Atheism is an interesting phenomenon. It‚Äôs not one that I subscribe to, but the shared values I routinely come across in their movement, love of reason, skepticism, and tolerance, are noble. When speaking with atheists, I‚Äôve noticed some indicators, which prop up early, that reveal whether or not the conversation is going to a fruitful endeavor. If they begin by quoting Nietzsche, Hume, or Epicurus, it‚Äôs likely going to be an interesting conversation. If they begin with rhetoric like ‚ÄúSky Daddy‚ÄĚ or ‚ÄúZombie Son‚ÄĚ, it‚Äôs likely to be a waste of time.
I was having this discussion with an atheist, irate that churches receive these benefits and he was of the opinion their non-profit status should be revoked. I asked him why this was his response, and he replied that ‚ÄúI don‚Äôt like giving special status to someone‚Äôs imaginary friend, the Sky Daddy and His Zombie Son.‚ÄĚ I could not help but feel disappointed that he opted to go the Sky Daddy route.
I believe claiming that religious institutions ought to be taxed is much more often than not a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of tax laws (which vary from jurisdictions, so I‚Äôm bound to be writing something that is untrue for some).
People are allowed to dismiss the metaphysical and ethical assertions of a church, just as many of us would disagree with the underlying philosophy of many non-profit organizations. There can be a non-profit organization: The Alliance of Atheist, Satanist, Christ-Haters, and they‚Äôre going to receive relatively the same tax advantages as the Southern Baptist Church would. The fact that we can disagree is fundamental to free speech and the separation of church and state, however, this also means non-profit organizations must be treated equally with no non-profits being singled out for taxation. Churches generally don‚Äôt receive special rights with respect to taxation, they receive the same rights as everybody else.
Governments tax profits. They tax income. When a pastor takes out an income from the church they must pay taxes on it. Canada has decided that money going to a non-profit organization is not considered income, for the organization and the one giving the money, so donations are a tax deduction. Religious ministers, unless they‚Äôve taken a vow of poverty, aren‚Äôt being given a free ride on taxation, the ones whose tax returns I‚Äôve filled out seem to be as aggravated as the rest of us on tax day.
In order for the libertarian project to be successful, it will require charity and voluntary social safety nets. Having audited several social programs in my province, I can assure the reader very few entities inculcate resilience among at-risk youth more than churches do. They give communities to people that often have none. They raise money for the poor. They take care of the poor not out of coercion, which is what taxation is designed to do, but out of their own free will.
Churches, a tax-free entity that does a better job than the government at administering charity, are a libertarian ideal. Atheists are more than welcome to participate in this libertarian project by forming their own non-profit organizations.
The notion that we ought to abandon our principles of opposing the expansion of government revenue, and target religious entities specifically, that they are the ones that must lose their non-profit status, is rooted in a specific aversion to religious institutions. Because the state must be unbiased toward religion, neither favouring it nor acting against it, this would be a violation of the separation of church and state.
Allowing people to dispense charity independently of the government is fundamental to the libertarian project. Allowing people to worship independently of the government is fundamental to the libertarian project. Proposing we tax churches is moving us in a backward direction to arriving at a free society. Let‚Äôs move forward.
Brandon Kirby is a philosopher, financial adviser, a founder of a local investment club, and he hosts regular symposiums in philosophy. He is also a member of Canada‚Äôs Libertarian Party.