Wouldn't taxing the churches go a long way toward balancing the federal budget?  Shouldn't we atheists be pushing for this?

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Hell yes!  Actually I think the churches should be volunteering to be taxed.  I can't believe in the 21st century we still don't tax them.

They should pay the same taxes as everyone else.

I doubt doing so would raise the 1,300 billion dollars we would need to balance the Federal budget though; they'd have to be a five trillion dollar a year "enterprise" for that to be possible, and that's about a third of our GDP.

Every little bit helps they say. Though charity dies at the church doors it seems. What goes in doesn't always come back out. 

Since 1789 we have had 43 Presidents,121 Supreme Court Justices, and 15,000 or so Members of Congress and all have professed belief in one of the Abrahamic religions. Only a fool would believe that they are going up upset the status quo  to do what is right. Even Herb Silverman could not get that one past the Supreme Court.

Yes, we should.  But I doubt that it would make much of a dent in the federal deficit.  We should be doing it in order to make it clear that religion should NOT be entitled to a special seat at the table.  Furthermore, exempting churches from taxation is a de facto violation of the establishment cause of the Constitution.  

$71,000,000,000 

We know churches get tax exemptions, but how much money does that actually come out to?

University of Tampa professor Ryan T. Cragun along with students Stephanie Yeager and Desmond Vega ran some calculations and figured out a number:

While some people may be bothered by the fact that there are pastors who live in multimillion dollar homes, this is old news to most. But here is what should bother you about these expensive homes: You are helping to pay for them! You pay for them indirectly, the same way local, state, and federal governments in the United States subsidize religion — to the tune of about $71 billion every year.

So… chump change.

Their article (with a defense of how they calculated the amount) appears in the June/July 2012 issue of Free Inquiry.

“The issue of religious tax preferment is especially relevant now because the number of Americans living outside any religious tradition continues to grow,” said Tom Flynn, Free Inquiry’s editor. “That underscores the unfairness of taxing all Americans to subsidize religious institutions that only some Americans utilize.”

The researchers already know what they’ll get criticized for:

… before we get into our calculations, we think it best to address a criticism that is likely to be raised about this article. By suggesting that these groups should pay taxes, we are likely to be criticized by those who think that religions are largely charitable institutions engaged in beneficial service or charitable work and should therefore be exempt from taxes.

Cue reporter Kimberly Winston‘s article in which she interviews a critic of this finding:

… Mark Rienzi, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said thatAmericans have made a democratic decision that religious institutions are good for our communities — believers and atheists alike.

“Whether it is the Quakers opposing slavery, Reverend King arguing for equality, or a Catholic soup kitchen feeding and sheltering all in need,” Rienzi said, “our history is full of examples confirming the great public benefit of our religious diversity.”

Right… because church leaders never use the pulpit to oppose civil rights for gay Americans, or speak out against affordable/accessible health-care for women, or use the extra money to buy themselves a larger house because Jesus wants them to be prosperous…

The researchers also ran a few other calculations:

States bypass an estimated $26.2 billion per year by not requiring religious institutions to pay property taxes.

Capital gains tax exemptions for religious institutions may be as much as $41 million a year.

U.S. clergy may claim as much as $1.2 billion in tax exemptions annually via the parsonage allowance.

Given the current political scene, none of this is going to change anytime soon. Religious groups have far too much power in Washington and they’re not about to ask the government to remove their special privileges. But we can keep the pressure on.

Even if these calculations are proven to be off, the principle isn’t going to change: Religion is a business, churches get tax breaks they don’t really deserve, and we’d all be better off if they paid their fair share.

Via: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2012/06/16/the-yearly-...

I would say that if a church actually does engage in charitable activity, it should be deductible, but the presumption that the entire church is a charitable activity (or should be treated as if it were one) is ludicrous.

Making churches subject to the tax means they'd have to fill out a 1040 or equivalent and itemize their charitable work.

So if I'm not mistaken 71 billion dollars of tax exemptions is 3-4 times NASA budget. NASA budget 2011 seems to be 18BUS$. The education budget is about 69.9 BUS$. This is a scary thought. If these numbers are out please let me know.
Peace be the Journey

Wouldn't taxing the churches go a long way toward balancing the federal budget?

Yes

Shouldn't we atheists be pushing for this?

Yes

Glad I could be of assistance...

Wouldn't taxing the churches go a long way toward balancing the federal budget?

Yes

You fail your reading comprehension class.  71 billion dollars out of 1327 billion dollars is a drop in the bucket.

I do agree we should push for this, but what it will really accomplish is not deficit reduction but a removal of a tax favor from something we (with ample justification) do not like.

That is not going to make any real difference though it is going to happen. In the next year or 2 our economy is going to tank in a way that will make 2008 look like a nice picnic in comparison

Sarah, are you employed and NOT paying the Social Security tax?

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