TED Conversations

This conversation is closed. Start a new conversation
or join one »

With so many religions, should they ALL get tax breaks?

Jews don't agree with Christians. Christians don't agree with Moslems. Moslems don't agree with Jews. Ignoring all other religions, for now (but feel free to join in if you want to) should the government stop tax breaks for all religions until one of them can prove conclusively that it's right, and all others are just 'pretenders'?

Until then, maybe the religious can pay their own way and the extra revenue can go towards paying for universal healthcare, better education, or whatever might be seen as a worthy cause for all of society?

Would you prefer your taxes go towards subsidising the building of a local temple... or a hospital wing, school, nursery, or park? (Please bare in mind that hospitals are for all, as are schools, parks, etc. and not just for one religious group!)

Please also bare in mind that this is a serious question, to be discussed, not used as an excuse to be abusive!


progress indicator
  • thumb
    Jan 7 2014: Hi Dave,
    I don't think the question is should they ALL get tax breaks. It is either all or none, and I would vote for none. Religions do not serve ALL of society, so I do not see any reason for society to help financially support religions.
    • Jan 8 2014: Well, that was sort of my point. Should any religions get tax breaks if they are mutually exclusive and can't all be 'right'. At least the majority of religions would presumably be false/spurious, so undeserving of what amounts to state (government) funding.

      I suppose I was trying to be fair and at least give the opportunity for one religion to step up with a convincing argument and prove itself deserving, though I wonder why 'God' would need tax breaks anyway. At least Christians are commanded to pay government taxes. It seems strange that this does not extend to the church as an organisation. I think that tax breaks probably go back to the first religions, effectively, when there wasn't separation between state and religion, and this has continued pretty much worldwide to the present day.
      • thumb
        Jan 8 2014: Dave,
        I appreciate your intent to be fair and "give the opportunity for one religion to step up with a convincing argument and prove itself..."

        My thought, is that at least some religions have had a couple thousand years to prove themselves, and they think that there is adequate "proof" because they believe that what is written in the holy books is "truth". Do you really think that ALL people in a society would agree to give a tax break to one particular religion?

        You think the tax breaks go back to when there was separation of state and religion? I haven't looked into it, so I don't know, but I would guess it goes back to when state and religion was connected, and they gave themselves a tax break?
        • Jan 8 2014: Colleen, you've pointed out a typo. Thanks!

          The point was that religion and state were once effectively the same thing. If they weren't one body, they would have at least been living a symbiotic life together. The religious leaders not wanting to lose the support of the state... the state not wanting to lose religious support and validation.

          To address your point, I'd personally have to be convinced that there was, firstly, a god (or gods). Then I'd have to be convinced that one religion actually represented that god(s) on earth.

          I would find it hard to have much faith in any 'new' religion. I'd very much want to know where the heck god had been for all this time, and more besides.

          I actually think that it would only take half the population to believe in one religion for that one religion to get any/all preferential treatment and no other religion, assuming it's supporters believed in voting. This religion would then become the state religion, as is the case in many countries around the world.
      • thumb
        Jan 8 2014: That makes more sense to me Dave....that religions were exempt from taxes when the church and state were connected.
  • thumb
    Jan 10 2014: Why should they get tax breaks? They should have to pay just like the rest of us. In fact, it should not even be hesitated considering all the "goodness" that religions practice. How could they not pay? Millions of dollars they spend for their structures and giant crosses, and all that other propaganda. We all may be going to heaven or hell when we die....no one really knows. Right now, in this moment, we are here on Earth. This should be our main priority, not some 10% chance at an afterlife that we have no idea about. Get out of imaginary land and come to the real world.
  • Dan F 50+

    • +1
    Jan 10 2014: This is a hotbed issue in my way of thinking. I am a libertarian, and think it is actually good that individual citizens in the U.S. enjoy considerable freedom to believe in various religions, etc., but those organizations should be ineligible for any public tax support. It is not just federal tax benefits, it cost local communities considerable money in property tax relief.

    Incidentally, I think this is just the tip of the iceberg. There plenty of other nonprofit designated businesses and private businesses for that matter, that should not received tax breaks. I'd like to think my motive for this position is a matter of fairness and an improved tax code with government more confined and accountable to the general welfare of the general public as opposed to special interests with its selective special rewards plan that keeps the way things operate adequately greased up.
  • Jan 14 2014: I think the whole concept of tax exempt is flawed and should be re-examined, including religious, charitable, non-profits, government, etc.
  • thumb
    Jan 13 2014: As far as I remember from my upbringing with the Good Book:
    "True religion is this: to help widows and orphans in their distress, and to keep one's mind from being polluted by the world".
    This is a double remit to qualify as a "true religion". The first aspect can be measured; the second can't. Given that, it is difficult to make the case for special treatment.
    • Jan 13 2014: Interesting. I guess that that's one religion's view of what makes a true religion. I have a feeling there may be other definitions.

      As one reads through the 'Good Book' and reads about all the genocide, hatred of various individuals and groups of people, the sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, slavery, murder, etc., one can really understand why one wouldn't want to be 'polluted' by the secular world!
  • thumb
    Jan 11 2014: None of them should get any breaks! Why should they!?

    "Because they're charities"

    Yes, it is true that religions organisations do some charity work, but we have no clue to what extent they do this since we aren't allowed to see their books. If they were truly charities then they should register as such.
    • Jan 12 2014: To be fair, I think that a large number of religious organisations that do charity work have registered as charities, though this may differ from country to country. I think that it's a fine thing to do charitable works, but my issue would be that either overtly or otherwise, these acts are used to proselytise, which I find a little distasteful. These organisations also discriminate on religious grounds, as far as I can make out, which I would imagine to be illegal for most if not all secular organisations and companies.

      There does seem to be a lack of accountability sometimes, which I think you're hinting at? Organisations all over the world are expected to publish certain information about the children they work with, but for some reason the Roman Catholic Church sees fit not to publish this information or make it available to anyone. I'm not sure if this is the Sam now, but it was true of the situation a few years ago. They had refused to give out information, if I remember correctly, for over 10 years. I think this is another issue which could benefit from it's own separate discussion on why religious organisations operate under a different set of rules and standard to other organisations.

      It seems, as the discussion goes on, that it is clear that religion allows one to play by different rules to everyone else. To me, this is clearly unfair and immoral. Somewhat ironic when one considers how much religion and the religious focus on morals!
  • thumb
    Jan 9 2014: No offense taken at all. Some people who belong to what others might see as fringe religions are quite serious about their religion. I will say I am Presbyterian but pretty open minded having spent a fair bit of time in Asia. I think the question is a very good one. The history of why religious groups get tax breaks doesn't seem to really apply these days. If it were up to me - I would consider ending these breaks unless they could convince me otherwise.
  • thumb
    Jan 9 2014: Don't know about Jews but with in Islamic & Christianity believers different sects are there, who don't agree with each other......
    Taxing religious institutions is a great idea, as huge money are there. That money can support people who are unfortunates and religious groups should support this as they also want to do something good for people.
    • Jan 9 2014: A truly logical, sensible response... which means that if anyone tried to tax the religions, they'd be up in arms, out on the streets protesting! :0/
  • thumb
    Jan 9 2014: I've done a little looking around and as usual, this is a more complicated issue than I realized. Here's a decent link with some pros and cons. http://churchesandtaxes.procon.org/ . The onething I'm convinced of is that rreligion is BIG BUSINESS. Its not hard to see when its bei ng taken advantage of, though. Small churches with people volunteering and pitching in that have pastors, preachers, or the equivalent making little to no money don't bother me a bit. Its when I hear of religios leaders with million dollar mansions, private jets, and rolls royces that are obviously taking advantage of the system to accumulate wealth. But then, taking advantage of the system to accumulate wealth seems to have become the American way.
    • Jan 9 2014: Much as I sometimes dislike government for being slow to act, inefficient at times, and much else besides, it does act without favour for it's citizens in most cases, at least in theory.

      I can't help but think that if the religious organisations were taxed like any other business, then those taxes could be spread out to meet the needs of every citizen that needed help.

      It's an aside, but I can't help wondering, if religious organisations were taxed, would it pay for Obamacare? Free medical treatment like the NHS in the UK would seem to be a good use of all that money.
      • thumb
        Jan 9 2014: I agree that the religious "industry" has an enormous amount of money flowing through it, that if taxed could do a lot to help social services. On seeing the website that I linked my main two concerns were that small struggling churches would suffer and that legally all charities would have to be taxed along with the churches. Having slept on it, I seem to have fallen off the fence. I guess I feel that if small churches couldn't survive, the organizational structure of churches would have to change, buti don't see that as a problem. Why does a pastor, preacher, etc. need a salary? That person if motivated to help their community, could write sermons after they got off work. Church members could volunteer all the necessary services. The act of bringing money into the picture seems to be against (my limited understanding) most religious teachings anyways, aren't we supposed to cast off worldly possesions if we seek to be closer to God?

        The second concern about charities could probably be addressed by all the stats and information that point to how little donated money gets to the people that need it most. If you want to appease your conscience by working for a good organization, then volunteer your time. How noble are your motivations if your only work for a charity because of the enormous salary they provide you?

        I'll end by saying that even if taxed, the money would probably do little for the average citizen. Our government has a long history (on both sides of the aisle) of finding many ways to line their own pockets and those of their cronies. Great topic, it got me thinking, thanks!
        • Jan 9 2014: I think all I'd like to add to wha you've said is that I wouldn't ask for charities to be taxed. Charities have salaried staff.

          The point is that religious organisations could be charities, but they'd have to do secular work. Proselytising wouldn't count, feeding the poor or providing social care would. I'm all for helping the community, but if you want to avoid taxes in church on a Sunday when you sing and teach, then the local cinema, theatre, school, etc. should all be tax exempt too!

          If you wanted to be really fair, you would probably have to look at performance licensing too. If a local theatre has to apply for a licence for a band to come and play a concert, and pay for it, why not a church? I'm sure laws are different State to State, country to country, etc. but hopefully the point is clear. When you start digging, there are probably lots of ways relihgious groups and organisations get preferential treatment.

          I'm not an American, so my next question that comes to mind is, is it constitutional to give tax breaks to religious groups and organisations? Is the separation between religion ans State somewhat blurred?
      • thumb
        Jan 9 2014: I am an American, but unfortunately an ignorant one. The site I linked discusses constituionality of both sides with no clear (to me) answer.
        • Jan 9 2014: I think you're being a little hard on yourself. It seems possible that the constitution may have been clear, and over time the lawyers have muddied the waters, but I'm guessing, and that's a dangerous thing to do. Maybe someone else will respond who knows, and help us both out?!
      • thumb
        Jan 9 2014: Ha! Thanks sir, you may be a little too generous to me. Its like my momma always told me. "To be ignorant is to not know better, to be stupid is to know better and do it anyways". To her dismay I was always able to be both, I'm multi talented. Ha ha. I'm afraid the constitution is as open to interpertation as the religions we're talking about. Yes hopefully someone in the TED community can help clarify.
  • thumb
    Jan 8 2014: Who decides what is an established religion though? Druidism has been around since 200 BCE.
    • Jan 8 2014: I'm not sure which Druids you're talking about exactly, as there are no Druids around now who could in any way trace their beliefs and rituals back to 200 BCE. As that religion effectively died out (with some help from the Romans) it, for one, could hardly be called an established religion, unless you're not concerned with how many people do or do not follow a religion. In that case, and religion could be 'established' provided it had one or more members.

      Just to go back to the Druids, there was a revival in interest in their beliefs in the mid 17th century, or there a outs. However, the ADO (Ancient Druidic Order) was founded in 1909. If time is to be used in any way to judge the veracity of any religious claims, Druids seem to be facing an uphill struggle.

      If, again, time is a measure of veracity we should (if we are religiously inclined) surely dump Islam, Christianity and Judaism and invest our efforts in the older religions. Maybe take another look at the religious beliefs of ancient Egypt and start building a pyramid?

      I think my point was quite clear in the opening statements though. Before the religiously inclined get tax breaks (or their religion does) they should at least decide amongst themselves which religion is actually 'the right one'. At least then they could present a unified front to those who still do not believe, and present then what should surely be some quite compelling and overwhelming evidence for their beliefs in God.
  • Jan 8 2014: I don't see why religious groups should get special discounts.
    The fact that I'm an atheist and think they're all wrong might be part of it.
    • Jan 8 2014: Everyone's an atheist. Nobody believes in ALL religions. Most people just need to go one 'God' more. ;0)
  • thumb
    Jan 8 2014: tax reduction is an interesting issue, because it is an unjust relief from an unjust money extortion. so what now? do two bad make a good?

    personally, i believe the any special tax laws are examples of the bad thinking pattern "common sense as exception". tax code should consists of a number, like 15%, and no more, and that covers everybody.

    but i also believe that taxes themselves are bad, so any reduction is automatically good, only not enough.
    • Jan 8 2014: I'm tempted to ask how you'd suggest funding public services, etc. if not through taxes? How does one redistribute wealth if not through graduations in levels of taxation across the population?

      I have more questions, but we'd be straying a long way from the purpose if the original question... and I would like to stick with the original question, or at least keep somewhere near it. You raise interesting points, but I think it would benefit from it's own conversation!
      • thumb
        Jan 8 2014: easy. there would be no public services.
        • Jan 8 2014: What, none? No schools, hospitals, waste disposal, armed forces, etc? Only those you'd pay for privately? Not sure how that would work, but it would seem to require the dismantling of a lot of the better parts of modern civilisation.

          Interesting, but a distraction from the original question. Maybe you could start a new conversation on TED?
      • thumb
        Jan 8 2014: either pay or buy insurance. i attempted to launch a conversation quite some time ago, didn't spark a whole lot of interest, but some. here it is:

        • Jan 8 2014: Sanitation... some people wouldn't pay for it, so disease would increase. You could prosecute them, but then, who would arrest them? The police? I can't imagine how this would work. Who would want to pay for a private security company if it was going to arrest them? Would you have lots of private police forces working in competition, often at cross-purposes to each other? How impartial would they be if some people were clearly able to pay them more and as a consequence influence them? I believe that they would effectively become rival, private armies. I think there are many more examples that I could find, but they would all be 'off-topic'!

          I think there's a very good reason why the discussion didn't go very far before, but it's been an interesting little diversion!
      • thumb
        Jan 8 2014: i agree that it is off topic here, so i give you some general answers for all such questions. you can try to apply one or more to your questions, they work 90% of time:

        1. can you come up with an idea? if you are an entrepreneur and you want to provide such a service, what would you do?

        2. it is inconceivable that a problem exists, it can be solved, but people can't find a solution on their own for a long time. simply, society does not work that way, someone will attempt to solve it. if it can't be solved, the government can't solve it either. in short: what is so special about the government?

        3. if the argument is, companies set lose will to this or that, the counter-questions are: who will finance those activities? how do they keep their customer base? what is the benefit, what is the harm? what can those that are harmed do against it?

        4. think in new frameworks. organizations of today might not even exist in a free society. example: today we have a police, which is a highly multi function organization: it oversees traffic, it oversees streets, it guards objects, it investigates crimes, it arrests criminals and dangerous individuals, and also runs different labs and the like. such a diverse company is not very free market like. these functions would most likely provided by different service providers.
        • Jan 8 2014: You don't seem to have addressed the points I raised in my example of sanitation and police, above. Nothing you've said seems to have answered my concerns, and they remain.

          Governments are usually (ideally) required to serve all people, regardless of income, etc. coanies pick and choose who to serve and often refuse customers for a wide range of reasons. This is why governments are better suited to tackle some issues which face societies, not companies.
      • thumb
        Jan 8 2014: yes, i did not address them, and i gave a reason why :)
        • Jan 8 2014: You seem to have hijacked a conversation, either unintentionally, or maybe by design.

          However, you DID respond... with four more points that are off topic, and none of which directly tackles the concerns I raised.

          People have always had sanitation, and it's often been pretty poor. Sanitation on a grand scale was originally taken on by governments to stop widespread deaths from disease that was a direct consequence of poor sanitation. The risk of going back to poor sanitation, for even a small number of the total population, could result in widespread disease and death for everyone. I'd rather my neighbour didn't encourage rats or give me cholera because he couldn't pay for sanitation, or chose not to. I don't want my neighbour to be able to choose to dump his rubbish in his back garden, or the street, because he doesn't want to pay for it to be taken away. I also don't want to be policed by a private security firm, or have a private firm look after fire brigade services. I don't want my neighbour's house to burn down because he didn't pay for insurance, then have my house damaged in the process. (Look up Great Fire of London and you might understand why a National Fire Service was created immediately afterwards!)

          Most of your suggestions would be retrograde steps.
  • thumb
    Jan 7 2014: Interesting question as it can be hard to define what a religion is for tax purposes (or for any other purposes). Take the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (Pastafarianism).

    Real or a Parody? ...but back to the original question. Tax exemption for churches has gone on since the Roman Empire. Has its time come? Looking at the pros and cons there is really no good reason for tax exemption for Religious groups these days.
    • Jan 8 2014: Well, I do see your point, but I was thinking more of established religions, not the newer, more spurious and ridiculous 'religions' like Mormonism, Scientology, Pastafarianism, etc. I think there's enough to discuss without including the fringe.
    • Jan 9 2014: By the way, David, I didn't mean to sound terse in my response. You made a good point and in hindsight I don't think that I expressed my appreciation in an appropriate way, so would like to do so now.

      I think you're absolutely right, there are some pretty incredible examples of religions that get tax breaks. I'm not sure where Scientology sits, for one. I'm afraid to look, as the answer might upset me!

      Sometimes I get caught up in the questions and answers, and forget the person behind the screen. I do apologise!