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America Spends $71 Billion Annually Subsidizing Tax-Exempt Religion

by David Badash on June 18, 2012

in Economics,News,Politics,Religion

Post image for America Spends $71 Billion Annually Subsidizing Tax-Exempt Religion

A new report by a research team at the University of Tampa finds that tax-exempt religious organizations are subsidized by the U.S. government — meaning, you and me — to the tune of $71 billion each year. As a rule, religious organizations and many of their their employees — such as ministers, priests, rabbis, etc. — can be exempt from paying local, state, and federal taxes, income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, investment taxes, etc.

“What we found suggests that religious institutions, if they were required to pay taxes the same as for-profit corporations do, would not have nearly as much money or influence as they enjoy in America today,” the report, published at the Council for Secular Humanism, states:

Do religions engage in charitable work that addresses the physical needs of the poor? Many do, but that is not their primary focus. Religions are quick to trumpet when they do charitable work—ironically for Christians, since the Bible explicitly says not to (Mathew 6:2). But they don’t do as much charitable work as a lot of people think, and they spend a relatively small percentage of their overall revenue on such work. For instance, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the LDS or Mormon Church), which regularly trumpets its charitable donations, gave about $1 billion to charitable causes between 1985 and 2008. That may seem like a lot until you divide it by the twenty-three-year time span and realize this church is donating only about 0.7 percent of its annual income. Other religions are more charitable. For instance, the United Methodist Church allocated about 29 percent of its revenues to charitable causes in 2010 (about $62 million of $214 million received). One calculation of the resources expended by 271 U.S. congregations found that, on average, “operating expenses” totaled 71 percent of all the expenditures of religions, much of that going to pay ministers’ salaries. Financial contributions addressing the physical needs of the poor fall within the remaining 29 percent of expenditures. While these numbers may be higher as a percentage of income than typical charitable giving by corporations, they are not hugely higher (depending on the religion) and are substantially lower in absolute terms. Wal-Mart, for instance, gives about $1.75 billion in food aid to charities each year, or twenty-eight times all of the money allotted for charity by the United Methodist Church and almost double what the LDS Church has given in the last twenty-five years.

In other words, you are paying  lot more in taxes to subsidize the salaries of people whose work you may not agree with, and whose work, should it have to be done by the government, in many cases, wouldn’t need to be.

How much is $71 billion dollars?

A quick Google search returned these findings.

The annual budget for the state of Florida.

The entire budget — including all the food stamps issued — for the Agriculture Department in 1993.

The entire amount the nation of Thailand will spend on infrastructure in the next ten years.

Or, this:

The New Bottom Line coalition has estimated that the big banks could write down the principal of underwater mortgages at a one-year cost of $71 billion saving underwater families an average of $543 per month, pumping billions into the economy and creating one million jobs. The banks have the money – this year’s compensation pool is projected to be more than double that.

Considering the heightened political activity religion in America has taken in the past few years alone, including organized and intentional flouting of laws and IRS rules regulating their tax-exempt status, it’s time Americans come to the realization that there is no need for — nor are we in a position to continue to subsidize — tax exemption for religious organizations any longer.

To the LGBT community, TaxTheChurches.org writes:

This issue should be a no-brainer for you. You know where all the prejudice, injustice, hatred and discrimination in our culture is rooted, don’t you? The Judeo-Christian bible teaches that you are an “abomination.” Who you love, and how you love, is therefore wrong, abnormal, amoral, unnatural and evil – as opposed to right, normal, natural or good – by virtue of your immoral “choice.” You are demonized by an increasingly intolerant “Christian” culture, and denied basic human rights by these fundamentalist zealots that YOU subsidize with YOUR taxes. Think about this the next time you take a good look at your pay stub or your tax return.

Hat-tip: Zack Ford at Think Progress

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{ 3 comments }

KitaroKaru June 18, 2012 at 10:32 pm

i say we get rid of the tax exemption and use the money to fix this economy and everything else 71 billion a year is a great loss to us and the government

Wolfie Rankin June 18, 2012 at 11:07 pm

The church has too much power everywhere, including here in Australia. The best way to effectively neuter this power is to tax it.

rippinsteo November 24, 2013 at 8:55 pm

I might be inclined to pay more attention to this report if perhaps a bit of research had been done and it were more intellectually honest about the charitable giving of the LDS church. The monies spent from the humanitarian aid fund of the LDS church does not include the spending by the LDS church on its own vast welfare and education systems. And whatever happened to the notion of separation of church and state anyway?

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