*One of the contributing factors for the French was increased taxes on the 3rd Estate (common people). This method of increasing revenue was initiated because the prevailing thought was that a tax increase on the 1st Estate (nobility) would not have gone over well. When faced with a budgetary crisis the French monarch perceived an either or proposition of more taxes on the nobility or non-nobility.
Essentially this was the 99% vs. the 1% playing out 220 years ago.
But the “either or” proposition was a false premise because it excluded the option of increasing (really establishing for the first time) taxes on the 2nd Estate. What segment of society enjoyed this favored status? Clergy.
Two complications arise when attempting to tax religious institutions. First: churches are generally considered institutions concerned with the souls of people. With such high stakes and potentially high rewards, throughout modern Western Civilization it has seemed unjust and irreverent to tax churches.
Nevertheless in contemporary society the answer to this complication is rooted in politics. More specifically the fact that in proscribing how to ensure good behavior and a positive experience after this life, most religions attempt to influence politics and societal rules. In fact, lost in the debate over gay marriage is the fact that churches are engaging in political discourse and trying to influence policy.
And I don’t have a problem with that. Religious institutions attempting to spread their faith is nothing new, and to be expected. But when they cross into the realm of politics so obviously and so consistently over time (think back to the religious basis for arguments for and against slavery), then their tax exempt status should be re-examined.
Such a change in policy would naturally inspire suspicion that it is anti-religion, which might be a valid criticism if not for the resolution for the second complication: the fact that religious institutions are one type of many to have tax exempt status. The resolution being that all not for profit corporations would be subject to the same updated tax structure. Churches therefore would not be specifically targeted to the exclusion of other not for profit institutions. However churches that continually amass more and more property will find themselves vulnerable to paying taxes.
This type of change in tax policy would raise additional revenue; it would discourage religious institutions from owning excess property; it would negate fraudulent claims of establishing churches as tax shelters; most importantly, it would extend equality to all legal entities (people and organizations).
I am not suggesting that not taxing religious organizations will turn the Occupy movement into a revolution. But it is a solution to our budgetary crisis worth considering.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected]