Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Should Churches Pay Taxes? It's Not a Blasphemous Idea and It Ought to Be Considered

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Should Churches Pay Taxes? It's Not a Blasphemous Idea and It Ought to Be Considered

Article excerpt

Jesus said he came not to bring peace but a sword, and so New Hampshire's Church of the Sword doesn't sound so strange until you look at its beliefs, or lack thereof. The "church" doesn't ask that its members believe in God or gods, and it endorses "marriage" with negotiated expiration dates.

In these tenets, and in its tendency to congregate in bars, the group has more in common with the Hash House Harriers (motto: a drinking club with a running problem) than it does a typical house of worship. But it is aggressively seeking tax-exempt status in New Hampshire and, given that the First Church of Cannabis is smoking its sacramental pot tax-free in Indianapolis, it may get it. Attorneys made arguments before New Hampshire's Supreme Court last month.

Beyond that debate is another one more important than whether a zany collection of bar-hopping samurais should have to pay taxes on a house they merrily dub a parsonage. The bigger debate, too long ducked by people of faith, is whether real churches should be tax exempt.

For years, this topic has been sacrosanct, but the sacred cow named 501(c)(3) is mooing in distress, its placid repose disturbed by Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court decision allowing gay marriage.

Soon after the decision, conservatives began to fret that the IRS would go after churches that refuse to marry gay couples, citing the example of fundamentalist Bob Jones University in South Carolina, which lost its tax-exempt status in 1976 over segregationist policies.

While this hasn't yet happened, it's true that groups like the Freedom from Religion Foundation are using the issue to advance its loathsome agenda -"relegating believers to low status," as one so- called freethinker wrote recently. Ending religion-based tax exemption is one of its goals and organized mockery one of its tactics.

But the loss of tax exemption is a real and growing threat for religious institutions, and the defense of it increasingly untenable as the government sinks deeper into debt and Americans become more secular. Only half of people born between 1990 and 1996 believe in God, the Pew Research Center reported this week. …

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