Taxation offense

I don’t wish to offend anyone. However, Robert M. Pirsing, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values, commented “When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called religion.” Recently I heard a conference presenter quote this and add: “And you can then claim tax exemption!”

The problem of tax exemption for religious organisations was recently raised in an article in the New Zealand Listener (see The God Dividend). The article was based on an interview with Max Wallace, author of The Purple Economy. The problem arises from the fact that our legislation, in common with many other countries, defines the advancement of religion as a charitable purpose

Section 5(1) of the Charities Act 2005 states that “charitable purpose”

“. . . includes every charitable purpose, whether it relates to the relief of poverty, the advancement of education or religion, or any other matter beneficial to the community.”

I believe most New Zealanders are happy to subsidise genuine charities by tax exemption. After all, that’s only humanitarian. But this interpretation of the law enables organisations to get tax exemption for purposes which clearly are not charitable – the advancement of religion. The Charities Commission helpfully provides examples of the wording which religious organisations can use to claim exemption:

“…to advance and teach the religious tenets, doctrines, observances and culture associated with the [specify faith or religion] faith – or

…to preach and advance the teachings of the [specify faith or religion] faith, and the religious tenets, doctrines, observances and culture associated with that faith

…to establish, maintain and support a house of worship with services conducted in accordance with the tenets and doctrines of the [specify faith or religion] faith

…to support and maintain missions and missionaries in order to propagate the [specify faith or religion] faith

…to establish and maintain a religious school of instruction for children, young people and adults

…to establish and maintain a religious day school

…to produce and distribute religious materials

…to advance the [specify faith or religion] faith by providing spiritual and educational resources to pastors nationally and internationally

…to advance and teach the religious tenets, doctrines, observances and culture associated with the [specify faith or religion] faith by establishing a facility to be used for religious programmes, workshops, music and bible studies.”

Replace the words, “faith” and “religion” by ‘humanist, “secular,” “agnostic,” or “atheist” and your application for tax exemption would be denied. Because religion is defined for the purposes of tax exemption as:

  • a belief in a supernatural being, thing, or principle
  • an acceptance of conduct in order to give effect to that belief.

So New Zealand’s Humanist and Rationalist organisations cannot get tax exempt status. However, a local branch of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster would not doubt qualify and be granted tax exemption.

Giving offense

Several correspondents attacked the listener article, expressing offense that religion should be identified and listing all the good works done by their own churches. Well, I am offended that religion has been able to obtain my subsidy through tax exemption purely on the grounds of supernatural belief. Organisations without supernatural beliefs are denied such subsidy. Where are the human rights in that. In fact, this seems to violate our human rights legislation.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all in favour of subsidy to genuine charity through tax exemption – I just don’t want to subsidise the advancement of supernatural belief. That work should be financed completely by the believers themselves – just as humanists, agnostics and atheists finance the advancement of their beliefs.

So, what about it. Wouldn’t it be more honest for churches to register for tax exemption purely on the basis of their genuine charitable work. Maybe that would require them to form charitable trusts, or adopt financial procedures to separate their religious work from the charitable work. But so what – that’s what the rest of us have to do.

See also:
Purchase The Purple Economy
The God Dividend

Related Articles:
How to lower taxes
Human rights for the non-religious
New Zealand supports evolution
Thank God or Thank Goodness?
Discrimination at school
Religion and Schools
Special rights for religion?
Destiny of Christian privilege?
Trends in religious belief in New Zealand

25 responses to “Taxation offense

  1. It continues to amaze me – although now that I think about it, I am not exactly sure why – how much discrimination is built into the various tax-codes. Here in the U.S., and I strongly suspect elsewhere, too, married folks have quite a few tax-advantages over single people (except in the case where the married people earn just about the same amount of money, which thanks to discrimination doesn’t happen as frequently as I would like). I think both religion and marital status should be irrelevant to the amount of taxes we pay. It is sad that people are using something like the tax code to dictate how we’re supposed to live our lives…

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  2. However, a local branch of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster would not doubt qualify and be granted tax exemption.

    Any idea if anyone has actually tried this? It’s not as though an application could be rejected on any of the criteria above and it would be a great way to highlight how archaic these rules are.

    Could create quite a stir and would certainly generate some discussion.

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  3. I agree that registration of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster could help highlight the problem. I don’t know of any local attempts but now could be a good time to do so.

    It really just takes a few people to put in a bit of effort to establish a local branch with a formal set of rules, elect a few officer and then make the application. There would probably be a bit of expense involved in registering the rules.

    Information on the procedures is available at Charities Register. One can register Register Online or download the Paper forms required.

    It’s worth actually Searching the Register to get an idea of the organisations currently registering and the Charity Rules they have submitted. (The The Universal Spiritualist Church of Love and Light, for example, would probably not normally be considered a religion)

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  4. I agree that atheist should start up a ridiculous religion [arnt they all] to highlight this problem. Personally I think it should be to worship the tooth fairy as there millions of true believers already out there that just need a hypocritical bureaucracy to claim the divine right to interpret the tooth fairies position on other matters such as contraception etc.

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  5. The issue I have is that the Flying Spaghetti Monster is always depicted with meatballs. As a vegetarian, I refuse to believe he condones meatballs. I’m going to have to start defending the Earthly honour of our delicious lord. Perhaps I’ll call this more honorable sect, ‘The One True Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster’. Hmmm…

    *goes off to ponder theology beside a candlelit bureau*

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  6. And are the meatballs spiced or not? 🙂

    This religion could have various flavours… literally…

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  7. Let’s see.

    ‘The One True Church of the Spicy Flying Spaghetti Monster’

    ‘The One True Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (puritan branch: no additives)’

    ‘The One True Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (with large lumpy meaty balls)’

    ‘The One True Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (with Parmesan cheese on top)’

    ‘The One True Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (with extra sauce)’

    And then followers can all quibble about which is the True Rightful Flavour.

    I’m sure you guys can do better than me… I have to head off and make dinner. Not spaghetti. (Although it is pastafarian.)

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  8. *slams his fist on his bureau dramatically [candle flickers]*

    There are NO meatballs!!

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  9. A jihad on anyone who claims the FSM (PBUH) does not have meatballs. Pasta Akbar!

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  10. It ought to be a Raviholy War.

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  11. At one point my brother ran the Church of Super Budgerigar… (OK, OK, we’re a weird lot 😉 )

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  12. Great. The makings of a religious war before the religion has even been founded 🙂 A great festering pile of moulding pasta… :-/

    10: PBUH? (Puritan Branch…)

    *Strikes pose of beatific innocence* (Shades of Tamaki at his self-awarding bishopric ceremony and all that.) *Gazes to the heavens* Says “And Ishall lead True Followers in The Way of the Creamy Spinach and Ricotta Agnolotti”.

    No prizes for guessing the dinner menu 😉

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  13. 12: What, super cheeps? A chirpy sermon from the perch? *Sorry* Terribly bad taste jokes.

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  14. “It ought to be a Raviholy War.”

    ROFLMAO

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  15. @ 14: hehehehehe

    (Now that I think about it, it was actually The Greater Reunification Church of Super Budgerigar. I think he had too much time on his hands at uni. BTW, brother as head of the church was of course the pope – a (nick)name which stuck to him for years afterwards – although I don’t know if he chirped from the perch or not…)

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  16. “There are NO meatballs!!”

    Splitter!

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  17. 17: Surely he wore wings, an impressive feather cloak and beak, and chirped away?

    (No doubt in between large amounts of beer!)

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  18. “Surely he wore wings, an impressive feather cloak and beak, and chirped away?”

    Sounds rather “seedy” to me.
    🙂

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  19. But better than “needy” 🙂

    (Except, perhaps needy of beer?)

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  20. Well, that was a short war. Barely a skirmish 🙂

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  21. @19: you got the beer right! The brother is something of a beer connoiseur.

    Well, that was a short war. Barely a skirmish
    My fault for releasing the budgie 🙂

    Would the FSM accept an offering of pasta with prawns, basil, lemon & olive oil? (Cheap prawns in PaknSave – Chinese, alas, but we’ll risk it!)

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  22. “Would the FSM accept an offering of pasta with prawns, basil, lemon & olive oil? “

    Agnolotti?

    Chinese prawns? Just kidding: I’d worry about Chinese waters being polluted. Are prawns fished from coastal waters, or further out? I think too much, eh?! 🙂 Seriously, I imagine its a Chinese company, but the prawns are fished off Australia or wherever.

    With a society name like that, there would have to be a lot of beer involved!

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  23. Pingback: How we all subsidise creationists « Open Parachute

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