For all the talk of separation of church and state, it seems most people don’t understand that concept cuts both ways. Most people think it means that the church should have no influence on the state, not vice versa. And in the wake of the same-sex marriage ruling, some commentators are calling for the end of the church’s tax-exempt status:
Defenders of tax exemptions and deductions argue 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.
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So yes, the logic of gay-marriage rights could lead to a reexamination of conservative churches’ tax exemptions (although, as long as the IRS is afraid of challenging Scientology’s exemption, everyone else is probably safe). But when that day comes, it will be long overdue. I can see keeping some exemptions; hospitals, in particular, are an indispensable, and noncontroversial, public good. And localities could always carve out sensible property-tax exceptions for nonprofits their communities need. But it’s time for most nonprofits, like those of us who faithfully cut checks to them, to pay their fair share.
The argument here is simple. The State should revoke tax-exempt status for those churches that refuse to marry same-sex couples because those churches are violating “fundamental national public policy.” The State reserves the right to revoke tax-exempt status in these cases, a precedent set in Bob Jones University vs. United States.
What this author, and so many others, fail to understand, is that tax-exempt status for churches is not in the State’s power to rescind. In other words, churches aren’t tax-exempt at the State’s leisure. Rather, they are tax-exempt because the federal government of the United States does not have authority to tax American churches any more than it has the power to tax Brazil. It’s a separate jurisdiction. A separate government.
Leftists love to bring up this separateness when it has to do with the church having any influence on politics. But they don’t seem to understand its other implications. Churches should not have to apply for 501(c)3 status to become tax-exempt because they are not subjects of the State. Perhaps if this were more widely understood and practiced, churches would actually do their job—calling people to repentance and calling the civil government to make just laws. I wouldn’t hold my breath though.
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