Should the Church Pay Taxes?

Yesterday Paul Mero, a man I long admired, wrote an op-ed in the Salt Lake Tribune titled, “LDS Church should surrender its tax-exempt status.”

Since I’ve been on the record previously calling the argument that Churches should be taxed “a terrible argument.” I thought I should probably try and keep the conversation going with Mero.

In his article Mero makes a few points:

  1. The Church can continue its mission with less financial means
  2. Members of the Church will continue to donate because of their faithfulness even if it is not tax deductible
  3. Tax exemptions don’t protect the religious from government interference
  4. The Church’s tax exemption gives church critics a platform to criticize the Church on.

Mero clearly means well. He believes that the negative effects would be minor. But I believe where his argument falls flat is in the benefit it would provide the Church. The only benefit Mero can suggest is that, currently, some critics argue that the Church should pay taxes.

Sure the Church would certainly be able to survive while taxed, but those funds would be taken away from accomplishing the Church’s mission. And the only accomplishment would be to take one issue away from critics.

But this criticism is not virtuous. It is almost always a thinly veiled attempt at religious discrimination, arguing that religious nonprofits should be treated uniquely worse than all other nonprofits. (Religious nonprofits currently have some benefits others do not. But arguments to tax churches don’t seek to remove those minor additional benefits, but to take from them a major benefit that all other nonprofits have.)

And this is very unlikely to reduce total criticism of the Church. No one who criticizes the Church for its tax status is likely to join if they start paying taxes. And there will always be some new issue to criticize whether real or invented that will immediately fill the gap. Criticism won’t go down, it will just move on to a different issue.

About the author

C.D. Cunningham

C.D. Cunningham is the managing editor of Public Square magazine. After graduating from BYU-Idaho, he studied religion at Harvard University Extension. He serves on the board of the Latter-day Saint Publishing and Media Association.
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