10/06/2034 7:53 AM ET

OPINION

I'm A Christian And I'm For Churches Paying Tax

David Roeman
Religious Pay Our Way Alliance

CC BY-SA 3.0 - image changes released under same license Photo taken during the Benny Hinn Miracle Service held in 2013 by ThePianoMan76 | Writer image: CC BY 4.0 Headshot by Greg Grossmeier | Images were cropped. Images used for illustration purposes only.
Surely megachurches can pay a little to help stave off injustice in our society.
On Monday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Alliance Defending Freedom v. Katrobian.

This case is about the Defined Religious Contributions Act, enacted by Congress in May after what could charitably be called rancorous debate. It has been challenged by the Alliance Defending Freedom on grounds pertaining to the First Amendment.

It seeks to impose "fair recompense" against the wealthiest religious institutions, by making them pay an escalating amount of tax against their income.

Income is essentially defined as "any remuneration received in the normal course of operation". This includes but is not limited to:

- personal donations (offerings, pledges, dues, tithings, willed offerings, other donations, whether intended for the church or offered to church staff)

- sales on products offered by the institution (things like downloads or physical media, subscriptions, magazines, books, clothing)

- investments (including property)

- use of facility charges (renting out the auditorium, parking space, etc)

- fund-raising activities (bake sales, bingo, dinners)

- fees for specific services provided (weddings, funerals, baptisms, etc)

- assistance provided from a higher denominational source

- volunteer hours (assessed at a rate commensurate to duties performed)

Any income over $10 million but under $20 million is taxed at 9%. Income over $20 million but under $50 million is taxed at 14%. Anything over $50 million is taxed at 19%.

I am a church-going Christian, and I am absolutely in favor of this.

It must be clearly stated, this is NOT AIMED AT SMALL RURAL CHURCHES. Its goal is to fairly tax the largest houses of worship when they make beyond an amount sufficient to reasonably support themselves.

Will this cut into some pastors' mega-lifestyles? Of course. Will it trim some unnecessary church expenditures? Absolutely. Will it offend religious leaders wanting to build a new $50 million dollar facility? Naturally.

USA Charitywise estimated all religious income to be around $510 billion in 2031. That's half a trillion dollars. Property owned by religious institutions in the USA is estimated to be worth $640 billion. That's staggering. Churches are doing well, in fact some of them are doing so well, that they operate out of stadiums, taking in millions every week.

They employ teams of pastors, some of whom make millions of dollars a year, and drive Mercedes Benz's and Ferraris, living in luxury in mansions beyond the scope of imagination of the people giving in increments of five and ten dollars.

It's important to understand that these megachurches do not operate in a vacuum. Megachurches utilize public infrastructure (roads, water supply, waste treatment), public services (police, firefighters, snow removal), and are even defended by our nation's military. Yet, they pay zero taxes, when they are clearly able.

The Defined Religious Contributions Act, contrary to speculation, does not enable the government to shut down churches. Upon non-payment of taxes, it provides a reasonable solution for IRS officials to work with religious institutions who believe they cannot pay, giving them time and latitude where necessary.

Of course, Republicans went completely crazy when this bill was being debated. Given that Democrats control both houses of Congress, Republican opposition always seemed like nothing more than a gigantic temper tantrum, but the hyperbole was specially sharp and vindictive.

These are a few points made by Republicans during the House and Senate debate:

- "The government wants to close Christian churches and [the bill] will lead to Christians being put into concentration camps." - Rep. Wayne Kramer (R-MO)

- "It is clear that [the bill] will lead to the forced mass closure of churches and the destitution of millions of hard working church emoloyees." - Rep. Corey Firm (R-WI)

- "If this bill is allowed to pass, it will represent the destruction of Christianity in this nation." - Rep. Janet Kosolovski (R-NJ)

- "This law is a blatant and transparent attempt to blame patriotic, honest Christian men and women for so-called historic injustices. It is a sledgehammer against men and women of faith and goodwill." - Sen. Shul Indramiyanan (R-NV)

This last point is what many have been led to believe is the nexus of the conservative hostility. Because the Defined Religious Contributions Act is not just about taxing incredibly wealthy houses of worship; it also provides for specific dispersal of 10% of the funds gathered, to social justice organisations to be determined by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, in consultation with relevant stakeholder groups on an annual basis.

The provision states that this is for the, "honest redress of past inflictions of injustice, malice, defamation, discrimination, hatred, bigotry and/or other pain and suffering directed by the religious community in the United States toward members of the black, latino, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, intersex, trans-species, queer, questioning, polyamorous, asexual, two-spirit, non-binary, pansexual, ally, bondage/discipline, dominance/submission or sadism/masochism communities".

In other words, it provides for 10% of monies collected to be used to help heal people who have traditionally been the target of hate, bigotry, and discrimination.

The right hates this sort of thing because many Congressmen and women still refuse equality and dignity to our Black, Latino and LGBT brothers and sisters/other. They still deny the legality of same-sex marriage and the equal treatment of transgender/non-binary/gender-queer/non-conforming among us.

They refuse to see the incredible damage Christians have historically inflicted upon other races and LGBTIQ people for hundreds of years. Ordinary citizens who have been targeted simply for being who they are.

Instead, what they see - incredibly - is discrimination against themselves, under the guise of the government control of religion (in other words, Christianity).

The Supreme Court needs to affirm the legality of the Defined Religious Contributions Act, to show that religious institutions are not above paying their way out of their wealth. And to show to people who have been ill-treated that they are not beneath the scope of our empathy and love.

As a Christian, could there be any better sentiment?

If taxing a small number of very wealthy churches is the price we pay to heal the nation's wounds, isn't that a very small price?
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