Tax the Churches and Give the Revenue to Hungry Children

By Hank Pellissier | 6 May 2011
Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

(Photo: ErikTanghe / Pixabay)

Billions of dollars are lost every year, plucked out of Joe and Jane Taxpayer’s pockets, because religious groups are allowed to be parasites.

No church property is taxed and so the infidel and the atheist and the man without religion are taxed to make up the deficit.
— Mark Twain

Ministers of mega-churches are rolling in millions of dollars in the USA, “fleecing their flocks” to buy lavish mansions, jets, and limousines. On Sundays they preach Christian charity in their temples of excess while tithing hypnotized parishioners—but do they themselves pay their fair share of taxes?

Hell no. Christ Almighty, they do not. The hypocrite haranguers are pampered by the IRS; aided by loopholes so large one can easily drive a cathedral through.

Jesus delivered his most famous sermon on a “Mount,” i.e., dirt hill. Buddha preached in a jungle glen. Muhammad received his revelations in a dusty cave. Biblical prophets listened to Yahweh in forlorn deserts, bushes, and lonely mountains. Many were “naked in the wilderness.”

But today… America’s most popular ministers are peacocks in palaces; uplifted by organ groans, they shriek their religiosity to rapt audiences of spiritual sheep in exchange for wealth and fame. It’s capitalistic entertainment and there’s nothing illegal about it… but ethically, and obviously—the present laws are unconstitutional, anti-secular, and sinfully unjust.

For every dollar of church property untaxed, all other properties must be taxed one dollar more, and thus the poor man’s home bears the burden. These rich ecclesiastical corporations are a heavy load… If all the church property in this country were taxed in the same ratio as poor widows are today, we could soon roll off the national debt. 
— Elizabeth Cady Stanton

The framers of the US Constitution pronounced that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” but this wise dictum has been totally shat upon by Congressional and Supreme Court toadies who’ve given undue “respect” to churches via tax scam privileges. Indeed, the entire logic of “separation of church and state” has been twisted perversely by religionists, who insist the phrase allows them to operate exactly as they wish, unleashed from any government jurisdiction or taxation (like a Mafia drug gang). Catholic above-the-law attitude, for example, is clearly evident in their sheltering of pedophiles from police authorities,

Am I digressing? No, I’m not. Many religionists define their civic allegiance as belonging to God, not country. This outlaw disregard for democratic principles leads to bombing state-sanctioned abortion centers, defiantly preaching politics from the pulpits (a violation of 501(c)3 regulations), and contending that their “holy faith” is too elevated to be bothered with grubby human matters like contributing equitably to the common good.

1. Property tax exemption for religious organizations is one of the evilest entitlements. In 1970, TIME Magazine pinpointed the real estate value of religious organizations at $102 billion. Property worth since then has ascended six-fold; today’s tag would be approximately $612 billion. Nationwide, the median property tax rate is 1.38%, which means about $8.45 billion annually is not collected from religious groups. Our struggling economic era with slashed social programs could certainly use that cash, huh?

My opinion is, those “God-fearing” ministers need some “IRS-fearing” too!

2. “Parsonage Exemption” is another nefarious tax break, passed unanimously by Congress’s Clergy-Housing Allowance Clarification Act of 2002. This deduction permits clergy members to live in congregation-owned housing without being taxed on the imputed value of their free habitation. The medieval “parsonage” term suggests humble rural priests living in squalid huts adorned only with crucifixes, but today’s reality is quite opulent, and corrupt. Mega-church ministers have ensconced “ordained” friends and family members in tax-free palatial compounds. The CFO of Crystal Cathedral megachurch, for example, recently received a tiny $12,000 salary, but a $132,019 tax-free “housing allowance.”

Jesus supposedly said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24). If this maxim is Gospel truth, why are today’s mega-ministers so avaricious?

3. Donations to churches are tax-deductible even if they provide no charitable service to the general public—and they usually don’t. For example, a wealthy parishioner can get his tax load lightened if he buys a new marble altar for the basilica, or a fleet of SUVs for the nuns. (His generosity might also get a marriage “annulled” or a promise that heaven’s pearly gates will open for him.) Gifts to “religious causes” amounted to over $100 billion in 2009, approximately a third of all charitable giving. Let’s imagine the increased social benefit if donations that were “religious” but not “charitable” suddenly lost their tax deductible status?! Billions of dollars would pour into legitimate social need programs.

4. The Form 990 financial statement report required by non-profits is not required of churches. Without this report, the smarmy details of where the congregation’s cash goes is kept a secret, both from public scrutiny and the IRS. The pious in their pews who throw their bills into the collection basket in Lithonia, Georgia, don’t know if their funds are feeding starving babies or buying Bishop Eddie Long a $350,000 Bentley. The fiscal secrecy also allows certain faith organizations—like extremist mosques—to smuggle funds to foreign enemies of the USA or to intolerant hate-based domestic groups.

5. Opting out of Self-Employment and Social Security tax payments is an opportunity for ministers in many states: a poll suggests that 30% do this. This provides them with a 2011 pay raise of 13.3% but it deprives future retirees of needed funds and sabotages the welfare system.

6. Church employers are exempt from federal employment taxes (FUTA) and, frequently, state Unemployment Insurance (UI). This lessens the church’s payroll expenses. Consequentially, if church employees are laid off, they aren’t allowed to collect jobless benefits—not very “merciful.”

7. The Bible and other religious publications and “supplies” are often exempt from state sales taxes. Isn’t this an abuse of the First Amendment, because the government is favoring religion over other businesses?

8. Religious organizations are allowed advance notice of IRS audits, and they don’t have to report the identities of major donors.

Allowing churches these ludicrous, ostentatious tax breaks means the general public has to pick up the slack. Ouch! Billions of dollars lost every year, plucked out of Joe and Jane Taxpayer’s pockets, because religious groups are allowed to be parasites.

But… wait!—cry religious supporters—Churches do so much good work! Millions of needy people will suffer if churches are taxed!

My solution to this simpering resistance is simple—churches should be allowed precisely the same tax-exempt status as non-profit organizations, but only for the services they provide to the general public.

If 20% of their activity gives benefits to general citizenry, that 20% deserves NPO status. But the 80% activity that installs marble toilets in the clergy’s castles does not deserve NPO or any other tax advantage status. Plus, the property tax exemption, the parsonage exemption, and the six other perks I posted above, must all be stripped away. And, there needs to be no more religious endorsement of candidates or issues because it violates 501(c)3 statutes. Bishops and ministers will hush up if their lobbying wipes out their loopholes.

Can the USA learn anything from other nations?

Although Europe is far more secular than America, the Old Continent still medievally-tithes its populace. In Germany a hefty “church tax” is withheld from baptized church members, with the bulk of this revenue paying clerical salaries. Approximately five billion Euros were collected in 2010 and given away to German religious hierarchies. Secular citizens who seek to escape this tithe often find it impossible. Catholics, for example, cannot—according to Church Canon—“undo” the sacrament of baptism; they remain linked to Catholicism for life, as tax victims.

In Switzerland, a similar system exists—but additionally, business entities also must pay a church tax, even if all employees are atheists. Baptized Danes and Finns have to pay taxes for their state-sanctioned religions, but the latter are exiting in droves, enraged by the conservative Lutheran church’s opposition to same-sex marriage. Denmark also gives its churches huge grants, and Finland offers them 1.63% of the corporate tax total. Swedes abolished mandatory payment of the church tax a decade ago—it’s now “optional”, and Icelanders are allowed to direct their “congregation tax” to the secular University of Iceland instead. Italy’s church tax—.8% of income tax—resembles Iceland’s: the payers can direct their funds to either a religious organization or one of the nation’s cultural initiatives.

The United Kingdom offers massive financial and political privileges to its Church of England; most astonishingly, the 26 Anglican bishops are ensconced in the Upper House of Lords, where they enjoy veto power. Greece subsidizes its Orthodox Church buildings and the training, salaries and pensions of its priests. Throughout Europe, parochial schools often receive generous subsidies, and in several nations (Austria, Italy, Poland, Spain), the state pays priests to deliver religious “education.”

France apparently enjoys a “separation of state and religion” that is closer to what I’d like to see—Vive la Révolution! Especially this: French dioceses are not allowed to receive any financial subsidies from the state. Perks still remain though: French local authorities are required to provide housing for priests. The state also owns, and therefore must maintain, all churches that were built previous to 1905.

Back to the USA… I realize most American churches are not “mega-sized”—many are small and struggling, due to America’s declining interesting in “faith.” But my stance remains the same—religious groups DO NOT deserve benefits greater than non-profits. Rewarding them simply because they promote archaic ideologies is foolish.

The USA has been embroiled for over a half-century in a struggle between those who want to maintain the secularity that the original patriots intended, versus the “churchies” who favor a theocratic Christian nation. The anti-secular phrase “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954, and the craven motto “In God We Trust” was smacked on our currency in 1957. I believe both of these erroneous additions will be subtracted in the near future, eliminated by the rising “irreligionist” demographic—doubling in the last two decades to the present 15%.

When religious groups are finally taxed fairly, what should we do with the revenue? I think secularists should advertise their budget intentions now, to thwart the conservative church-going claim that it will all be invested in promoting abortion, gay marriage, and other so-called abominations. Plus, if secularists can identify an inarguable social need—an item more urgent than stain-glass windows—it will illuminate the religionists who resist it as greedy, stingy misanthropes.

My proposal is this: The cash gained from taxing religion should be spent providing food for our poor, hungry children.

Specifically, we should stuff our youngsters with nutritious meals available at school—hearty, hot breakfasts before school, lunches at noon, and dinners at the final bell. The USA has one of the highest percentages of child poverty in the developed world; one out of six children live in impoverished circumstances and experience “food insecurity” in more than half of the nation’s states.

Hunger retards brain development, students can’t learn when they’re starving, and they’re more likely to drop out of school. Studies show that serving meals in a classroom provides a full menu of benefits: increased attendance, decreased tardiness, improved speed and memory in math and reading tests, fewer psychological problems, less obesity, less disruption in class, fewer visits to the nurse. Research also indicates that it’s best to simply provide “free food for all” regardless of parent’s income; this methods shelters the poorest children from shame and social stigmatization.

Feeding children is a policy that will enjoy near universal support. The Black Panther Party advocated “Free Breakfast for School Children” in a 1969 manifesto written by Huey Newton. For the transhumanist vote, I propose “smart food” that enhances focus, concentration, memory and mood. My reform, titled, “Tax Brainless Religion To Buy Brain Food,” would provide American pupils with cognitive-enriching cuisine like blueberries, salmon, walnuts, oatmeal, black beans, pomegranate juice, green tea, and dark chocolate.

Happy Eaters = Happy Students = Happy Educated Future Citizenry

Gnashing religionists will find it impossible to resist the divine logic of my proposal. Will impoverished African-Americans in Mississippi still believe praying on Sunday will get their kids into college more efficiently than eating three square healthy meals a day? Does anyone believe that buying a bigger mansion for a billionaire preacher serves the public interest better than ending malnourished stomachs and famished education? Does anyone really love the absent God who is omnipotent-but-needs-your-money, more than they love the idea of their kids getting smarter-and-stronger on Free Chocolate?

Tax the Churches. Let’s retrieve the cash they steal for “heaven” so we can create paradise on earth. If you have a better idea than my food-for-kids scheme please leave it in the comments section below.

Reprinted with permission by the author.

Hank Pellissier formally served as the Managing Director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies and is an IEET Affiliate Scholar. He’s the author of several books including Invent Utopia Now, former editor at, and founder of Pellissier has raised charity funds via and Indiegogo for “TransHumanitarian” projects in The Philippines and Africa that have dewormed 1,100 children and provided food, clothing, shoes, socks, tools, and educational supplies. In western Uganda he’s launched eight health clinics (one is “H+ Clinic”), one science centre, and he co-founded BiZoHa – the world’s first atheist orphanage.

Real Time with Bill Maher: New Rule – Tax the Churches (HBO)

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