Last updated on: 8/14/2019 | Author:

Pro & Con Quotes: Should Churches (Including Mosques, Synagogues, etc.) Remain Tax-Exempt?

PRO (yes)

Pro 1

Samuel Spector, Rabbi at Salt Lake City’s Congregation Kol Ami, stated

“I completely support it [tax exempt status]…. If another synagogue somewhere else gets a $20 million donation, that’s wonderful. But that doesn’t have any impact on us whatsoever. Without that tax-exemption status, we would be unable to provide those services [food banks, shelter, etc.] because as it is, we have to struggle to survive. More power to Latter-day Saints and other faith groups that are right now doing financially very well, but that is not the situation of your average rural church or your average synagogue.”


Tony Semerad, “LDS Wealth Spurs Question: Should Churches Be Tax-Exempt?,”, Apr. 17, 2022

Pro 2

Reece Barker, JD candidate at J. Reuben Clark Law School, stated:

“Religious organizations’ tax-exempt status is a constitutional right rooted in the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment. The principles at the core of the Religion Clauses—as declared by James Madison in his Memorial and Remonstrance and supported by case law, statutory law, and historical practice—forbid federal, state, and local governments from levying income and property tax against religious organizations’ non-commercial income and property. This avoids intermingling of church and state, threatening free exercise, disadvantaging poor religions, tarnishing America’s image as a land of religious liberty, and increasing disruptions and divisions in society. Recognition of this constitutional right avoids taxation, but it also calls for adjustments to some current tax-exempt law, specifically, narrowing the Johnson Amendment and the Bob Jones public policy standard. Further questions remain and will need to be addressed in this complicated and sensitive area. For instance, the definition and breadth of religious, non-commercial income and property need further clarification. This further clarification may expand or shrink the current tax benefits religious organizations receive, but the constitutional right to tax exemption dismisses once and for all the threat to tax the non-commercial property and income of religious groups.”


Reece Barker, “A Memorial and Remonstrance against Taxation of Churches,”, Spring 2022

Pro 3

Steve Aeschbacher, interim pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Salt Lake City, stated

“[There is] incredible value to society from having healthy churches, including church buildings that are available…. All of those things [outreach to the community] wouldn’t be possible if we were taxed out of existence…. I can’t imagine what our property taxes would be here. If we had to pay them, it might shut us down, which seems to raise some interesting constitutional problems. If effectively you’re stopping religion by taxing it, does that mean you’re infringing on freedom of religion?”

Tony Semerad, “LDS Wealth Spurs Question: Should Churches Be Tax-Exempt?,”, Apr. 17, 2022

Pro 4

Luke Goodrich, Vice President and Senior Counsel at Becket Law Firm, stated:

“The tax code treats ministers the same as hundreds of thousands of nonreligious workers who receive tax-exempt housing for their jobs—that’s not special treatment, it’s equal treatment… [S]triking down the parsonage allowance would devastate small, low-income houses of worship in our neediest neighborhoods and would cause needless conflict between church and state.”


Becket Law Firm, “Court Protects Ministers from $1B Tax Lawsuit,”, Mar. 15, 2019

Pro 5

Tobin Grant, Political Science Professor at Southern Illinois University, stated:

“If we tax churches, then we will need to tax all not-for-profit organizations. Government may exempt churches from property taxes and other taxes so long as they do so for other charities. There are some who argue that, as in the case of religious groups on public campuses (Rosenberger v UVA), government can’t select just religious groups to tax while leaving all other organizations like schools, women shelters, soup kitchens, and fraternal organizations tax-exempt…

To tax churches, government would need to have the (currently unconstitutional) authority to audit and regulate churches. Income is revenue minus expenses. So, to tax revenue, the government has rules about what counts as legitimate business expenses and regulations on how businesses perform their accounting. The government may also audit organizations. To do this for churches means that the government would define what is and is not legitimate and then act to ensure compliance. This raises a constitutional issue as Congress cannot make laws that affect the free exercise of religion.”


Tobin Grant, “5 Reasons We Should Never Tax Churches, Even if John Oliver Is Right,”, Aug. 26, 2016

Pro 6

Donald J. Trump, 45th U.S. President, stated:

“I would like to thank the evangelical community because, I will tell you what, the support they have given me — and I’m not sure I totally deserve it — has been so amazing. And has been such a big reason I’m here tonight. They have much to contribute to our policies.

Yet our laws prevent you from speaking your mind from your own pulpits. An amendment, pushed by Lyndon Johnson, many years ago, threatens religious institutions with a loss of their tax-exempt status if they openly advocate their political views. Their voice has been taken away. I will work hard to repeal that language and to protect free speech for all Americans.”


Donald J. Trump, Speech at the Republican National Convention, July 21, 2016

Pro 7

Richard W. Garnett, Professor of Law at the University of Notre Dame, stated:

“In the United States, churches and other religious institutions are, generally speaking, exempt from federal, state, and local taxes. They have been for a long time. This deeply rooted practice is good policy and it helps to promote and protect our fundamental right to religious freedom. After all, that right includes the right of religious believers to act in and through religious institutions, so it makes sense to protect those institutions from the intrusions and burdens of tax laws…

[O]ur tradition of exempting churches and religious institutions from taxes is justified and important. The separation of church and state is not a reason to invalidate or abandon these tax exemptions but is instead a very powerful justification for retaining them…

There are also many good policy reasons for exempting churches, faith-based homeless shelters, parochial schools, and religious hospitals from taxes. Many of these reasons also apply forcefully to cultural, artistic, and social welfare agencies of all kinds. It is a good thing to have a vibrant, diverse, and competitive civil society, to support rather than resist pluralism, to increase rather than shrink the opportunities for engagement with others, and to avoid monopolization by governments of too many activities. There are things that, probably, only governments can do, but there are many more things that non-state agencies can do too, and better.”


Richard W. Garnett, “Should Churches Be Tax Exempt?,” (accessed July 28, 2016)

Pro 8

Rick Perrin, Former Chairman of the Board at World Reformed Fellowship, stated:

“If the government begins to tax contributions… [c]hurches may well resist payment of those taxes, even to the point of closing the church’s doors. The simple reason is that this is money given by the people to God in response to his command to serve him through tithes and offerings. This is money to which the government has no right, and to seek it violates a law that God has established which overrides government authority. Literally the government would be robbing God. That is not a safe thing to do.

But should the confiscation of church giving come to pass, it would reduce a church’s income significantly. Would the government claim twenty-five percent? Add that to the loss of a tax deduction on the part of donors, and a church’s income might be reduced by fifty percent, for the government would be taking money away from the donor through personal taxation that he currently has available to give to his church.”


Rick Perrin, “The Case for Churches to Remain Tax Exempt,”, Aug. 5, 2016

CON (no)

Con 1

Robert Repino, editor of religious studies and history for Oxford University Press,

“I think the reform should be implemented gradually. Religious organizations could be granted a few initial exceptions, especially for very small institutions. They could also receive a generous grace period — perhaps up to several years — to show that they are spending their revenue on their mission rather than squirreling it away or using it to buy their elders a new yacht. If an organization can’t get its act together by then, it probably deserves to be taxed. Or go out of business.

There’s a bigger picture to contemplate here, and it has to do with how we run a functional, compassionate society. A tax code that allows any institution — religious or not — to hoard money with no oversight should be considered a structural injustice. At the same time, an overreliance on religious institutions as charities discourages a more comprehensive system of direct aid and investment from government entities. (You know, the kind of social safety net that other stable democracies take for granted.) If an organization claims to stand for justice, yet continues to support this tax system, we must at least ask a few follow-up questions. The public discourse is already upon us, and it might get ugly. We can either leave it to the angriest voices in the room, or we can work out a fair solution.”


Robert Repino, “Churches Shouldn’t Automatically Get Tax Exemptions,”, Apr. 14, 2022

Con 2

U.S. Representatives Suzan DelBene (D-WA) and Jared Huffman (D-CA), stated

“We understand the importance of religious institutions to their congregants and believe that religious freedom is a cherished American value and constitutional right. We also believe that our tax code must be applied fairly and judiciously. Tax-exempt organizations should not be exploiting tax laws applicable to churches to avoid public accountability and the IRS’s examination of their activities.”


Suzan DelBene, “DelBene, Huffman Call on IRS to Review Tax-Exempt ‘Church Status’ for Known Hate Group,”, Aug. 2, 2022

Con 3

Paul Matzko, historian of American religion and politics, stated:

“Again, the history of religious land-use laws is enlightening here. Using the federal government to protect tax-exempt status for churches is not a recipe for a stable, long-term equilibrium. It only works as long as Christians can maintain a white-knuckled grip on power, fighting to maintain their tax advantages by tooth, claw, court case, and ballot. The gospels tell us to love our neighbors as ourselves. This is certainly a strange way of doing it. After all, why did Jesus, when asked if he owed taxes to Rome, say, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Mark 12:17)? It is far better to live peaceably with all people, giving “to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes” (Rom. 13:7).

It might not be such a bad thing to lose tax-exempt status. We should consider, at the very least, the cost of maintaining this kind of cultural privilege. The true church of God, after all, is not reliant on its special status in the tax code. We can walk by faith and not by government largess.”


Paul Matzko, “The Hidden Cost of Tax Exemption,”, Jan. 6, 2020

Con 4

The Freedom From Religion Foundation stated:

“It’s wrong that ‘ministers of the gospel’ receive almost a billion-dollar-a-year tax benefit, and do not pay their fair share of taxes just because they’re religious clergy, or even just for possessing ordinations or acting like clergy. Jewish cantors get the tax benefit. Even ordained basketball coaches at parochial schools may receive it. Megachurch pastors can write off up to the fair market value of their mega-mansions…

The congressional Joint Committee on Taxation has reported that the exemption amounts to $700 million a year in lost revenue.”


The Freedom From Religion Foundation, “Clergy Housing Allowance Boondoggle Continues… for Now,”, June 14, 2019

Con 5

Mark Oppenheimer, opinion columnist at the Los Angeles Times, stated:

“The Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage makes it clearer than ever that the government shouldn’t be subsidizing religion and non-profits… It’s time to abolish, or greatly diminish, their tax-exempt statuses… [T]he religious exemption has forced the IRS to decide what’s a religion, and thus has entangled church and state in the worst way. Since the world’s great religion scholars can’t agree on what a religion is, it’s absurd to ask a bunch of accountants, no matter how well-meaning…

[T]he IRS famously caved and awarded the Church of Scientology tax-exempt status. Never mind that the Scientology is secretive, or that it charges for its courses; or that its leader, David Miscavige, lives like a pasha. Indeed, many clergy have mid-six-figure salaries — many university presidents, seven-figure salaries — and the IRS doesn’t trouble their tax-exempt status. And many churches and synagogues sit on exceedingly valuable tracts of land (walk up and down Fifth Avenue to see what I mean). The property taxes they aren’t paying have to be drawn from business owners and private citizens — in a real sense, you and I are subsidizing Mormon temples, Muslims mosques, Methodist churches.”


Mark Oppenheimer, “Now’s the Time to End Tax Exemptions for Religious Institutions,”, June 28, 2015

Con 6

Bill Maher, comedian and talk show host, stated:

“Now that it’s April 15, all U.S. taxpayers must call out all the deadbeats who ride for free, which includes giant corporations like GM and United Airlines, which this year are going to pay no taxes…

But the list should also include [churches]. There are 300,000 religious congregations in this country that pay no tax: no federal, state or local; no income, sales, or property tax. They own $600 billion in property… The Supreme Court of the United States really needs to take a case about taxing churches because it hasn’t done that since 1970. And since then, religion has become much less popular, especially with younger people… Almost a quarter of us are being forced to subsidize a myth that we’re not buying into. Why am I subsidizing their Sunday morning hobby?… Why, in heaven’s name, don’t we tax religion?”


Bill Maher, Real Time with Bill Maher, HBO, Apr. 15, 2016

Con 7

David Niose, Legal Director of the American Humanist Association, stated:

“As more Americans abandon organized religion, many of the newly secular are unsympathetic to subsidizing religion via the tax code…

Perhaps the most egregious example of religious privilege under the tax code is the so-called parsonage exemption. Under current tax law, ‘ministers of the gospel’ may deduct virtually all costs associated with housing from their income. At its worst, the exemption subsidizes the unseemly: televangelists enjoying multimillion-dollar estates on the taxpayer dime. But even in a more ordinary context, the allowance represents an indefensible benefit running to organized religion, subsidized by taxpayers.

Another gratuity to churches is the real estate tax exemption, which denies cash-strapped municipalities revenue that could be used for public safety, road repairs and other services. Like everyone else in town, churches benefit from services provided by municipal governments, but in most areas are exempt from property taxation simply because they are churches…

As we reassess religious privilege in America, even the notion of having churches pay income taxes should be on the table.”


David Niose, Legal Director of the American Humanist Association, “Americans Are Leaving Religion. Why Are We Still Subsidizing It?,”, Sep. 14, 2015

Con 8

Juan Zaragoza, Secretary of the Treasury for Puerto Rico, stated:

“The problem is that there are churches that are family businesses and where people are making a profit. You can have a church for profit, like any other, just like a shoe store. You can operate a church as a for-profit entity, and every year you should file returns with your profits and pay. These organizations think that by just registering as a non-profit organization they gain (automatic) rights to tax exemptions. They get incorporated and begin operations without ever requesting tax exemptions. They have spent years not paying taxes. Now they have to make retroactive payments.”


Jack Jenkins, “Puerto Rico Is Cracking Down on Tax-Exempt Status for Churches,”, Apr. 29, 2016