The Sun-Sentinel today has a longish story on the tax exemptions that churches receive on their property, especially that property that doesn't seem to be used for religious reasons. As you might expect, I disagree with the idea that religious groups ought to be given any special exemption from paying taxes on their property. People who favor the exemptions often say that to tax a church would be a violation of the separation of church and state, but I figure that as long as the tax is applied evenly, regardless of the faith represented, we're probably okay on the constitutional front.
But what this article focuses on isn't the taxing of church buildings. No. it's the extraneous stuff, some of which might just piss you off.
In Broward, the value of properties considered tax-exempt for religious purposes totaled $1.8 billion in 2007, the last year for which complete data is available. While most were traditional churches and temples, the tax-free properties also included vacant land, parking lots and multimillion-dollar homes with golf course and water views, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel found.It's about what you would expect--a "parsonage" for a televangelist whose church is in a storefront, another parsonage that's worth more than the church it belongs to (the church is in a low-income part of the city, of course), and in one case that has since been reversed, a parking lot that was leased (for a profit, one assumes) to the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.
But more importantly, why should religious groups be privileged in this way? Why should they get tax breaks in the first place? Jesus was talking about paying taxes in that passage I alluded to in the post title from Matthew 22, after all.
17Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?"Sounds like Jesus believed in the separation of church and state as well, even when it came to financial matters.
18But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, "You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19Show me the coin used for paying the tax." They brought him a denarius, 20and he asked them, "Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?"
21"Caesar's," they replied.
Then he said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."