The push of Ohio House Bill 136 to transfer public tax money from public schools to private religious schools is sufficiently outrageous that it may well incite closer public scrutiny of how tax money, in general, is used to support churches and the propagation of religion.
Churches and church schools are nonprofit organizations that are exempt from many laws that regulate other non-profits; they are given big advantages via special IRS tax laws that other non-profits do not enjoy.
The court documents from the bankruptcy of Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral revealed that eight church employees received over $832,000 worth of income, each year, that was completely tax free — via a “housing allowance” law that applies only to churches, not to other non-profits.
According to bankruptcy court filings in California:
- Robert A. Schuller, the megachurch founder, received a $98,861 tax-free housing allowance annually.
- A son and daughter of Schuller received tax-free housing allowances that totaled $236,768 annually.
- Three of Schuller’s sons-in-law received tax-free housing allowances that totaled $306,093 annually.
- Fred Southard, chief financial officer of Crystal Cathedral Ministries and who owns a home in Newport Beach, California, worth $2.3 million, received a tax-free housing allowance of $132,000 annually, and his son-in-law, a part-time pastor at the megachurch, received a tax-free housing allowance of $58,747 annually.
Since the “housing allowance” is tax free money, preachers often receive more in “housing allowance” than in salary. Fred Southard at Crystal Cathedral received $132,000 in “housing allowance,” but only $12,242 in salary.
TV evangelists and other ministers of the “prosperity gospel” live in multimillion dollar homes and receive hundreds of thousands of dollars each year tax free to pay for those homes. And the law allows these preachers to own multiple vacation homes and receive the same tax advantage on each home.
Huge tax advantages given to churches and preachers is one explanation why there has been such a boom in the proliferation of new church startups. The “housing allowance” is one big advantage, but not the only one.
A 2006 article in The New York Times — In God’s Name: Religion-Based Tax Breaks: Housing to Paychecks to Books – shows that the cost of this “housing allowance” for churches each year is over $500 million in lost tax revenue. And, of course, we all are paying more taxes to make up for this lost revenue, so we are being indirectly taxed to pay to support churches and support the propagation of specific religious doctrines
The nation needs a huge in-depth discussion about tax fairness, tax purpose. Proponents of HB136 — pushing for the use of public tax money for private religious education — may succeed in stirring up public interest in the whole question of why tax money, in general, should be used to finance churches and the promotion of specific religious doctrines.
From the Secular Coalition For America: