One could argue that in times past the political and economic structure of society reflected the ‘mind of man’, while the religious element reflected his ‘heart’ or ‘conscience’. But now we are in the 21st century. Science and genetics are redefining the value of religion in society. Man has evolved socially and politically to recognize the importance of human rights. We feel a need to help those in the world and those in our communities who suffer with many challenges. The ‘rule of law’ has established a code of conduct acceptable on the social sphere.
Therefore these questions must be asked of society: Are religious institutions in the world today contributing to the greater good of the human race? Are we granting tax exemption status based solely on the assumption that religious training provides a moral compass for humanity? Is it now time to revalue religion as a structure with special status and benefits?
An Argument for Churches NOT TO BE Taxed
Personally, I don’t mind the tax exemption as long as it can be shown that the church is dealing effectively with a segment of society that our taxes would go to if the church was not there. Unfortunately, a reality exists where many church institutions do little or nothing to help those in our communities. Individuals have to fight through struggles that most of us will never have to face.
For example, in the community where I live – Barrie, Ontario, Canada – the Salvation Army provides lodging for those who through circumstances have no place to stay. They provide a lunch and dinner for anyone, regardless of faith or orientation. They help those in their care and for the community at large. Should anyone have the need for these services, they are available 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Such services are invaluable to a community in dealing with hunger and homelessness. The Salvation Army, like many other faith systems, integrates people from all walks of life and persuasions, in their volunteer programs. I was pleased to see Muslim women working side by side with their Christian counterparts to feed the hungry. As a participant participant myself, we set aside our religious differences for the greater good of the community in which we live.
Churches also provide an opportunity for volunteerism that far exceeds such possibilities in other segments of society. The case could be argued that the reverse is true in many European States where religion, with the exception of Islam, has been on the decline for decades. Even so, whether it be the need for soup kitchens, hostels, shelters, food banks, in large cities, or in small communities; religious institutions are there supplying the need. In third world countries where clean water is scarce, illiteracy is high, there is a lack of proper medical care and agricultural know-how. This has threatened the lives of millions, especially children. However, churches are there, digging the wells, feeding the hungry, providing the schools and assisting the poor to reach out for a better life.
Wherever there is a need, Catholic charities, the Salvation Army, and other religious based charities are there. They do not ask you what you believe, who you sleep with, discriminate on color, or question your politics. They simply ask: “how can I help you?”
It could also be argued that the taxation of church systems could provide a monetary base for caring for the needs of the challenged. This could be done without requiring church membership to be participatory. But why do so? Because unless the state can be equal to the task in caring for those less fortunate in our communities, without diverting the cash flow to other areas in support of our economy, or the well-being of the privileged few; the churches are, for lack of a better description, the better of the two possibilities.
Considering this: The Canadian Health System is ranked 30th in the world (WHO). The United States’ Health System is ranked 37th (WHO). The gap between the wealthy and the poor is ever widening. The number of middle class individuals is shrinking. More and more of our citizens are using food banks and church services than ever before. And yet, the public is told that billions in additional revenused from lotteries go to hospitals and a variety of social programs. Is there anyone who doesn’t question the honesty of this?
Which governmental agency is not cutting back on health care, nurses and teachers? Why, in the province of Ontario, Canada, is it so difficult to find a family doctor? Is it not ironic that those coming out of universities in Canada, move to the US where they can make more money? This is the case even though these citizens are moving to a country whose healthcare system is ranked 7 spots lower than our own!
If you truly believe the government can be trusted to devote the dollars from church taxation to social programs, then you have yet to climb out of the ‘rabbit hole’.
An Argument for Churches TO BE Taxed
That being said, there are a number of faith communities who do not contribute in the manner described above. The religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses is one of those. Scientology is another. And to a lesser extent, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons). These religious systems take advantage of their tax exemption status to serve their own purposes without providing any substantial services to the community. For them to say that their ministry is the ‘charity’ is most self-serving. And if such a charge is simply to define one’s moral obligations towards one another in a civilized context, then the position is moot. Why? Because we ALL have a responsibility to act in a way contemporary of the values in society, whether religious or not. If the contention is that of one’s moral obligation to God – as a religion may interpret it – then that is between the church and its membership only. It is not incumbent on the rest of us who provide tax dollars to support the social programs of the state.
For this reason such church institutions should be taxed, unless they can clearly show a tangible justification for not doing so, just like the rest of us.