Last updated on: 2/7/2013 1:28:07 PM PST | Author:

Dean M. Kelley, ThM Biography

Former Counselor on Religious Liberty to the National Council of Churches
Pro to the question "Should Churches (Defined as Churches, Temples, Mosques, Synagogues, etc.) Remain Tax-Exempt?"

“[T]ax exemption is not something churches (or any nonprofit voluntary organizations, for that matter) win by ‘good’ behavior or lose by ‘bad’ behavior, as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ may be defined at will by incumbent officials from day to day. Churches have their essential function to perform, which they do—and have done for decades and centuries—as best they can, and which outsiders, particularly government officials, cannot judge, and—even if they could—do not have the wisdom, means or right to try to improve the churches’ performance. Loss of tax exemption will not make poorly functioning churches function better, and the threat of it will only have a ‘chilling effect’ on those that are not doing too well as it is, so that they will tend to falter and ‘lose their nerve’ and do even less well.

Tax exemption is not something to be turned on and off like a spigot, but an optimum, constant condition for allowing the religious function to be performed in a ‘free market’ situation, where would-be practitioners are allowed to ‘sink or swim’ on the basis of how well they meet the religious needs of adherents—without governmental interference, either to hinder or to ‘help’ (which is still to hinder). One does not have to be a partisan of one religion or of any to appreciate and wish to maintain this commendable ‘hands off’ neutrality of government toward religion, which the First Amendment commands, and which tax exemption so excellently epitomizes.”

Why Churches Should Not Pay Taxes, 1977

Theoretical Expertise Ranking:
Individuals with JDs, PhDs, or equivalent advanced degrees in fields relevant to churches and taxes. Also top-level government officials (such as foreign leaders, US presidents, Founding Fathers, Supreme Court Justices, members of legislative bodies, cabinet members, military leaders, etc.) with positions relevant to the churches and taxes issue.
Involvement and Affiliations:
  • Counselor on Religious Liberty to the National Council of Churches, 1960-1997
  • Executive for Religious Liberty, National Council of Churches, 1960-1990
  • Former Evangelism Committee member, National Council of Churches
  • Former Minister, Crawford Memorial United Methodist Church, New York, NY, and other churches in New York and Colorado
  • ThM, Iliff School of Theology, 1949
  • Graduated, University of Denver, 1946
Contact Info:
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  • Died of cancer in West Swanzey, NH on May 11, 1997
  • Had one daughter (Lenore)
  • Married Maryon Hoyle in Denver, CO on June 8, 1946
  • Born in Cheyenne, WY on June 1, 1926
  • “[Kelley] filed friend of the court briefs in many church-state cases, testified before Congressional committees on religious freedom issues and defended controversial groups like the Church of Scientology, the Unification Church and others… [R]eviewing Government documents on the 1993 siege of the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Tex., by Federal law-enforcement agents, which ended in a fire that killed about 80 members of the religious sect… Mr. Kelley wrote that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had been fundamentally mistaken about the Davidians, viewing them as hostages to a ‘cult leader’ rather than as ‘a band of adults voluntarily and devotedly following a visionary… [W]hen many communities were reacting to the suicide of more than 900 followers of the Rev. Jim Jones in Guyana in 1978 by toughening enforcement of local laws against religious soliciting, Mr. Kelley said, ‘The trouble is, one man’s cult is another man’s religion.'”
    Gustav Niebuhr, “Dean Kelley, 70, Advocate for Religious Freedom, Dies,” New York Times, May 14, 1997
Quoted in:
Should Churches (Defined as Churches, Temples, Mosques, Synagogues, etc.) Remain Tax-Exempt? – Pro & Con Quotes