While I agree with the recent Supreme Court decision in favor Westboro Baptist Church’s right to be completely disgusting and abhorrent and absolutely hateful and disrespectful, it firms my opinion against tax exempt status for churches.
The IRS requires organizations claiming tax exempt status under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code to refrain from being action organizations, which prevents them from supporting or working against both legislation and political campaigns; however, we all know that churches participate in the political discourse in this country and tell their memberships how to vote. However, “churches” like Westboro Baptist stick to their message of hate and refrain from ever mentioning legislation or candidates; therefore following the letter if not the spirit of the law. The Family/The Fellowship enjoyed tax exempt status until 2009 while they posed as a church; the home on C Street (which was considered a church) provided highly subsidized lodging to both Republicans and Democrats (including Representative Heath Shuler) all the while actively influencing legislation in this country and abroad. Recent research has validated the Church of Latter Day Saints involvement in passing Proposition Eight which altered California’s constitution to restrict marriage to one man and one woman.
Many argue that churches deserve the special tax status for the charitable works that they perform in the community, and while I would regret to see modest churches that actually do good works in the community suffer, I wouldn’t mind at all seeing mega churches with huge ostentatious buildings contribute to the tax base. If they truly follow the words of their holy book then they don’t need the tax incentive to perform these good works, and driving around any town or city in this country most churches have way too much money in their building funds. Furthermore, our First Amendment provides for a separation of church and state, and frankly, I do not see the need for taxpayers to enable churches to proselytize anymore than James Madison did.
Our current budget concerns are bringing some important programs to the chopping block, but we cannot cut our way out of the deficit; revenues will have to be increased. Federal heating oil assistance is being cut, teachers are being laid off, and projects for mass transit are mouldering, but churches like Westboro Baptist don’t have to pay a single cent in taxes on their assets? Much like defunding NPR and PBS, removing churches’ tax exempt status will enable them to fully enter the political arena rather than secretly participate.