« PreviousContinue »
by the compulsion of law. In this way the State avoids a deficiency in its revenues, that would otherwise occur as the consequence of exemption. Every person who pays a dollar of taxes pays a certain proportion toward the fund that must be raised to make the State good for the loss of revenue occasioned by the exemption of Church property.
5. The argument most frequently used in defending this exemption is based on the temporal benefits accruing to the State from Church property—such as improving the morals and elevating the character of the people and also enhancing the value of other property.
These benefits are presented as the equivalent of the special privilege granted by the State. The fatal objection to this reasoning is that it proves too much. Nearly all kinds of private property, and especially some kinds, render an important public service. This is true of private school structures, true even of a picture gallery, true of property used for innocent public amusement, true of the property of bank corporations, railway companies, insurance companies, etc. ; and yet such property cannot be exempted from taxation without starving the treasury of the State. Why, then, should Church property enjoy this favor on the ground of benefits rendered, and other property that can assign the same reason for the favor, in kind, if not in degree, be excluded therefrom? The moment we generalize the doctrine of uses and benefits as furnishing a reason for tax-exemption in behalf of religious corporations it refutes itself by proving more than the State can admit.
So, also, if the doctrine be good to show the propriety of tax-exemption, why is it not just as good to show that the State should directly, by formal appropriations of public money, contribute to the support of religious societies? The latter would be only a direct mode of doing what is indirectly yet really done by the former. The argument is just as strong for the one as it is for the other; and, hence, in this sense it proves too much. Church corporations do not need the exemption in order to exist, and thus afford the benefits, any more than they need direct positive support in order to exist. They could and would exist without either mode of help by the State.
6. Church property, it is said, ordinarily yields no private income to the corporators, and for this reason should be exempted from taxation. However plausible such an argument might be under a system of taxation based on income, it manifestly has no application to one based on the valuation of property, with a percentage of taxation on the same. The latter, and not the former, is the system on which the States rely almost exclusively for their revenue. The question of income does not and cannot enter into such a mode of taxation except as it may be incidentally involved in that of valuation; and even in this collateral way it is not a ground of exemption but merely a guide in fixing the valuation. Large amounts of
Large amounts of property from which no income is derived—as wild lands, houses, or stores not used or rented, goods unsold or on which there is a depreciation below their cost, and the like,--are, nevertheless, compelled to pay taxes. The fact of private ownership and that of an estimated value are deemed sufficient. The State, adopting valuation as on the whole the best theory of taxation, does not and cannot regulate its action by the rule of income. The property is protected by the State, whether it yields any income or not, and it has value to its owners. Why, then, should Church property be released from all tax burdens under the system of valuation because it yields no income to the corporators, even if the fact be granted ?
No reason can be assigned on this ground that would not equally apply to many other kinds of property; and, if it were thus applied, a still higher rate of taxation would be needed, and, as the consequence, still heavier burdens would fall upon those who pay taxes, or the revenue of the State would be insufficient for its expenses.
7. It is further said that the taxation of Church property would to the corporators be double taxation, and that for this reason it ought to be exempted. This is manifestly a mistake as to the meaning of 1 word. Double taxation is the taxation of the same property twice under one general assessment.
Church property owned by corporators jointly and their individual property certainly are not the same. If the former were taxed, the corporators, considered as individuals, would not be taxed to pay this tax, since what they paid toward the Church tax would not be compulsory, but purely a matter of their own choice. The direct effect of the tax would be simply to increase the annual expenses of the corporation, by adding thereto this item ; and the same result would ensue from raising the salary of the minister, or employing a paid choir, or contracting a loan on which interest must be paid. The tax would simply be one of the standard expenses of the corporation, and the corporators themselves would no more be taxed doubly than any other class of corporators who pay taxes on their individual property and jointly pay taxes on their corporate property.
8. But we are told that Church property is in an important sense public property, and that on this account it ought not to be taxed. Here is a mistake as to a fact. Such property in this country is not public property, except by the false use of a term. The public does not own it or control its uses. The public cannot use it except by the permission and at the option of the corporators. The fact that benefits to the public arise from its use does not give it the character of public property, since the same is true of the property of the merchant, the banker, and, indeed, of nearly all private property. Public benefits are traceable to a great variety of private sources, and the use of Church property is only one of them.
9. It is also urged that taxation of Church property would be an oppressive burden to religious corporations. It would, undoubtedly, add a new item to their annual expenses; and this is equally true in respect to all who pay taxes, whether individuals or corporations. All taxation is a burden ; yet it is the equivalent which government asks for the protection it affords. Moreover, the burden in the case of Churches, as in all other cases, would, under the rule of valuation and percentage, be simply in proportion to the amount of property owned; and this would certainly be a fair index to the ability of the corporators. The rule grades the burden to the resources of the taxpayer, and we see no reason why this rule would not be just as equitable when applied to Church property as it is when applied to any other species of property. There are hundreds and thousands of persons who find it difficult to pay their annual taxes; and yet the State cannot excuse them for this reason. Why should it on this ground excuse Churches from all participation in tax burdens, and throw the whole weight of these burdens upon property not thus exempted and excused ? Why should it make Church property a virtual pensioner upon the public bounty and levy a contribution upon all other property to pay the pension ? We can see no reason for so doing