Religion and Government Interactions

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What is the proper relationship between religious bodies and the government?

There should be a single state religion, which would make any competing religion unnecessary.
0
No votes
Most religions should be allowed, but there should be an established state religion that participates actively in government policy and receives a government subsidy.
0
No votes
All religions should be allowed and each religion whose adherents reach a threshold percentage of the population (e.g., 5%) should receive a government subsidy.
0
No votes
All religions should be allowed, and those that provide faith-based services under contract with the government should be allowed to do so with minimal government oversight.
1
5%
All religions should be allowed, but there is no formal interaction with the religions; if they provide services, they compete with secular organizations for government contracts.
9
45%
All religions should be allowed, but because they use community resources, they should pay their fair share of taxes.
7
35%
All religions are tolerated, but they are regulated in the kinds of activities that they can engage in.
1
5%
Religion is harmful to the people, so all religious gatherings should be prohibited.
2
10%
 
Total votes : 20

Religion and Government Interactions

Postby NH Baritone » Thu Feb 07, 2008 12:39 am

With the White House Office on Faith-Based Initiatives now firmly established, the boundaries between government and religion have become more blurry. Nonetheless, a new President can change the focus of the Office and Church-State relations.

What are the optimum interactions between religious institutions and government bodies?
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Re: Religion and Government Interactions

Postby nobody » Sun Feb 10, 2008 8:25 pm

I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man,
nor ask another man to live for the sake of mine. -John Galt
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Re: Religion and Government Interactions

Postby NH Baritone » Sun Feb 10, 2008 8:32 pm

nobody wrote:On a related subject...
CFI Urges Congress to Oppose Charitable Choice

Thanks, NB. I heard about this on Point of Inquiry this week, but I hadn't gone to the website.
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Re: Religion and Government Interactions

Postby spongebob » Mon Feb 11, 2008 6:11 am

I really hate playing Devil's advocate, but noticing that several people would like to see churches taxed, I have to ask why it should be necessary to tax any non-profit organization (such as a church)? I suppose property tax is fine, which I'm sure they already pay. They certainly pay sales tax when they buy things. Church vehicles have tags, which are probably taxed at some special rate, but still taxed. So, what tax are we talking about? Churches don't make "profit", so there's nothing else to tax. And even if we did tax them on revenue, churches use a large proportion of their revenue to fund charities, both at home and abroad. Those tax-deductible charities would likely negate any tax that would be due on their gross revenue. Come on, people, you're not using criticial thinking here.
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Re: Religion and Government Interactions

Postby NH Baritone » Mon Feb 11, 2008 6:23 am

spongebob wrote:I really hate playing Devil's advocate, but noticing that several people would like to see churches taxed, I have to ask why it should be necessary to tax any non-profit organization (such as a church)? I suppose property tax is fine, which I'm sure they already pay. They certainly pay sales tax when they buy things. Church vehicles have tags, which are probably taxed at some special rate, but still taxed. So, what tax are we talking about? Churches don't make "profit", so there's nothing else to tax. And even if we did tax them on revenue, churches use a large proportion of their revenue to fund charities, both at home and abroad. Those tax-deductible charities would likely negate any tax that would be due on their gross revenue. Come on, people, you're not using criticial thinking here.

Before I respond to your thoughts, some corrections: Churches do not pay property taxes nor sales taxes in almost all jurisdictions (nor do most non-profits). Ministers and church staff pay taxes on their income just like anyone else, although they're considered self-employed and so must pay the additional 7.5% FICA. Most church income goes to provide for the care of their building, the salaries of staff, special internal projects, and things that go to serve the interests of its members. Although there are exceptions, a very small percentage of most churches' income goes to services for the poor and other charities. If you're looking for a charity that uses most of its donations to help the underprivileged, religious organizations rate a D- to an F for directing their donations toward that goal.
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Re: Religion and Government Interactions

Postby spongebob » Mon Feb 11, 2008 6:48 am

So, you are telling me that if a church decided to build a new building, they pay no sales tax on the bricks for that building. I find that difficult to believe.

I do know something about the finances of churches, at least the one's I've been involved with. I know they spend money on upkeep and other things, but I think your charity rating of a "D" is mostly undeserved. I'd upgrade it to a "B" at worst. And don't forget that a significant portion of church revenue is taken in during special offerings, almost all of which goes to the charity, minus expenses of course. Note, I'm talking about legitimate, mainstream churhces and not Television Preachers.

And anyway, building new buildings would count as business expenses, which would be another deduction. So, I still don't see what we are supposed to be taxing.
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Re: Religion and Government Interactions

Postby NH Baritone » Mon Feb 11, 2008 6:57 am

spongebob wrote:So, you are telling me that if a church decided to build a new building, they pay no sales tax on the bricks for that building. I find that difficult to believe.

I do know something about the finances of churches, at least the one's I've been involved with. I know they spend money on upkeep and other things, but I think your charity rating of a "D" is mostly undeserved. I'd upgrade it to a "B" at worst. And don't forget that a significant portion of church revenue is taken in during special offerings, almost all of which goes to the charity, minus expenses of course. Note, I'm talking about legitimate, mainstream churches and not Television Preachers.

And anyway, building new buildings would count as business expenses, which would be another deduction. So, I still don't see what we are supposed to be taxing.

Non-profits get a "tax-exemption" number which they give to every merchant when they are making purchases. The merchant then records the transaction as tax exempt, notes the number, and the non-profit gets the ostensible discount.

I grew up in the Methodist church as a minister's kid, and worked for several along the way. Methodists are about as "mainstream" as you can get. If the church has a budget (every Methodist church does) and you can see the balance books (ditto), you'll see that about 90% of most Methodist church budgets go for the items that I spoke of earlier.

Remember ... No property taxes to pay for fire & police protection ... & no local or state sales taxes. If they operate a day-care center or any other program for which there is a for-profit alternative, the church's income is not taxed. Nothing goes from the churches' income to support the community they live in unless they happen to want to do so. And few want to.
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Re: Religion and Government Interactions

Postby spongebob » Mon Feb 11, 2008 7:54 am

OK, I can accept the tax exemption number. I seem to remember that regarding a non-profit club I was in a long time ago.

But regarding revenue from services...that does not contribute to profit because no profit is taken. Companies pay income tax on profit, not revenue. So, if no profit is taken, what's there to tax? All this applies to other non-profits as well. Think about girls scouts. Should they be taxed on their girl scout cookie revenue? I don't think so. So I don't see anything different with churches and other non-profits. And any non-profit has the opportunity to grow and become just as rich and powerful as any church. I certainly wouldn't want any tax restrictions on a non-profit atheism organization.

You are correct that curches only contribute to charities of their choice. Some very deserving charities may get nothing while some pet charities get loads of money. But if this is money that the church membership has contributed, then it's only fair that they have control over where their money goes. And it often goes to good causes. I just can't find fault with this, and I've seen fierce arguments in church over what charities to support. Enough to cause members to leave.

One other thing to consider. Because church day care centers don't have to pay income tax, they should be able to provide the service at a lower cost to families than a for-profit day care. I certainly don't have the statistics to say this is the case, but it should be plausible. And I see nothing wrong with that, either.
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Re: Religion and Government Interactions

Postby spongebob » Mon Feb 11, 2008 7:58 am

Oh, So long as we're talking about sales tax exemptions, it might interest you to know that many cities are offering retail businesses tax deals to build a new outlet in their town. These deals allow the businesses to keep some or all of the sales tax revenue. So, instead of adding revenue to the cities coffers for services and infrastructure, it goes into the companies profit. Now this is something I find far more offensive. Not only are customers charged their usual 8 or 9% sales tax, but it doesn't go to their town and they don't even know about it. That's truly unfair.
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Re: Religion and Government Interactions

Postby narsil » Mon Feb 11, 2008 8:00 am

Obviously we all have had different experiences with churches, and how churches are governed and how the choose to spend their money. For instance, I know that here in GA, churches do pay sales tax on everything. And I know that various amounts of money go out of the church to care for the community. I think my point would be that as long as the church is honest with whatever it does it's not logical or legal to treat it differently than any other non-profit. And that people should allowed to spend and invest their money however they want. If their church doesn't spend a dime to help the poor and just builds bigger and bigger buildings, so what, we can call all the people that give to such a place idiots, but that's America ;)

Now if you'd like to tax non-profits out of existence, feel free to make that argument.
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Re: Religion and Government Interactions

Postby NH Baritone » Mon Feb 11, 2008 10:15 am

I would agree that churches be treated as non-profits if they go through the process of 501C3 approval and the occasional audit. As it stands, they are never called upon to share their books with anyone, including their congregations.

Country clubs, which I consider more accurate metaphor, operate as non-tax-exempt social organizations. This is the primary focus of most churches. Country clubs pay property taxes, sales taxes, and must undergo bookkeeping audits. (BTW, I misspoke earlier in reference to church-operated daycare center income. I meant property tax exemption, which for-profit day-care centers must pay.)

It's the combination of the absolute lack of accountability and the special exemptions from applying for non-profit status that annoys me. The tax laws are written in such a way as to say that a non-profit has to demonstrate a benefit to the community. To say that a church, by definition, does so is both nonsense and sometimes fraudulent.
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Re: Religion and Government Interactions

Postby NH Baritone » Mon Feb 11, 2008 10:37 am

By the way, I'm writing this from New Hampshire, where we have relatively high property taxes, but no sales tax or income tax. The only tax I would then hope for churches to pay would be property taxes.
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Re: Religion and Government Interactions

Postby whoosanightowl » Tue Feb 12, 2008 12:18 am

What requirements are there to becoming tax exempt? Do the same rules apply for churches as for any other "non-profit" organization? If so, then they should be treated equally, but if it's true that churches are not held fiscally accountable to the IRS while others are, then it's only fair to tax them. Then maybe we'd stop seeing a different church on every corner if they had to pay property tax.
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Re: Religion and Government Interactions

Postby spongebob » Tue Feb 12, 2008 5:12 am

I think we've expressed our views on taxation of churches. I'm going to veer away from that for a moment and talk about building and zoning regulations. Now here's a place where churches are getting preferential treatment in some cases. It may not be as much as the media portrays, but I've heard a number of cases where churches are given waivers by the local government to build or expand onto real estate where it was barred by zoning regulations. Sometimes this includes expanding into residential zones or building ridiculously large crosses or statues. I would reiterate that churches need not be treated any differently than any other organization, and they shouldn't get a pass just because they are a church. It's interesting to note that bars and liquor stores cannot be built near a church in many Southern states, but a church can be built near them.
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Re: Religion and Government Interactions

Postby NH Baritone » Tue Feb 12, 2008 6:09 am

spongebob wrote:I think we've expressed our views on taxation of churches. I'm going to veer away from that for a moment and talk about building and zoning regulations. Now here's a place where churches are getting preferential treatment in some cases. It may not be as much as the media portrays, but I've heard a number of cases where churches are given waivers by the local government to build or expand onto real estate where it was barred by zoning regulations. Sometimes this includes expanding into residential zones or building ridiculously large crosses or statues. I would reiterate that churches need not be treated any differently than any other organization, and they shouldn't get a pass just because they are a church. It's interesting to note that bars and liquor stores cannot be built near a church in many Southern states, but a church can be built near them.

The mega churches also build vast parking lots to accommodate thousands of church goers on Sunday.

Waivers from zoning regulations are common for all businesses, not only churches. However, there's a relatively new Federal law that says zoning regulators must show a compelling community interest not to allow religious structures.

http://www.freedomforum.org/templates/document.asp?documentID=13298

Perhaps we should consider organizing a Church of Atheistic Freethought to buy or build lecture halls right next to a few elementary schools.
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