Churches and taxes

What do you think should be the relationship between the church and the state in terms of how taxes are dealt with? Should donations to churches be tax deductible? Should churches enjoy benefits where things like property taxes are concerned?

Consider an article recently in the Detroit news entitled "No taxes on $4M parsonage". I recall another similar story a month or two ago wherein a "pastor" was quoted bragging about how the IRS had managed to miss some of his possessions. (I can't find the article back but if memory serves correct they hadn't uncovered a sport car or a private jet and a few other such things during the audit process)


This is interesting as this topic came up a few years ago in my Citizenship in America, a 400-level history class at UCFV. Rather than jumping in the debate right now (i'm too busy right now!), I'll just put some historical context here. (Yes I do have a degree in History).

1. In 1789, the first of ten amendments were written to the Federal Constitution; they have since been known as the Bill of Rights. The First Amendment reads:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

Note that for those not familiar with the language what first line means is that there should be no preference given to establishments (i.e. organizations/churches/etc.) of any religion (at the time it basically meant church).

2. 1947 Everson v. Board of Education of Ewing Tp", the U.S. Supreme Court ruled:

"The 'establishment of religion' clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance. No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever from they may adopt to teach or practice religion. Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect 'a wall of separation between Church and State'.

Donations to churches are considered the same as donations to charity, which makes sense to me because a lot of the money goes towards charitible activities.

With regards to property tax, I think it's nice that we get a break on that, but if they wanted us to start paying property tax I wouldn't be upset about it either. Give to Caesar what is Caesar's.

That $4M parsonage is more than a little excessive. It would make more sense to put a cap on the exemption and make them pay tax on anything above the cap.

Donations to churches are considered the same as donations to charity, which makes sense to me because a lot of the money goes towards charitible activities.

Even a bad charity probably wouldn't top 10 - 20% overhead (ie. stuff spent inside the organization). Churches probably aren't quite like that - even if you don't take into account those that buy $4 million houses for their pastors. Stuff like evangelism and a lot of the other activities of a church are well worth funding but at the same time should the government be effectively subsidizing it? (Don't forget that the mosque down the road has the same tax perks).

How much, if anything, should the government even know what you might give to your church? (Consider what's now taking place in Eritrea)