Again with churches’ tax exemptions

Last year, a clever mansion owner in Chicago tried to get out of paying the $80,000 in property taxes he owed by claiming his estate was actually a church, therefore exempt from property taxes. He got his exemption, temporarily, until the matter was investigated but now Illinois has decided his mansion doesn’t qualify as a church, although the owner, George Michael (no, not THAT George Michael) is confident he’ll win on appeal ’cause ya gotta have faith, I guess. What I find amusing is the state’s process of investigating whether his mansion was a “real” church or not.

Consider some of the factors mentioned here. A “snazzy” internet clergy ID isn’t comparable to say a silly hat, collar or other “snazzy” vestiges from what are recognized as legit religions? Does the number of people who attend your church determine whether it is in fact a church? Why? If an amusement park can be called a church, to the tune of a $300,000 property tax exemption, because it allows people to enter for free on one random day a year, then why should a church with regular attendance, NEVER with an admission fee, be denied “real” church status simply because only one family and “a couple of guys” attend? And since when did the improprieties of the head of a church have any bearing on whether the church was a “real” church, as suggested in that article?

What I’m getting at is religion, being the deliberately nebulous, abstract, dodgy thing it is, can’t easily be defined. By what standards should one determine if a religion is a religion? If that’s a heavy, philosophical question, then perhaps the entire notion of tax exemption for churches should be scrapped, especially at our current moment in time when state and local governments are being forced to trim their budgets, sadly including things like police, fireman, and other VERY important people and services. Don’t just think of the property taxes not being collected on every plot of land lying under a church in this country, but think of the expense of this case in Chicago, and perhaps others which may, in the future, follow. Not only do I think it’s a fool’s quest to try and decide what is and isn’t a “real” church, but that exercise along with this tax exemption for churches, is fiscally foolish and impractical.

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