I have a basic understanding of the separation of church and state, and I am a huge advocate. It's why I joined ffrf. I think people should be free to be religious or not. I get why church/state separation protects everyone, the religious and non-religious alike.
But I'm not completely clear on why tax breaks are given to the religious. Precisely how does the U.S. Constitution make it illegal to tax the clergy at the same rate as non-clergy? Why should the teacher's income and property be taxed differently than the priest's? Why should the teacher have to make up the difference because the priest does not pay his share?
[This is a different question, I realize, but I also sometimes wonder why non-relgious businesses have to substantiate their claims, but not religious businesses. Don't psychics and astrologists carry the disclaimer, "for entertainment purposes only"? How is the priest's supernatural claims any different?]
I just think it would be more fair, honest, and transparent if all employees and business were treated the same. And I don't see how this would preclude people from having freedom of/from religion. How does the priest having to pay his share infringe on my right to pick any church on Sunday (or sleep in as the case may be)?
I agree it would be political suicide. Still I wish politicians were sincere when they say they are worried about the deficit and every potential solution should be on the table. I wonder how much real estate is owned by religious organizations, and if taxed at the same rate as everyone else, how much would that total.
From what I understand, IRS tax code gives certain "501c" organizations tax-exempt status as long as the organization meets certain qualifications about being nonprofit, using the money within a certain amount of efficiency, etc. USC 501(c)(3) lists the most common types of exempt organizations, including religious organizations and organizations devoted to promoting social welfare.
On paper, churches are held to the same standard as any nonprofit organization, but I highly doubt that the people evaluating religious nonprofit organizations' tax forms show the same scrutiny towards churches that they do to nonreligious organizations. I'd imagine most churches' 501c forms are more or less automatically approved.
Here's a bit about the tax law in question:
Plain English: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/501%28c%29
IRS tax law: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/26/501%28c%29.html
Ben, thanks for the links! I'll check them out.