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Why are ‘religious’ organisations given tax free status?

There would have been few people who were not deeply shocked by the revelations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Now we have similar concerns revealed about the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

I spent a considerable part of my school years studying the Bible, followed by examination of Comparative Religion, at a C of E secondary school in the UK.

The picture that this presented to me was that the Jews, followed later by the Muslims, and unlike the Greeks and Romans, chose to believe that there was one god, and that he effectively existed for the Jewish people.

Muhammad, of course, did not acknowledge that Jesus was, as claimed, the son of god – he saw him as another prophet, and, originally, maintained a more favourable view of the Jews than might be the case for modern Muslims.

Jesus’ message, that the god of the Jews loved everyone, was not accepted by the Jews, who did not oppose his crucifixion by the Romans.

The process followed by his disciples has resulted, over the centuries, in increasing numbers of groups developing what have, in many cases, become cults, which have enabled mainly men to exert a level of unholy power over their flocks!

The essential message, that Christ wants you to love your fellow beings, has been warped and distorted by many of those cults, and the longest enduring of them, the Roman Catholic Church, has concentrated on developing a level of power which has proved highly destructive.

Pope Francis would, it seems, if left to his own devices, try to bring the church into the 21st century, but, even for former Catholics, the attitudes of the church seem to implant guilt rather than love.

The conflict between much of Jesus’ teachings in the New Testament, and the practices of most of the so-called Christian sects, leave me totally puzzled that anyone could genuinely believe that could say they were spreading his words.

And all of that assumes that a god actually exists.

I became an agnostic decades ago!

The recent examination of the Jehovah’s Witnesses throws grave doubts on the extent to which its existence is actually desirable.

The Pentecostal branches, like that to which our Prime Minister adheres, seem to love money more than the people outside their organisation, and my personal feeling is that religion should be a private matter and receive no support from governments.

For many that might seem too radical, if not actually blasphemous, but, given the appalling behaviour which has been revealed in so many of these sects – including just a few like the Catholic Church, The Plymouth Brethren, Scientology and the Pentacostalists – I seriously think we have to ask whether they deserve the favours they are granted.

Same sex marriage has been a major bone of contention for many of the ‘religious’, who cling on to ancient biblical messages, ignoring modern science.

And recent events in Afghanistan have highlighted the fact that many religions refuse to recognise that the knowledge of the founders of the religions were ignorant of much that has since been revealed by scientific research.

We have to stop living in the past, teach science properly in all schools, let people follow any beliefs they choose – as long as they do not harm others in so doing – and teach ethics in all schools, while the money saved from ceasing to give tax benefits to existing bodies – except for genuinely philanthropic activities – should be used to help all the people who are currently struggling to survive.

Far more important than religion, is ensuring that all can survive, and that demands attention to climate change!

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21 comments

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  1. Ken

    As our Government gives tax free status to religions we shouldn’t vote for them.

  2. Terence Mills

    Originally religions (and charities) were granted tax free status as it was considered that they would be spending their revenues on alleviating poverty and helping the poor.

    This assumption is not the fact and most religions use their income to bolster their own wealth and to grow their membership ; this is particularly the case with the US based evangelists including Jehovah Witnesses and the Mormons who have insisted on enforcing their US Constitutional First Amendment Rights to freedom of speech and communication, to carry out uninvited door to door proselytising to recruit new members – something that has thankfully taken a bit of a hit during the COVID pandemic .

    These organisations should not enjoy tax free status, in my view, unless they spend at least eighty percent of their income on recognised charitable activities.

  3. BB

    Why?
    Because religion is the biggest scam, massive con in the last 2 thousand years of humanity and controls the narrative.
    Religions brainwash people from the cradle to grave. All governments, bureaucracy, institutions kowtow to “The Church”.

  4. John Hanna

    Religious organisations have proven themselves unworthy of our trust and should no longer be given the status of ‘moral guardian’ they once enjoyed. Accordingly all should be demoted to the status of PTY LTD Companies with the incumbent regulation and tax liabilities. The RC church and the Anglicans both have huge portfolios of property which they should divest in order to meet these new obligations and church based schools indeed ALL private schools should receive funding ONLY on a per student basis equal to that provided for public (secular) schools without bias and skewing. Religious based “chaplaincy” funding for schools should cease. After all 70% of Aus does not practise any religion.

  5. RomeoCharlie29

    Well said RJ, the problem, of course, is that so many of our politicians are members of churches. Predominantly Catholic influence in politics, followed by private school heritage for many, is why we have the education funding abomination we have. Whitlam’s science blocks for all has been perverted over the decades to some belief in an entitlement by private schools of all denominations to a share of taxpayer funds. Of course the Catholics argue that their school system is poor because the church is asset rich but cash poor. State and National state school parent organisations, with which I was involved, have argued for decades that the government provides a free ( well used to be) universal, secular education and if parents choose an alternative, be it religious or not, they forfeit their right to taxpayer funds. Sadly, I fear that the consistent perversion of this principle by religious politicians is a genie which won’t be put back in its bottle, but ending tax exemptions for all religions would be a start.

  6. Phil Pryor

    Subsidising religious superstition is totally wrong in modern times and is widely abused. Taxpayers forego revenue by this, and so, stupidity is funded and arrogance and ignorance enriched. Acts of charity involving expenditure could be offered tax relief. Land and property ownership by religious groups, most of them distasteful to others who “know” that every other religion is “wrong”, is of immense value in money terms. The Catholic church worldwide has buildings, ornaments, gold, securities, investments, rents, all with mafia type banking and oversight a la, G Pell. The good done is usually open and clear and can be offered relief as that saves governments and individuals. One cannot imagine the elimination of soulsucking and braindraining superstition organisations soon, but it should come, and an end to reliance on deeply divisive and unintelligent outlooks may improve human behaviour, though one can doubt that anyway on other grounds…

  7. Sully from Tuross

    Make them pay tax and claim against the very miniscule amounts spent on helping others against their tax returns.

  8. Jack sprat

    My religion is non prophet and has no invisible means of support

  9. Florence Howarth

    What is more annoying is that the government now pays for most of the good works carried out by churches, even charities.

  10. GL

    Jack,

    I follow the teachings of Socko and when you stop believing you quickly find that your socks keep falling down because the means of support is no longer there.

  11. Jack sprat

    GL
    Do priests in the religion of Socko recieve the order of the sacred garter when they are ordained ?

  12. Mark

    Re:

    and teach ethics in all schools,

    But what ethics should be taught? In Catholic schools (and others) the Decalogue is already being taught. But that teaching is more in the form of transmission – at least in the early years. If ethics is to be included in the National Curriculum won’t the deontological approach (the Ten Commandments) have to give ground to teleological considerations?

    Won’t outcomes of actions (consequences) have to be considered as well intentions of same? Won’t right and wrong have to make some concessions for good and bad considerations? Indeed the possibilities are many and varied.

    How would Islamic schools cope? How would such schools accept values clarification for example? After all the Koran is meant to be transmitted as Truth. Infallible and all that. Hard enough for many teachers and politicians to recognise that History isn’t the one true story. That the writing of History is contested.

    But yes – ethics should be taught and not caught as currently happens. The (probable) Ethics Wars could make a pleasant distraction from the History Wars which bedevil our schooling system from time to time.

    Sure Kevin would be pleased because he’s any number of articles ready to go. Just needs to change a few nouns and run the spellchecker. And The Australian would rejoice as well as ring Joyce.

  13. ajogrady

    Religion is the advertising agency for a unproven and non existent product.
    For some, religion is the cloak they wear to disguise their evil and corrupt behaviour.
    Religion is the curse that stalks the gullible, the weak and the vulnerable in other words the poor that in turn are manipulated by the wealthy for for their own ends. Blind faith is responsible for the elimination of reason and logic from those afflicted with the belief in false promises whilst living in a fools paradise. It is fallacious by definition and a curse not a cure for what are mankind’s failings.

  14. BB

    Religion robs people of free and original thought!

    What a deviously wicked simple and full proof business.
    A promise of everlasting life in “heaven” after you are dead..
    All it will cost you is 10% of everything you earn in your life.
    Our wonderful product carries a full lifetime guarantee.
    If you are not satisfied well come back and tell us.
    We’ll give you a full refund, no questions asked.

  15. Mark P

    How much extra tax do you expect to be able to reclaim from the churches?

    All churches that are tax-exempt are (by definition) non-profits. They have no owners or shareholders. If they make a profit on their operations, that doesn’t go into anyone’s pockets, it’s held by the church for future use. If churches had to pay income tax they would simply organise their affairs as business does so that they had no taxable income.

    Over 50% of churches in Australia have memberships under 50 (http://www.2016ncls.org.au/resources/downloads/Local%20Churches%20in%20Australia-Research%20Findings%20from%20NCLS%20Research(2017).pdf). They don’t run schools or hospitals, don’t make huge profits – in fact, most of them work at a loss. Most churches are not run by Brian Houston and don’t furnish their priests with mansions. Churches are GST-exempt for purchases to support religious observance – candlesticks and cleaners. Remove that exemption, you’ll recover a very small amount of extra tax. Except that, as a taxable institution, that candlestick would be a tax-deductible business expense.

    Larger churches run hospitals and schools, housing services and services for mental health and other community services, with recognised value to the Australian taxpayer. Without these services provided by charities – 23 of Australia’s top 25 charities are faith-based – government would have to pay significantly more to provide those basic services. But honestly, most large religious charities would not cease operations. Their accountants would simply start claiming “business expenses”. There might be some small changes to the way big churches invest their wealth for the future, but to expect it to bring a windfall of tax is naive at best. Big companies pay very little tax on their massive capital, because their capital isn’t going into the pockets of the owners, it’s held within the business. The big churches would do likewise. They have no owners with pockets to line.

    Churches do pay taxes on their operations. They pay income tax on any commercial profits (e.g. if they rent out a building, the rent is taxable). Church salaries attract PAYG. Churches pay fringe benefits tax, payroll tax, land tax, rates and other local government charges, stamp duty, and so on.

    As someone involved with little churches, who has seen first-hand as the church steps in to support the homeless, the unemployed and the mentally ill when government services have failed, I know the value of churches and what they offer – whatever you might think about Almighty God or Bearded Sky Fairy. You don’t need to believe in God to see the benefit in food banks and housing services and a church door where anyone can come to talk whenever they need it. As a sometime church treasurer, with responsibility for looking after a <50-person church’s tax liabilities, I know first-hand how churches already do pay tax. It’s easy to talk about “tax the churches”. Just understand that it’s not as simple as that, and consider that who you’d be hurting with that change is the little neighborhood chapel and the communities they serve. Not Hillsong.

  16. RosemaryJ36

    Mark P – most small religious organisations would qualify as charities.

  17. Mark P

    RosemaryJ – that’s the point. They all qualify. Small and large, all tax-free churches are tax-free because they are charities. So to tax their operations you need to either revoke their charitable status, or change the rules for all charities – neither of which is a great solution. I don’t see any problem with placing limits on what uses of funds qualify as “charitable” – no church should be able to buy a private jet for its chief minister and call it charity. Private schools, religious and secular, should not receive more money per student from the government than state schools. There are always abuses of the system and things that could be handled better. But blanket statements of “tax the churches” are generally thinly-disguised attacks on the legitimacy of churches in general, and will not likely have the effects they’re claimed to be about.

  18. Al

    As an atheist and as non-churchy as one can be, I appreciate Mark P’s comment. I have no objection to churches doing good, and I believe that many do just that. But the issue that concerns many of us is that the big churches can hide behind their tax-exempt status and seem instead to try and protect their leaders. I think the endemic abuse within the Catholic Church is going to take a lot of healing, and while that happens (if it happens), then how much tax exemption are we prepared to allow the church? And mega-churches like Hillsong are just money-making organizations.

    A church/religion may well run hospitals or schools, but in fact I think that religious-based schools are a blot on a secular state; in my perfect world they wouldn’t exist. The education they provide has been demonstrably proved to be no better than government schools, so the only real reason for their existence is for indoctrination.

    If the churches were taxed in a way that left them unable to fund their hospitals and other social services, then the tax revenue would be able to take over their hospitals and services as government run. As they should be.

  19. RosemaryJ36

    AI – I am with you!

  20. DrakeN

    “Charities” are only necessary where governments fail in their responsibilities.

  21. leefe

    Mark:

    If all the big churches are ‘non-profit’ organisations, how did they amass their enormous wealth?
    Creative accountancy can make any and all organisations technically ‘non-profit’. Tax the buggers on their wealth and income (as should also be done for all businesses).

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