Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Convert or Be Taxed

The final two installments of the NY Times Business Section series on religion and government are out. If you read them, you'll see why religion has become a shelter for charlatans and hucksters: there's a lot of money to be made via tax breaks and special exemptions.

Highlights from yesterday's story, "Religious Programs Expand, So Do Tax Breaks"
  • A Roman Catholic charitable ministry is providing lovely, tax-exempt retirement living to affluent people (avg. net worth=$1 million), while other non-religious retirement communities are on the hook.
  • Working families pay more for services when wealthy families get property tax breaks simply because of the affiliation with organized religion.
  • Charity used to involve self-sacrifice; now it is almost exclusively successful marketing (whatever happened to the religious vow of poverty?).
  • Tax-exempt bonds for churches shift the local tax burden off of churches and on to the general citizenry, even though the latter does not get to enjoy the exempt properties unless they belong to the church memberships.
Highlights from today's story: "Religious-Based Tax Breaks: Housing to Paychecks to Books"
  • Non-religious nonprofits are just as cash poor as religious ones, but they don't get the same breaks.
  • Religious tax-breaks cost taxpayers $500 million per year in tax revenue.
  • Ministers are allowed to be conscientious objectors to contributing to Social Security; the problem is that so many do opt out of that obligation for financial, not religious reasons.
  • Religious publishers enjoy tax breaks than non-religious ones do not; is that fair competition?
The financial incentive for non-religious nonprofits and corporations to convert to some religion, any religion is clear, as is the danger that faith has either been reduced to profiteering or or been expanded to involve any good tax shelter having little to do with religion. It seems that the only good news organized religion offers the world today is a life exempt from taxes. There's little profound in that. I mean, what can a minister provide that a good financial advisor could not?

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