Sunday, July 30, 2017
J. Michael Martin (Vice President & Legal Counsel, Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability), Should the Government Be in the Business of Taxing Churches?, 29 Regent U. L. Rev. 309 (2017):
While some legal scholars have suggested the legitimacy of church tax exemption may be on the decline in the modern era, this Article offers reminders of the constitutional, historical, and public policy rationales that have supported church tax exemption since the establishment of our federal government. Ultimately, it contends that protection for religious freedom guaranteed by the Framers of the Constitution precludes the federal government from levying taxes on churches, and furthermore, that the government may not constitutionally revoke the historic tax-exempt status of churches based on their religious nature.
Part I briefly recounts the history of church tax exemption from ancient civilizations to its “unbroken” practice within the United States since the founding. Part II advocates constitutional rationales for church tax exemption, including promoting the proper degree of separation of church and state, protecting the free exercise of religion, and ensuring equal access for religious organizations to public benefit programs. Finally, Part III concludes with economic and public policy rationales that suggest exempting churches from government taxation is in the overall best interest of society.
Should the government be in the business of taxing churches? The historical, constitutional, and public policy bases for church tax exemption referenced in this Article answer a resounding “No.” Church tax exemption can be traced back to antiquity and remains an unbroken historical practice in the United States to this day. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that church tax exemption promotes the proper degree of separation between church and state and protects the free exercise of religion from undue government interference. Likewise, the practice of granting religious organizations equal access to public benefits and resources ensures that churches are at least entitled to the same exemptions that other charitable organizations receive from government taxation. Finally, it is clear from a purely economic standpoint that church tax exemption is prudent public policy given the immeasurable benefits churches provide society in a much more efficient manner than the federal government.