Why taxing churches would hurt more than help

There is a meme bouncing around the net which suggests that taxing churches would reduce the tax burden on everyone else to a mere 3%. If it were true, that’d be a huge incentive to start taxing religious institutions. But the math couldn’t be more fuzzy.

First of all, the average church size is only 89 adults, according to the Barna Group. And according to Charity Choices, “People who give to churches and religious groups give more than other people, according to a 2002 survey done by Independent Sector.  They give an average of $1391 to their religious institution and $958 to other charities.  Those who give only to nonreligious charities contributed $623 on average.”

If you do the math, 89 adults multiplied by $1391 of giving to their churches each year nets an annual budget of $123,799 for the average church. Sure, there are plenty of megachurches out there which could survive being taxed. But the average church is going to shut its doors if it’s taxed.

And what is going to happen to the other $958 per year that church-goers give to non-religious charities? Might not that money have to go to their churches just to keep them open? And where, then, will these other charities get their funding from? Non church goes give only 2/3 the amount of church goers after giving to churches is taken out.

When all is totaled, the entire amount of money given to the 1.44 million non-profit organizations (including universities, homeless shelters, etc.) in the United States by American citizens, businesses, and foundations amounts to about $335 billion per year, according to thenonprofittimes.com. That amount ends up contributing $887.3 billion into the U.S. economy each year. That amount is also a bit more than half of the $602 billion spent on the military out of our taxes each year, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. (Makes you wonder if we’ve got our priorities right, doesn’t it?)

I’m guessing that the last thing our government wants to do is reduce the amount of charitable giving and the accompanying volunteerism that makes the United States such a generous nation. According the Volunteer in America 2009 report, 35.9% of volunteers in our country do so out of religious motivation. Rather than penalizing their generosity to their churches and undermining their volunteerism to their communities, how about simply thanking them? Taxing churches would not only hurt our economy, it would hurt our national character.