Page images

by general laws, be exempt from taxation.” That of Arkansas (X., 2) provides that “houses used exclusively for public worship ... shall never be taxed. That of Kansas (XI., I) also provides that “all property used exclusively for ” religious purposes “shall be exempted from taxation.” The legislatures of these States have no power to impose any tax upon property owned and used for public worship.

The constitution of Alabama (XIII., 4) declares that “the property of corporations now existing or hereafter created shall forever be subject to taxation the same as property of individuals, except corporations for educational and charitable purposes." Unless religious corporations are included under the title of “ corporations for educational and charitable purposes ”—a construction that would not be according to the general usage of State constitutions -it then follows that such corporations cannot be exempted in Alabama from taxation on the property owned by them. The constitution of Missouri XI., 16) provides that “no property, real or personal, shall be exempt from taxation, except such as may be used exclusively for public schools, and such as may belong to the United States, to this State, to counties, or to municipal corporations in this State.” The property of religious corporations is not included in these exceptions, and hence, the legislature has no power to exempt it from taxation.

Thus we have thirty-two States in which the question of taxing religious societies is left to the legislative will, three States in which the power of taxing these societies is denied to their respective legislatures, and two States whose constitutions in effect deny the power of exempting church property from taxation. The general fact in this country is that all property which is directly used for religious worship is thus exempted. No discrimination is made beween the different Christian sects or between Christian and other religious corporations.

A society of Jews, or of Mormons, or of Swedenborgians, or of Mohammedans, or of Pagans, if owning property directly used for religious purposes, would enjoy the benefit of the exemption. The Revised Statutes of New York State provide that “every building for public worship” shall be exempt from taxation. This applies to a Jewish synagogue as really as to a building owned and used for public worship by a Christian society. Neither the character of the worship nor the tenets and doctrines involved therein, furnish any rule of exemption. “ Houses of worship," " buildings for public worship,” “ property exclusively used for religious purposes,” “churches and church property used for religious purposes,”—such are the constitutional or statutory designations of the property to be exempted. It is not the intention of law to confine the exemption to buildings or houses for Christian worship. Such a limitation would make a discrimination between religious sects; and this

[ocr errors]

would be inconsistent with a fundamental principle of our political system.

According to the census of 1870, the amount of property belonging to the different religious denominations in the United States was then $354,483,581, against $171,397,932 in 1860 and $87,328,801 in 1850_showing that, for an average, it had doubled in each of the last two decades. The following table gives the result at this rate of increase in sixty years from 1870.

Years. 1870... 1880.. 1890. 1900.... 1910... 1920....... 1930..

Amount. $354,483,581 .. 708,967, 162

1,417,934,324 . 2,835,868,648

5,671,737,296 ... 11,343,474,592

..22,686,949, 184

Thus the aggregate of property, mainly belonging to Christian sects, would in sixty years, at this rate of increase, reach the stupendous sum of nearly twenty-three billions of dollars. The same rate may not be continued ; yet no one doubts whether there will be an immense increase of property vested in structures and their appurtenances used for religious worship. This will by no means be an evil, if considered in a moral and religious aspect, but rather a great blessing to the country; yet it does raise the question whether the exemption of Church property from taxation is not an evil that ought to corrected. In regard to this question we submit the following observations :

1. The general theory of all just taxation is that of reciprocal service. Judge Cooley, in his “ Law of Taxation ” (p. 14), says : “ The protection of the government being the consideration for which taxes are demanded, all parties who receive or are entitled to that protection may be called upon to render the equivalent." The constitution of Massachusetts (I. 10) says : “ Each individual of the society has a right to be protected by it in the enjoyment of his life, liberty, and property, according to standing laws. He is obliged, consequently, to contribute his share to the expense of the protection.” This theory applies to corporations, as well as to individuals. Both alike need and receive the protection of government; and, hence, both come within the proper scope of the taxing power.

2. It is an acknowledged principle that taxation should, as nearly as practicable, be so distributed that all parties will contribute their appropriate share toward the expenses of government. are exempted from this burden, a good and sufficient reason must be shown therefor. No argument is needed to prove so plain a principle of equity.

3. Both the theory of taxation and the rule of distribution apply to religious corporations as really as to other corporations or to individuals, unless there be some special reason for making them an exception. That reason, if any such reason exists, cannot consist in the fact that these corporations are religious in their ends and objects. To make

If any

[ocr errors]

this a reason for special privileges or immunities would be a glaring self-contradiction in an American State. It would theoretically, as well as practically adopt the principle of Church and State. Some other and different, as well as better reason must be assigned for exempting Church property from taxation. Dr. Wayland, in his “ Political Economy” (Book IV., chapter 3, section 2), observes : “All that religious societies have a right to ask of the civil government is the same privileges for transacting their own affairs which societies of every other sort possess. This they have a right to demand; not because they are religious societies, but because religion is an innocent mode of pursuing happiness.”

4. The direct effect of exemption is to lessen the basis of taxation to the full extent of the property exempted : and this necessitates an increase of rate on all tax-paying property. The exemption is, hence, an indirect appropriation to religious corporations, and a virtual subsidy for their support, at the expense of the general public. What is thus granted to them by not being collected from them is a gift for which the State reimburses itself by charging the amount to non-exempted property, in the form of an increased tax. It is as really a gift as would be the same amount if directly appropriated from the public treasury. What is taken off from Church property is transferred to other property not by the voluntary action of the tax-payer, but

1 21


7 17


« PreviousContinue »