Religious institutions are exempt from state and federal income and property taxes. In this way, state and federal governments force citizens to subsidize those institutions. This is a problem when leaders of some religious institutions earn hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars. Here are just a few examples2,3:
- T. D. Jakes – $18-147 million net worth.
- Eddie Long – $1 million annual salary.
- Creflo Dollar – $27 million net worth. Leads a church that reported income of $69 million in 2006.
- Rick Warren – $14-25 million net worth.
- Charles Blake – $1 million annual salary.
- Benny Hinn – $42 million net worth. $1 million annual salary.
- John Hagee – $1 million annual salary.
- Kenneth Copeland – $25 million net worth. $1 million annual salary. Also owns a $17.5 million private jet and a $6 million home.
- Joel Osteen – $40 million net worth. Had a $200,000 salary. Resides in a $10.5 million home.
The potential repeal of the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits churches from endorsing or opposing political candidates, would further complicate the tax exempt status of religious institutions1. This should be extra consideration for taxing churches and other religious institutions.
The total financial cost to American taxpayers is at least $71 billion annually4:
This doesn’t include property, income, and sales tax exemptions on the local level4. Some of these might, however, be offset by efforts by those organizations.
Perhaps the most compelling reason for religious institutions to pay taxes is the unwillingness of some institutions to respect the rights of American citizens as decided by it’s courts. This includes the right of same-sex couples to be married and have access to the same rights as heterosexual couples5.
Religion should not be a way for individuals or groups to attain massive personal wealth. Religious institutions must show that they provide valuable services to communities equitable to the money they collect. These services should not be only “hope” but tangible social service efforts.
Taxing religious institutions would ensure that social services are provided, while reducing the subsidization of religious institutions by non-religious citizens.
For the curious, here are the current IRS exemption requirements.
1 Landler, Goodstein. 2017. Trump Vows to ‘Destroy’ Law Banning Political Endoresements by Churches.
2 Shaw. 2012. 10 Wealthiest Religious Leaders in America.
3 Marie. 2016. 15 “Religious” Leaders Whoa Are Filthy Rich.
4 Matthews. 2013. You give religions more than $82.5 billion a year.
5 Oppenheimer. 2015. Now’s the Time To End Tax Exemptions for Religious Institutions.