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But why should they be tax-free? Why should the growing number of Americans who don't affiliate themselves with any religion be forced to subsidize the property that massive churches stand on, or the homes of clergy?
The argument most often made in defense of the religious tax exemption is because religious institutions benefit the community. Yes, Westboro Baptist Church as absolutely a great boon to society, and it would be horrible to insist they pay the same taxes as everyone else!!
Of course, what's really missing from this argument is that it's bullshit -- being a religious institution doesn't mean you necessarily do charitable deeds (c.f. Westboro Baptist Church, Church of Scientology), and neither does doing charitable deeds require that you be a religious organization. In point of fact, there are numerous completely secular organizations doing charity work out there (e.g. Red Cross), and in exchange enjoying tax-free status, because our tax code recognizes non-profit organizations -- religious or not!
So if a church wanted to do charity work, they could establish a non-profit organization to do it under. The rest of the churches -- as well as the non-charity work of these churches -- could and should be taxed.
And we haven't even mentioned the inherent unfairness -- and violation of the establishment clause -- that comes with recognizing some religions and granting them extraordinary benefits, while refusing the same to other religions. Ah, now we have.
It's long past time to end the religious exemption.