The government should tax churches to fund ethically-aware, women-only drop-in centres
Debate Rounds (2)
Churches make money by cynically exploiting the fears, prejudices and insecurities of their congregations: but there's nothing illegal about that; that's capitalism.
However, unlike most other organisations, churches do not pay tax on their profits. If they did, though, the income raised could, and should, be ring-fenced by the government and used to fund women-only, lesbian-friendly drop-in centres that could provide free or subsidised:
* Feminist-orientated assertiveness training courses
* On-site caf�s serving vegan wholefood dishes, Free Trade herbal teas and sustainably-sourced organic wines
* Multi-ethnic women's rights awareness meetings
* In-house spas providing holistic therapy treatments using only cruelty-free, carbon-neutral cosmetic products
* Lesbian and bi-sexual bonding sessions
* Clinics providing free contraception and abortions-on-demand for victims of male sexual oppression
These drop-in centres would give women much-needed non-judgemental, eco-friendly, multicultural, ethically-aware refuges where they could find sanctuary from the conservative and regressive social doctrines that dominate mainstream society and perpetuate the exploitation of women by men.
Furthermore, this scheme would be wholly in keeping with the Christian ethos of giving alms to strangers and would, therefore, command the full support of the preachers, pastors, vicars and priests who represent the various churches and who, in the true spirit of Christianity, would be delighted to forgo such worldly decadences as luxury cars and houses in order to support women in need.
That's why the government should tax churches to fund ethically-aware, women-only drop-in centres.
Despite the obvious levity of the debate, a meaty issue exists, one which becomes heartier as one travels eastward over the Atlantic. While Con is a lot more familiar with the issue of the church and taxation in America, the question was poised in merry England, and home field advantage is acceded to Pro. The debate shall be limited to the taxing of religious institutions in England, as England's maintenance of an established church, her lack of a separation between church and state, and the differing legal and tax systems between England and America would make any attempt to discuss both devolve into two debates. However perfectly luscious Pro's suggestion of the destination of the earmarked funds may be, to what purpose the ring fenced funds are destined is relatively immaterial to the primary issue and will not be directly addressed by Con.
Religious entities are one of the thirteen classes of charitable bodies recognized in the Charity Law which are exempt from most taxes in England. Such entities are considered to provide a public benefit. The failure of Pro to mention taxing not-for-profit institutions other than religious ones allows us to deduce that Pro does not advocate the doing away with the Charity Law , or amending it in a manner other than removing religious entities from the Charity Law's recognized list. To do so, it is incumbent on Pro to prove that religious institutions do not provide public benefits in a manner which is inconsistent with the public benefits provided by other, non-religious not for profits.
Pro will be hampered in proving this. Pro must not only discard the tangible social services which religious institutions dispense, the maintenance of historical buildings and the providing of a center for a community, but also contend with the spiritual services they provide. Psychologists generally regard spiritual wants as a human need. A certain percentage of the population fulfills this need religiously. Even if one can personally write off religion as needless hocus pocus as easily as Mr. Bradlaugh could and instead fulfills his or her spiritual needs via a lager and the bi-curiosity of an assertive vegan Asian girl, one cannot be so contemptuous as to think that they know the best manner in which others ought satiate their spiritual needs. Just as some citizens of AR 72046  find benefits from the not-for-profit services of The American Legion Post 168, The England Youth Athletic Association or the Sunny Day School Inc. (Childcare), some also find benefits from the one of the seven not-for-profit religious entities there. Con can state, from at least personal experience, the benefits provided by an American Legion Post are as much spiritual as they are anything else.
Pro maintains that religion uses fear mongering tactics to cull money from their congregations. Fear mongering, naturally, cannot be construed as a public benefit. It is granted that the church makes itself feel needed, but hardly is such unique to the world of charity. Making one feel needed is not the same as fear mongering. Breast Cancer awareness has scared so many athletic teams so quickly into wearing so much pink that only Palermo's Rosanero can be assured of being ahead of the curve. But making one feel needed is different than fear mongering and with semantics aside, are religious institutions particularly more proficient in this area when it comes to squeezing pennies out of pensioners?
Certainly a plausible case could be made for a good deal of its history. From its apogee of fear when Pope Innocent mildly humiliated poor King John (perhaps thereafter being humiliated in quick succession by the French and then his own drinking buddies was the harsher medicine), the Church has admittedly made good use of scaring the hell out of (or into) its flock and its less than enthusiastic followers. This fear, however, has been on the wane for quite sometime. Earthly fears started replacing heavenly fears as Henry, Mary, Elizabeth and Cromwell ran amok. The Age of Reason laid out the framework for removing these fears from aristocrats and the industrial revolution democratized them, enough so by the 1880's, even the Conservatives had to finally concede Charles Bradlaugh his duly elected seat in Parliament. People questioned religion through science. In the generation between Lyell and Lord Kelvin the earth aged ten-fold. Darwin made folks question the literal handiwork of the creator and from that people questioned the bible. Science unfolded the mysteries of the universe. Church attendance went into a long decline as it fought a rearguard action against secularism. By 2010, only about a million souls still shuffled into the Church of England houses of worship on a weekly basis, representing just 2% of England and 4% of Anglicans. These people, well worn end-notes of a 1,500 year old rolling saga, will weather no opprobrium should they not attend nor tithe. Failing to do either so earns no serious threats of eternal damnation from the pastor nor social stigma from society as a whole. In fact, in some urban areas, the stigma may go in the opposite direction. They attend because they genuinely want to and give donations because it serves their interests, and gives them greater benefits, than other alternatives (it is granted, however, that a good many pew occupants may be henpecked husbands intent on avoiding the wraith of their better halves, but that's hardly the church's fault, unless of course the church married them in the first place, which incidentally, is also becoming a rarer and rarer thing ). If the Church is reduced to making a few fence sitters pony up some spare bucks on Pascal's Wager, then so be it, but that's far from fear mongering.
And even should an unlikely case be made that the church scares its followers into donating by fear mongering, the collection plate isn't the church's primary source of income. About 20% of its income is made this way, with a similar block made by Gift Aid. The remainder comes from investments, rents and fee based services. In England, the Church and other non-profits are not taxed on these sorts incomes, while in America they are in certain degrees. Even Italy is considering it. Taxing such is a potential source of income for Pro's ideas, but that's a different discussion, as well as Disestablishment.
I will be looking forward to an intelligent and entertaining continuation of this matter in round 2.
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I would also politely request the voters to acknowledge that my opponent extended me the courtesy of "home ground" in basing his rebuttals on the British, rather than the American, model of society: I certainly didn't anticipate this but I am very grateful.
With regard to the role of churches in society, and the alleged benefits my opponent contends they provide, I would like to respond as follows:
Con acknowledges that church attendance in Britain has decreased to a point whereby only a tiny fraction of citizens regularly attend church services, and those that do are mainly elderly which means that attendances is in terminal decline.
Indeed, far more people obtain their spiritual sustenance from psychics, astrologers and fortune-tellers. These mystics and soothsayers provide spiritual comfort to their impressionable clients in exchange for money -they earn a living by giving their customers emotional support in exchange for cash, a bit like churches do, but unlike churches they pay tax on their income: when a punter crosses Rosie Lee's palm with silver, the crystal ball-gazing gypsy will dutifully record this financial transaction and scrupulously declare her full earnings when she diligently files her tax returns (gypsies are notoriously honest people) - and these taxes are used to benefit wider societies by paying for teachers, nurses, police officers and so on.
Despite the lack of spiritual adherents though, the churches are making money hand over fist, mainly through their property investment portfolios: the Church of England alone netted a cool 19.1% on their �4.3 billion / $6.9 billion investments last year (1) - tax free, of course - but these windfalls do not benefit wider society at all because they either reinvest the money or spend it on providing themselves with munificent stipends and lavish, grace-in-favour accommodation.
With reference to preserving historic buildings, the churches certainly have a moral responsibility to do this, but it is a responsibility they continually fail to discharge. The Church of England is one of the largest land-owners in Britain but if a parish church becomes uneconomic due to falling attendances, they will ruthlessly sell it off to the highest bidder.
In rural areas, churches tend to be converted into luxury apartments (2) for affluent commuters while churches in urban areas are often converted into pubs: my old local pub in Muswell Hill, North London and also my old local pub when I lived in Aberdeen, Scotland were both formerly churches (3,4) - whereas in times gone by the vicar would have dispensed blessings the bartenders now dispense beers, wines and spirits from the same spot. Some parishioners may feel this is sacrilege, but the churches don't care about that: for them religion is all about one thing and one thing alone; cold, hard cash The poor and needy? Their welfare is the responsibility of the state and charities, not the churches, at least not as fare as they are concerned.
Which brings me neatly to the issue of their charitable status. Charities are typically run by volunteers, with a small number of paid staff on modest incomes: and these employees certainly do not live in grand houses and drive flash cars like so many vicars and priests do. Indeed, in America where televangelism is a $2-3 billion, unregulated, untaxed industry, pastors are even more extravagant.
For example, preacher Kenneth Copeland "lives in an 18,000 square foot home outside Ft. Worth, Texas worth $6 million. It has beautiful water views that comes complete with a boat house. But that's not all. Copeland is an avid pilot, and his pride and joy is a $20 million Cessna Citation jet. It's the fastest private jet money can buy. He said he needed it to better serve the Lord, and proudly did a fly by for his followers after the church bought it." (5)
If it was revealed that donations to a charity were being used to fund lavish lifestyles of charity workers rather than being spent on good causes, there would, quite rightly, be a public outcry and the organisation would, in all probability, loose it's charitable status. So what's so special about the church? Why are they allowed to use their income to feather their nests tax-free? The answer is undue reverence for an ancient institution that no longer has any relevance to the vast majority of people in 21st Century Britain.
To conclude, I am not arguing that there is no place in society for religious organisations, merely that they should pay their way like any other for-profit organisation and that the should be subject to tax.
Pro began with the Church of England's suffering attendance levels. Con previously noted such to demonstrate that England is largely a secular society and that Pro's assertion that the Church gets by on fear mongering was an unrealistic one (indeed, when Durham Cathedral asked its visitors for �5 donations to cover the building's �60,000 weekly maintenance bill, patrons responded with an average donative of 32p, which mathematically works out to a one way ticket to hell for 94% of the visitors). Pro did not attempt to counter this, but instead pointed to the declining attendance as an indicator of the Church's declining relevance and that greying of remaining worshipers only serves to show that this trend will continue. Con counters that firstly, such an argument in no way demonstrates that a public benefit is not being derived by those who still attend church every week. Secondly, those deriving spiritual sustenance is not limited to those who fill the pews every week. While only 4% of Anglicans attend on a weekly basis, nearly twice as many visit at least once per month and on the holidays the benches do fill, with Easter and Christmas seeing 1.2 million and 2.3 million respectively.
Pro then states that more people fulfill their spiritual needs via mystics and fortune tellers than by the Church. A dubious claim which Con would contest should it make a difference, but Con only seeks to amend it by remarking that in our creature comfort society, capitalist services such as soothsayers, reality television and shoe shopping (i.e. Mrs. Frappe) provide more spiritual sustenance than the representatives of Yahweh, Shiva, Athena and Woden combined. The rub is that such are provided by for-profits entities and the recipients of these incomes can freely use profits for personal gain (and therefore taxed). If Pro wishes to lump the church into that little tangle, then Pro must prove that the Church operates like a for-profit entity, if not in letter, at least in spirit. Unfortunately Pro does not expand on this any further than to mention vicars riding around in nice cars, bishops living high on the hog and Kevin Copeland flying about in planes. With the exception of the latter, no hard data is cited.
Mr. Copeland belongs more on Jersey Shore than he does anywhere near a non-profit. He is an example of excess and no one disagrees that excesses occur. And Copeland is not alone. Charity Navigator's 2010 CEO compensation study (Copeland is American, so forgive the American data) noted that the Educational Media Foundation won the "most generously compensated CEO of a religious non-profit in America" award, by giving their CEO $648,537 worth of benefits in 2008. That pales, however, next to the New York Philharmonic, which doled out $2,649,540 to its CEO, even though both organizations had similar levels of total expenses . And in weeding out the outliers, median CEO pay paints a more striking picture. Out of the nine types of charitable institutions, CEOs of religious institutions averaged $90,000 per year, trailing far behind charities of Public Benefit ($168,490), Arts, Cultures & Humanities ($190,550) and Education ($272,645) . With the Archbishop of Canterbury's salary at �55,660 (plus benefits)  a case for religious institutions being any more profligate than other non-profits with its compensation seems untenable.
Pro then notes the muscular income the Church makes off its investments. The church makes a pretty penny from its investments, no doubt spurred on by its tax free status. To be sure, a wonderfully pregnant trove for a modern King Henry to do a little church sacking to fill the coffers, but it is relatively immaterial to this debate, for this debate concerns itself with the tax exempt status of religious institutions, not the nuancing of England's Charity Law regarding NFP investment incomes. All NFP's take advantage of this, so what is so egregious about a religious entity doing the same?
Pro then notes that it is a moral obligation for the Church to maintain historic buildings, a moral obligation that in no doubt is a public service (though some of that lavish living money is going to have to make up the �4.68 per visitor shortfall Durham Cathedral has got going on). Pro then insinuates that the church is derelict in this duty because it has decommissioned some churches into condos and pubs. Does Pro suggest that such parishes be kept open, when it is obvious to even the Church that the declining attendance levels no longer warrant the maintenance of the buildings or staff? Any NFP has the right to focus its resources in a manner which best allows it to provide services.
Pro's last argument maintains that "Charities are typically run by volunteers, with a small number of paid staff on modest incomes" and then implies that the church does not do so. Again, unfortunately, Pro does not cite any data about how non-religious charities conform to this or how religious charities fail to do so. Many charities which do fit the bill Pro has suggested derive income by hiring outside for-profit consultants to fundraise. The Cancer Survivor Fund received $1,107,250 in contributions in 2010, but had $1,005,072 in fund raising expenses . That's a lot of lawyers, accountants and executives getting well on donations. Even Andre Agassi's Foundation for Education (with celebrity do-whop Sir Elton John) paid for-profit fundraisers $2,014,469 to raise $7,536,463 in contributions . Lucky for the Rocketman the foundation also made about $13 million in tax free investments. Perhaps, more interesting are the NFP's that don't fit Pro's vision of a typical charity .
Con concludes by begging the same question that Pro did. "What's so special about the church?" What evidence has Pro provided that demonstrates that the Church does not operate like an NFP, or that it fails to provide a public benefit? As Con has shown, Pro has made no systemic argument to support such. Con would also like to point out that most of the discussion has centered the Church of England and has ignored the smaller religious institutions of England. Are they to be taxed as well? Con is sympathetic to Pro's argument of declining relevance, but that points better to Disestablishment than it does to declaring religious institutions for-profit entities.
Thank you. Despite Con's arguments, Con still hopes that Pro is successful with his centers.
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