You found me (not that I've been hiding) and, yes, I realize this page was built in Blogger, but I'm really not using it as a blog. Occasionally, I'll post a note in the space below, but not too often.

However, I do blog regularly and invite you to check it out. If you're looking for me, I'm probably logged in to Facebook right now. I also tweet a lot.

Twitter is where I make most of my noise...

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Judge Not, Lest Ye Be Taxed

Recently, a handful of my friends became fans of a Facebook page advocating the revocation of the tax-exempt status of churches if they engage in political action. I challenged one of them on it, and after an initial dismissal and subsequent goading, we actually had a reasonable debate (although much of it focused on business taxes). He made some good points, but I'm still adamant that using taxation to silence politically-active churches sets us down a dangerous path.

I should preface all of this by saying that I neither belong to a church nor provide financial support of one, making my position purely one of principal. Taxing them puts no strain on me whatsoever, as I don't have a turtle in this fight.

That said, here are my reasons for thinking it's a horrible idea:

1) A lot of very good non-profits (particularly those in the health field) are heavily involved in political action. If you start taxing churches, you might as well tax them, too.

1a) Political action could become tough to define. Does lobbying against stem cell research make a church subject to taxation? If so, then does lobbying in favor of it also make the Alzheimer's Association subject to taxation?

1b) What about schools? When professors engage in politically-charged blathering, should the institution get a tax bill?

2) The idea could be viewed as racist; inner-city churches have long been a hotbed for political activity.
Churches act as a rallying point within minority communities.  

3) Taxation shifts power, giving influence to affluence. Poorer churches would be forced into silence while those with financial backing can afford to have a voice. Imagine a community where a political issue is divided along income lines (a stretch, I know). Under the threat of taxation, the churches in the affluent community can weigh in on the issue (creating the perception of widespread support for their side) while essentially sending the message to the poorer churches, "go ahead, say something (and face financial consequences)". The civil rights movement would have been bullied into non-existence.

4) Either tax them all or don't tax them at all. Otherwise, you put the government in a position of monitoring the activities of religious groups (I told him, he can break that news to the Muslims). Enforcement of an if-then policy requires monitoring, and is subject to interpretation, the combination of which leads to intimidation, which leads to persecution. It would get ugly, fast.

5) I really don't support taxing organizations or businesses, anyway, which set off a secondary debate that I'd love elaborate on in another post.

If you use taxation to keep churches from engaging in politics,you run the risk of giving the government a workaround to the First Amendment. Selective enforcement could very well be used to shape which religious viewpoints are 'acceptable' and which aren't.

And that is a very dangerous path for this country to tread down. 

Hops & Hickory