Why I Believe In Fair Taxation Of Church Property
LITTLE BLUE BOOK NO. 1502
Edited by E. Haldeman-Julius
HALDEMAN-JULIUS PUBLICATIONS GIRARD, KANSAS
Copyright, 1930, Haldeman-Julius Company
A week or two ago I stood before the Cathedral of Notre Dame at Paris, enjoying one more both the superb skill of the builders an the joyous cynicism with which they had mingled piety and impiety in the sculpture. Paris always has surprises for me but the most singular was that a French woman of mature years, apparently normal intelligence, an fair education came to me and asked: “Can you tell me, sir, what church this is?” I had just been explaining to a friend how the large island in the Seine in which the cathedral stands was once Paris; how half of it had been occupied by the spacious palace and the soaring cathedral, and the citizens had Just tucked their dark little homes into such odd corners as God and the king did not require. Sixty years ago the French booted their last monarch across the frontier, and now, it seem some of them have so far forgotten religion that they have to ask foreigners the name of a church for which America would probably pay a billion dollars.
Few countries have advanced as rapidly as France, which is one of the least sentimental and most logical of nations, but we have all advanced so far that one-half of our life is anachronistic to the other half. The exemption of churches from taxation is one of the worst anachronisms. It meant originally that the church was a state within the state, having its own law and deciding itself when and in what measure it might, in times of pressure; contribute to the public treasury. When this arrogant claim was disallowed, church property still evaded taxation on the ground that it served a high public purpose, like, charitable or educational institutions, which were then entirely voluntary, and it ought therefore, to have at least this subsidy of an exemption from taxation. There was no need in those days to inquire very closely into the soundness of the public service. Practically the whole community used the churches and, if a tax were imposed on them, the community would have to pay it. The church was exempt on pretty much the same grounds as the civic hall. It was like transferring your money from one pocket to another. Now considerably less than half the adults of any Community use the churches, and the last argument for exempting them from taxation is quite discredited.
RICH AND EMPTY CHURCHES
Church property in the United States is said to be worth about four billion dollars, and it is increasing rapidly in value. Drive round the fringes of any growing town or City and see how eligible sites have been secured for the building of new churches; how old sites that have risen ten or twenty fold in value are quietly sold; how the clergy can hang on to city sites until the value is colossal, while any other concern doing so little business would have been driven out long ago by the fair incidence of taxation. In the inner ring of large cities there are churches with fifty or a hundred worshipers while business men pay appalling prices for the land all around them. And the majority of us are supinely protecting the business. Of the majority of church-users the great bulk are women and children, and of the genuinely religious male taxpayers the enormous majority live in the country or small towns. We do not much miss the taxes on their Little Bethels. The anachronism is that city property of immense value is used by only about a tenth of the taxpayers of this city, yet the nine-tenths lazily subsidize it by remitting taxation. Even business men seem never to reflect that in remitting, say, a million dollars in taxation on buildings which nine-tenths of them do not want they are paying out of their own pockets a million dollars a year to the people who do want them.
Sometimes they tell us with an air of sweet reasonableness that the churches are “doing good work” and that, after all, the individual misses only a few dollars a year by agreeing to the immunity. It is sheer mental laziness. If we taxed the churches, and they then appealed to these non-churchgoers who appreciate their good work to find the tax for them, probably none would contribute a dollar. There would be a speedy revaluation of the services of the churches. Take Paris. The total church-going population is only about one-tenth of the entire community, and it consists mainly of women and children. Now, no matter how much we may admire the French woman, she is more rigorously excluded from public life than woman is in any other advanced civilization. Yet these men, nineteen of twenty of whom are not in the slightest degree influenced by the churches, have, most particularly since they ceased to go to church, purified the city of the last traces of its ancient savagery. It is, proportionately, the law of the world. There are two sets of men whom we would like to see influenced, and we would not mind paying a few dollars for the influence. They are the dishonest hypocrites and the honest criminals. The churches flatly refuse to influence the first and are quite incapable of touching the second class.
SWEEP OUT MENTAL RUBBISH
Amongst my many eccentric and utopian ideas there is one that calls for a sort of mental sanitary service in a modern city. I loathe the idea of compulsory education after the age of twenty, yet in some form we ought to have a public service that will sweep and dust our minds periodically and provide a very large incinerator for the rubbish. Even the most cleanly-minded of us occasionally. discover that we have for years harbored a piece of mental junk. There lies on my desk, as I am writing, a little work on the Stoics by that very distinguished Hellenist, well-known skeptic, and most nimble-minded and charming of men, Prof. Gilbert Murray, and I open it to see if I can find any nonsense. Here it is at once. Murray likens the Stoic “God’ to a “Friend behind phenomena,” and he Says that we all have a “yearning” for this and an “almost ineradicable instinctive convietton” of its existence. I doubt if one man in a hundred who got beyond what one might call the convalescent stage after recovering from religion has the least trace of such a yearning and conviction. Murray is no man in the street but a very distinguished scholar of particularly alert mind and acquaintance with men. One can imagine how easily less clear- headed men will let these illusions accumulate in their minds, especially in connection with religion.
We cannot, of course, get my intellectual sanitary service, and so those of us who feel impatient about it must do the sweating and dusting as we can. And one of the best and most promising opportunities ought to be a public discussion of the immunity of the churches from taxation. How many of us — I do hot mean by “us” the militant and vigilant folk who read the Haldeman-Julius Publications, but modern men generally — genuinely regard the black-coated gentleman we meet in the street as so valuable a person that we will pay his taxes for him? Very few, surely. Some of us, it is true, listen to the periodical Bolshevik scare and persuade ourselves that all chance of making a million dollars will disappear with the church steeples, but it is a poor fallacy. My Bolshevik friends, and they are numerous, are the last persons in the world to listen to sermons, and any stockbroker who sends a hundred dollars to the nearest church with the idea that he is protecting Wall Street ought to sit down and think a little. A Preacher in Fifth Avenue, where the danger of the spread of Bolshevism is not acute, can most eloquently vindicate our present economic order. But a preacher in a district where the workers show some inclination to listen to radicalism either does not open his mouth or he proves that Jesus was the forerunner of Lenin.
We ask people only to use common sense. The churches are today private institutions in which certain people say prayers and sing hymns and listen to dissertations on sin. It is a free country, and even the Communist or the Fascist does not want to prevent them. But why in the name of all that is wonderful should the rest of us pay them some $200,000,000 a year for doing it? A moderate tax on church property would raise that, so we are meantime funding it ourselves. You may suggest that it is not very onerous for us individually, but that is not the issue. The burden we bear is a just charge of intellectual laziness, of docility to usurpers, of a confusion of thought which, if we generally tolerated it, would wreck our homes or businesses in six months. We smile at the ladies who put on an extra foot of frock because some hidden mandarins of fashion say that this is now “the thing.” Most of us men are just as bad. If it is the fashion to exempt churches from taxation we acquiesce without even inquiring what the real motives or who the real dictators are.
To many of us, of course, a rigorous campaign for the taxation of church property would mean immeasurably more than a financial readjustment, just as the present immunity of the churches means to them immeasurably more than the two hundred million dollars at which the product of a tax is estimated. The immunity means that they have state-sanction, which is supposed to be the sanction of everybody except a few cranks, for their profession of rendering valuable services. A very long stride will be taken in the direction of rationalizing the country when we remove this public endorsement of the claims of the churches. I do not suggest that there will be a serious diminution of worshipers in a chapel when they are told from the pulpit that in future they have to find a new fund of a thousand dollars or so, but we shall meet them on more equal terms, as one body of citizens differing from another. The chief thing that prevents me from lapsing into that comfortable mental sleepiness to which a man of my age is entitled, is the stimulation of fighting the prosperity of humbugs, the way in which the clergy and the aristocracy and all sorts of people with improper privileges seem to smile at me. I dream occasionally, as I smoke my last four pipes at night, of forming a League of Youths, a Thundering Legion of young folk who will go out into the streets with me looking for lies to scotch, for usurpers to dethrone, for hypocrites to unmask, for injustices to set right…
MAKE THIS A REAL FIGHT
Dreams, of course, I am always dreaming. But it seems that my energetic friend and colleague Haldeman-Julius is going to do something of the kind and to begin with this valuable campaign to rouse the nation to some sense of this absurd and anachronistic immunity of church property. Let me urge those many readers whom I have found in America not merely to support him but to make it a real and live campaign. Never mind the size and wealth of the churches, Never mind, the contrast between the forty million perfectly drilled and organized and doped churchgoers and the sad disorganization and scattering of the eighty million non- churchgoers. Talk about it. Make people read about it. Teach people the joy of fighting, of being a personality, of raising one’s head above the stream. It is as good an issue as any to start with, and sooner or later the start has to be made. Get young folk to blot out of their Birthday Books that pernicious maxim: Great is Truth and it will prevail, Great is the average man — if you can persuade him to make a great nuisance of himself. A reader of my Little Blue Books wrote to tell me how he propped one against the cruet at his lunch-shop day after day, and how religious folk who recognize those mischievous little explosives at twenty yards’ distance got the manager to ask him to go to some place of which I forget the name. That’s the spirit. My milkman asked my housekeeper the other day on what subject I am writing at present. “On God,” she said, “and he guesses he’ll knock him off his perch.” The good news spread in the dairy world. The girl at the circulating library …
In short, quite ordinary folk can, if they just know when to be quiet and when to be noisy, when to be Polite and when to curse, but to keep on doing whichever is advisable, help the world along. The work depends more and more on such folk. Societies and leagues and associations either prosper and fatally degenerate, like some on Which I have wasted decades, or reach too small a number. I suggest that readers of the Haldeman-Julius Publications try the experiment of making this a live campaign. Do not expect to convert Mr. Hoover in the first month. That is not the Point. The idea is that here is a chance of rousing great numbers of people to a sense of one foolish anachronism that we tolerate in connection with religion, and it will reverberate in the mind and make people perceive a dozen others. Get out the figures, if you can, for your own town. Look up the churches with hundred-thousand-dollar sites and a hundred worshippers. let the press know that there are live men and women reading it as well as Rip Van Winkles. Make editors realize that in the majority of towns today the majority of readers do not go to church and do not really care a cent about the work of the churches. it might load to the disappearance of those Saturday and Sunday features that linger from the days when America was a Christian country, to a bolder note about encroachments on our liberties, to real news about the thought-currents of the modern world. Editors know quite well that the bulk of people are not seriously interested today in church work, at least in any town that is more than a mile in diameter, but they have to listen to the noisy folk. Let them have a noise. Blessed are the peace-makers for of such is the kingdom of heaven. Let them have it. Say rather: Blessed are the fight-makers, for they shall possess the earth.
A CAMPAIGN OF SANITY
Seriously, a lively, rousing, country-wide discussion, the sort of discussion that makes the editor of a daily call for a symposium and the editor of a weekly or monthly wire off for the opinion on the matter of Babe Ruth, Clara Bow, and Calvin Coolidge, would be a good opening for a new campaign on behalf of sanity. The pretext that we want to tax the house of God is hardly like to be raised. It might provoke the Catholic to tell the Protestant, and vice versa, what precisely he thinks of his preposterous claim that God is in his church. The only argument that can plausibly be raised against taxation is that the Churches do so much good that civilization depends upon their exertions. Have Your machine-guns ready for that. It is just the sort of plea we should like them to set up. A good broadside of facts from history and about the relation of modern progress and decay of religion, would open the eyes of large bodies of readers whom we cannot ordinarily lure into reading truthful statements. I wish I were in it, but a mere foreigner could be bluffed into silence — especially such a small and modest foreigner — and here in England the organizations that ought to start a fight have dwindled into mutual admiration societies and refuges for homeless mystics.
Many will, no doubt, have recourse to the plausible cry that we are stirring up sectarian strife. Do they mean that only political strife is to be permitted in a prosperous community? Or do they mean that dervishes shall be encouraged to roam the country with frantic denunciations of science, and professors encouraged to encourage them by prostituting their learning, and the rest of us hold our tongues? Or do they mean that the only subject on which people cannot behave themselves when they begin to dispute about it is religion? We people who seriously hold that religion has nothing to do with the progress or maintenance of civilization are very numerous today. But no one talked of sectarian bitterness and civic strife when, quite recently, we were, apropos of the imaginary atrocities in Russia, denounced violently from Boston to San Francisco. Certainly we should smile if anybody suggests that we must not mention a tax on churches for fear of stirring up sectarian strife. On the contrary, we should see such sectarian amity as has never before been seen on this planet. We should probably see the Archbishop of Baltimore arm in arm with the Fundamentalist leader, Bishop Manning linked with Aimee, leading a great procession along Michigan Boulevard, and calling for the lightning of the Lord upon these ruffianly people who want to make them pay their own taxes.
That is all that it amounts to. That particular ten million dollars that the churches of the city would yield if they were taxed is paid at present by the citizens, most of whom profit neither directly nor indirectly in the work of the churches. The threat might even drive them into making themselves useful. They might cease to talk for a time about our wills and have a look at our crimes. They might discover that it is not entirely inconsistent with the principles of the Christian Church that its ministers should unite to rid a city of its gunmen and dishonest officials instead of talking picturesquely about them in the pulpit. I see an endless prospect of good results. … But I see most clearly of all that this is a transparently just and sound plea, one that could unite millions of men and women, one that can enlist the sympathies of practical people, yet one that would be an excellent beginning of teaching a nation to think seriously on the new conditions of our age.
OUR COMPLETE PROGRAM AGAINST CLERICALISM
- We demand the taxation of ALL Church property.
- We demand that church lobbying be resisted by free men as one of the major evils that threaten the principles of secular freedom, human rights and realistic Progress in government.
- We demand that the Bible be kept out of the public schools and that the public schools shall not join in any scheme of religious propaganda.
- We demand the complete rejection of the principle of Christian morality — religious dogma and doctrine — in the making of our laws, with special reference to the religiously inspired intolerance of our laws concerning sex and censorship.
- We demand the repeal of all anti-evolution laws and the vigilant prevention of all attempts by clericalism to dictate, even though under the treacherous guise of “democracy,” the course of teaching in our state schools and universities.
- We demand the repeal of blue Sunday laws, and the absolute rejection by government of the dogma that this day is sacred or that it is to be dominated by preachers and pious zealots.
- We demand the repeal of all blasphemy laws and all laws prohibiting Atheists from testifying in court or from holding public office.
- We demand that government shall cease the employment of chaplains in the national congress, in the state legislature. and in state institutions.
- We demand that government shall strictly refuse financial aid to sectarian, religious institutions — whether schools, hospitals or whatnot — and that religion, in all its enterprises, shall pay its own way.
- We demand the ending of all favoritism to religion or recognition of religion by government — that is, we demand the complete secularization of government both in form and function.
Why Churches Are Exempted From Taxation
A Weird List Of The “Useful Public Services”
Performed By The Temples Of Superstition
PRESBYTERIAN — Exempted from taxation for “useful public service” of teaching the doctrine that God in the mystic beginning of things settled the destination of each human being, scheduling some of them inevitably to heaven and most of them unescapably to hell.
METHODIST — Exempted from taxation for the “useful public service” of teaching that all men are sinners, that Jesus Christ died to Save from sin all men who believe in the Said Christ, that such believers are “made new creatures in Jesus Christ” and thus, according to the rule that things which mean nothing are equal to anything else, are “adopted as the children of God.”
BAPTIST — Exempted from taxation for the “useful public service” of teaching that baptism by means of total ducking is the only device by which men can keep out of hell.
CAMPBELLITE (Disciples of Christ) — Exempted from taxation for the “useful public service” of teaching that “while both Old and New Testaments are equally inspired, both are not equally binding upon Christians;” that “the old was God’s will with reference to the Jews, the New is his will with reference to Christians.”
JEWISH — Exempted from taxation for the “useful public service” of teaching that the Old Testament is the only part of the Bible that is the authentic word of God, that the true Christ is yet to come, and that Jews alone are “the chosen people” of God.
CATHOLIC — Exempted from taxation for the “useful public service” of teaching that priests can grant confession and absolution of sins, that the sacramental wine and wafers are magically turned into the blood and flesh of Christ, and that the Pope is the supreme official representative of God.
LUTHERAN — Exempted from taxation for the “useful public service” of teaching that the miraculous Christ of the New Testament explains all the problems of man — “creation, man, faith, the Word of God, the sacraments, prayer, the Church, the law and the gospel, sin and grace.”
EPISCOPAL — Exempted from taxation for the “useful public service” of teaching that the Nicene Creed, formulated by the early Christian fanatics centuries before the modern age of science and culture, is “the sufficient statement of the Christian faith” and an explanation of the sacred mystery of mystical hocus-pocus; and that great “spiritual” value flows in a sly and imperceptible manner from “the two sacraments — baptism and the supper of the Lord — ministered with unfailing use of Christ’s words of institution and of the elements ordained by Him. …”
CHRISTIAN SCIENCE — Exempted from taxation for the “useful public service” of teaching that the material world is an illusion, that mind (completely divorced from reality) is the only reality, and that all minds are in mortal error that do not agree with the extravagant effusions from the mind of old “Mother” Eddy.
The other churches — countless, disputatious, futile and intellectually obscure — perform “public services” that are equally “useful.” intelligent Men and women should ask themselves whether the dissemination of these foolish rags and tags of ancient theology is entitled to the special sanction, favoritism and amazing tax exemption granted by the state.
THE RIGHTS OF MAN
Among the clearest declarations in the historic rights of man is the principle that all citizens shall be treated with equal Justice and that no group of citizens shall be favored in any way to the disadvantage of other groups. This means that no set of private opinions shall be honored or subsidized by the state. It means, logically and fairly, that the opinions of atheists are as much entitled to respect and protection as the opinions of Christians.
Yet our governments, state and federal, violate amazingly this clear principle of the rights of man. Special privileges are extended to religion. Religious holiday proclamations are issued by presidents and governors. Religious chaplains are employed in legislative bodies, in the army and navy, and in other state institutions. Public money, collected from the people in the form of taxes, must pay for this gross favoritism that is shown to religion. And the most flagrant injustice of all is the exemption of church property from taxation.
This exemption is doubly contrary to the principle of secular freedom and equality of rights. It places a government sanction upon the ideas of religion; it is an admission by government that it favors the opinions of Christian citizens or citizens who believe in religion and discriminates against the opinions of atheists, agnostics, and all unbelievers in organized religion. And, again, this tax exemption is not merely a moral sanction but is a material aid given to the church. The state, in plain effect, helps to pay for the upkeep of religion although, constitutionally, church and state are supposed to be entirely apart and unrelated.
The state helps to pay? What we should say is that millions of non-religious citizens, millions of citizens who have no kind of use for the church, are compelled to pay for this unjust favoritism. As firm believers in the rights of man, as opponents of inequality and tyranny in all forms, we demand the fair taxation of all church property.
STATE GIFTS TO RELIGION
A Cleveland, Ohio, reader sends us a clipping from the Press of his city which reflects the interest shown in the church taxation question. It seems that there has been some argument in the section of the Press devoted to letters from its readers and one of the disputants, signing the initials V.F.P., has stressed the old fallacy that churches do educational and charitable work and for this reason should be exempted from the payment of public taxes and rates. A secular-minded reader, W. Mortimer, answers that fallacy very clearly, and capably in the following communication to the Press:
The thing that V.F.P. and other religionists do not seem to grasp is the principle, of separation of Church and State. The amount of money is not so important as the principle involved.
To say that because the parochial schools relieve the burden on the public schools they are therefore entitled to free water is indeed a flimsy argument. The secular authority establishes certain public activities that are essential to modern life, such as schools, libraries, police, parks, etc. These are all owned and used in common. Every citizen is justly required to contribute his or her share in support of all public activities.
The law does not prohibit me from owning my own private library or sending my children to a private school, yet I do not expect free water on that account.
Some corporations and individuals maintain their own police and fire depots. Yet they are not entitled to public money because of it. V.F.P. and myself, being citizens of the same country, must support the things we own in common. He or she belong to the Christian church, while I am an atheist. Neither of us can justly desire that the other financially support our private opinions or institutions. If V.F.P. feels the parochial schools are necessary to his or her well-being V.F.P. is at liberty to support them, but I cannot be expected to support a private institution in which I do not believe.
By, non-payment of water and taxes, the churches are receiving public money as surely as if a like amount had been donated from the public treasury.
Exactly. Mr. Mortimer, didn’t waste time on sophistry. He just cut right through it with sharp common sense. This talk of the educational and charitable work done by the churches is an evasion of the real issue. Plainly the interest of the churches is in maintaining the beliefs and worship of religion. Any other alleged purpose is remotely secondary and in modern society, unnecessary. Education and social justice (as it should be considered rather than charity) are essentially secular activities. To let the churches go tax-free is to make gifts to religion: it means that the state is granting public support to one set of private opinions and thus unjustly burdening those who hold contrary private opinions.
CHURCH AND PUBLIC
The apologists for church tax exemption say that the church is a public institution. Just what do they mean? The church is devoted to the propaganda of religion, which is strictly a private and not a public affair. It may be called public in the sense that anyone may attend church meetings; but 80,000,000 out of the 120,000,000 don’t want to attend church meetings, so evidently the church is not offering a public service that is even popular; it is unnecessary and is wanted only by the minority of church members.
If the church were, in another and more valid sense, a public institution — that is, a building for use of the people without discrimination — there might be something in the argument for tax exemption. But this consideration runs up against facts that cancel it entirely. In the first place, the Church is not available to the community or to various groups of the community on equal terms. Atheists, for example, would not be permitted to hold meetings in a church. The church doors would not be opened to admit a mass meeting of protest against blue Sunday laws. A demonstration of public sentiment against Prohibition would not be permitted in a church. Dances, band concerts and like public recreational activities are not usually permitted in a church.
On most nights, the church buildings are empty and are put to no use whatever. They never serve as genuine community centers. Their use is limited strictly to religious and propaganda and the promotion of movements which have a pious, puritanical character. Public questions are not discussed freely in the church, They are discussed from the narrow viewpoint of religious bigotry. Public interests are not served by the church. The specific purpose of the church is to serve the interest of religion and to gain support for the particular creed of each church organization.
Under these plain circumstances it is impossible to argue convincingly that the church is a public institution. There is no good reason why the public generally should be compelled to share in the cost of maintaining church institutions. These institutions are conducted in the narrow interests of sectarian groups and these groups should entirely pay the cost of them, including fair taxation of every bit of property owned by the church.
Let those who use the church, let those who believe in the purposes of the church, produce every penny for the upkeep of the church. This is the demand of justice.
Exemption of the church from taxation is a tyrannical compulsion upon millions of citizens to pay for something in which they are not interested, in which they do not believe, and to which many are profoundly opposed.
Here is a fraud that is outrageous on its face and in every feature. It is indefensible. All Americans who have a real sense of justice and who are candid enough to recognize the facts will join in our demand that all church property shall be taxed.
The churches are always begging money. And there is little pretense that this money is wanted for a public purpose. It is wanted for the propaganda of religion. It is used to maintain temples of superstition. It is a form of beggary that is sometimes called “holy” (and that, to be sure, is always defended by the allegation of good purposes;) but that is really a continual, exasperating nuisance.
Many who contribute to the churches are unwilling but feel that they dare not refuse: these are men who, for business or professional reasons, fear to offend the church element, or any element, and make a practice of being agreeable to all groups. There are many others who do refuse the begging requests of the churches but who are irritated again and again by the repetition of such appeals for help.
In their begging, the churches are a nuisance. Yet, legally, they have the right to get money from all who are willing to give. We don’t object to the extortion of money by the churches. But we do object to the extortion of money for these begging institutions. A state tax exemption for churches is in reality a form of extortion, taking money from millions of citizens without so much as a “by your leave,”
The churches beg — and if we don’t give them money, why, they take it anyway, forcibly, by means of this unjust state tax exemption.
IS THE STATE CONSISTENT IN SUBSIDIZING, CHURCH ERRORS?
One argument for the exemption of church property from taxation is that religion is a socially valuable hind of activity and that it is an instrument of righteousness which the state, as a measure of public welfare, does rightly in subsidizing.
Take a good look at that argument. It is really funny. Religion is divided into many creeds. It is a patchwork of errors. One sect contradicts another, and every church member is a heretic in the view of members of other church organizations. What is it, then, that the state can be sure of in religion to guide it in its assumption that religion is useful?
It cannot be a particular idea of God, for the religious sects are sharply disagreed about the identity and the Character and the opinions of God. It cannot be a particular notion of another life, because the sects are luridly confused in their contradictory notions of heaven or paradise or the hereafter or what you please in the way of crude or fancy absurdity. It cannot be a particular view of morality which the state thinks it publicly useful to encourage by tax exemption — for here, again, the sects are not in agreement. Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Catholics, Lutherans Episcopalians, Christian Scientists, Holy rollers, Modernists and Fundamentalists all have their hotly different notions about what constitutes righteousness.
There is no clear, agreed, indisputable program of religious morality. If there did exist such a program, it would be brazenly tyrannical for the state to enforce or even encourage it — such a measure would be a flagrant repudiation of the terms of secular freedom in government (and, remember, good people, that secular freedom is a phrase not to be shortened — secular freedom is the only freedom, for religion in government means tyranny) But our point at the moment is that the state cannot pretend that it is favoring, in a definite and intelligent way, a theory of social usefulness in religion.
To be logical in this argument, the state would have to single out one religious, creed and favor it as being the true and useful creed, As matters stand, the state favors, by tax exemption and other means, a perfectly ridiculous stew of irreconcilable and indigestible religious errors. It can’t say what is true in religion. It can’t say what is useful in religion. The supporters of the various religions can’t say wherein they are right: but each sect maintains that it is right and the others are, on important points, very wrong. In exempting the churches from taxation, the state is subsidizing, most inconsistently, a medley of errors and aberrations that are socially distracting and confusing, rather than socially useful.
The only excuse for state favoritism would be an open declaration of support for a particular state church, a particular state creed, a particular state system of errors officially proclaimed as the truth. A state church is inconceivable in this modern age, and, aside from the higher principle of intellectual liberty, the fact is that the churches couldn’t agree among themselves, There is no sensible argument, then, of truth, or usefulness which justifies the state in favoring religion. Let the believers in religion pay for their ceremonies and controversies of error.
The churches can well afford to pay fair taxation. But supposing they couldn’t. Would not that be a very significant evidence that the churches were not really wanted?
How can a preacher talk with a straight face about political graft? He is, himself, profiting by one of the most notorious political grafts in this country.
A free, secular government has and should have no interest in the church. The church is interesting only to its partisans. They should bear the whole cost of supporting the church.
Why should the residence of a preacher be untaxed? Useful citizens must pay taxes on their homes. Yet the Preacher — actually and notoriously the least useful member of the community — lives in a tax-free dwelling.
“Would you tax God?” asks a defender of church tax exemption. Well, if there were a God he should be able to pay his own way and support his own business. If not, then he should do like other business men and close up shop.
Church tax exemption means that we all drop our money in the collection boxes, whether we go to church or not and whether we are interested in the church or not. It is systematic and complete robbery, from which none of us escapes.
It is an absurd fiction that the churches are useful. They are nothing more than propaganda centers for superstitious faiths and doctrines. Church members have a right to believe in and propagate their various doctrines. But they should pay every item of the cost, of this propaganda, including fair taxation for all church property.
When priest and king conspired in medieval tyranny, the church did its bloodiest to suppress all freedom of thought. We live in the modern age and we believe in liberty. We don’t ask that the churches be destroyed or religion suppressed. We ask only that the churches be taxed fairly, as other property is taxed. In resisting this very fair demand, the churches will only expose their motives of greed and Injustice.
Churches are private institutions. Their members should support these churches out of their own private resources.
Those who want the churches should pay for them. Nobody else should be taxed, directly or indirectly, to support the churches.
There can be no perfect freedom unless the church and state are separated. But the church and state are not separated in America so long as the state grants a subsidy to the church in the form of tax exemption.
It is surely enough that the clerical grafters are permitted by law to drum up trade among many credulous victims. But it is outrageously too much that the rest of us, who oppose the clerical grafters, should have to pay for the maintenance of this graft.
We think that men and women who pay for listening to sermons are being cheated. But if they are satisfied, well enough. They can spend their money as they please. The point is that we don’t want to continue paying for sermons that offend us with their bigotry and non-sense.
The American colonists fought against taxation without representation. We are fighting against what is ironically much worse, namely, taxation for the benefit of churches in which we don’t want to be represented and which are inimical to all the civilized public purposes in which we do want to be represented.
Is a church too small and too poor to pay taxes? That means that not enough people want the church seriously enough to pay for its upkeep. Then, why should such a church exist? Why should atheists, agnostics and non-churchgoers be forced to maintain such a useless, unwanted church by granting it tax exemption?
Religion is matter of private opinion. And, similarly, religion should be a matter of private support, There is no good, honest reason why it should have the sanction of the financial favoritism of the government. Legally and in its fundamental policy (as set forth in the Constitution) ours is not a religious government and, therefore, it should not in any way subsidize religion.
It is a ludicrous notion — ludicrous and outrageous — that the 80,000,000 Americans who don’t go near the churches and who are not interested in the churches should pay, in the form of state tax exemption, so that the 40,000,000 of churchgoers can have houses in which to play. After all, these 40,000,000 could do their praying cheaply at home — and it would do them no more and no less good. If they want special houses of prayer, let them contribute all of the money for this odd purpose. We object to paying a cent for praying institutions which are ridiculous in our sight.
Rev. John Haynes Holmes argues that the churches shouldn’t pay taxes because, amid the towering city skyscrapers, they afford needful light and air. But now the churches are growing into skyscrapers. And, anyway, parks and tennis courts and the like are much better for light and air than churches are. To put it more emphatically, the churches spread gloom and the air in and around them is unbearably stuffy.
“God hasn’t quit” says a theological illogical professor. That might be an interesting statement if there could be adduced the tiniest bit of proof that God ever began anything, including himself. What this professor means is that a few men, who have worse than idle minds, haven’t quit talking aimlessly about a mythical God.
“The atmosphere is literally charged with religion” says ‘The Literary Digest,” referring to radio sermons. We should call it a spreading of intellectually poisonous gas.
Martyrs have been sincere. And so have tyrants. Wise men have been sincere. And so have fools.