Is Friday's ruling from the Supreme Court mandating same sex marriage across the United States a call to end the tax-exempt status of churches? Mark Oppenheimer, a writer for The New York Times, Atlantic and Time says yes.
"Now’s the Time To End Tax Exemptions for Religious Institutions," screams the headline on the piece posted at Time.com. The sub-headline goes so far as to claim the government is subsidizing churches by not taxing them.
"The Supreme Court's ruling on gay marriage makes it clearer than ever that the government shouldn't be subsidizing religion and non-profits," reads the sub-head.
Oppenheimer goes on to make the case that all non-profits should lose their tax-exempt status.
Defenders of tax exemptions and deductions argues that if we got rid of them charitable giving would drop. It surely would, although how much, we can’t say. But of course government revenue would go up, and that money could be used to, say, house the homeless and feed the hungry. We’d have fewer church soup kitchens — but countries that truly care about poverty don’t rely on churches to run soup kitchens.
Oppenheimer admits ending tax-exempt status could force churches in high rent areas like Manhattan to shut down due to huge costs but says members should be willing to pay up.
While his argument may sound appealing to utilitarian thinkers, it misses the point of the separation of church and state. The concept, which goes back well before Thomas Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptists, has long held that governments should not tax religious institutions because taxing is a form of power over those being taxed.