Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Yesterday's Los Angeles Times contained an interesting point-counterpoint debate regarding the justification for church tax exemption and the extent to which government may exercise oversight over that grant. Nobody called anybody an "ignorant slut" (as used to be the case on old Saturday Night Live episodes), but both sides made interesting points:
Erik Stanley: In its 1970 opinion in Walz vs. Tax Commission of the City of New York, the high court stated that a tax exemption for churches "creates only a minimal and remote involvement between church and state and far less than taxation of churches. [An exemption] restricts the fiscal relationship between church and state, and tends to complement and reinforce the desired separation insulating each from the other." The Supreme Court also said that "the power to tax involves the power to destroy." Taxing churches breaks down the healthy separation of church and state and leads to the destruction of the free exercise of religion.
Barry Lynn: When any group accepts a tax exemption, it agrees to play by certain rules and accept a certain degree of oversight. Federal law actually makes it more difficult for the IRS to audit churches than other charities. In addition to this modest "no electioneering" rule, for example, tax-exempt groups cannot collect money for a "charitable" purpose and then use it all for the personal benefit of the director and her family (or the pastor and his family). Do you seriously believe that the IRS and possibly even criminal investigative bodies have no right to try to scrutinize possible misbehavior?