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BUDGET: Churches should pay their share of taxes

Letter by George A. Paris, Spanaway on Feb. 15, 2011 at 12:26 pm with 60 Comments »
February 15, 2011 12:26 pm

Our governor and her staff seem to have no problems when it comes to cutting education, health plans, aid to the elderly and so on because of a financial shortfall.

I am over 80 years of age, and I was taught that churches are here to help in time of need. It is my understanding churches are not subject to most tax laws and in many cases even the leaders of the churches are exempt from paying taxes.

Billions of dollars are spent by churches with their beautiful buildings, elaborate furnishings and church-related items.

I am not saying religious teachings are not necessary, but I do feel if the churches paid their share of taxes it would not be necessary to cut deep into the teaching of our children and very possibly would allow funds to keep health and various support programs running.

Do our politicians fear being struck down by a bolt of lightning if they go after what would be a very good source of income?

When we go to church, they never fail to pass the plate around asking for a donation. Why not do the same in the state’s time of need; pass the plate around to the churches.

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Leave a comment Comments → 60
  1. tomwa007 says:

    Thank You George, wonderfully stated.

    I wonder if Casey Treat paid taxes for the helicopter he bought to travel between churches or from the profits from his espresso bars.

  2. One would ask the same for United Way, Goodwill, Salvation Army. But I suspect the writer has an agenda that is fixated only on this particular non-profit entity. At least when the plate is passed in church it is a voluntary act – just as my vote at the ballot box.

    Actually, given what I have heard from church based schools in the region, they might be using their source of funding much better in “teaching our children” than the public schools.

    George, your letter might have carried a bit more weight had you at least conceded that the government needs to manage all the taxes we already give them, before you start pointing fingers at untapped sources for them to get more from.

  3. MarksonofDarwin says:

    Taxation ≠ charity.

  4. Gods in general don’t require money. What would they do with the stuff? Remodel the Garden of Eden, turn the Tower of Babel into condos, or get a sex change operation for Thor? With the flick of a wrist they could create the stuff or abolish it world wide. That being the case, we should return to that old time bible verse “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s” and forget the tax free status for any and all religious organizations.

    And then we should rephrase that verse to read something like “Give to Gregoire what is ours and continue to give and give and give…

  5. camas,

    Not to defend offerings to the church in religious terms – but merely that one should be allowed a personal choice to give where their heart is, be it their church or the United Way

    Personally, I take some offense at a church using it’s offerings to build huge monuments to itself rather than spending it on the poor and truly needy in the world.

    However, I would object to any non-profit entity that professes to do “good deeds'” towards its fellow man to be taxed, and most certainly if churches were singled out at the exclusion of others.

    But overall, I would object to providing our elected leaders any additional sources of taxation – or an increase in current ones – until I see some hard proof that they can manage better what tax revenues they already get.

  6. UnbiasedReporter says:

    Wonder how much they could rake in if they taxed the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation?

    Why not get the Federal Government to pay property taxes on all the land they own in the state while we’re at it.

  7. If this concept could be enacted, the next step would be to collect revenue from those Washington State residents who give to televangelists.
    Now there is a group who do absolutely no public good for locals here.
    But good luck collecting from that bunch !
    Use the money for two extra lanes north and south on I-5 and 167 not another dime for bloody teachers ! They already got most of the Wash State stimulus money.

  8. Pecksbadboy says:

    UnbiasedReporter says:
    “Why not get the Federal Government to pay property taxes on all the land they own in the state while we’re at it. ”

    Hello, WE are the Federal Government.

  9. BigSwingingRichard says:

    If you want someone with tons of cash to start paying taxes, ask our fine Gov. why she allowed Indian casinos to expand without paying any B&O tax on gambling revenues?

  10. “But overall, I would object to providing our elected leaders any additional sources of taxation – or an increase in current ones – until I see some hard proof that they can manage better what tax revenues they already get.”

    So you would be against taxing Indian casinos or other Indian businesses.

  11. “Billions of dollars are spent by churches with their beautiful buildings, elaborate furnishings and church-related items.”

    So would you be happier if the churches had removable pews so that they could house the homeless in between services?

  12. Fatuous,

    The question of taxing Indian businesses on Indian “treaty” land is something that goes a bit deeper than my humble opinion about making our elected officials a bit more responsible in how they spend the tax revenues they already have at their disposal.

    While I suppose there would be some serious Constitutional issues involved in taxation of religion, I am fairly certain it may even take quite a bit of brute force to enact any state taxation on Indian businesses on Indian land.

    To suggest Native Americans on those “Reservations” would peacefully submit to such intrusion is a bit short-sighted on your part.

    I would go so far as state it would be easier to establish a sort of customs control point for all non-tribal personnel coming into and out of tribal property.
    And, moreover, again in my humble opinion, the voice of opposition to those who frequent those casinos may by louder and more forceful as to their right to gamble than those defending the idea of separation of church and state for tax purposes.

    In short, a can of worms that would be the height of irresponsibility to try and open.

  13. donjames says:

    Otherwise, I bet ‘ol George is all for “separation of church and state”.

  14. UnbiasedReporter says:

    Pecksbadboy says:
    Hello, WE are the Federal Government.

    The “we” here is getting the shaft. “We” only get back 88 cents out of every dollar “we” send to the Feds.

    Besides, the Feds have Helicopter Ben, he can always print up more money for them (seems popular with them now days)

  15. nwcolorist says:

    I really doubt that taxing the churches to pay for public schools would solve any of the problems you speak of. The schools would burn through the new revenues, there would be no improvement, there would be a new search for revenues, and the cycle would begin again.

    The answer is not more money.

  16. klthompson says:

    Amen!

  17. Churches should be taxed. They engage openingly in politics. end of discussion

  18. eagle_beak says:

    i would like to see our entire taxation system be revamped into some type of flat tax or the ideas presented in “The Fair Tax Book” by neal boortz

  19. bobcat1a says:

    Unbiased Reporter says: The “we” here is getting the shaft. “We” only get back 88 cents out of every dollar “we” send to the Feds.

    But UR, all those republican states would be forced into bankruptcy if we liberal states stop sending in our transfer payments. Have you no mercy for Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, etc?

  20. Sue1234 has a good point. I ceased going to the Puyallup Nazarene the day the Senior Pastor (who is still there) told his flock to vote for Joyce McDonald. Have not been back there since.

  21. denismenis says:

    As soon as poltical direction is issued, it ceases to become a house of worship and becomes a poltical organization. Tax them.

    Same goes with storing political signs in the basement.

  22. denismenis says:

    PS – IQ… thanks for giving me a reason not to go there.

  23. bobcat1a says:

    Oh, and UR, let’s not forget the welfare states of Alaska, Arizona, and our neighbor Idaho who depend on our dollars. If we cut our taxes, whatever will they do?

  24. sue,
    Obvious overstatement there – not denying your personal experience – just that I have never attended a church where the Pastor endorsed any political persuasion. Closest I ever heard was part of general prayer that all our elected officials be given wisdom. While hope springs eternal on that prayer – I would not claim that churches never take a political stand.

  25. Early in our nations history, it was the churches that carried the message of liberty to the citizens of the 13 colonies. To stifle the voice of churches today by limiting their right to endorse political candidates or causes, is to stifle the voice of freedom for those who desire their perspective.

    As for taxation, if your church needs the permission of the government to exist though incorporation (501c3) then by all means it should support it’s master: the State.

    If your church is God ordained, then you are beholden to no nation, and your message of liberty should ring loud and clear for all who have the ears to hear it.

  26. No one is stifling the voice of churches, but if the churches are “beholden to no nation” like you say, yet want their voice to be heard in government, then instead of freeloading and working the system as they do, they need to “man up” and pay taxes like any other moral, hard-working, middle-class taxpayer or business.

  27. pazzo242 says:

    Churches have every right to speak out in favor of a candidate if that candidate is running against someone who is at odds with the beliefs of the religion. As an example if a candidate is pro-abortion and given the vast majority of churches have a pro-life position then it is only obvious that they would be for the candidate that is pro-life.

    If you decide to stop going to church only because the Pastor endorsed a candidate and that was the only reason you picked to stop attending you weren’t much of a believer in the first place. You were looking for an excuse and the endorsement gave you your out. Because there are so many other good messages at my church my Priest’s political position is hardy a reason to step away from, what I believe to be, the word of God.

    Some of you want to take one single verse out of the Bible “Give unto Caesar, what is Caesar and give unto God what is God’s” to justify taxing the Church. Well, guess what folks? Caesar (United States Government) has decided a long time ago that God doesn’t owe them anything, thus making God a tax free entity. Tax status has to come from the feds and that’s not happening anytime soon…..thank God!

  28. Objective says:

    Last time I checked. This sounds like somebody wanting to tax the people of the Churches double. Imagine paying property taxes, sales taxes, federal taxes, and all the other taxes out there. Then go to Church give whatever you can afford in the offerning, to realize that it is going to pay more taxes.

    Is Freedom of Religion Free, if you have to pay the government for it?

  29. ALL 501(c)3 orgs (not just churches) are required to abstain from politicking in order to retain their tax-free status.

    Not sure how enforcing tax codes equally on ALL not for profits in any way infringes “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”

  30. yabetchya says:

    sue1234 says:
    February 15, 2011 at 6:41 pm
    Churches should be taxed. They engage openingly in politics. end of discussion

    suey
    My church, NEVER has brought up politics, and they don’t pass a collection plate.

  31. denismenis says:

    I step into a church to hear the word of God, not the endorsement of a political hack, and have walked out of more than one as a result. A collection plate becomes a political contribution.

    To me, it diminishes the church. God is much bigger than that. .

    Read “American Grace” – a dry book with lots of data, but succinct in its conclusion that an increasing number of people are identifying their religiosity as “none” – because the impression that churches are becoming primarily political arms instead of spiritual messages. The condescension and inferred insults upon alleged “non-believers” is more a political judgment – and judgment of others is a fundamental base of religion.

  32. most churches that politic deny that they politic

  33. nonstopjoe says:

    Get rid of Sec. 501 (c) of the tax code. All of the exempted organizations should pay taxes like everyone else.

  34. SandieMS says:

    IF these entities are non profit, then why are they raking in the bucks? NO religious leader should be rich, own espresso stands, own helicopters or mansions.

    The moment these entities are raking in the bucks, they are not considered non profit anymore and should be taxed on anything they keep over their annual necessary running costs.

    As an example: If the church spends $20,000 a year to run, pay the MODEST salary to the pastor, supplies for the church, then $20,000 is their yearly budget. Anything made over that is PROFIT, and should be taxed. The IRS should be watching these churches more closely, audit them more often.

    I don’t understand how hard it is to figure that out.

  35. frankiethomas says:

    My church does house the homeless between services.

  36. Sighs… ok people just because you haven’t experienced it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. There is simply no reason for a church to be tax exempt. Believeing in a God is not reason to make a public institution tax exempt.

  37. Speaking of openly politicing and taxes… ever hear of Jesse Jacksonnn ?

  38. How many posting on here are so adamant about taxing religion, who might also be up and arms about prayer in school, or a Ten Commandments display at a court house, or a manger scene in front of City Hall.

    I don’t deny there are many who could – but my point is strictly financial management by our elected leaders rather than pro/con about religion.

    To offer up any new source of tax revenue (especially one that would be this divisive – not only on a personal level, but Constitutionally as well), without any concern for how these same bums are managing what we currently provide is no different than being scammed by Nigerians wanting your bank account information – twice!

  39. doesthatmakesense says:

    Churches by law, are not required to apply for 501C status, they are exempt by statute because they are religious institutions Per IRS publicatio 1828.

    “Churches that meet the requirements of IRC section
    501(c)(3) are automatically considered tax exempt and
    are not required to apply for and obtain recognition of
    tax-exempt status from the IRS.”

    We should be careful what we ask for. The largest provider of human services, after the Federal Government, is the Catholic church. There are about 23000 students educated by the Catholic Church in Western Washington. Many other religious organizations also provide what the government cannot/will not. Aside from constitutional issues, if these churches are taxed, that means many fewer dollars they can provide. Imagine the impact on the already scarce education dollars if all of the private school students enrolled in the public schools.

  40. Good post doesthatmakesense.

    I will add that IF all private school kids enrolled in public schools it would do two things:

    First, the overall test scores of those public schools would go up.

    Secondly, the test scores of those private school kids would go down.

    Public schools = lowest common denominator.

  41. Before printing such a letter, either the writer or the Tacoma News Tribune should research the tax laws. The church pastors are not exempt from paying federal income taxes. If the pastors make a proper election they may exempt themselves from paying social security taxes on their church income only. Of course, they would not receive any social security checks. Churches must pay taxes on the monies they earn which are not an integral part of their mission.

    Personally, I wish the federal tax law would do away with all deductions for charitable contributions and home mortgage interest expense. How you spend the money you earn should not get your a tax reduction.

  42. I won’t mention any particular group, but there seems to been a lot of “pastors” coming here from a particular Asian nation and opening “churches” just about anywhere they can find an empty building. I’ve even seen them buy a home in residential neighborhoods and hang a church sign out in the front yard. I wonder if the “tax-free” policy has anything to do with it?

  43. northsc, I believe that they said that all test scores would go up back when they integrated the schools. That didn’t work out so well did it?

  44. Thank you doesthatmakesense. It does make sense, and you demonstrate why superficial knowledge and understanding are problematic. I wish all the folks who think religion is a waste of time, or worse, paused to think about what the church has done to extend a helping hand to others. I find it interesting how so many people presume that conservative Christians lack compassion for others when all evidence says otherwise.

  45. sozo – making broad sweeping stereotypes about the characteristics of individuals within any large groups – positive or negative – provides very little useful information and oftentimes leads to errant characterizations of individuals. This is true of all religions – Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Shinto, Native American, etc.

  46. Sozo—conservatives are compassionate? Name a sect that promotes womens rights? Homosexual rights? Minority rights? Organized religion in all its incarnations are inherently and indefinitely bigoted and hate affiliated. This in spite of the majority of church attendees who are in fact decent human beings.

  47. jellee – religions (and all other social groups) are clan-based. The code of ethics/morals that derive from religions are clan-based. Of course the Other is not treated equally in any organization that is, by definition, exclusive to members.

    This is especially true of fundamentalist religions that see their path as the one way towards salvation and other beliefs systems/behaviors as being temptations of the Evil One.

  48. Roncella says:

    Doesthatmakesense, You diffinitely make the most sense on these posts

    We don’t need to start taxing Churches or Religions.

    All that must happen is get the Congress and President Obama to Stop spending money they don’t have. They need to cut somthing to pay for any new spending, Now.

    .

  49. jellee, sorry you’ve had scarring experiences, but your views are severely limited and bigoted. If anyone generalized about African Americans the way you are generalizing here about Christians, they’d be thrown in jail.

    Churches struggle their way through social issues just like everyone else who cares about sustaining a morally sound society. Most Christian “sects” as you call them, believe the Bible is authoritative and do their best to apply biblical principles to contemporary dilemmas. If you do not see the Bible as authoritative, you will find this senseless of course, but that doesn’t make it so.

    Many church leaders have fought for the right of women to be ordained and serve in leadership roles in the church. Some Christian churches now ordain homosexuals, though this remains a question for others because there are many biblical passages that include homosexual conduct as deviant. Mind you the person is not condemned, but the act of engaging in sex with someone of the same gender is seen as anomalous.

    While overt political activity should be avoided (which would mean that Jeremiah Wright’s church along with hundreds of other Liberation Theology churches should be avoided — the one Barack Obama attended for 20 years)
    it is sometimes impossible for a responsible church not to engage in discussion about the political dilemmas swirling about.

    Again, sorry you’re bitter about church, but I’m afraid you don’t know what you are talking about here.

  50. To clear up confusion here…The IRS 501 statutes were signed into law by Eisenhower in 1957 and included the provision of non-endorsement of any political candidate….now follow this specifically…..it does NOT mean that issues cannot be discussed, preached on, debated, examples cited in the OT or NT or relevant information exchanged within the church address by ANYONE.
    Sumner 1234 has an angry little ax to grind, but alas…no handle-no swingin’…
    and another post from the ever alcoholic adolescent stumbles through his mantra of “religions being clan-based” whatever that inane, non-provably idiotic summation is supposed to suggest ( besides lazy scholarship )…
    Sorry pal. Jed Clampett was not exactly the originator of Islam either..go back to school (home is much more effective than where you got your info from apparently)…

  51. Lacking substance larsman dons condescension and “wit” about a screen name as though it made up for lack of intellect.

    Golly gee whiz larsman……reread the OT and tell me again how this book about the descendants of Abraham’s relationship with their deity isn’t clan-based.

  52. Once again beerboy whines about someone else’s condescension.

    “The pot keeps seeing his reflection in all the shiny kettles……”

    beer Boy says:
    September 30, 2010 at 6:09 am

    You remind me of the idiots based on Treasure Island who would get their jollies off by getting the cutest one to troll the Castro and, after being hit on by some guy, come from out of the shadows to fag-bash. Classic expression of repressed urges coming out in aggressive and premeditated homophobic behavior.

    “lack of intellect?”

    beer Boy says:
    October 17, 2010 at 1:48 pm
    dj – Idaho is so thoroughly Rightist it really isn’t that interesting politically…….although…..Governor Butch Otter (his name seems like a gay bestiality porn star) is having a bit of a fight with the Democrat ‘cuz Butch raised car tabs for individuals but cut a deal for trucking industry while cutting education by nearly 8%. Would be kinda funny to see an incumbent Republican lose in Idaho this year……

    LOL.

  53. The reality is that the entire 501c3 code needs to be completely revised. Never in anyone’s wildest dreams did the original code writers envision the explosion of “non-profit” entities we see today.

    Personally, I think that there should be a highly selective category for charities that can document their service to the neediest populations. Contributions (up to a certain level) to those organizations should recognized with a tax credit. Most of the rest could retain their tax-deductible status. An adult discussion could be had on what the proper classification of other entities should be and I would include churches in that discussion. Personally, I think they function as fraternal organizations and should have the rights and protections given to those. If they have a charitable function (food bank, homeless shelter, etc.), they can form a separate foundation and conduct their charitable business under that umbrella. Easy to do.

  54. Nice to see that Jim’s crush on me hasn’t abated…..

  55. … if that’s how you define it, so be it.

  56. …all I ask is that you refrain from the projecting on me like you did Butch( and “Treasure Island”).

    It’s creepy.

  57. Anything for my girlfriend…….

  58. Gee…..he does appreciate my sense of humor!

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