Tax Church Property / by kevin murray

I am not a secularist and I do believe in and appreciate the great moral strength and values that good churches have provided to our Nation time and time again, to this, a God-fearing country endowed with unalienable rights by our Creator.    Having said this, I don't believe that church properties should continue to be tax exempt, especially given the trying circumstances of our present economy.  While there are a multitude of reasons why the Protestant Reformation came into being, certainly one of the more significant reasons (and not necessarily for noble reasons) was to wrest away and confiscate from the Catholic Church, their land and their properties.  Land is a form of wealth and that is why land and its attendant improvements are taxed.  It hardly seems fair that you and I must pay property taxes but churches and other tax exempt organizations aren't legally required to do so.


The best way of looking at taxing churches is simply to see it as the cost of "doing business" in this real material world.  Property tax rates do vary from community to community and state to state with estimated percentages of .18% to 1.89% annually paid, which is usually based on the present value of the property, but not always.  Additionally, some communities have caps on how much increase a given property will be assessed on a yearly basis, and there are deductions for ownership, your physical age, disabilities and the like, so the amount of property taxes due, varies given the circumstances involved.  If we were to use the ballpark percentage of 1% of the present value for church properties to be taxed, that amount seems like something that would be manageable by churches and wouldn't crush them or place churches under an overwhelming burden when it came to actually tendering payment of those taxes.


According to, University of Tampa professor Ryan T. Cragun along with students Stephanie Yeager and Desmond Vega estimate: "that States bypass an estimated $26.2 billion per year by not requiring religious institutions to pay property taxes."  So the amount of money that could be collected in tax revenue in aggregate is a significant amount which would be welcomed by the taxing authorities.  While we should expect the usual "gnawing of teeth and complaining" about being taxed, this allows the churches to have "skin in the game" and a real voice about how our tax dollars are collected and spent.  Additionally, one could make a strong argument that the current tax structure in reference to churches, is in direct violation of our 1st Amendment which states in part: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." By virtue of the fact  that Churches are tax-exempt from property taxes, this means that the Government subsidies Church property which is in contradistinction to "…shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."  However, the Supreme Court in its 1970 Walz decision upheld the tax exemption of churches.  Justice Douglas dissented in that opinion and he referenced James Madison (father of the constitution) in which Madison fought the Virginia Assessment Bill of 1794 which as Douglas writes: "That bill levied a tax for the support of Christian churches, leaving to each taxpayer the choice as to "what society of Christians" he wanted the tax paid, and, absent such designation, the tax was to go for education." Madison stated: "Whilst we assert for ourselves a freedom to embrace, to profess and to observe the Religion which we believe to be of divine origin, we cannot deny an equal freedom to those whose minds have not yet yielded to the evidence which has convinced us…As the Bill violates equality by subjecting some to peculiar burdens, so it violates the same principle, by granting to others peculiar exemptions."


Because of James Madison, the Virginia Assessment Bill of 1794 was defeated.  Madison's reasoning is sound today and will form the well-reasoned foundation for the overturning of the property tax exemption for Churches in the future.