If it were anything, taxing churches would be
an interference with the free exercise of
religion, not an establishment of religion.
"Establishment of religion" means setting
up and/or encouraging one or more official
religions. An example of such encouragement
might be a tax break not available to
Making churches pay the same taxes as everybody
else, without singling them out in any way,
would no more be an interference with the
free exercise of religion than
making newspapers pay normal taxes is an
with the freedom of the press. On the
other hand, giving
churches a tax exemption does single
them out, and that makes it an establishment.
If there were a specific tax on
religious items, say a rosary tax, or
a higher property tax on churches than
on their neighbors, then I'd agree that that
was an attack on the free exercise of
religion. In the same way, I'd agree that a
specific tax on printing equipment, when
other similar industrial equipment was
not taxed, was probably meant as an
interference with the freedom of the press,
and should be treated as such. Again
the issue is singling something out
for special treatment.
The courts have done a pretty good job of
working this sort of thing out in the
freedom of speech and the press context...
they look both at the intent of a law
and at its effects on speech.
Yes, there are always gray areas... is a
tax on a stone commonly used to make rosary
beads, but sometimes used for other purposes,
a "rosary tax"? You may end up having to look
at the intent and broad effect of the tax.
And, of course, you do still have the very
nasty problem of identifying
what's a religious activity in the first place,
so that you
can figure out what the government isn't
allowed to restrict.
However, without the tax
exemption, you hit those gray
areas much less often, and the answers
are arrived at in a judicial context.
With a tax exemption for all churches, you end
up with the question of what's a church being
decided by the people who administer taxation.
You also end up with a much more pervasive
effect... almost every organization has to
Of course, if I were rewriting the
Constitution, I'd simplify things still further,
by eliminating all reference to religion,
so that neither the executive nor the courts
ever had to decide, or was ever
allowed to decide, what was a legitimate
religion. Instead, I'd simply limit the government
to the point where it wouldn't easily be able to
interfere with any legitimate activity,
[ Parent ]