Religious Liberty

Stop the Tax on Houses of Worship

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Today I have a piece in The Wall Street Journal which examines new tax provisions for churches in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.

Here’s an excerpt:

Across the country, children will gather together this weekend for Sunday school. Some of them, no doubt, will hear about tax collectors. They might even sing about Zacchaeus, the “wee little man” who Jesus welcomed once he repented of fleecing his constituents. Yet the children likely won’t know that a tax collector is, once again, on the prowl. And it’s their Sunday schools and churches that are being targeted.

A little-noticed provision in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 now looms over faith communities in America, raising serious questions about religious freedom and the First Amendment. While this provision is a relatively small piece of the overall package, the effect of the policy it created will be felt by the faithful around the country. This change is a new policy to tax nonprofit organizations—including houses of worship, like the Southern Baptist churches I serve—for the cost of parking and transit benefits provided to employees. This effectively creates an income tax on churches. As Michael Martin of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability has noted, that has never happened in U.S. history.

The imposition of a tax burden on churches, religious schools, and other charities is a shocking change in the federal government’s orientation toward these organizations of goodwill. The new tax requires institutions to file federal Form 990-T and possibly pay taxes every year—regardless of whether they engage in any unrelated business activity. In addition to the new federal requirements, many nonprofits will then face the requirement to file state returns and possibly pay state income tax. Further, in the name of taxing parking lots, the new regulations created a new tax liability. In turn, this creates new operations costs for proper accounting and regulatory compliance at every nonprofit organization. For many nonprofits, these operations costs could exceed the amount of money actually collected by the Internal Revenue Service.

Read the entire piece here.

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About Russell Moore

Russell Moore

Russell Moore is president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the moral and public policy agency 
of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.

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