Rather than try to rescue tax-exempt status for organizations that dissent from settled public policy on matters of race or sexuality, we need to take a more radical step. It's time to abolish, or greatly diminish, their tax-exempt statuses.The purpose of this post is not to argue the merits or the lack thereof of tax-exemption. If you want to express your views on that, I suggest you head over to Joel Watts' blog. He has written a post on the subject. Instead I want to briefly outline the reasons why charitable organizations will not lose their tax exempt status, at least in my lifetime. (Religious conservatives, can breath easy now.)
First, unlike the issue of gay marriage on which conservative and liberal Christians are deeply divided, they will become a united and powerful front if the government attempts to force them into paying taxes. Many Americans, regardless of the latest polls and demographic claims, are still connected to religious organizations, even if that connection is superficial. Because of this, the Democratic and Republican parties will not split along party lines in this decision. Anyone who proposes such legislation has no hope of even getting it to a vote on Capitol Hill.
Second, politicians who are too beholding to their constituency will not risk getting voted out of office, even if they quietly believe removing said tax-exempt status from religious organizations is a good thing.
Third, even though we seem to becoming more and more secular as a country, government always needs to be careful about being perceived to be beating up on religious people who really want to do some good in the world. It's rather like dissing mom and apple pie.
Fourth, and finally, if religious institutions were to lose their tax-exempt status, the burden would clearly make it difficult for many small churches to stay open. We must not forget about the fact that the vast majority of churches in the United States have an average attendance of 100 persons or less on Sunday morning. Mega churches are the exception, not the rule. (I cannot speak to the make-up of synagogues and mosques.) I can guarantee that few politicians want to die on that hill.
And that leads me to one last thing I would like to say in response to Oppenheimer's article. While he actually makes some good points that I think are worthy of consideration, such as the IRS's incompetence in deciding what a religion is that deserves tax-exempt status (one of many incompetencies of the Internal Revenue Service) he says something of which he knows not what he speaks:
Defenders of tax exemptions and deductions argues that if we got rid of them charitable giving would drop. It surely would, although how much, we can't say. But of course government revenue would go up, and that money could be used to, say, house the homeless and feed the hungry. We'd have fewer church soup kitchens-- but countries that truly care about poverty don't rely on churches to run soup kitchens.Certainly, there is a place for government in reference to charity and social work. Government can and does do some good things in these matters; but no one does charity, and I dare say, disaster relief better than religious institutions; and for those who think otherwise, I have a two-word response... "Hurricane Katrina."
And, by the way, Mr. Oppenheimer, the church is not here to serve you and the state when it works for you, and then step out of the way when you think we're in the way. Our mission is bigger, more significant, and will last much longer than you and yours... just sayin.'