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Why the public want religion to be taxed

By Brian Morris

How the Budget ultimately plays out may not be known until election night. Does the electorate believe Scott Morrison has pulled all the essential levers — and will Malcolm Turnbull finally scramble free of Tony Abbott’s shadow?

Turnbull had swept many budget options off the table — both revenue and expenditure — in tortuous Treasury turmoil. But glaring opportunities for bold new revenue measures were never considered.

Religion is a mega-billion-dollar entrepreneurial colossus that pays virtually no tax. And we review shortly the extent of this tax-free bonanza that creates such a budgetary black hole.

A new national poll in April shows that 64 per cent of the community think religions should now be taxed. People are fully aware of the wealth owned by big churches — not the hard-pressed charities — but the large religious institutions and the corporate enterprises they run.

While two-thirds of the nation supported the notion of taxing religious businesses, only 7 per cent thought they should remain tax-exempt, and 13 per cent just didn’t know.

Much has contributed to the public’s view that the big churches now operate well beyond the traditional parish precinct. There’s disquiet with revelations from the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse, to the Vatican Bank scandals, and to the rank politicisation of religion across a raft of contemporary social issues.

Community concern also extends to churches that operate essentially as entertainment businesses. These include many of the charismatic evangelical churches like Paradise, the Church of Scientology and Hillsong — described by the Sydney Morning Herald last year as a “money-making machine“.

Religions are not required to lodge any financial records.

There is no transparency. Where does the multi-billion-dollar revenue of religious organisations come from — the business profits and huge state and federal grants — and exactly where does the money go?

Church operations are tax-free — based on the escape clause of “advancing religion” — a statue dating back from Queen Elizabeth the First, and inherited from England when Australia was colonised.

There are now four Heads of Charity under which religions operate, through the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profit Commission, but they are all tax-exempt. ACNC registers over 60,000 charities, of which only 40 per cent are religious. The majority are secular charities that do equally good work.

With high-profile scandals and frequent media coverage from alarmist church hierarchies on issues such as same-sex marriage — abetted by a variety of Christian lobbies — the community sees a more politicised religion dominating the public square.

Perhaps a critical mass is developing. It has become self-evident that churches are now highly prominent with their privates schools, which are now attended by almost 40 per cent of Aussie kids. They are corporate enterprises, together with their private hospitals, aged care facilities, and a raft of commercial businesses from wineries to insurance companies and to turf-laying firms.

Sanitarium is the best know religious corporation — wholly owned by the Seventh-day Adventist Church, with a 2010 turnover of $550 million and a staff of more than 1,500. All tax-exempt.

None of these profitable religious companies pay more than a modicum of tax — if at all.

Tax-free enterprises don’t enjoy every available concession but they all benefit in some way. Church exemptions include: income tax, GST, FBT, payroll tax, council rates, state government taxes, land tax, and local government taxes. In addition religions have exemptions from anti-discriminations laws and other statues.

What is most remarkable is the sheer magnitude of taxation that escapes the federal government coffers. In 2004 the Rationalist Society of Australia commissioned the Victoria University Graduate School of Business to investigate religious tax privileges.

It found the Catholic Church in Australia (alone) owned an estimated $100 billion in property and assess, and based on conservative figures it escaped annual taxes of around $2.6 billion — and that was twelve years ago.

In 2008 the Secular Party of Australia made a submission to the federal government’s Review of Australia’s Future Tax System, in October of that year. They found that over $20 billion in taxes remained uncollected from the nation’s religious organisations, by state and federal governments.

Even the Parliamentary Budget Office, prior to this budget, found savings of $500 million annually — simply by scrapping fringe benefits tax for religious employees, and dumping the Chaplaincy Program.

But it’s no surprise that Treasurer Morrison would even consider taxing entrepreneurial religion. As an evangelical Christian himself, Morrison worships at a Hillsong-style Pentecostal church in Sydney.

Indeed, LNP parliamentarians are heavily Christianised — at a rate far greater than the general public, which is now majority religion-neutral. And only 8 per cent attend church on a regular basis.

The budget is in deficit, with massive shortfalls in revenue that means less money for public schools, hospitals and the sort of national infrastructure that’s urgently needed to help grow the economy.

The argument is not focused on bona fide church charities but exclusively on corporate religion.

What is necessary now is for all religious organisation to submit annual financial reports and for the government and Australian Charities and Not-for-Profit Commission to review their tax-exempt status.

Financial transparency is essential and it’s well past time for religions to pay tax on their profits. And with 64 per cent of the public backing religious taxation, governments need to show fortitude and resist the inevitable Christian backlash from the small but highly vocal church hierarchies.

It’s also time for new and in-depth research into the degree to which religious corporations are creating this massive shortfall in government revenue, through their avoidance of various taxes.

If religions wish to become highly politicised — under the guise of ‘religious freedom’ — then it’s high time they became financially transparent, factually honest, and started to pay their fair share of tax.

Brian-Morris-0-Head-Shot-150x150 About Brian Morris: World travel shaped Brian’s interest in social justice — wealth, poverty and religion in many countries. His book Sacred to Secular is critically acclaimed, including from the Richard Dawkins Foundation. It’s an analysis of Christianity, its origins and the harm it does. It’s a call for Australia to become fully secular. More information about Brian can be found on his website, Plain Reason.

 

69 comments

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  1. gee

    if it looks like a commercial operation, if it smells like a commercial operation, if it sounds like a commercial operation… then TAX it like a commercial operation.

    Evangelical = Evil Pricks

  2. Bronte ALLAN

    Wholeheartedly agree Bryan! When one considers that the Vatican City is one of–if not the, richest “cities”–in the world, & I dare say the Anglican Church would have something along these lines etc, yet they all cry “poverty”? Makes me think that ALL these religious “organisations” should NOT have any tax breaks! I agree, especially about ALL these “Charismatic” (?) so-called religions etc, they definitely should not be tax exempt–most of these are so bloody wealthy it is beyond belief!

  3. mark

    and they say money is the root of all evil.mark

  4. King1394

    The clue is the phrase ‘advance religion’. – what does this mean? If it is simply to permit proselytising, then the tax relief might extend to the church buildings and not much more. The vast majority of the various churches activities are not designed to ‘advance religion’ and in fact would be seen as unethical if they were used for that purpose. The schools, hospitals etc would come under the normal tax arrangements for private bodies of this type. Purely money-making activities such as running Op Shops or Job Search Agencies would have to open their books and pay the relevant amounts the same as any other similar business. We should not overlook that the tax free status of churches allows them to out-compete other similar businesses, which is not fair, or good for an economy that otherwise refuses to subsidise many business enterprises.

  5. Phil

    In complete agreement with this proposition Brian. Long overdue along with shining the light on the corporate and other high wealth tax scams the elites have been thriving on at civil society’s expense.

    Morrison’s maiden speech: “So what values do I derive from my faith? My answer comes from Jeremiah, chapter 9:24: I am the Lord who exercises loving-kindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things, declares the Lord.”

    Hypocrisy writ large. And this man has control over our lives !!!! He is a sham, a charlatan.

  6. townsvilleblog

    I don’t like the concept of religious fanaticism whether it be Islam or Christianity it is simply the sale of hope and fear that people adopt to take less responsibility for themselves. Therefore any organization pushing these beliefs for their own financial reward need to make a contribution towards the country that they practice their “unbelievable” ways. Yes of course they should pay tax on their income, as everyone does. Even pensioners now pay GST thanks to the tories (LNP).

  7. Anomander

    “Indeed, LNP parliamentarians are heavily Christianised — at a rate far greater than the general public, which is now majority religion-neutral. And only 8 per cent attend church on a regular basis.”

    That is a very interesting concept. Why exactly is it that Christian representation in politics and so heavily weighted when the remainder of the country is becoming far less religious? Is it because of the education/support networks they provide?

    Abbott/Hockey/Morrison are prime examples of this. Schooled at expensive religious schools, where they established a network of support that saw them all promoted way beyond their ability, one would reasonably assumed because they used their connections.

  8. Gangey1959

    Mr moronscum gave his first, and hopefully only budget speech last Tuesday.
    As a brainless dickhead of whatever faith he practices, he will trot along to his chosen place of worship on Saturday or Sunday with his fellow morons and pledge undying trust in his chosen supreme being, and then at some point towards the end of his period of religious servitude he will wander into a confessional booth, or whatever, and come out with
    “Forgive me …., for I have f*cked it up again. I have pretended to the masses that I have an understanding of the little squiggles some call numbers, when I do not.
    I have told untruths to the people of Australia about my ability to deal with the aforementioned numbers when they are printed on special paper, or stamped on little shiny metal circles and called money, when I have none whatsoever.
    When I open my mouth, my teeth are very big and white, and sometimes words come out and sometimes they don’t, but either way I have no idea what I might be going to say, or indeed if I am going to say anything intelligible at all.
    I am called by some the federal Treasurer, and I don’t understand my lot in life. Please ….., What should I do ?”
    And ….. will say. ” Bless you, my poor brainless dickhead. It is not a difficult solution to find for the problems you have.
    Just say 5 ‘It was the Labor Party’s fault’. Repeat 3 times the phrase ‘Jobs and Growth’, and when all else fails just remember to tell the masses that ‘We stopped the Boats’
    I will see you next week to go through this all again. Leave your money on the fridge, and nothing smaller than a red note this time you cheap tight-arsed bastard.”

    Should religion be taxed ? Only to the hilt (Leave the handle sticking out in case we need to have another go at them all)

  9. Jexpat

    Religious organisations that engage in secular businesses activities (as opposed to whatever bona fide charitiable efforts they may be involved in) have a competitive advantage over other businesses in that sector.

    This often disavantages the public as well- not merely through a loss of tax revenue, but also due to distortions in the market.

    Some time ago, I recall reading about one denomination that managed to essentially drive most of the secular stone cutters- their competition- out of business, whereupon they had (and of course abused) monopoly powers.

  10. Jane Boswell

    If we start taxing “Religion” first of all most churches would close, particularly in the country where they barely survive anyway. Most money in the church is land holding which looks great on paper but doesn’t work out so good when you convert it into cash. Do not lump the Anglicans in with the Catholics here, again we look huge but most work is done by volunteers supporting a few paid clergy. The best thing about most protestant churches being tax free is that they can then offer real support to those who struggle in the community, food clothing etc. Start taxing and that will all most certainly go

  11. Athena

    “Why exactly is it that Christian representation in politics and so heavily weighted when the remainder of the country is becoming far less religious?”

    @ Anomander

    Christianity seeks to control people, so too does neo-liberalism. Both groups are good at making people believe that they are doing them a favour as they implement policies that benefit only a privileged minority. Both are good at dehumanising their opponents. Neo-liberalism teaches that we are responsible for our own success or failure. Christianity preys on vulnerable people who are “dead to sin” or “dancing with the devil”, and also teaches that we are inherently bad, thus those who are down on their luck see that they did something to cause their misfortune. They manage to find a lot of common ground with their irrational beliefs.

  12. Athena

    “The best thing about most protestant churches being tax free is that they can then offer real support to those who struggle in the community, food clothing etc. Start taxing and that will all most certainly go”

    @ Jane Boswell

    So donate food and clothing, rather than money. That can’t be used for constructing opulent buildings and other unnecessary expenditure.

  13. Möbius Ecko

    This is just too good not to share, and here is as good a place as any.

    A Noah’s Arc theme park being built in Florida was destroyed by… floods.

  14. Gangey1959

    Hey Mobius. Where is James Taylor when you need him ?

  15. Jexpat

    Möbius Ecko:

    Not to worry, Australian born Ken Ham has his own ark park in the works in Kentucky.

  16. Jesus

    Typical greedy Australia.. always wanting money. Land of the convicts. Instead of complaining about how churches are getting away with not paying taxes why don’t you go rob them if you need the money so bad? This stupid country taxes everything, it shouldn’t be long until they tax air.

  17. Brian Morris

    Luke 12:33-34
    Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

    Churches help build the correct foundation to society; not governments. Unless you can give me any factual evidence that churches are making too much money don’t expect to believe your non-sense. I bet you the author of this article is Richard Dawkins sexual partner.

  18. Athena

    Oh do tell, what is the correct foundation? Kiddy fiddling?

  19. keerti

    It really seems that lack of equitable taxation lies at the cause of our budgetry worries…the churches don’t pay tax, the multinationals don’t pay tax. The miners pay some,but get subsidies.Farmers (who haven’t learned that their land is not good enough for farmimg get handouts). The arts get handouts though a large amount of us don’t live where we can enjoy the results. We even pay polititians overly generous travel allowances which they use with little or no restraint. Private schools that make profits get handouts. The rest of us struggle on and pay tax to support this mess!

  20. keerti

    athena, if the churches really existed to give away money and support to the poor then yes, but while they continually suck from their poor followers, it is an argument that carries little weight. Catholicism is perhaps the worst offender, gathering riches on earth while it sells it’s “salvation” to the ignorant.

  21. Miriam English

    Jane Boswell, some religious charities do good, certainly, but so do secular ones. Most charities are secular and they don’t indulge in the brainwashing that religious ones do.

    I’ve helped out at some religious charities (even though I’m atheist) but quickly became disgusted at the way they required the beneficiaries to sit through brainwashing sessions. Many of the recipients had mental problems of one form or another. It was sickening that the preachers were using charity as a lure to indoctrinate these people. I know most of the people in religious charities genuinely want to help, but they excuse the predatory practices by thinking it is god’s work to spread the word.

    I’ve also seen good, honest, helpful, religious people say incredibly hurtful and judgemental things about gays. The Salvation Army, which is an enormously wealthy religious charity has worked very hard to keep homophobic laws in place. They campaigned heavily in New Zealand against marriage equality. In New York in the middle of winter they threatened to close their shelters and throw all the people out in the snow if they weren’t allowed to discriminate against gays. Nice. I know the Anglican church is much lighter and less harmful than those institutions, but it is still a church and based on, I’m sorry to say, delusion. It is what it is.

    I’ve helped in some secular charities. Those are much more healthy. There is no hidden motive. They help those down on their luck purely out of a desire to help. There is no judging, just help.

    When churches close down, then other support networks spring up to replace them if there is a need. The replacements are almost always more healthy.

    Apart from all that, a religious charity that was a genuine charity would still be untaxed for the same reason a secular charity would be untaxed.

  22. Miriam English

    Möbius Ecko, sadly the piece about the Noah’s Ark theme park getting flooded is satire. It didn’t happen.

  23. Brian Morris

    STOP TAXING CHURCHES! TAX THE PRIVATE SCHOOL.

  24. Miriam English

    Brian Morris, sexual innuendo to slander someone who says stuff you don’t like? Yes, I can see the moral teachings of the church in what you say.

    As for the foundations of society, no. Religion provides no moral foundations that we don’t find in any secular society, but they do add a lot of problems. Research into the moral ills plaguing many of the developed nations around the world found that the more religious a society is the worse its moral ills — the complete reverse of what you would expect, considering the way religions promote themselves as forces for moral good. All the major indicators for morality are worse in religious societies — murder, teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease, infant mortality, shortened adult lifespan, and more — and it is proportional. The more religious a society is, the worse the social ills. It even holds true for states inside countries.

  25. Miriam English

    Brian Morris, you didn’t read the article, did you?
    The whole point of the article is that the churches are not being taxed. The majority of people in Australia think it is about time they paid their fair share. There is actually no moral argument for the church getting away with not being taxed.

  26. Brian Morris

    The study was published during 2005? over eleven years ago? please stop the nonsense. If you want to tax someone go tax satanist in government.

  27. Miriam English

    Yeah, like eleven years will affect the outcome of the study. Listen to yourself Brian Morris. You are making excuses for something proven to have bad effects on the morality of society. Your sneers and emotional responses should alert you to how emotionally invested you are in not hearing the truth.

  28. Athena

    “athena, if the churches really existed to give away money and support to the poor then yes, but while they continually suck from their poor followers, it is an argument that carries little weight.”

    @keerti

    What argument carries little weight? I don’t recall saying anything in support of churches.

  29. Miriam English

    Brian Morris, you are willing to accept that writings from thousands of years ago, without any corroborating evidence, have direct bearing on truth and morality, yet you scorn a carefully researched study with easily accessible proof on the basis that it is eleven years old.

    Your bias is blinding you.

  30. corvus boreus

    Jesus (3;37pm),
    You’ve changed, man.

  31. Backyard Bob

    Miriam,

    Why are you “debating” with an obvious troll using the author’s name? Are you sure you’re not smoking something? 😉

  32. Miriam English

    Wait a minute… I hadn’t noticed the name of the author of the article above and the Plain Reason website: Brian Morris

    I suddenly realised that the religious nutter that I was, in good faith, conversing with is a liar. He is misrepresenting himself as Brian Morris in the comments, but he is just another religious faker who thinks it is alright to lie for Jesus.

    To the religious commenter pretending to be named Brian Morris, I say piss off! Liar. Faker. Coward.

    To the real Brian Morris, the author of this article and the Plain Reason website, my apologies for letting myself be taken in by the damnable crooked Christian.

  33. Backyard Bob

    Miriam,

    I hate to admit at having been laughing “at you”, but that was pretty damn funny. Happens to the best of us. 😉

  34. Athena

    I assumed from his ambiguous comment at May 6, 2016 at 3:47 pm that he is just a troll. I don’t think he is Christian at all.

  35. Michael Taylor

    To troll is bad enough, but to pretend to be the author of this article is truly pathetic. Who will you pretend to be next? Backyard Bob? Miriam English? Me? Jesus? Oh hang on, you’ve done that one. Maybe you’ll come back as God.

  36. Miriam English

    Backyard Bob, a pity you didn’t give me a poke some time ago. Yes. I realised about the same time you posted. I am a bit slow sometimes. 🙁 Thank you for the prompt anyway.

    I’m sure the lying Christian is laughing it up, thinking he was being clever, never realising how his actions completely invalidated everything he said. What an utter fool he is.

  37. Bwian Morris

    TAX Religion…… f’n to good for ’em…. nail the *uckers to an cross, I say.
    We don’t need to TAX religion’s…. no….no…..no……we need to BAN religion’s.
    The only “GOOD” Church is one that has been repurposed as an “ART GALLERY”…. tru dat 🙂
    I find it amazing that one would want to TAX an religious organisation…. I mean THE next thing you Know one would expect businesses and individuals to NOT “Off shore” their TAX responsibilities ( and at this point I would like to say that I have not mentioned Mal or the Cayman Isle. ) …..just sayin……. 😛
    But most importantly I must add the famous words of Leona Helmsley- “We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes”,- which, of course, is why Mal and GOD get their free lunch(es). 🙄

  38. Richard Dawkins (DEVIL)

    Comparing sacred scriptures from thousands of years ago to a horrible study that was “researched” eleven years ago that hasn’t been read by anyone of significance. No matter how many times you devil worshiping freaks whine that it should be taxed the REAL WORLD won’t accept your nonsense blabbering for facts. At the end of the day the money will only be used by politicians to get drugs, male prostitutes and illegal guns. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. No one (including corrupt scumbag government slaves) comes to the Father except through Jesus. Instead of taxing believers why doesn’t the government introduce crucifixion Aussie style.

  39. keerti

    Athena

    sorry I mistook your quote as your own content…it was late at night. that is my only excuse.Sorry!

  40. keerti

    I assume you’d be the first candidate, Richard!

  41. Miriam English

    Hmmm… the religious liar posted at 3:11am.
    Perhaps he’s in USA where lying for Jesus seems to be such a common pastime.
    Most Australian religious people tend to be fairly honest and genuine folk.
    This guy is all hate and bullshit.

  42. Miriam English

    I’m sorry to comment on this poor, sad specimen further, but I am really amazed at how he is the perfect illustration of what is so wrong with religion: the hate, the dishonesty, the recitation of meaningless babble.

    “Jesus is the way, the truth and the life” — what does he even think that means? That he should follow Jesus’ way and stand for truth and life? Perhaps that is what it originally means but this guy chants it as some kind of magic spell. He certainly isn’t following the way of Jesus, his posts are all about deception and denial of truth, and he advocates death by crucifixion.

    Imagine giving that kind of person any power in society… oh, wait. We did. Tony Abbott the compulsive liar and devout Christian was prime minister for a thankfully short time.

    Thank you, anonymous cowardly liar. You have proved the case against religion far better than any of us ever could have.

  43. Douglas Evans

    I know nothing about the history and significance of the tax free status of religions but I’ll play devil’s advocate (Ho Ho) and raise a couple of issues that Mr Morris conspicuously doesn’t. As rationalist who favors a secular society I’m sure Mr Morris would support the idea of cost benefit analysis of change. I suggest he has presented a reasonable summary of the cost of the present situation but totally ignored the benefits it delivers. So I’ll have a bit of a bash at setting these out.

    Religious private schools (not just Christian) currently deliver a very large chunk of Australia’s primary and secondary education. The Australian Catholic University is a significant component of Australian tertiary education. The Society of St Vincent de Paul (Vinnies), the Salvation Army and Anglicare (to name just three of many) make a very large contribution to our welfare sector. The list goes on and on. The fact is that there is a very large religious component of the delivery of health care, aged and palliative care to Australians. The removal of tax free status would presumably result in the severe contraction of the delivery of these services.

    Now I’m sure that the financial links between these service providers and the religious organizations from which they spring is highly variable and labyrinthine but does anyone have the faintest idea of the impact on these service sectors of the removal of the tax free status that Mr Morris advocates. For starters a substantial component of the the delivery of these religiously linked services comes from Australia’s army of volunteers. I suggest that the contraction of service delivery that would result from the changes Mr Morris advocates would result in the loss of much of this contribution. I venture to guess that a thorough cost benefit analysis of the type that I’m sure Mr Morris would support would show a substantial net loss to the community from the changes he recommends.

    This is a dangerously simplistic piece which doesn’t appear to stand up in the face of the most rudimentary of rational assessments. Like his fellow travellers Dawkins and Harris Mr Morris writes deceptively plausible pieces based on a distressingly selective presentation of the facts. Like Dawkins and Harris Mr Morris seems to be a snake oil salesman and I suggest his products should be consumed with great caution.

  44. Douglas Evans

    It is interesting to note that on his web site ‘Plain Reason’ Morris refers positively to the highly contestable and widely criticized writing of Sam Harris. As with Harris, Morris’ site gives no opportunity for comments and debate. Morris is solely concerned with the propagation of his particular brand of simplistic, albeit superficially plausible propaganda.

  45. Athena

    @ Douglas Evans

    Currently churches do not have to keep financial records. That includes the portion of their operation that perform charitable works. If a portion of their business wishes to operate as a charity, then keep it separate from all of their other dealings, register it as a charity, abide by all the same regulations as other charities, keep the financial records and retain tax free status for that portion of their operation. There’s no way that churches should be enjoying tax free status to build large, opulent buildings, salary packaging for their employees and rorting the government via their incompetent employment agencies.

  46. Douglas Evans

    However, all this said I can see no reason why Religious bodies should not be required to account for their incomes and expenditure as a condition for retaining their tax free status. Private secular service providers are required to do so.

  47. Douglas Evans

    This article has got me sufficiently interested to do a little investigation.

    1. Religious affiliations of Australians.
    In the 2011 census sixty one percent (and falling) of Australians identified as Christian. Seven percent (and growing) identified as belonging to one or another of the major non-Christian religions. Twenty two percent identified as having no religion. Not quite the religion free zone Mr. Morris suggests when he describes the Australian population as ‘religion-neutral’.

    2. Contribution of religion based Education, Welfare and Health Providers.
    To take a few examples:
    Catholic Education system enrolls more than 650,000 students annually and accounts for nearly one quarter of all secondary enrolments. Catholic Social Services deal with more than a million clients annually.

    3. Australian attitudes to taxing religious organizations.
    It all depends on the question you ask. In this case respondents were asked this question by Roy Morgan: Q. In Australia, religious organisations are not required to pay taxes. Do you approve or disapprove of religious organisations having tax-exempt status?

    Does anyone agree with me that the response might have been a little more nuanced if the question had read something like:
    Q. In Australia, religious organisations are not required to pay taxes. Given that religious based organizations deliver a very large percentage of Australia’s Health Education and Welfare services and that their capacity to continue to do this would be restricted in proportion to any reduction in their tax free status, do you approve or disapprove of religious organisations having tax-exempt status?
    Push polling anyone?

    4. The number of religious vs secular charities registered by the ACNC.
    Mr. Morris points out that 40 percent of charities are religion based and 60 percent are not. But ALL not-for-profits with charitable status are included in this cohort and the huge majority of heavy-lifting both in dollar terms and in number of people helped comes from the forty percent of religion based organizations.

    I do not argue for maintenance of the status quo. It is hard to see why religious organizations should not give an account of their income and expenditure as a condition of maintaining their tax-free status. I can see no justification for the maintenance of tax free status for Sanatarium, a straight commercial operation, for example.

    However Mr. Morris’ disingenuous disclaimer that the argument is not based on bona fide church charities but focused entirely on corporate religion fails to disguise the fact that the figures he used to demonstrate religious wealth were completely unspecified totals – eg. Catholic church $100 billion in property and assets and $2.6 billion of taxation unpaid. Perhaps these are not such an unreasonable totals when one considers that 5.4 million Australians identify as Catholic and that among the assets are the schools in which almost a quarter of Australian secondary students are educated, the hospitals in which a huge number of Australians are treated and the buildings from which welfare services are dispensed to over a million Australians every year. One has to wonder the extent to which the $2.9 billion of ‘unpaid’ Catholic taxes would be able to compensate for the loss or reduction of these services should the Catholic Church become tax liable?

    I am not a Catholic, not even a Christian but I object to having this deceptive farrago of half truths and carefully cherry picked factoids served up as rational argument.

  48. Miriam English

    Douglas Evans, the number of people answering the census as “Christian” seriously overestimates the actual numbers as many people give their inherited cultural status. Many are actually agnostic or atheist. I know a lot of people who identify themselves as Church of England, or Catholic, or Jewish, but are actually agnostic or atheist. A better guide is to see the number of people who attend church (or similar institution). I believe that number is around 8% of the population. Even if you double that number to guess at the number of believers who don’t attend any church, that is still a miniscule fraction of the population.

    As for the loss of valuable services, yes, there would undoubtedly be some temporary dislocation, but in a short time I expect they would be restored. True charities operated by religions might be mildly inconvenienced at first, but would keep their tax-free status, and might even benefit from such a change as churches would likely decide to pool more of their resources there in order to escape tax. The religious businesses would be taxed as they should have always been. Secular organisations that were unable to compete because of the church’s advantaged status could step in. Also, government should really be providing a lot of the services currently relinquished to religious organisations (schools, hospitals, etc). I know the LNP is unlikely to increase government services to take up the slack, but a Labor one should.

    It is extremely dangerous to allow a significant part of education and health to be taken over by religious organisations when their motivation essentially springs from a delusion. You can see in USA the insanity that can result — messing with textbooks, denying medical procedures or care, and so on.

    The job agencies? They are utterly useless and a massive drain on government funds. They should be closed. Centrelink was far more effective and much cheaper to operate.

    The Salvation Army should lose all its power. Frankly I would love to see it destroyed. It is an incredibly dangerous religious organisation that coordinates and funds powerful political campaigns against progressive changes like marriage equality. They present a nice innocent face to the public, but the organisation is deeply malevolent.

    St Vinnies, I know little about, but if they are a genuine charity they would have nothing to fear.

  49. Athena

    @ Douglas Evans

    How many people who admit to a religious affiliation actually practice their religion? My parents always used to state they belonged to the Uniting Church when filling out forms, as that was the family religion, but only attended weddings in churches. My mother is an atheist and will tell you that Christmas and Easter are an over-commercialised load of rubbish. She stopped celebrating them when I was a teenager.

    “Does anyone agree with me that the response might have been a little more nuanced if the question had read something like:
    Q. In Australia, religious organisations are not required to pay taxes. Given that religious based organizations deliver a very large percentage of Australia’s Health Education and Welfare services and that their capacity to continue to do this would be restricted in proportion to any reduction in their tax free status, do you approve or disapprove of religious organisations having tax-exempt status?
    Push polling anyone?”

    I think that question isn’t any better than the one you criticise. If you pointed out to people that Sanatarium enjoys tax free status since it falls under the umbrella of the SDA church, even though the SDA church is also an education provider, I think many people would agree that only the charity portions of the church should remain tax free.

    If you pointed out that the Salvation Army was forced to repay $9 million that its job agency stole from the government in false claims containing forged signatures, and no legal action was taken by the government, I think many people would agree that the job agency arm of the church should be paying income tax, even though the church performs welfare work.

    The Mormons built this fugly temple in Adelaide, with an exterior of granite imported from Italy, topped off with a statue on the roof covered in gold leaf. Do you seriously believe that they shouldn’t be paying income tax on the money that was used to build it?
    http://www.mormontemples.org/eng/temple/adelaide-australia
    If, as the bible tells us, god is everywhere, then fancy buildings are not required to worship him.

  50. Miriam English

    The Mormons are an especially hilarious example of a loony religion. Their founder, Joseph Smith, was a convicted con-artist who swindled people in a long list of scams until he finally settled for the perfect con: religion.

    Lots of religions spring from scams. Scientology, of course, springs readily to mind.

    Jehovah’s Witnesses are a lesser scam, being founded upon the predictions by Charles Taze Russell of the world coming to an end in 1914. Weirdly, the church didn’t disintegrate after the world failed to end, but they revised the end of the world several more times until all having failed (most recently I think, in the 1970s), they officially now give no date other than “imminent” for the end of the world.

    The number of scam religions is amazing. I often wonder if there are more scam religions than genuine ones.

  51. Richard Dawkins (DEVIL)

    Tax definition: a strain or heavy demand.

    For God so loved the World that he gave his only Son as the final tax, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

    So let me get this right all you devil worshipers want me to give up my religion so you can make a dirty dollar? Trust me when I say that I will turn your life upside down if you test my beliefs. Governments are afraid of Christians. The second the government think it’s okay to tax the believers don’t act shocked when the politicians have gay sex orgies while enjoying tax payers money on drugs. Religion has built the world as we know it.. If all the devil worshipers think it’s okay to rob the poor and churches don’t be shocked when society deteriorates. All the normal people would turn into immoral apes that has been labeled to them. JESUS IS THE WAY, THE TRUTH AND THE LIFE. NO ONE (INCLUDING CORRUPT SCUMBAG GOVERNMENT SLAVES) COMES TO THE FATHER EXCEPT THROUGH JESUS.

  52. Richard Dawkins (DEVIL)

    Psalm 144:1
    Blessed be the LORD, my rock, Who trains my hands for war, And my fingers for battle.

  53. Richard Dawkins (DEVIL)

    If you simpletons are looking for me. You can find me at the Mt Coot-Tha look out at two o’clock in the morning.

  54. Miriam English

    Thank you, Mr Fraud, for your clear illustration of why religion is such a bad thing and why taxing it into oblivion is a good idea.

  55. Backyard Bob

    Miriam,

    Frankly, your decent into an absurd composition fallacy is more embarrassing for you than not noticing the troll. Please stop.

  56. Douglas Evans

    Some posters here have problems with the critique I present. I have not addressed and am not interested in a general discussion of the merits or otherwise of churches, of various Christian denominations, or of the specific shortcomings of various service delivery vehicles they have spawned. The assertions of Miriam English and others along these lines may or may not have merit although a little evidence beyond personal experience would be more convincing. I express no opinions. I understand that the general thrust of the article supports currently fashionable opinions about formal religion and that many are therefore inclined to support the opinions of the author. Everybody is attracted to apparently plausible writing that supports their existing opinions and prejudices. Along with many commenters here I also deplore the appalling actions undertaken in the name of various religions that fill many people with such revulsion and which doubtless also fuel the position adopted by this author. I have no formal religious beliefs or affiliations. I have no interest in those who quote religious scriptures either as proof or disproof of the wisdom/validity of various religions. I am with the many who find such people foolish.

    My criticism is solely of an author who claims to present a rational argument for a change in the tax status of what he imprecisely describes as ‘corporate religion’ but fails to define the target or lay out the obvious economic benefits alongside the economic costs of the situation he attacks. Further having looked at his links as I have asserted above he supports his argument with a mix of part truths and cherry picked factoids. It is thus a poorly supported, somewhat intellectually dishonest article which purports to be about matters economic but is in fact a blatant dog whistle for something quite different.

    I find the article offensive for the reasons I have given above. Mr. Morris’ writing has much in common with the distressingly primitive philosophical/religious/political writing of his fellow travelers Dawkins and Harris neither of whom have any scruples when it comes to reshaping the evidence to facilitate arriving at the author’s desired outcome. In respect of Dawkins I differentiate between the religious rantings of the elderly Dawkins and his inspired early writing about the the biological sciences. It is sad to see the decline into incoherent irrelevance of such a distinguished public intellectual.

  57. corvus boreus

    Jesus/Morris/Dawkins/DEVIL,
    Why are you using this internet forum to try to lure random strangers to some mountain lookout at 2am?

  58. Richard Dawkins (DEVIL)

    If you chumps want to run up on a real believer you can find me in a few hours. I heard that you can find some savage monkeys hiding in the mountain. No I won’t incriminate myself here.

  59. Richard Dawkins (DEVIL)

    Not luring anyone I’m simply giving out my location in case any of you want to visit me.

  60. corvus boreus

    Jesus/Morris/Dawkins/DEVIL,
    You say you won’t ‘incriminate’ yourself here.
    So your attempts to arrange an early hours rendezvous with a stranger in a remote location were for illicit purposes?

  61. corvus boreus

    “Put to the sword all the boy children amongst them. Put to the sword any woman who has lain with a man. Keep alive, for yourselves, all the girl-children who have not lain with a man”.

    Some would consider this to be abhorrent, immoral savagery, far beneath the behavioral standard of most apes (or hominids).
    Others choose to call it a tract of sacred scripture, describing God’s will as enacted through a divine prophet.
    Personally, I prefer a society that condemns rather than glorifies the slaughter and enslavement of captive women and children.

    As for my opinion on the notion of governmental taxation being levied on the incomes of all religious institutions (excluding, of course, any portion of their funds that goes toward their various documented charitable works), I believe that they should ‘render unto Caesar that which is Caesars’.

  62. Richard Dawkins (DEVIL)

    If you guys want to tax anyone please tax private schools first and I will listen.

  63. Pingback: Australian Independent Media Network: 64% want Religion Taxed | Plain Reason

  64. Douglas Evans

    I’ve been puzzling over this issue since I read this piece which seems to me disingenuous and one sided as I’ve indicated above. It’s probably too late for anyone to be bothered reading this but tonight I remembered that in Denmark where I lived for several years there is a Church tax. On top of the other taxes, members of the Danish National Church pay an additional 0.4% to 1.5% church tax. The rate depends on the municipality. While the church is a state institution, the church tax does not count toward the maximum 59% marginal tax, and one can be exempted from paying this tax by opting out of being a member of the state church. This might be the basis for a fair treatment of bona-fide religions in Australia (although determining what is or isn’t a religion might prove to be a nightmare). ‘User pays’ is in this case a pretty good operating principle.

    The appalling abuse associated with various Christian denominations and Judaism, and the rorts and inconsistencies for which the charitable arms of religious organizations are responsible should be treated as legal matters just as they are when perpetrated by secular individuals or organizations. If ‘only’ 37% of Australians identify as religious (as Kaye Lee indicated elsewhere), the other 67% should have the option of not paying whatever tax is determined to be appropriate for the State support of religion. Such support should be divided in proportion to the number of adherents of a given religion or religious denomination and should be targeted strictly to costs associated with religious worship. It should be quite separate from any support which may flow to the charitable activities of religious organizations which should be funded in the same manner as their secular equivalents. Similarly the commercial activities of religious organizations should be taxed in exactly the same way their secular equivalents.

  65. Miriam English

    [Damn. bookshopadministrator is actually me. Some work I was doing for a website logged me in to that account and I didn’t notice ’til after I posted. I’ve deleted it and am reposting below.]

    Interesting idea Douglas, but ultimately unworkable, unfortunately. I don’t own a car, but I can’t opt out of paying that portion of tax destined for upkeep of roads. I’m pacifist, but I can’t decide not to pay that portion of tax that pays the wages of Australia’s military.

    As you say, defining what is, and what isn’t a religion is a sticky trap best avoided. Scientologists have managed to pass off their giant, psychotically paranoid, money-making scam as a religion. Sanitarium have strayed quite a way over the line from actual religion into business. Jehovah’s Witness appear have devolved into a pyramid selling organisation, hawking fear and insecurity (have you read the awful, bald-faced lies in their Watchtower propaganda?). The Catholic church, as one of the wealthiest organisations on the planet, has always been suspect, despite the large number of thoughtful believers inside it. And then you get all the “small-time” crooks who make millions scamming on late night television, sucking in the gullible.

    The simple solution is to simply tax religion. It’s actually in the best interests of religion itself to do this, as I explain in my short story: honesty, which is chapter 9 of my story Prescription. It’s only 4 pages long and stands on its own, even though it is part of the novel as a whole. (All my writings are available free.)

  66. Douglas Evans

    Miriam
    Not unworkable at all. It works perfectly well in Denmark. The Danish Church lives within its means and people who publicly opt out of religion don’t have to pay for it. The differences between religion and roads and defence forces is that the first in a secular society is regarded as an optional extra, the latter two are clearly not. I suspect that at the bottom of your suggestion is a desire to get rid of formal religion but much as you or I may dislike it there are still seven million or so Australians who to some extent disagree. That call is not ours to make. There are lots of difficult problems of definition in the world. Imperfect as it undoubtedly would be there is no reason why we can’t tackle the problem of what is a valid religion for purposes of qualifying for receipt of tax bucks.

  67. jimhaz

    [Indeed, LNP parliamentarians are heavily Christianised — at a rate far greater than the general public]

    What about a parliamentary quota system based on percentages in the broader population! Are we secular or are we not?

    This would also help the calls for a female quota system. They’d get there faster without the domination in politics of the religious crusaders.

    Has a quota system been in place, horrible mafias like scientology would not only be taxable, but perhaps even banned. Religious ministers do not vote against scientology as they do not want the taxation and freedom to mentally abuse microscope extended to their religion.

  68. jimhaz

    Tithes are a bit like superannuation – folks thinking they are putting away for an eternal blissful retirement from the earth.

    We could not tax donations as that would be double taxation. Earnings from investments could however be taxed at superannuation rates. Not that company tax rates are that much higher anymore. Earnings from non-core activities like their dishonest gift from Methodist Howard of a big slice of the jobs industry should be taxed at company rates.

  69. Douglas Evans

    It is probably worth mentioning that until the last couple of decades Denmark has been a remarkably homogeneous, society – essentially white and strongly secular – but with a Lutheran background. Even now they still don’t have to contend with anything like the cultural stew that has been the norm in Australia since WW2 at least. This has made it much easier for countries like Denmark and Sweden. It has been instructive to watch the Scandinavian reputation for rational social tolerance (always something of an outsiders view anyway) dissolve; first under the pressure of large numbers of East European, East Mediterranean and Middle Eastern guest workers who began to arrive after Denmark, Finland and Sweden joined the EU and second under the tidal wave of Middle Eastern refugees caused by the contemporary Middle Eastern crisis. So while the problems associated with religious and cultural diversity here may be more complex than in Scandinavia the model still has validity in Australia and it is definitely not more complex to contemplate the selective opting out of religious tax than it is to contemplate the blanket taxing of religions.

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