Tag Archives: tax exemption

Why should we subsidise religious leaders and their silly statements?

tamaki

Destiny Church leader Brian Tamaki gives a geology lesson. Blames sinners for earthquakes. Image Credit: YouTube.

Destiny Church leader Brian Tamaki’s statement blaming the Kaikoura earthquake on “gays, sinners, and murderers” highlights the stupidity of our charity laws which define the advancement of religion a charitable activity and give tax exempt status to religions purely because they advance religion.

Public revulsion at Tamaki’s statement resulted in an on-line petition calling for the removal of Tamaki’s tax exempt status. Currently, that petition has over 120,000 signatures.

I guess many of these signatories, and others objecting to Tamaki’s statements, are really restricting their criticism to this specific example. But, let’s be clear. Tamaki’s statement was a religious statement. It is part of his particular advancement of his particular religion. He gets tax exempt status for saying such things.

Any argument for treating him differently to others advancing religion would be discriminatory – and could be seen as illegal itself.

Tamaki was advancing religion

Sure, some people might object to my calling Tamaki’s statement advancing religion – but we can’t pick and choose. Many religious leaders have made equally silly claims – in fact, such claims are only to be expected from religious leaders given the non-evidential nature of religion.

Of course, Tamaki and other religious leaders have the freedom to make ridiculous statements like this – just as we have the freedom to ridicule them – or ignore them. But what many people object to is that such ridiculous statements are being made by people we subsidise through their tax-exempt status. They are making these statements as part of their advancement of religion. And we are effectively paying them for making those statements.

There is no logic in this day and age, and in this secular society, for a religion or belief (including atheism) to be subsidised by the public purely for advancing their beliefs. In fact, it seems to me undemocratic for people with different beliefs to be forced to subsidise the advancement of a religion or belief.

We subsidise the Destiny Church – and Tamaki

The Destiny Church is just one example but the Charities Register certainly shows they have taken full advantage of this subsidy. Here is a list of Destiny Church organisations  registered for tax exemption. You can check out their reasons (advancement of religion) and the financial statements via the links.

Charity Name Registration
Number
Registration
Status
Registered
Date
CC29039 Registered 30/06/2008
CC31639 Registered 30/06/2008
CC31176 Deregistered 30/06/2008
CC31170 Deregistered 30/06/2008
CC29070 Registered 30/06/2008
CC31465 Deregistered 30/06/2008
CC29107 Registered 30/06/2008
CC31406 Deregistered 30/06/2008
CC29108 Deregistered 30/06/2008
CC31434 Registered 30/06/2008
CC31446 Deregistered 30/06/2008
CC27986 Registered 30/06/2008
CC31454 Deregistered 30/06/2008
CC31461 Deregistered 30/06/2008
CC31439 Deregistered 30/06/2008
CC31401 Registered 30/06/2008
CC30992 Registered 30/06/2008
CC31001 Registered 30/06/2008
CC27985 Registered 30/06/2008
CC50592 Registered 23/05/2014
CC30131 Registered 30/06/2008
CC31078 Deregistered 30/06/2008
CC28102 Deregistered 30/06/2008
CC25962 Registered 17/06/2008
CC11272 Registered 5/10/2007

Yes, I know, some people are going to react by telling me that religious organisations do good work – charitable work. And, I do not disagree with that in many cases.

But the point is that truly charitable work, helping the poor and disadvantaged, providing social and educational facilities, helping during disasters, etc., is provided for  by the criteria defined as charitable. The advancement of religion is different – is related only to the advancement of a belief (in this case legally requiring belief in a supernatural entity). It has nothing to do with helping people.

True  charity not harmed by removal of religious tax exemption

Those religions actually doing real charitable work would not be disadvantaged by removal of the advancement of religion criteria. They could continue to provide the real charitable services – and receive tax-exempt status for doing so.

Removal of the advancement of religion clause would not reduce real charitable work one bit. Nor would it prevent silly people like Tamaki saying ridiculous things.

But at least we would not have to face the fact that we financially support such silly people and  their ridiculous statements.

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Why won’t Inland Revenue subsidise my life expenses?

Here is an interesting research report How Secular Humanists (and Everyone Else) Subsidize Religion in the United States. OK it looks at the United States and the data is not directly relevant here, in new Zealand. But the principles certainly are – the way we all subsidise supernatural religious beliefs and their propagation via exemption from taxation and local body rates.

Ryan T. Cragun, assistant professor of sociology, Stephanie Yeager, senior business management major, and Desmond Vega, senior psychology major, all at the University of Tampa, did the research.

Their Figure 1 summarises religious finances and subsidies in the US. Many of these are similar in this country. I know the theologically inclined try to argue that there is no subsidy because tax exemption does not involve providing direct revenue to religions. However, religions do not pay taxes that they would otherwise be required to pay, purely on grounds of supernatural beliefs and their promotion. But they get all the same advantages as the normal taxpayer gets from publicly funded benefits and necessities. This means that honest taxpayers are paying more than they should – they are subsidising religions.

More than $71 billion subsidies

The authors attempt to quantify these subsidies for the USA. This exercise is far from simple and clearly their final figures grossly underestimate the true subsidy. However, even that underestimate is an incredible US$71 Billion! Their Table  2 shows the breakdown. Have a look at the report for details of the different subsidies.

Alongside these privileges of subsidies, regulatory authorities treat religions with kid gloves. This means that while they are supposed to keep financial records they are not required to report the sources of donations, and may be exempted from actually reporting donation totals or proper auditing.

As the authors say “donations to religions are largely unregulated.” This lead them to the realisation that:

“religions would be an ideal way to launder money if you were engaged in an illegal enterprise. . . . Drug money could be laundered through the church’s bank accounts with little risk of being caught by authorities. If drug cartels and the Mafia aren’t already doing this, we’d be surprised.”

The report makes the case that while genuine charity involves “the giving of something,” and not providing a service for payment this is not so for “spiritual charity.” The later involves payment to a religious executive (their wages, accommodation, pensions, etc.) for the spiritual service they provide. “If someone is paid to address spiritual concerns, it is not charity when they do so.”

In fact, in their “spiritual” and “supernatural” roles “religions are more like for-profit corporations providing entertainment (such as movie theatres or  amusement parks) rather than charities. . . .religions largely provide entertainment for their ‘consumers.'”

I think that’s a useful way of looking at the situation. So I really like the cheeky conclusions this enables them to draw in their closing remarks:

“These subsidies should be phased out. But since that is unlikely to happen, we’d accept the following alternative: the ability to write off our annual entertainment expenses as “donations”; the subsidizing of all of our housing expenses, including utilities and maintenance costs; being exempt from paying taxes on businesses we start related to our primary purpose in life (say, a micro-brewery); direct cash transfers to us from the government for trying to convert people to our worldviews while claiming to provide social services; and, most important, the right to host games of bingo without reporting our income as gambling revenue”

Incidentally, I think any similar subsidies to “spiritual charity” performed by atheist and non-theist organisations should be looked at in the same way.

Thanks to: Council for Secular Humanism.

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Compulsory payments for advancement of religion – let’s get rid of that.

I read  recently how cynically humans use the word “freedom.” (I think it was in Jennifer Michael Hecht‘s Doubt: A History)  How often do you see a fascist or otherwise undemocratic organisation with freedom in its name or slogans?

This came to mind again when I saw this post Students: Free at Last. (At Say Hello to my Little Friend – a blog which has a smoking gun in its heading. The blogger justifies the graphic saying “it depicts the way I like to ruthlessly “whack” bad ideas.” Rather unfortunate use of gangster terminology – especially as he uses the blog to advance his own “bad ideas”).

This particular post is “whacking” the “bad idea” of compulsorily union membership. I agree that, in this case, it is a bad idea  – in principle. During most of my working life I supported unionism – and the union I belonged to was voluntary, a comparatively strong and active union because of that. In fact people of my “socialist” persuasion saw compulsory unionism as a right-wing fetter, promoting class apathy and, in most cases, ensuring a leadership complaint with employer interests.

But, in my experience, most of those who have campaigned against compulsory unionism did so because they were more opposed to the “unionism” part than the “compulsory” part. They had their own ideological reasons for their campaign and it wasn’t desire for freedom.

This is why I find this, and similar campaigns, by conservative Christian groups and blogs (as “Say Hello” is) hypocritical. Some of these groups don’t allow their own members to join unions, compulsory or not. And many of their policies are the very opposite of freedom.

For example – I oppose the classification of “advancement of religion” as a charitable purpose for purposes of tax exemption – and local body rates. In practice these means part of my taxes are used to subsidise the tax-free status of people, organisations and buildings whose only purpose is proselytization of ideas I find abhorent. I don’t see that a charitable purpose, nor would most New Zealanders. Yet provided these organisations or people are proselytising a supernatural world view they can get tax exemption. No real charitable work is required for this.

Sure, many religious organisations do genuine charitable work – and I have no problem with their receiving tax exemption for that part of their work. None at all.

But this subsidy for the “advancement of religion” is undemocratic on two grounds:

  1. It is available only to those who hold supernatural beliefs;
  2. We all pay for it through our taxes and rates, we have never been asked if we wish to and most people are just completely unaware of this imposition on their earnings.

I think it is hypocritical for conservative Christians to argue on the one hand against compulsory unionism, or deduction of union fees or their equivalent. Then, to argue on the other hand that the compulsory payment of taxes to subsidise their specific supernatural beliefs is somehow OK.

It is not.

If we want to talk about freedom lets not be hypocritical about it. Let’s recognise that this compulsory deduction from our earnings to subsidise the advancement of supernatural ideas also violates our freedoms – specifically our freedom to be treated equally, irrespective of religion or belief. And our freedom of, and freedom from, religion or belief.

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Australians concerned about tax exemption for cults

Most people are aware of the scandals surrounding the Church of Scientology. These have been covered several times on New Zealand television.

How many, though, are aware that the Scientology is registered as a charity in New Zealand? This means that are tax exempt and people making donations to them, or tithing to them, can claim tax refunds. It also means that, through our taxes, we subsidise the activity of the Church of Scientology.

What charitable work do they do? You may well ask. They are registered under the advancement of religion sector. In their  application for charitable status they list their main sector of charitable activity as “religious activities” and their main activity as providing “religious services and/or activities.”

Our tax legislation defines such activity as charitable for tax purposes. It also provides religious exemption from local body rates.

A lot of New Zealanders would probably be unhappy about this – if they knew! And this charitable status is also available to other religious cults which cause family disruptions and have been exposed as condoning child sexual abuse.

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Avoiding tax – supernaturally

Jokes about money, tax, death and religion are common. For example – we often say “you can’t take it with you!” Well some of my workmates used to say – perhaps there is a way. After all our colleague, who is a very smart cookie and also a devout evangelical Christian, started intensively studying financial theory in his retirement.   We used to joke that perhaps he know something we didn’t.

And they say there are only two certain things in life – death and taxes. But Max Wallace, author of the book The Purple Economy asserts: “The religious tail is wagging the dog of the body politic. The religious believe they can avoid death. They know they can avoid tax!”

This is certainly true in New Zealand – and it’s all tied up with the definition of “charity” for purposes of tax exemption. Here’s how the NZ Charities Commission defines it:

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