United States tax law provides churches with extra benefits and robust protection from IRS enforcement actions. Churches and religious organizations are automatically exempt from the income tax without needing to apply to be so recognized and without needing to file a tax return. Beyond that, churches are protected from audit by stringent procedures. There are good reasons to consider providing a distance between church and state, including the state tax authority. In many instances, Congress granted churches preferential tax treatment to try to avoid excess entanglement between church and state, though that preferential treatment often just shifts the locus of entanglement. But those benefits and protections come with cost both to individual churches (by making these organizations susceptible to tax shelters and political activity shelters) and to our democratic order (by granting churches to a higher status than other organizations). Does Congress get the balance right? We think the balance struck is problematic but justifiable. In this Essay we only note the problems and suggest some actions churches and religious organizations might take to protect against some of the dangers.
Philip Hackney & Samuel D. Brunson,
A More Capacious Concept of Church,
Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review
Available at: https://scholarship.law.pitt.edu/fac_articles/561
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