 (Christian Echoes National Ministry, Inc. v. U.S.), holding that “tax exemption is a privilege, a matter of grace rather than a right.” The Supreme Court went even further in that direction in 1983 (Regan v. Taxation with Representation), ruling 8-3 that tax exemption was indeed equivalent to a tax subsidy. Justice Rehnquist wrote:
“Both tax exemptions and tax deductibility are a form of subsidy that is administered through the tax system. A tax exemption has much the same effect as a cash grant to the organization of the amount of tax it would have to pay on its income.”
That is not the ravings of a left-wing nut job, but the words of a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court who sat well right of center. Even conservative courts have ruled consistently that churches have no special privilege in property tax exemptions.
James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, James Garfield and Ulysses Grant all opposed the exemption. Grant said to Congress, “”I would also call your attention to the importance of correcting an evil that, if permitted to continue, will probably lead to great trouble in our land… it is the accumulation of vast amounts of untaxed church property.”
Extending that privilege can no longer be justified. (source)
Churches are big business, and we lose $300 billion to $500 billion in revenue every year by supporting them. Most church-attendees will tell you that their religion is more important to them than their cable TV, so lets have churchgoers tithe. Churches don’t pass the hat to support my superstitions nor my clubhouses, I shouldn’t have to pony up for theirs.