Religious Organizations Should Be Taxed as Businesses

Abigail Elperin, Staff Writer

Religion may be one of the most quintessentially protected concepts of America’s history. From the First Amendment to workplace inclusion acts, America has always (at least legislatively, in theory) worked to protect freedom of religion. Perhaps the most controversial of these legal actions is the tax-exempt status of religious organizations in America. For centuries, American churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, and even ideologically white supremacist groups masked as religious organizations have been exempt from paying income taxes, among other kinds of federal, state, and local taxes. They are also granted discounts to many services by qualifying as a 501(c)(3), or non-profit organization. This should not be allowed to continue, as tax and economic leniency towards religious organizations will lead to a climate of exploitation and a surplus of disingenuously earned, filthy money, all perpetuated by an outdated law. 

Permissive tax laws towards religious organizations lead to instances of super-wealthy pastors, often at megachurches. A megachurch is a commercialized, large-scale business which holds Christian worship ceremonies and events. Due to the tax-exempt nature of their careers, gaining a massive amount of wealth is exceedingly easy. An article from the Washington Post says, “Pastor John Gray [wore] the coveted Nike Air Yeezy 2 Red Octobers, selling at the time on the resale market for more than $5,600.” Many see irony in the way that pastors will sport such frivolities while preaching classic Christian values of humility and modesty. It is also impossible to ignore the source of these millionaires’ incomes: lower to middle-class Americans, eager to attend their sermons and grant donations. Wealthy members of the clergy are quick to justify their riches by using the ideology of their religion. An article from says, “Rev. Creflo Dollar preaches the prosperity gospel, the belief that wealth is a blessing from God. He runs World Changers International Church just south of Atlanta. In a DVD called Does God Want You to be Poor?, Dollar says that Jesus was not poor and his disciples were not poor. He says faith can transform poverty into an abundant life.” Televangelist Kenneth Copeland famously justified his private jet by calling commercial airlines “a tube with a bunch of demons.” 

There is also evidence to support the fact that religious tax exemptions are unconstitutional. Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, William O. Douglas, said on May 4, 1970, in his dissenting opinion in Walz v. Tax Commission of the City of New York, “If believers are entitled to public financial support, so are nonbelievers. A believer and nonbeliever under the present law are treated differently because of the articles of their faith… I conclude that this tax exemption is unconstitutional.” In American society, founded on the libertarian principles of freedom, there is no reason exemptions should be granted to those who’s faith and job position qualify, while others are forced to pay. Taxes support our nation– roads, schools, hospitals, and many more public services are dependent on them. It is essential that we collect them from religious organizations, to further support our communities and take some of the tax-paying burden off of citizens.  

Proponents of tax exemptions argue that religious organizations offer a public good, and therefore should be allowed to maintain their nonprofit status. These services that some religious organizations offer include homeless shelters and soup kitchens. However, these services could instead be conducted by the government, likely supported by tax dollars (that could come from religious organizations, under revised law). Under government, these services would be more reliable, and would not be tied to any particular faith, thereby enhancing a separation of church and state. 

For the betterment of our communities and government, it is essential that religious organizations are taxed the same as businesses. Everyone will continue to enjoy freedom of religion, with an increased separation of government and state and protection from economic exploitation by their place of worship. Equal taxation presents grand benefits and paints a picture of our ideal libertarian society.