“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
If there has been one phrase reverberating across the United States the past decade or so, it’s that “Freedom isn’t Free.” So why is Freedom of Religion free?
As conservatives and liberals alike fret over the current U.S. deficit, Republicans have made it clear that they believe any new taxes would stifle growth and hurt business both large and small. But religion is not a business.
Ok, those last six words are, of course, terribly naive, but are correct in at least a figurative sense. A Church or religion is not a charity. They may commit acts of charity, but it is done for a singular purpose – to encourage people to follow their beliefs. The more that follow those beliefs, the more money is taken in by the church or religious entity.
In the United States, the freedom of religion is guaranteed in the Constitution. This is how it should be. All Americans should and do have the right to believe whatever they like. And they should have a right to support any institution they feel supports their views. But that does not mean the State should reimburse people or churches for their beliefs.
To take it to the next step, in this hyper-politicized time, churches have been unable and unwilling to avoid the temptation of taking political stands. The Mormon Church famously ran a campaign that got Proposition 8 passed. The Catholic Church punishes any that even believe in a woman’s right to choose. The Park 51 Islamic Community Center has become a political football. Simply put, politics and religion are infused in the United States. Church and State are now inextricably intertwined.
The most important aspect of removing tax-exempt status from churches or religious entities is that it must be all-encompassing. Whether you believe a certain religion is “true” or “false” makes no difference. Scientology should be taxed, as should Islam. The Catholic Church should be taxed, as should synagogues. There are no favorites. Whether you believe in L. Ron Hubbard, Jesus, a tree, Mother Earth or Allah, it is time for the tax man to cometh.
If an organization’s main purpose is to preach the supernatural and it collects money to spread the word of its supernatural beliefs in order to get converts, that organization needs to be required to pay the same tax rate as any other business its size. Will this end up hurting some religious organizations? Probably. But Jesus preached in fields, so they can do the same if they must. Having a “personal relationship” with God doesn’t demand that relationship take place in gold-plated churches.
Mind you, it’s appallingly obvious that a “Tax God” movement would be doomed to fail in a nation so riddled with religion. But the fact is, there’s no reason for the government to give you a tax break for tithing. And there’s no reason the finances of churches should be clouded in mystery. It is time for them to open their books, and render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.
If America is serious about reigning in its ballooning debt, taxing churches needs to be put on the table. God has gotten a free ride long enough in the United States, and it’s hurting the one true religion in America – Capitalism.