Month: July 2015

Tax Exempt Status

Some thoughts.  Some questions.  Some reflection.  A lot of prayer and meditation.

I picked two articles on tax exempt status issues with churches.  One is a local (Lancaster PA) article that relates back to the other in Time Magazine.

Regardless of how you feel about the recent same sex marriage issue and other social changes that are happening very fast, I’m going to go out on a limb and give my thoughts.

#1 Our culture is RAPIDLY changing.  Technology/values/cultural thought are all changing faster than at any other time in history.  What is common today won’t be tomorrow.  Acceptance and the role of the “Church” is part of that.  In simple terms, if your church is still singing hymns and sitting on pews for one hour on Sunday, you are being left out.  A neighbor recently voiced that he would not be a part of worship if ANY contemporary music was used.  Sorry, neighbor but that contemporary music is already out of date by a couple of decades.  It is no longer contemporary.

#2 Our governments are starving for revenue.  Tax laws are changing.  It is only a matter of time until public opinion wants tax status removed for “non-profits” on either side of the aisle.  I don’t like funding Planted Parenthood.  I also don’t want to fund the National Rifle Association.  There is movement to level the playing field for all non-profits now matter how they lean.  It’s simple math – “let’s find more ways to tax and ‘try’ to make it fair”.

#3 Christians need to stop thinking about the tax benefits of giving.  I take a deduction just like everyone else . . . but . . .should we?  One issue is the IRS monitoring what we are doing and who we are giving to.  Just look over the last 6 years and see how easy it is to be targeted if you are giving to an organization the government doesn’t like.  Do you want another excuse for the IRS to audit you or flag your account?  We shouldn’t be using a tax deduction to motivate our giving or where we give.  If your neighbor is in need will you not help out because there is no deduction?  Begin to phase this thinking out of your giving.  You will be happier and may end up giving more freely.  Yes, you will pay more in tax but let it go.

#4 If you believe that persecution is coming, I don’t need to give you any more reasons.  The world hates Christ and hates the Church.

#5 Church is big business – jets, resorts, fancy churches, big paychecks, TV etc.  Maybe they should be taxed.  Is your church giving to social status or to ministry.  Is your church giving to the community in which it sits?  Fire department?  Schools?  Ambulance?  You get the picture.  Are we to high and mighty to give to the community services that care for us? Are we too spiritual to realize that we drive on roads to get to church and are the example that many civic leaders see?

Here are the articles:

Now’s the Time To End Tax Exemptions for Religious Institutions

Church
Getty Images

Mark Oppenheimer writes the biweekly “Beliefs” column for The New York Times and is editor-at-large for Tablet. He also reports for The Atlantic, The Nation, This American Life, and elsewhere.

The Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage makes it clearer than ever that the government shouldn’t be subsidizing religion and non-profits

Two weeks ago, with a decision inObergefell v. Hodges on the way, Sen. Mike Lee of Utah introduced the First Amendment Defense Act, which ensures that religious institutions won’t lose their tax exemptions if they don’t support same-sex marriage. Liberals tend to think Sen. Lee’s fears are unwarranted, and they can even point to Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion in Friday’s case, which promises “that religious organizations and persons [will be] given proper protection.”

But I don’t think Sen. Lee is crazy. In the 1983 Bob Jones University case, the court ruled that a school could lose tax-exempt status if its policies violated “fundamental national public policy.” So far, the Bob Jones reasoning hasn’t been extended to other kinds of discrimination, but someday it could be. I’m a gay-rights supporter who was elated by Friday’s Supreme Court decision — but I honor Sen. Lee’s fears.

I don’t, however, like his solution. And he’s not going to like mine. Rather than try to rescue tax-exempt status for organizations that dissent from settled public policy on matters of race or sexuality, we need to take a more radical step. It’s time to abolish, or greatly diminish, their tax-exempt statuses.

The federal revenue acts of 1909, 1913, and 1917 exempted nonprofits from the corporate excise and income taxes at the same time that they allowed people to deduct charitable contributions from their incomes. In other words, they gave tax-free status to the income of, and to the income donated to, nonprofits. Since then, state and local laws nearly everywhere have exempted nonprofits from all, or most, property tax and state income tax. This system of tax exemptions and deductions took shape partly during World War I, when it was feared that the new income tax, with top rates as high as 77%, might choke off charitable giving. But whatever its intentions, today it’s a mess, for several reasons.

First, the religious exemption has forced the IRS to decide what’s a religion, and thus has entangled church and state in the worst way. Since the world’s great religion scholars can’t agree on what a religion is, it’s absurd to ask a bunch of accountants, no matter how well-meaning. You can read part of the IRS’s guidelines for what’s a bona fide religion here; suffice it to say that it has an easier time saying what’s not a religion. The site gives the example of the rejection of an application from an “outgrowth of a supper club … whose primary activities were holding meetings before supper, sponsoring the supper club, and publishing a newsletter” but which professed a religious doctrine of “ethical egoism.

On the other hand, the IRS famously caved and awarded the Church of Scientology tax-exempt status. Never mind that the Scientology is secretive, or that it charges for its courses; or that its leader, David Miscavige, lives like a pasha. Indeed, many clergy have mid-six-figure salaries — many university presidents, seven-figure salaries — and the IRS doesn’t trouble their tax-exempt status. And many churches and synagogues sit on exceedingly valuable tracts of land (walk up and down Fifth Avenue to see what I mean). The property taxes they aren’t paying have to be drawn from business owners and private citizens — in a real sense, you and I are subsidizing Mormon temples, Muslims mosques, Methodist churches.

We’re also subsidizing wealthy organizations sitting in the middle of poor towns. Yale University has an endowment of about $25 billion, yet it pays very little to the city of New Haven, which I (as a resident) can assure you needs the money. At the prep school I attended (current endowment: $175 million), faculty houses, owned by the school, were tax-exempt, on the theory that teachers sometimes had students over for dinner, where they talked about history or literature or swim practice.

Meanwhile, although nonprofits can’t endorse political candidates, they can be quite partisan and still thrive on the public dole, in the form of tax exemptions and deductions. Conservatives are footing the bill for taxes that Planned Parenthood, a nonprofit, doesn’t pay — while liberals are making up revenue lost from the National Rifle Association. I could go on. In short, the exemption-and-deduction regime has grown into a pointless, incoherent agglomeration of nonsensical loopholes, which can allow rich organizations to horde plentiful assets in the midst of poverty.

Defenders of tax exemptions and deductions argue that if we got rid of them charitable giving would drop. It surely would, although how much, we can’t say. But of course government revenue would go up, and that money could be used to, say, house the homeless and feed the hungry. We’d have fewer church soup kitchens — but countries that truly care about poverty don’t rely on churches to run soup kitchens.

Exemption advocates also point out that churches would be squeezed out of high-property-value areas. But if it’s important to the people of Fifth Avenue to have a synagogue like Emanu-El or an Episcopal church like St. Thomas in their midst, they should pay full freight for it. They can afford to, more than millions of poorer New Yorkers whose tax bills the synagogue and church exemptions are currently inflating.

So yes, the logic of gay-marriage rights could lead to a reexamination of conservative churches’ tax exemptions (although, as long as the IRS is afraid of challenging Scientology’s exemption, everyone else is probably safe). But when that day comes, it will be long overdue. I can see keeping some exemptions; hospitals, in particular, are an indispensable, and noncontroversial, public good. And localities could always carve out sensible property-tax exceptions for nonprofits their communities need. But it’s time for most nonprofits, like those of us who faithfully cut checks to them, to pay their fair share.

URL: http://time.com/3939143/nows-the-time-to-end-tax-exemptions-for-religious-institutions/

If local churches paid taxes, here’s what they’d pay

That didn’t take long.

Hot on the heels of last week’s SCOTUS decision in favor of gay marriage, Mark Oppenheimer – who writes the biweekly “Beliefs” column for the New York Times and is involved with a bunch of other publications – writes at Time that “Now’s the time to end tax exemptions for religious institutions.” To be fair, he talks about maybe ending tax exemptions for all nonprofits. But churches are a special case, he suggests. An excerpt:

Rather than try to rescue tax-exempt status for organizations that dissent from settled public policy on matters of race or sexuality, we need to take a more radical step. It’s time to abolish, or greatly diminish, their tax-exempt statuses. …

(snip)

Defenders of tax exemptions and deductions argue that if we got rid of them charitable giving would drop. It surely would, although how much, we can’t say. But of course government revenue would go up, and that money could be used to, say, house the homeless and feed the hungry. We’d have fewer church soup kitchens — but countries that truly care about poverty don’t rely on churches to run soup kitchens.

Exemption advocates also point out that churches would be squeezed out of high-property-value areas. But if it’s important to the people of Fifth Avenue to have a synagogue like Emanu-El or an Episcopal church like St. Thomas in their midst, they should pay full freight for it. They can afford to, more than millions of poorer New Yorkers whose tax bills the synagogue and church exemptions are currently inflating.

So yes, the logic of gay-marriage rights could lead to a reexamination of conservative churches’ tax exemptions (although, as long as the IRS is afraid of challenging Scientology’s exemption, everyone else is probably safe). But when that day comes, it will be long overdue. I can see keeping some exemptions; hospitals, in particular, are an indispensable, and noncontroversial, public good. And localities could always carve out sensible property-tax exceptions for nonprofits their communities need. But it’s time for most nonprofits, like those of us who faithfully cut checks to them, to pay their fair share.

So OK, it’s not like this is going to happen, at least now – though the culture’s moving pretty fast, and particularly where conservative religious organizations refuse to go along with the SCOTUS ruling, we could see this suggestion popping up more often. And certainly school districts and municipalities, while perhaps not coming out and endorsing the idea, could sure use the revenue…

So I thought – what would that look like in Lancaster County? Leave aside the fact that the biggest non-profits here aren’t churches – Lancaster General Health and Franklin & Marshall College spring immediately to mind. But consider churches – and by saying this, be clear that I am not endorsing ending their tax exemptions, merely trying to put a dollar figure on what that would look like.

Take, for instance, Calvary Church on Landis Valley Road in Manheim Township. It’s one of the biggest congregations around; I know more than a few people who go to church there. According to the Lancaster County property assessment records, the main church building and the ground it sits on is assessed at $24.14 million.

The Manheim Township School District tax rate is 18.6409 mills. That would add up to a school tax bill of $449,993.19. (Calculations done via this nifty online millage rate calculator provided by Derry Township over in Dauphin County).

The township tax rate is 2.6600; that would add up to a municipal tax bill of $64,212.67 for the church. And then there’s the county millage rate, 3.735 mills – which would equal $90,163.27 in county taxes.

All told, the property tax bill just for the main church (the church owns other properties) would come to $604,369.13.

Again, I’m not saying the church should pay this, it may well already make payments in lieu of taxes, and I also don’t know if Calvary opposes gay marriage. I just picked Calvary as one of the biggest and best-known churches in the county. There are others. Such as…

The Worship Center on New Holland Pike in Upper Leacock Township: School (CV) millage rate of 15.2064 = $238,013.61 in school tax; township millage rage of 1.7000 = $26,608.74 in municipal tax; county tax at that 3.735 millage rate = $58,460.97.

Total property tax bill: $323,08.32.

Lancaster County Bible Church in Rapho Township, assessed at $3.76 million (really? That’s it?): School district tax (Manheim Central) = $65,246.93; municipal tax = $6,578.60; county tax = $14,040.61.

Total property tax bill: $85,866.14.

First Presbyterian Church in Lancaster City (and again, yes, I know, some of these churches may wholeheartedly support gay marriage, this is just a thought exercise), assessed at $3.19 million: School (School District of Lancaster) tax = $86,781.94; municipal tax = $44,709.78; county tax = $11,910.92.

Total property tax bill: $143,402.64.

St. Leo the Great Parish in East Hempfield Township, assessed (the main building/property) at $5.23 million: School (Hempfield) tax = $102,855.94; municipal tax = $6,908.35; county tax = $19,547.50.

Total property tax bill: $129,311.79.

This just a random sampling, but representative. Most churches in the county are smaller than these and would pay less in tax. And my take is there will never come a day when all churches are stripped of their tax exempt status, and it would be an uphill fight to strip even those who refuse to recognize the right of gays to marry and insist on “religious liberty” of their exemptions. Although that, we may one day try.

Nonetheless, this is a sampling of what it would look like. Which, to cash-starved officials, may look pretty… interesting. And which, to those who sit in the pews, probably looks pretty frightening and infuriating.

URL: http://smartremarks.lancasteronline.com/2015/07/02/if-local-churches-paid-taxes-heres-what-theyd-pay/

Nicholas Winton

Kindertransport organizer Nicholas Winton dies at 106

LONDON (AP) — Nicholas Winton, a humanitarian who almost single-handedly saved more than 650 Jewish children from the Holocaust, earning himself the label “Britain’s Schindler,” has died. He was 106.

Son-in-law Stephen Watson said Winton died on Wednesday. The Rotary Club of Maidenhead, of which Winton was a former president, said his daughter Barbara and two grandchildren were at his side.

Winton arranged trains to carry children from Nazi-occupied Prague to Britain, battling bureaucracy at both ends and saving them from almost certain death — and then kept quiet about his exploits for a half-century.

Born in London in 1909 to parents of German Jewish descent, Winton himself was raised as a Christian. He was a 29-year-old clerk at the London Stock Exchange when a friend contacted him and told him to cancel the skiing holiday they had planned in late 1938 and travel instead to Czechoslovakia.

Alarmed by the influx of refugees from the Sudetenland region recently annexed by Germany, Winton and his friend feared — correctly — that Czechoslovakia soon would be invaded by the Nazis and Jewish residents from there would be sent to concentration camps.

While supporters in Britain were working to get Jewish intellectuals and communists out of Czechoslovakia, no one was trying to save the children, so Winton took the task upon himself.

Returning to Britain, Winton persuaded British officials to accept children, as long as foster homes were found and a 50-pound guarantee was paid for each one to ensure they had enough money to return home later. Their stays were only expected to be temporary.

Setting himself up as the one-man children’s section of the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia, Winton set about finding homes and guarantors, drawing up lists of about 6,000 children, publishing pictures to encourage British families to agree to take them.

The first 20 children arrived by plane, but once the German army reached Prague in March 1939, they could only be brought out by train.

In the months before the outbreak of World War II, eight trains carried children through Germany to Britain. In all, Winton got 669 children out. The largest evacuation was scheduled for Sept. 3, 1939, the day that Britain declared war on Germany. That train never left, and almost none of the 250 children trying to flee on it survived the war.

The children from Prague were among some 10,000 mostly Jewish children who made it to Britain on what were known as the Kindertransports (children’s transports). Few of them would see their parents again.

Although many more children were saved from Berlin and Vienna, those operations were better organized and better financed. Winton’s operation was unique because he worked almost alone.

“Maybe a lot more could have been done. But much more time would have been needed, much more help would have been needed from other countries, much more money would have been needed, much more organization,” Winton later said.

He also acknowledged that not all the children who made it to Britain were well-treated in their foster homes. Some British foster parents used the children as cheap domestic servants.

“I wouldn’t claim that it was 100 percent successful. But I would claim that everybody who came over was alive at the end of the war,” he was quoted as saying in the book “Into the Arms of Strangers.”

Winton served in the Royal Air Force during the war and continued to support refugee organizations. After the war, he became involved in numerous other charitable organizations, especially in his home town of Maidenhead, west of London.

He was president of the Maidenhead branch of the learning disability charity Mencap for more than 40 years, and also worked with the Abbeyfields organization to set up homes for the elderly in the town. Two of those homes are named for him: Nicholas House and Winton House.

A keen fencer who lost his chance to compete at the Olympics because of the outbreak of war, Winton worked with his younger brother Bobby to found the Winton Cup, still a major team fencing competition in Britain.

But for almost 50 years, Winton said nothing about what he had done before the war. It only emerged in 1988 when his wife Grete found documents in the attic of their home.

Read More:

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2015/07/01/kindertransport-organizer-nicholas-winton-dies-at-106/29566925/