How We All Pay For the Huge Tax Privileges Granted to Religion -- It's Time to Tax the Church | | AlterNet
Not all churches or all ministers are rich, but some of them are very rich indeed. And that's no surprise, because society subsidizes them through a constellation of generous tax breaks that aren't available to any other institution, even non-profits. For example, religious organizations can opt out of Social Security and Medicare withholding. Religious employers are exempt from unemployment taxes, and in some states, from sales tax. Religious ministers -- and no other profession; the law specifies that only "ministers of the gospel" are eligible for this benefit -- can receive part of their salary as a "housing allowance" on which they pay no taxes. (Compounding the absurdity, they can then turn around and double-dip, deducting their mortgage interest from their taxes, even when their mortgage is being paid with tax-free money in the first place.) And, of course, churches are exempt from property tax and from federal income tax.
We're all paying for the special privileges afforded to religion. Your taxes and mine have to be higher to make up the revenue shortfall that the government isn't taking in because these huge, wealthy churches don't pay their own way. By some estimates, the property tax exemption alone removes $100 billion in property from U.S. tax rolls. (And it's not just the big churches where that exemption bites: According to authors like Sikivu Hutchinson, the proliferation of small storefront churches is a major contributor to poverty and societal dysfunction in poor communities, since these churches remove valuable commercial property from the tax base and ensure that local governments remain cash-strapped and unable to provide basic services.) Just about the only restriction that churches have to abide by in return is that they can't endorse political candidates -- and even this trivial, easily evaded prohibition is routinely and flagrantly violated by the religious right.