As predicted: time to end protection for religious institutions

Gay-rights supporter argues an increase in taxes will help the poor
Mark Oppneheimer (

Mark Oppeneheimer says that it’s time to abolish tax-exempt statuses of organizations that dissent from settled public policy (

The following comes from a June 28 Time Magazine article by Mark Oppenheimer:

Two weeks ago, with a decision in Obergefell v. Hodges on the way, Senator Mike Lee of Utah introduced the First Amendment Defense Act, which ensures that religious institutions won’t lose their tax exemptions if they don’t support same-sex marriage. Liberals tend to think Senator Lee’s fears are unwarranted, and they can even point to Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion in Friday’s case, which promises “that religious organizations and persons [will be] given proper protection.”

But I don’t think Senator Lee is crazy. In the 1983 Bob Jones University case, the court ruled that a school could lose tax-exempt status if its policies violated “fundamental national public policy.” So far, the Bob Jones reasoning hasn’t been extended to other kinds of discrimination, but someday it could be. I’m a gay-rights supporter who was elated by Friday’s Supreme Court decision — but I honor Senator Lee’s fears.

I don’t, however, like his solution. And he’s not going to like mine. 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 federal revenue acts of 1909, 1913, and 1917 exempted nonprofits from the corporate excise and income taxes at the same time that they allowed people to deduct charitable contributions from their incomes. In other words, they gave tax-free status to the income of, and to the income donated to, nonprofits. Since then, state and local laws nearly everywhere have exempted nonprofits from all, or most, property tax and state income tax. This system of tax exemptions and deductions took shape partly during World War I, when it was feared that the new income tax, with top rates as high as 77%, might choke off charitable giving.

Many churches and synagogues sit on exceedingly valuable tracts of land (walk up and down Fifth Avenue to see what I mean). The property taxes they aren’t paying have to be drawn from business owners and private citizens — in a real sense, you and I are subsidizing Mormon temples, Muslims mosques, Methodist churches.

Meanwhile, although nonprofits can’t endorse political candidates, they can be quite partisan and still thrive on the public dole, in the form of tax exemptions and deductions. Conservatives are footing the bill for taxes that Planned Parenthood, a nonprofit, doesn’t pay — while liberals are making up revenue lost from the National Rifle Association. I could go on. In short, the exemption-and-deduction regime has grown into a pointless, incoherent agglomeration of nonsensical loopholes, which can allow rich organizations to horde plentiful assets in the midst of poverty.

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.

Exemption advocates also point out that churches would be squeezed out of high-property-value areas. But if it’s important to the people of Fifth Avenue to have a synagogue like Emanu-El or an Episcopal church like St. Thomas in their midst, they should pay full freight for it. They can afford to, more than millions of poorer New Yorkers whose tax bills the synagogue and church exemptions are currently inflating.




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  1. Catholic parishes which have gay-lesbian support groups will probably be asked by some of those people to perform “same-sex marriages.” If they refuse to perform such ceremonies, will they be in violation of the law? By having gay- lesbian support groups, are they condoning their homosexual activities? Why don’t those same parishes have support groups for heterosexuals who are sexually active?

    • St. Christopher says:

      Good questions. Why not an “encounter group” for Adulterers (and they might find someone else worthwhile, too), or a Christmass Tree Angel program where you pick an angle off the Tree which has a desired sex toy as a gift for you to buy, or a time for NMBLA people to meet (need to start getting boys together with grown men, you know).

      The Supreme Court decision is idiotic when fully considered. Among other crazyh things, it obliterated any remaining notion that the First Amendment protects religious rights, too. (Yes, of course Kennedy understood this, he just does not care about religion.)

    • Your Fellow Catholic says:

      No. Churches who refuse to perform same sex marriages will not be in violation of the law. Just as Churches who refuse to perform marriages between two atheists, or two Jews, or a Jew and a Protestant are not in violation of the law, even though those individuals also enjoy a right to civil marriage. Does that answer your questions, Sarah?

  2. Time magazine is calling for it. Doubt it happens. Remember, there are liberal churches that support the democrats, and of them would turn. Universities would also support the Churches’ tax exemption, because they know they are next.

    You’ll never beat a general alliance of churches and universities in America in a political contest. Forget it.

    • Liberal Churches that support the Democrats also support the intrinsic evils of:
      Abortion, Contraception, Sodomy Marriage, and Euthanasia.
      So they should have no problem with government perks, and government grants.

    • Steve Seitz says:

      JonJ, I think your prediction is overly rosey. I’ve seen these people up close back during my days in the Pro-Life movement. Their hatred of Christians is very raw and without limit. They will continue to apply pressure until they seek their objective. (Note: I’m not speaking of mere homosexuals but, rather, those who drive the gay movement).

  3. St. Christopher says:

    Well, Catholic Readers, what is the surprise here? A professed “gay-rights supporter” whose true goal is to crush organized religion and its “unfairness” to the average tax payer.

    Wait, wait, maybe this is not such a bad idea. With a Pope like Francis, and his minions like Cardinals Dolan, Wuerl, Maradiaga, Baldisseri, Abp. Cupich, Forte, and Bishop McElroy and many, many more, perhaps this is a blessing in disguise. The Catholic Church was strongest when it was populated by believers, not once-a-week types who could care less about the liturgy, or what is in the Catechism, or who is elected to public office. These people are all pretty much pro-anything sexual, anyway, so let them go. Return to the catacombs, to a single,…

  4. St. Christopher says:

    (Continued) “Traditional liturgy, to a unified Faith, to a holy way of life.

    Let the world go, like Lott and his family leaving Sodom, and Noah, leaving on the Ark. Remember, it was Noah that saw God’s rainbow, not the perverse flag that is flown to honor Satan.

  5. Is this a surprise ? what the Christeros in Mexico went through is coming here in one form or another. The left /progressives are making their moves , the ‘Catholics ” in the legislature will be of no help , they may be the most ardent advocates of this.

  6. Steve Seitz says:

    I’m sure that anti-Christian bigots will eventually have some other pretty polemic to justify ceasing church property and other such things that are, as of yet, unmentionable.

  7. Caroline says:

    This would, of course,have to apply to all manner of beloved cultural institutions: symphony orchestras, opera companies, art museums, universities and so forth, not just unpopular religious organizations. Are the super rich ready for that?

  8. Anonymous says:

    Ah, the spirit of tolerance and diversity. A spirit of divide and conquer, then search and destroy. I fear for all children everywhere as they are indoctrinated into idiocy and lies.

  9. The USCCB’s – CRS (Catholic Relief Services), Catholic Charities, and CCHD (Catholic Campaign for Human Development) – needs to stop applying for and taking all Government Grants.
    Taking Government Grants means adhering to Government RULES/Policy – abortion, contraception, homosexual marriage; etc., and soon euthanasia.
    They currently take about $63 Million in grants from the Government annually.

    Unfortunately, the same is true of Catholic Colleges and Universities regarding grants and student loans.
    And any organization that advertises itself as “Catholic”.

  10. Jesus never told us to help others by using government funds. We never should have started being partially funded by any government in the first place.
    Jesus will provide what he wants us to have.
    The government is not our god.
    Jesus said – where your treasure is there will be your heart also.

    Government Funding of any kind means – OBEYING Government Rules / Policy – even though that policy is intrinsic evil.

  11. Special thanks to John Roberts and Anthony Kennedy for their continuous hatchet job on the US Constitution.

  12. Tom Byrne says:

    Please let’s not rush about like headless chickens. The Church began in a rented dining room and conquered the Roman Empire, and we can do that again if we have to. First, this is not unexpected. Like Henry VIII before them, the Left is saying, “Gee, these guys are dissing the way I do sex, so I’d better rob them to shut them up.” It didn’t work for Henry, and it won’t work for the Left now. Second, nothing will happen until the 2016 elections are over and only if Hillary wins, and maybe not them. No sensible Democrat wants the kind of trouble denying tax exemptions could lead to in tight races. Third, there are churches who disagree with us but wouldn’t like the idea of the state dictating theology, who would also raise the…

    • Steve Seitz says:

      Tom, I appreciate the basic truth of your words. Nevertheless, they have powerful forces on their side and its only a matter of time (months or decades) before they find the right combination of propaganda and triangulation. In Sacramento, I’ve noticed that they stepped up their grass roots organizing about 6 to 8 weeks ago. I’m assuming that this is both for 2016, but it could be for more nefarious activities. Politically speaking, I think part of the key to our defense is to re-evangelize hispanic Catholics. Hispanic culture is pro-family yet they tends to vote Democrat. This is an area that the Church needs to focus on.

  13. Tom Byrne says:

    roof, thinking, “Hey, if the winds change, it could be us next”. So, yes, worry and pray. But don’t panic.

  14. Anonymous says:

    We don’t do what we do because it’s tax exempt. If we lose the tax exemption for donating to charities and churches-so what?
    If Churches lose their tax exempt status so what? But to lose it as a punishment for upholding their beliefs would be wrong.

    • Tom Byrne says:

      The end of Catholic schools (the second most important tool of evangelization we have) is kind of a big “so what”. That means all of those kids taught by a system captained by people who hate us. Many parishes in this diocese are barely afloat even with the tax exemptions. Will all those people in poor and middle-class neighborhoods have find churches in somebody’s basement? Whose, if Catholics are kicked out of professions and can no longer afford houses? All poor old people in hospitals without access to Catholic doctors (or chaplains maybe) to defend them against the euthanisers? These are pretty big “so whats”, I think. Read the histories of France, Mexico and Russia.

  15. Warren Goddard says:

    We have same-sex marriage because our bishops failed to publicly excommunicate pro-abortion Justice Brennan and now they can publicly excommunicate Justice Kennedy or close shop..

  16. Anonymous Faithful says:

    I do not want my tax payments supporting religious institutions that I disapprove of. It’s time to end tax exemptions and deductions. Keep government and religion separate.

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