New York Times columnist Mark Oppenheimer calls to end tax exemptions for all religious organizations. He cites the recent ruling on same-sex marriage as the reason for a reexamination of the “tax exempt” classification.
Oppenheimer maintains that the US government should not be subsidizing nonprofit and religious organizations, but losing tax-exempt status could spell relocation at best – or financial tragedy at worst – for churches and other nonprofit organizations across the country.
Liberals think he’s overreacting, but Utah Senator Mike Lee is taking measures to save churches that don’t agree with the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage. Two weeks ago he introduced a bill known as the First Amendment Defense Act, which would prevent religious organizations from losing tax-exempt status based on an opposition to gay marriage.
Supreme Court Justice Kennedy attempted to mollify the public by stating that “religious organizations and persons [will be] given proper protection.”
I’m not convinced. Do you remember the Bob Jones University case of 1983? The Court decided that a school could indeed lose its tax-exempt status based on a failure to adhere to “fundamental national public policy.” Who’s to say this reasoning won’t be extended to the issue at hand?
I think Senator Lee’s fears that dissent from public policy on matters of sexuality may result in the loss of tax-exempt status are more than valid.
Nonprofit organizations have enjoyed tax-free status since the federal revenue act of 1909. This act, along with two others in 1913 and 1917 exempted all nonprofits from corporate income and excise taxes and gave individuals the opportunity to deduct charitable donations from their income.
The current system was originally put into place during World War I to encourage charitable donations. If that system changes now, what would happen to our country’s animal shelters, soup kitchens, and organizations like the American Cancer Society that depend on donations for survival?
Nonprofits in almost every state also enjoy an exemption from state income tax and property tax. If this benefit were to be eliminated, high property taxes would likely force countless churches and synagogues to abandon important and beloved locations. I shudder to think of what that may mean for those church’s cemetaries.