U.S. Loses Over $71 Billion in Religious Tax Exemptions

For Immediate Release: May 15, 2012
Contact: Paul Fidalgo, Communications Director
press@centerforinquiry.org - (207) 358-9785

Free Inquiry Magazine Tallies the Real Cost of Religious Privilege in New StudyPLUS: Leading Thinkers Answer Once and for All: Is America a Christian Nation?

AMHERST, NY: In times of crippling cutbacks to badly needed government services, a new article published by Free Inquiry magazine details how the tax exemptions enjoyed by religious institutions cost the U.S. a staggering $71 billion per year, at the least. Meanwhile, this religious privilege helps to subsidize the lavish homes and lifestyles of numerous clergy on the taxpayers’ dime.

In their new report, “How Secular Humanists (and Everyone Else) Subsidize Religion in the U.S.,” researchers Ryan T. Cragun, Stephanie Yeager, and Desmond Vega reject the common assumption of churches as “charitable organizations” and instead classify them as primarily the purveyors of a kind of spiritual entertainment. “What we found,” they write, “suggests that religions, if they were required to pay taxes as for-profit corporations do, would not have nearly as much money or influence as they enjoy in America today.”

The authors calculate the loss of tax revenue to exceed $71 billion—with “parsonage” subsidies alone amounting to over $1.2 billion—and even these estimates, they say, are extremely conservative given the cloudiness and obfuscation that is endemic in religious finances. Write the authors, “We realized that religions would be the ideal way to launder money if you were engaged in an illegal enterprise.”

Also in this issue, special to Free Inquiry

A powerful lineup of scholars and thinkers attempt to answer, once and for all, a question that has been central to our era’s bruising culture wars: Is America a Christian nation? Not surprisingly, the evidence for the affirmative is wanting.

Gettysburg College philosophy professor Kerry Walters explains that “none of the founders . . . used conventional Christian language when writing or speaking about God,” and instead favored more abstract, deistic rhetoric, never hinting in any personal correspondences of any kind of devotion to Christianity.

Journalist Susan Jacoby notes the lack of references to Jesus Christ in any of the founders’ documents and hones in on a more central issue: “The question is not whether the United States is a Christian nation. It is whether church authorities adhering to a deeply conservative brand of Christianity . . . get to use taxpayer money to further their parochial agenda.”

Rob Boston
of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State reminds us that even at the time of the nation’s founding, the Constitution did not satisfy those who wished for the United States to be an explicitly Christian dominion. “Ministers of the founding period knew that the Constitution didn’t declare the United States officially Christian,” writes Boston, “and they were mad about it.” (Available in print edition only.)

All this appears in the June/July edition of Free Inquiry, as well as contributions from luminaries such as the Hoover Institution’s Tibor R. Machan, University of Montana philosophy professor David K. Clark, Iowa State University religious studies professor Hector Avalos, and Council for Secular Humanism Executive Director Tom Flynn, and much more.

Free Inquiry is a bimonthly magazine featuring thoughtful and provocative commentary from such leading political and social commentators as Richard Dawkins, Arthur Caplan, Wendy Kaminer, and Nat Hentoff. Launched in 1980, Free Inquiry has a paid circulation of approximately 34,000 worldwide. The Free Inquiry website is at www.secularhumanism.org/fi/.

The Council for Secular Humanism
—housed at the Center for Inquiry—is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational organization promoting rational inquiry, secular values, and positive human development through the advancement of secular humanism. The Council, publisher of the bimonthly journal Free Inquiry, has a website at www.secularhumanism.org.

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The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and the Council for Secular Humanism. The Center for Inquiry strives to foster a secular society based on reason, science, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Visit CFI on the web at centerforinquiry.org.