Sunday, February 13, 2011

This Is A Stickup--Give Us Those Offerings

Well, it's Sunday, so I thought I'd warm your hearts with another story of government taxation of churches. Yeah, I know. That's unconstitutional. But when has the Constitution ever stopped an institution determined to bleed everyone and everything dry, including churches?

If you're expecting a story about California's Sin Francisco or Los Demones, you will be disappointed. You see, government intrusion into religion isn't reserved for big cities. And hostility toward religious gathering-places isn't the exclusive domain of money-hungry municipal jungles like Chicago or New York City. This lovely story comes out of the little town of Mission, Kansas.

The little town last August passed a "driveway tax." Note for your reference as this article progresses that the the town council itself frequently slips, and refers to it as a tax. Residences and businesses already pay a property tax. But the profligate city government decided that wasn't enough. So they passed the driveway tax which imposes a fee for each car that passes over the driveways of any building in town. The property tax is in line with the Constitution by exempting churches and places of worship, but all that potential income was just too much for the city to ignore. The driveway legislation does not exempt places of worship.

Obviously big businesses and retail stores pay the highest taxes on traffic, usually seven days a week. Residences pay a flat annual tax of $72 (yep, $72 to use your own driveway). I'm not quite sure how they get money out of residents who don't have driveways. But the biggest activity in the town of Mission on Sunday is church-going. Unwilling to ask for tithes with a surcharge for use of the church driveways, several churches have declared the legislation an unconstitutional tax on religion.

The town council, town manager and supporters of the levy have all used the term "tax" multiple times. But they are not completely stupid, so the tax was cleverly disguised as the "Transportation Utility Fee." Fee, schmee. A turd by any other name will stink as bad. Protest signs have appeared on lawns all over town. The local Baptist Church estimates its "fee" will be about $600 per year, while the local Catholic Church places its liability at about $1700 per year.

A spokesman for the Alliance Defense Fund, which litigates church-state issues on behalf of religious entities and activities, puts the issue rather clearly: "This revenue program is a tax on church attendance." Naturally, the mayor who strongly supports the measure says "this is not a tax, this is a fee." Well, if she says so, and its title uses the word "fee," it must be true. Not.

The legal geniuses for the city claim that this is no different from charging the churches a fee for water, garbage collection, or electricity. With all due respect, those actually are services. What service does the city provide when a car enters the church driveway? Their argument just won't hold holy water. Plainly and simply, the city is taxing the churches on the number of people who enter their premises. And the city officials don't even need to put monitors at the entrances because they assume that unless the tax is overturned, the churches won't lie about their attendance. Cute, huh? Hoisting the churches on their own Christian petard.

While this matter is pending, I would comfort the Christian residents by reminding them that "This is the day which the Lord hath made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it." Likewise for the Jewish resident at Sabbath services. I'm not quite sure what to say to the congregants at the local mosque, if there even is one. But given time, I'll come up with something.

11 comments:

AndrewPrice said...

Actually, I never understood taxing churches to be unconstitutional, you just can't discriminate against them.

In terms of taxing churches, by the way, Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is pushing a measure to start imposing more taxes on churches. There are apparently 270 "churches" in the US and many of these are just tax avoidance mechanisms. In fact, some of these do little more than sell oil and natural gas or other manufactured products.

Tennessee Jed said...

This is almost comical if not for it's inate ridiculousness. Government officials are nothing without money, though. If they were half as creative in other areas as they are in finding new ways to take your money, they might actually do some good.

Little driveway on the prairie.

LawHawkRFD said...

Andrew: There is no direct connection between taxing religion and the Constitution. The history has been that the power to tax is the power to destroy, and that creates the potential of governmental interference in religion. It has been commonly accepted, though it is not specifically written into the Constitution. The other philosophical/constitutional line of thinking is that you can tax business and tax private activities, but to tax religion would be to tax an activity specifically protected by the First Amendment. In addition, the greater the tax, the greater the involvement of government in religion. It has become a simple matter of practical thinking that it's just better not to tax religion at all than to have to litigate the First Amendment over and over. And then of course, there is the "excessive intrusion" into religious matters that smart legislators simply avoid. The Constitution protects freedom of religion. Tax the churches, no matter how unrelated it might seem, and religion is less free.

As for Grassley's measure, he needs to write the legislation very tightly. Once you're into the matter of defining which "religious activities" are legitimate and which are not, you are entering the confused arena of deciding which religions themselves are legitimate and which are not--and that is specificially forbidden by the Constitution.

LawHawkRFD said...

Tennessee: I love the desperation of governments to fund their profligate ways. And though I question the driveway usage tax for churches and see it as a legitimate but foolish tax on businesses, the real ludicrousness here is the driveway usage tax on private residences. Even though the private residence tax is a flat fee, you are quite simply being taxed on the use of your own home. I find that more dangerous than the implications of taxation on religion.

Joel Farnham said...

LawHawk,

From my perspective, it seems that all levels of government are going out of it's way to annoy people and destroy whatever good will that has been developed over the years. Not that there is much good will in the first place.

Don't these people read newspapers, watch TV, or peruse the internet? Haven't they heard of the major tax revolt that happened this last fall? Are they that stupid?

Maybe it is a good thing that I am not on the local town council. I would be foaming at the mouth at my colleagues should they try to pull that here.

LawHawkRFD said...

Joel: Governments at all levels have become so used to creating new taxes (or "fees") to cover their bad governance and worse budgeting that it probably didn't even occur to this town council that there might be an uproar. On its face, a driveway usage tax may sound silly but innocuous, but first it is a tax, and second they didn't exempt religious institutions. That's called a complete lack of forethought.

T_Rav said...

LawHawk, if I'm not mistaken, this was the same line they tried to pull with parts of ObamaCare--"it's not a tax, it's a fee!" Bullcrap (pardon my French).

I can't stand Chuck Grassley, as far as the taxing churches goes. I don't care what his ACU rating is, that guy's been in Washington too long and gotten too addicted to the power machinery.

Also, I'm not that surprised about the location. Kansas has a few left-wing pockets here and there, and if this is one of the KC suburbs (and I kinda think it is), based on my experience this would be a totally believable story.

LawHawkRFD said...

T_Rav: Not only are you right, but the feds pulled the same confusing argument, calling it a tax when it was useful, then insisting it was "only" a fee when that was useful.

It sounds like Kansas has its small left wing bastions within a generally conservative state. Sort of like California in reverse.

Tehachapi Tom said...

Hawk
It will be interesting to see if the neighboring communities decide to try the same scam.

Mission is a bedroom community in Johnson County and a suburb of Kansas City along with several others that surround it all with much the same demographics.

WASP would be the best description and there might be one Roman Catholic Church, but Protestant is by far the predominate religion. Baptists probably out number any other group. However in neighboring Prairie Village, Kansas the second largest Presbyterian in the country exists. Only the Hollywood Presbyterian Church in Hollywood, California boasts a larger membership.

Usually we WASPs let all sorts of intrusions occur until we are where we are today. No prayer in schools or public displays of even crosses. Let the nasties ad bit by bit until one day we wake up and this sort of thing occurs. I hope the Mission churches will band together and stomp the city into submission. Isn't that a fine Christian wish.

rlaWTX said...

that could kill the small independent church.
it could also really increase folks parking on the street!

also, thatnks for your explanation to Andrew about constitutionality... always wondered about that.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

The mob is alive and well in the democrat party...plus too many republicans (but at least we're startin' to clean House so to speak).

And a lot of those scoundrels that call themselves politicians love those word games. Thankfully, most folks still know a tax when they see one.

Thanks Lawhawk for the info on the taxation of churches giving the government more influence and power over churches. Makes sense, and we should do all we can to put a stop to it (although I sympathize with those who wanna stop abuse by so-called "non-profit" organizations or those who pretend to be a church so they don't hafta pay taxes...but how do we do that without hurting actual churches? Something to ponder...).

Good post!

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