From the latest edition of Humanist Network News, Steve Major writes about the untenable rationale religious organizations get to exist tax-free.

As a kid, I once asked my father why churches didn’t have to pay taxes. He responded vaguely, saying that churches were considered beneficial to society in a way that justified their not being taxed.

“What about theaters?” I replied. “Surely one learns more about the world, and morality, and what kinds of choices each of us would make in difficult situations from theater than we do listening to someone lecture from a pulpit about what’s good and what’s evil.”

My father, who had given up on religion in college and stopped going to church when my mother kept making fun of him for it, wasn’t particularly predisposed to defend the tax laws set in place by many generations of politicians trying to out Jesus one another in a pandering quest for votes.

My understanding of the topic has gotten more nuanced since those early days. I know now, for example, that many regional theaters are tax-exempt nonprofits, though they need to demonstrate an educational component beyond the shows they put up. That’s why virtually all regional theaters have either children’s classes or free performances for local schools.

A key component to being a 501(c)(3) nonprofit is the need to demonstrate that it represents a clear benefit for society at large. The government doesn’t give them money, but nor do they need to pay taxes on the money they raise. Even better, people who donate to a nonprofit can pay slightly less on their taxes as well.

To read the entire article from Humanist Network News, click here.

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