“Foul Play” in Church Tax Subsidies

20 01 2009

Lynn at Bore Me to Tears has a feisty discussion going about the mega-appeal of mega-churches as full-service communities. Made possible by the MONEY, of course.

I posted a comment there awaiting moderation (probably because it has too many links) so I’m putting it here too, in case it gets eaten somehow before approval.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about an old Chevy Chase-Goldie Hawn movie, Foul Play — remember it? It’s a comedy with the premise that a lunatic fringe group is trying to assassinate the Pope to force attention to their cause. Which is (drumroll please) the Tax the Churches League.

When I saw that movie I was working in the real world of journalism, education and public policy, and I just laughed too, what a ridiculous faux cause worthy only of screwball comedy. How silly, because churches are humble and good, just doing charity work, helping people, and religion isn’t political! (I was young and idealistic 30 years ago — and churches didn’t seem rich or powerful or politically active to me back then. At least not the protestant ones I knew, and I didn’t know much about political hardball in modern Catholicism yet.)

It’s funny the wikipedia entry for that movie cites its only controversy as the use of an albino as a villain! What about its prescient fingering of religion to take over the world through taxfree power?

I just Googled “tax churches” and there’s a real group here. Hey, I could be a believer!– of these ideas:

1. We love our country, and we believe strongly in its founding principals [sic]. . .

2. Second, we do not want to live in a theocracy. . .

3. Taxpayers should not be subsidizing religious institutions.

A couple of things since I submitted the above at Lynn’s —

First, I should email the website and let them know they misused “principals” when in context they must mean principles. Then in musing about whether I should actually bother to do that, I discovered this group is connected to my hometown! The first group thanked on their website is The Humanist Society of Gainesville FL, Alachua County — where I was living btw, when I first saw Foul Play and dismissed it as naught but comic fantasy. Much better known as the home of my beloved Gators, including the soon-to-be-richer-than-god religious (but hopefully not political?) media idol Tim Tebow.

I love it when a theme comes together . . .Some serious reasoning about taxing the churches here. How about the last one listed, for example? — conservative religious homeschoolers and of course HSLDA argue against education vouchers, public charters and tax credits with this same logic, choosing private freedom over public subsidy for fear of strings, so I can’t see why they wouldn’t extend that to their private religious beliefs, maybe even more so!

Objection 8: Didn’t the Walz case decide once and for all that taxing church property is unconstitutional?

In the Walz decision cited above, Justice Burger argued that the tax exemption for churches represented “benevolent neutrality.” . . future challenge to the exemption can not only point out the inherent contradiction in the “benevolent neutrality” phrase and the questionable “social benefit provided by churches” argument, but can also apply the logic used in the more recent Regan v. Taxation without Representation case.

There, Justice Rehnquist admitted that “tax exemption and tax deductibility are a form of subsidy….This Court has never held that the Court must grant a benefit….to a person who wishes to exercise a constitutional right….we again reject the ‘notion that First Amendment rights are somehow not fully realized unless they are subsidized by the state.’ ”

Rehnquist was stating this with regard to a subsidy for a political organization. The same logic can be used to end tax exemption for churches.

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2 responses

21 01 2009
boremetotears

JJ,
Did you see that the story that you linked at my blog (about mega-church connections to local economies) is part of a series?

http://www.nytimes.com/ref/business/churchstate.html

21 01 2009
JJ

Aha — no, so thanks!

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