Editorial: Should religious institutions be tax-exempt?

The Editorial Board

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Separation of church and state plays a big role in our society. However, religion impacts our government through taxes. As of now, religious institutions do not pay tax for their buildings or places of worship. Though this seems reasonable due to the charitable nature of some organizations, the Eagle Angle believes that religious groups should not be tax-exempt in order to maintain the separation of church and state.

It is true that many religious groups depend on donations for funding and do not profit from them. Some argue that because they don’t profit, they cannot be taxed. However, this masks a larger issue: how do we define religion? The Internal Revenue Service (IRS), is forced to answer this question when even the greatest scholars cannot. For instance, the Church of Scientology, despite profiting off their believers, was granted tax-exemption.

Another big issue with this is that religion has a greater impact in the politics, a clear violation of the separation of church and state. Since religious institutions may not remain strictly charitable, any money gained can be used to fund politicians. While this is prohibited under the Johnson Amendment, it does not stop organizations from influencing policy. Also, that law is not widely enforced, so no organizations have been punished and none have lost their exemption status. Of course, this is not because they have done no wrong, it is because they haven’t been caught since the IRS refrains from enforcing the law. So, as of now, religious institutions do not pay taxes, can influence political elections, and are not punished for wrongly using their money.

Therefore, by giving religious groups tax exemptions, the government is allowing religious groups to be too involved. While the limitations placed on tax-exempt groups by the IRS should, in theory, prevent intermingling of religion and politics, the limits are not enforced, and worse, it is unclear what distinguishes a charitable religion from a scam. For these reasons, religious institutions should pay taxes, not just for our economy, but also for our crucial separation of church and state.

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