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Meditation 1094
Faith or Fact

Taxation of Church Property

by: Henry M. Taber

Comment by JT: Another timeless chapter. Why should church property be free of taxes? Churches claim services and protection offered by government. Should they not provide their fair share of support?

Estimates of the value of untaxed church property in the USA today as 2014 approaches are in the $500,000,000,000 range. The rate of growth (a doubling every decade) forseen by Taber may have slowed, but the value of church property free of tax continues inexorably to grow.

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THERE is no ranker injustice than that a portion of the community should be compelled, by law, to pay for the support of institutions in which it not only does not believe, but which it regards as a positive injury to the well-being of the community at large.

And yet such injustice is in constant practice among us by the system now prevailing in nearly every part of our country, and known as that of exempting Church property from taxation.

Why is this done? It is because an influential portion of the community assumes that the Churches exert a moral influence, and that therefore, the people at large should be compelled to support the Churches; this influential portion of the community also impudently claiming that there is no morality outside of Christianity!

There are other institutions, other agencies besides Christianity, which exert a moral influence on the community, but which are not exempt, and do not claim exemption, from taxation.

But do the Churches exert a moral influence? Do they encourage that enlightened desire for knowledge, that persistent, unbiased search for truth, which is the basis of true morality? Do they discourage that injustice with the practice of which no morality can be genuine? Do they recognize the moral obligation demanded by the “golden rule?” Do they render to Cæsar (or the State) the things that are Cæsar’s,” or, rather, do they not utterly repudiate the demands which Christ thus makes, by refusing to render to the State that which is its due, as tax on their Church property?

The superstitions which are encouraged in both the Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches are, and have been for centuries, the chief obstacles to the advance of civilization, of intellectual and scientific and elevating thought. The immoral doctrine of the atonement, that the innocent could justly be punished for the crimes or sins of the guilty; that upright men and women are to suffer endless torment for no other reason than that they act upon the dictates of their consciences, which have been enlightened by the free exercise of their intellectual faculties, while murderers and others who have led the most reprobate of lives are to enjoy an eternity of bliss, if only at the last moment of their wretched existence they profess faith in the dogmas of the Christian Church ; the teachings of the Bible, its untrustworthy statements and obscene recitals; all these inculcations of Christianity are of so objectionable a character as to impel those opposed to it to do what they can to lessen its influence and as far as possible to arrest its progress. As T. B. Wakeman, Esq., says: “Those opposed to the exemption of Church property have conscientious convictions against furnishing means to teach the doctrines of total depravity, hell, fall of man, atonement, forgiveness of sins by prayer, absolution by penance, baptism, infallibility of Pope, Church, Bible or revelation.”

Statistics prove that, with rare exceptions, our criminal class have been brought under the influence of the Church, either Roman Catholic or Protestant. Dexter A. Hawkins, an eminent lawyer in the City of New York, who made such matters very largely the study of the closing years of his active and useful life, has shown by figures that attendants on the schools of the Christian Church became inmates of jails, in the proportion of more than three to one of those who were educated in our public schools.

And yet, notwithstanding the conscientious convictions of persons opposed to the influences of the Churches, notwithstanding the proven demoralization of their teachings, notwithstanding that two-thirds of the inhabitants of the country are not church-goers, and have no interest whatever in the maintenance of the Church, these persons are forced to contribute to the support of the Church, compelled to pay for its maintenance.

The system known as exempting Church property from taxation is an evasion of the well-known principle which underlies the Constitution of the United States and of the several States with reference to the question of religion, there being express provisions against the donating of the public moneys for the support of religion, or indeed of even the recognition of any religion. We have the high authority of the late Judge Story of the Supreme Court of the United States for saying that it is unconstitutional for any one to “be compelled to … support any place of worship or to maintain any ministry against his consent.”

What is this exemption of Church property from taxation but an “evasion?”

What difference does it make whether our legislators openly donate so much of the public money every year to the support of the Churches, or whether such Churches are exempted by legislative action from the operation of a general tax law? None whatever.

“Tax exemption is equivalent to direct appropriation.” “An exemption is simply the presentation of a receipted bill for taxes.”

“In this country, where we are wont to indulge in the proud boast of freedom from any “entangling alliance” whatever with the Church, we are contributing to the support of the Church, practically, precisely the same as in those countries where a union of Church and State is recognized.

The exemption of Church property from taxation, in utter disregard of the rights of a minority, is an abuse of power which should be expected only from monarchical governments. It is opposed to every principle upon which a republican government is founded.

Let no one say that we have not a Union of Church and State in this country so long as the practice of exempting Church property from taxation continues.

The attendants of these untaxed Churches talk of morality, of honesty, of justice! Can there be anything more unjust, more dishonest, and consequently more immoral than the acts of Church members who countenance such an evasion of law, such a violation of principle, such gross wrong to other members of the community?

This is not a question in favor of – or against – any religion, but of principle, the principle that every member of the community is entitled to the same rights, precisely, as any other member of the community, and that no person shall be required to pay for the support of the Christian religion any more than a Christian should be required to pay for the support of Mohammedanism, of Agnosticism, or of (what is known among Christians as) Infidelity. Thomas Jefferson says, “It is wicked and tyrannical to compel any man to support a religion in which he does not believe.”

The theory of our government is that all interests that are protected by the State should contribute equally to the support of the State. If the Churches do not contribute to the support of the State they are clearly not entitled to the protection of the State. Churches are protected by our police and fire departments, and when injured or destroyed by mob violence the city pays for the damages done; and yet they contribute not a dollar for the protection accorded them.

Every taxpayer is greatly interested in this question of exempting Church property from taxation; for every dollar that is exempted becomes so much additional burden upon the non-exempt; the non-exempt being compelled to pay whatever sum may be exempted. An illustration may give force to this fact. We suppose a community to exist where there are but two owners of real property, and where it is necessary to raise by tax, say $5,000 for its support. Each owner consequently contributes $2,500 in taxes. But if one of these owners is exempt from the payment of his tax, of course the burden of the whole $5,000 falls upon the other. Here is seen the great injustice, the gross outrage, done to the non-exempt owner.

Samuel B. Duryea, of Brooklyn, very properly says: “All exemption of Church property, on the ground that it is a religious corporation, is a trespass upon the freedom, liberty and equality of the thought of the people… Any institution that is exclusive has no right to claim exemption, and if it is unable to exist without State support, it should be swept away.”

Benjamin Franklin says: “A religion that depends on the State for support, is, for that reason, a bad religion.”

The New York Evening Post, while conducted by William Cullen Bryant, said : “The separation of Church and State should include the total discontinuance of contributions of public moneys, direct or indirect, to the support of any religious institution.”

President Garfield said: “The divorce between Church and State should be so absolute that no Church property anywhere, in any State or in the Nation, should be exempt from equal taxation.”

Professor A. L. Rawson says: “The votaries of the Bible, by the exemption of Church property from taxation, divert a considerable portion of the public revenue to sectarian purposes. This they do in a government whose fundamental law contains a protest against the methods of government by the Church. In that way they enjoy equal protection for their Church property and withhold the taxes by which that protection is secured.”

The New York Times recently said: “Through the exemption of Church property the people have to pay towards the support of all Churches, without reference to their own belief in the teachings of any of them… There is no reason why large plots of land and costly edifices should be free from taxes, while the humble home of the poor has, on that account, to pay an increased share to the public revenue.”

James Parton says: “Whatever property the State protects ought to contribute i:s proportion to the State’s support. If Church property is to be exempt from the charge of supporting the government, then should the government be exempt from the charge of protecting it… the infinite wrong of taxing a workingman’s home to its full value and letting a ten million dollar cathedral go tax free.”

Rev. Franklin Wilson, before the Taxpayers’ Association of Baltimore, said (in substance): “ The Mohammedan, Mormon, Spiritualist, Agnostic, may demand exemption as well as the Christian. Again, injustice is shown when the rich, refined church-goers of the elegant cathedral receive a far larger exemption bonus than the hard-working, devoted members of the mission chapel.”

Rev. Dr. Shipman, of Christ Church, New York City, says: “That which is protected by government, may justly be compelled to maintain it… I would like to see all Church property throughout this land taxed to the last dollar’s worth.”

The late Bishop Phillips Brooks says: “Every institution in which the doctrine of a particular Church is inculcated ought, for its own sake and for the State’s sake, to be guarded most jealously from any connection with State support.”

Protests against the great wrong of exempting Church property from taxation have been heard from a large majority of the secular press of this country, also from many religious publications, notably the Independent and Christian Union.

The Baptist Preachers Association of Baltimore recently voted in favor of taxing Church property.

The Christian Statesman says that “the Jarvis Street Baptist Church of Toronto recently adopted a resolution declaring its protest against the exemption of Church property from taxation, as being contrary to the principle which ought to regulate the relation of the State to all ecclesiastical bodies.”

Encouragement may be gathered from the fact that the subject of taxing Church property is being agitated in all parts of our country, and as showing that some progress has already been made it may be mentioned that in the States of California, Washington and New Hampshire, Church property – under certain conditions – is now subject to taxation.

A careful examination of authorities on the subject of the value of Church property in the United States which is exempt from taxation, induces the selection of the figures of Rev. James Freeman Clarke, in his “Ten Great Religions,” as conservative estimates and which seem approximately correct. These are, in 1850, $87,000,000; 1860, $171,000,000; 1870, $354,000,000.

Samuel Roberts, in the Illinois Social Science Club (July 25, 1891), estimated exempt Church property in 1880 at $746,294,833.

These figures (about doubling each decade) justify Judge Westbrook in estimating exempt Church property in 1890 at $1,500,000,000. And also justify General Grant’s estimate for 1900 0f $3,000,000,000.

At two per cent. on this sum there are sixty millions of dollars of taxes unpaid by those whose property is protected by the State and who in all justice should pay them, but which taxes are forced by wrongful exemptions, from the pockets of those who have no direct interest in the property exempted.

At the above rate of increase in the value of the Church property we may expect to see it rise in 1930 to $25,000,000,000 and to the impressive figures in 1950 of $100,000,000,000.

In Thaddeus B. Wakeman’s able address before the Legislature, on the subject of tax exemption he states that “in February, 1885, the New York City commissioners made a report to the Legislature of the State, in which it was shown that in said city property actually occupied by Churches and exempted from all taxation amounted to $42,137,500, miscellaneous exempted property (not public) $33,394,930; nearly all of this (miscellaneous exempted) property is under the control and influence of the Churches.” So that to the amount exempted from taxation for property “actually occupied by the Churches should be added, say 75 per cent. for other untaxed institutions under the control and influence of the Churches.”

Assuming that in other parts of the country there is a similar exemption from taxation of property under control of the Churches, in addition to the exempted property actually occupied by the Churches, – say 75 per cent. additional – and we are forced to add to the figures, which we have stated as the amount which in 1950 we may expect to see the value of Church property rise to the sum of $75,000,000,000.

Nor is this all. If we consider the remitting to the Churches and to institutions controlled by them, of assessments for improvements, which all others are compelled to pay; also the amount directly appropriated to religious organizations annually, and the occasional gifts to churches, etc. ; we are far under the mark (we think) when we add therefor 25 per cent. on the estimated amount of Church property exempted from taxation.

These estimates are confirmed by Mr. Wakeman, who says: “The property actually in use by Churches in this State and exempted will amount to $150,000,000, while the institutions, etc., and their practical influence and control will doubtless more than double that amount.”

Calling the population of New York State, about one-tenth of that of the United States, the figures of Mr. Wakeman $150,000,000 for exempted Church property in New York State ,-corresponds with General Grant’s estimate of $1,500.000.000, for the exempted Church property of the United States in 1890 and (assuming that Church property doubles in value every decade) it also corresponds with our expectation of $100,000,000,000 as the value in the United States in 1950 of Church property alone ; and if we add to this double that sum for other exempt property under the control of the Church (further to correspond with Mr. Wakeman’s figures), we have the startling figures of $200,000,000,000, as the value of the property of Churches and in control of them in 1950 and in 1975 – during the life-time of many now living – the appalling sum of $1,000,000,000,000!!

What reflection do these figures suggest? Do they not turn the thoughts of meditative people to those periods in the history of the world when a remedy was sought for the injustice and wrong of government protection to Church property, by exempting it from taxation, and thus increase the holdings of property by the Church and the corresponding decrease of the holdings of other property?

In the contemplation of the above figures we cannot too earnestly or too speedily sound the note of warning of the consequences sure to befall our country, if the aphorism that “history repeats itself,” prove true with us.

Col. Ingersoll says: “If Church property is allowed to go without taxation, it is only a question of time when the Churches will own a large percentage of the property of the civilized world and thus become dangerous to the liberties of mankind.”

E. J. Donnell, Esq., of New York City, says: “Taxation and the private and corporate ownership of property have always been practically recognized as inseparable conditions of industrial society. The time always comes, when society recognizes as a truth that property exempted from taxation becomes in time, in equity, the property of the whole community. The frequent confiscations of Church property during the past three or four centuries, could not have taken place without that justification. The long exemption from taxation enjoyed by the Church and the nobility in France fully justified the confiscation that took place during the great revolution. In my opinion the government stopped far short of its rights in that case.”

In the New York Tribune of February 22, 1873, is a communication from a Roman Catholic clergyman, well known for his enlightened mind and public spirit. After speaking of the great wrong to the non-exempt by the exemption of Church property, he says: “The State will sell the property of its citizens for non-payment of taxes. No one questions the right of the State to do so. Well, then, if one portion of the community pays the taxes of another portion (which is practically done where the latter portion is exempt from taxation) may not such (former) portion become of right the owner of the exempted property? May it not, in justice, demand it? This is a serious view to take, but is it not equity? Any how it has often led to confiscation.”

Mr. Wakeman says: “The question will have to be tried out, which is the real government of the people, the Republic or the Church?”

General Grant says: “Such vast amount of untaxed Church property, receiving all the protection and benefits of the government, without bearing its proportion of the burdens and expenses of the same, will not be looked upon acquiescently by those who have to pay the taxes; and if permitted to continue will probably lead to great trouble in our land before the close of the nineteenth century; possibly to sequestration without constitutional authority and through blood.”

James Parton says: “In some countries of the old world one-fourth, in others one-half, of the property of the realm was exempt from taxation. At the beginning of the French revolution two-fifths in quantity and more than one-half in value of the real property in France belonged to the Church, … What was the consequence? Bankruptcy, pauperism and finally revolution and confiscation. It is a philosophical truth that the same causes, under the same circumstances, will produce the same effects. Let us then learn wisdom from the folly of others and make all property bear its share of the common burdens ; and thus escape injustice, dishonesty, pauperism, as well as revolution and confiscation. We commenced wrong by exempting any property from taxation. Let us take a new departure, before it is too late.”

The unjust practice of exempting Church property from taxation was part of that abominable system by which the people were forced to contribute their efforts, their influence and their money in support of the “divine right” of priests and of kings, and it is to the great Christian (!) emperor that we are indebted for inaugurating the practice.

Says Mr. Duryea: “As early as the year 359, an attempt was made to have the lands belonging to the Church exempt from all taxation. It was due to the demoralizing influence of the reign of Constantine, when the Church united in the political intrigue of a corrupt empire. Throughout all the conflicts among nations to the present day, the evil influence of the uniting of Church and State may be traced through every Christian nation on the face of the earth.”

It is difficult to understand how any honorable Christian can defend such a wrong as that of compelling non-Christians to contribute to the support of the Christian religion, unless it be that Christians regard the dogmas of the Church of more importance than principle, than justice, than constitutional provisions of law. And it is also difficult to understand how any intelligent and patriotic Christian can shut his eyes to the calamitous consequence which, in time, is sure to result from the enormous and alarming growth of the Church, by reason of the system against which this article is written as a most profoundly earnest and solemn protest.

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