Why churches don't pay taxes and how much money the public could gain if they did

Churches and religious organizations are tax-exempt. Should they continue to get such a benefit?

Everyone pays taxes, right? Well, everyone except churches and one-percenters with offshore accounts. How is it that religious organizations have such a sweet deal? 


Actually, churches are not alone in this benefit. They and other religious organizations are treated like charities that provide social benefits to society. They tend to help the poor, work to reduce crime and generally hold a positive influence over their communities.

Making churches tax-exempt can also be considered an enforcement of the separation of church and state, with the government not interfering in religious affairs. Not being taxed especially helps smaller churches, which would otherwise close due to their tiny budgets which are dependent largely on donations.

 

Still, what if we did tax them? While these numbers are estimates based on a University of Tampa study, we could get up to $83.5 billion of additional revenue if religious institutions paid into the government’s coffers like the rest of us. That’s not enough to get us universal health care, which could run from $1.38 billion to $2.8 trillion per year, according to ranging figures offered by Bernie Sanders and the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. But it could be almost enough to end extreme poverty in the world, not just in America, according to a report by Oxfam. 

The idea of having churches tax-exempt is not new. It goes back to the times of the Roman Emperor Constantine (272-337 AD) who gave the Christian church a pass on all taxes. Most of the original thirteen American colonies gave tax relief to churches, says Focus on the Family. 

Satirist John Oliver highlighted how easy it is to start a church in America due to purposefully vague IRS tax laws and regulations. He created the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption, proclaiming himself Megareverend. 

 

Who else has a church? The Kardashians. They’ve been accused of supporting the Life Change Community Church as their own personal tax haven.

Indeed, according to the tax law specialist Virginia Richardson in an IRS-produced video, the IRS’s tax guide “makes no attempt to evaluate the content of whatever doctrine a particular organization claims is religious”. The only requirement is for the beliefs to be “truly and sincerely held” while keeping the organization’s actions legal. 

Churches and other religious organizations are supposed to stay out of politics but they usually hold indirect influence and often endorse particular candidates, according to Religious News Service.

Will anything change in the tax status of churches? It's hard to bet on that in such a religious country as the United States. About half of America claims to go to Church at least once a month. On the other hand, with the values of many Americans threatened by the ideological cuts advanced by the Trump administration that target the disadvantaged, the social safety net, and the education system, one wonders if at some point the tax status of Churches and religious organizations should also not be up for debate.

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Scientists study tattooed corpses, find pigment in lymph nodes

It turns out, that tattoo ink can travel throughout your body and settle in lymph nodes.

17th August 1973: An American tattoo artist working on a client's shoulder. (Photo by F. Roy Kemp/BIPs/Getty Images)
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In the slightly macabre experiment to find out where tattoo ink travels to in the body, French and German researchers recently used synchrotron X-ray fluorescence in four "inked" human cadavers — as well as one without. The results of their 2017 study? Some of the tattoo ink apparently settled in lymph nodes.


Image from the study.

As the authors explain in the study — they hail from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment — it would have been unethical to test this on live animals since those creatures would not be able to give permission to be tattooed.

Because of the prevalence of tattoos these days, the researchers wanted to find out if the ink could be harmful in some way.

"The increasing prevalence of tattoos provoked safety concerns with respect to particle distribution and effects inside the human body," they write.

It works like this: Since lymph nodes filter lymph, which is the fluid that carries white blood cells throughout the body in an effort to fight infections that are encountered, that is where some of the ink particles collect.

Image by authors of the study.

Titanium dioxide appears to be the thing that travels. It's a white tattoo ink pigment that's mixed with other colors all the time to control shades.

The study's authors will keep working on this in the meantime.

“In future experiments we will also look into the pigment and heavy metal burden of other, more distant internal organs and tissues in order to track any possible bio-distribution of tattoo ink ingredients throughout the body. The outcome of these investigations not only will be helpful in the assessment of the health risks associated with tattooing but also in the judgment of other exposures such as, e.g., the entrance of TiO2 nanoparticles present in cosmetics at the site of damaged skin."

Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash
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