The Instigator
Con (against)
The Contender
Pro (for)

Should religious institutions be exempt from taxes?

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 2/8/2017 Category: Religion
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Debating Period
Viewed: 1,298 times Debate No: 99722
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (3)
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This debate will assess whether churches and other religious institutions in America should or shouldn't be taxed for the property they own.

Con will discuss why religious institutions should pay their taxes, while pro will defend why these religious institutions should be exempt from taxes.

1) Use proper grammar and sentence structure. Please look over your arguments before posting them to make sure that you didn't accidentally make a grammatical mistake or use malapropism.
2) Do not troll or use insults as your argument.
3) Support quantitative and qualitative data with valid sources.

R1: Acceptance

R2: Main Arguments
R3: Rebuttals (No new arguments)


This is my first debate on this site so sorry if I'm not using proper formatting or anything, but good luck my friend.

If I'm not mistaken, I assume whether or not the tax exemption for religious institutions violates the separation of church and state clause of the first amendment will be the core of the debate, so that's what I'll address in this first round.

Legally, tax exemptions for religious institutions doesn't violate the first amendment clause due to the decision of Walz v. Tax Commission of the City of New York in 1970. The reasoning was that a) The exemption was indiscriminate of religious affiliation. and b) the exemptions for religious organizations created only a minimal and remote involvement between church and state, and far less of an involvement than would be created by taxation of churches, and the effect of the exemptions was thus not an excessive government entanglement with religion. Since the tax exemption simply declares that religious institutions are exempt from contributing to the state rather than them being sponsored by the state. If all religious institutions were made to contribute, it would be very likely that many would be paying for something that directly goes against their own religious beliefs. Since that wouldn't be the case for all religious groups however, that would be the government preferring the values of one religious group over another while using all of their money to pay for it. So its better if none of the groups pay for anything to keep the government all the way out of religion.

Secondly, religious institutions earn their tax exemption by providing positive externalities such as soup kitchens, homeless shelters, after school programs, assistance to victims of domestic violence, assistance for pregnant single mothers, etc. Since the Government is undeniably in the business of subsidizing externalities, surely a mere tax exemption is due for all these social services that religious institutions are not obligated to provide, yet still do. The tax dollars taken from the institutions will be taken out of these programs and likely mostly wasted due to government bureaucracy.
Debate Round No. 1


My opponent wrote his main argument in the first round. I ask that my opponent does not proceed to write more arguments in the second round, and wait for the third round for rebuttals.

I. Introduction

II. Separation of Church and State?
III. Scientology
IV. Non-Profit Organizations
V. Sources

I. Introduction

According to the IRS "Tax Guide for Churches and Religious Organizations," churches, religious organizations, and
ministers, are exempt from taxes "in recognition of their unique status in American society and of their rights guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution... Churches and religious organizations are generally exempt from income tax and receive other favorable treatment under the tax law," (S1).

Most religious institutions, such as Christianity and Islam, are exempt from taxation. Scientology, too, is exempt from taxes, under the guise of the institution being a "religion." Should religious institutions be exempt from taxes, or should they be forced to pull their own weight in society?

II. Separation of Church and State?

The First Amendment of the American Constitution declares that there is a separation between church and state. For this reason, churches are exempt from paying taxes.

However, as writer Rich Barlow comments, "If the only thing keeping some churches open is a taxpayers’ subsidy, it would seem the wall between church and state has big cracks." As a result of the churches not paying their own taxes, the burden falls upon taxpayers (S2). According to recent polls, approximately one in four Americans now claim no religious affliation, and yet, they are forced to pull the weight of churches. David Niose, writer of the Washing Post says "Government need not be hostile to religion, but neither should it bestow upon it special privileges. The nonreligious are now one of the largest categories of religious demographics and growing, and that means changes are on the horizon in the business of religion," (S3).

As a result of tax subsidization, taxpayers are given the burden of approximately 82.5 billion dollars a year. The estimated annual government subsidy of religion per year is around 71 billion dollars (S4).

Giving religious institutions the special privilege of tax exemptions, and other policies of favoritism, harms a great many of the American people.

III. Scientology

The Church of Scientology is a prime example of how religions being exempt from taxes is wrong, to the point where it is ridiculous. Like any other religion, the Church of Scientology promises "true spiritual enlightenment and freedom for all," and of course, happiness (S5). However, as we know, the Church of Scientology is synonymous with scandal and crime. Scientology has torn families and friendships apart, blackmailed those that spoke out against the church, and even harmed its members. Regardless, because it was recognized by the US as a religion, it was granted tax exemption on October 14, 1993. Writer Stephen Labaton estimates that this status will save the organization, and its extensive real estate which is estimated to be valued at over 30 billion dollars, at least tens of millions of dollars a year in taxes (S6).

IV. Non-Profit Organizations

One, such as my opponent, may argue that religions "earn" their tax exemption status through their public works and charities. However, unlike non-profit organizations, religions are solely tax-exempt because they are recognized by the government as a religion. There are virtually no standards which force or encourage churches to pursue charitable acts. It is clear that people such as Joel Osteen, a speaker of a religious talk show, profit off of these tax exemptions. He has an estimated $40 million net
worth, and lives in a $10.5 million 17,000 square foot hom with six bedrooms, six bathrooms, three elevators, a guest house and a pool house (S7). Because his workplace, a gigantic building, and his occupation, are relevant to religion, he is not taxed by the government.

On the contrary, secular non-profit organizations earn their tax-exempt status. According to IRS Section 501(c)(3) of the Revenue Code, non-profit organizations "must be organized and operated exclusively for [charitable purposes], and none of its earnings may inure to any private shareholder or individual. In addition, it may not be an action organization, i.e., it may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates... The term charitable is used in its generally accepted legal sense and includes relief of the poor, the distressed, or the underprivileged; advancement of religion; advancement of education or science; erecting or maintaining public buildings, monuments, or works; lessening the burdens of government; lessening neighborhood tensions; eliminating prejudice and discrimination; defending human and civil rights secured by law; and combating community deterioration and juvenile delinquency," (S8). While churches may undertake charitable work, they are not required to do so. The tax exemption exists primarily for religious workship.

V. Sources

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Debate Round No. 2
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Debate Round No. 3
3 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Posted by CosmoJarvis 2 years ago
49eriminer, if you would have taken the second to read the plan for the rounds, the first round is reserved for acceptance. The second round is where one would present his or her argument.
Posted by BAM1979 2 years ago
This one is quite simple.

No, religious institutions should not be extorted. No institution should be subject to extortion.
Posted by AmericanDeist 2 years ago

Not to rain on your parade, but the 1st Amendment does not have a "separation of Church and State clause," only the Freedom of Religion. The clause you speak of is not actually written in the US Constitution, but it was inferred by Thomas Jefferson.
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