Why is your church tax exempt? Why should it continue to be tax exempt? If I were to sit down and ask you these questions, would you have a clear and coherent answer? I suspect this is something we seldom think about. After all, tax exemption for churches has always been given and we assume, because of its historical longevity, it always will be given.
The fact that many Americans cannot explain why churches are tax exempt indicates a forgotten history and is emblematic of a society that has systematically devalued the church as a beneficial societal institution.
Whenever I litigate a case about church tax exemption or speak about the Alliance Defense Fund’s Pulpit Freedom Sunday, the inevitable media comments go something like this: “Churches should pay taxes just like everyone else! They have tons of money, so why can’t they pay their fair share? Why should churches get a free ride? Make them pay!” Comments like these are more prevalent today than any other time I can remember.
Cases involving local governments attempting to tax churches are also becoming more prevalent. For example, the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) recently litigated and won a case against the city of Mission, Kan., for attempting to impose a “driveway tax” on churches. Or consider the case of Liberty Assembly of God in New Hampshire which was slapped with a property tax bill simply because the local taxing authorities said some rooms were not being used for a religious purpose.
So why should churches be tax exempt? There are very sound and valid reasons for church tax exemption. First, there is the “social benefit” theory of tax exemption. This recognizes the fact that churches provide great benefits to society by their good works. Churches minister to the poor and needy in the community, provide numerous social services for the downtrodden among us, and reach out to the “least of these” in thousands of different ways. The social benefit theory justifies tax exemption for churches as a kind of bargain — churches provide needed services, so they are entitled to tax exemption.
Click here to read more.
SOURCE: Baptist Press
Erik Stanley is senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, online at telladf.org