Instigator / Pro

CROSS-EXAMINATION (beta): Churches should not have their tax-exempt status removed.


The debate is finished. The distribution of the voting points and the winner are presented below.

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Two days
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Contender / Con

I wanted to try something that is perhaps new. I think cross-examination is a useful method of debating so I was considering how to accomplish this within the current format. This debate is unrated. Here are the rules:

--Each participant will get to ask and answer 4 questions.

--There will be no responses or rebuttals to an opponent's answer. You are only allowed to ask another question.

--The Instigator will open Round 1 by waiving.

--In the Contender's portion of Round 1, they will ask their first question to the Instigator.

--Opening Round 2, the Instigator will answer the Contender's question, then they will ask the Contender a question.

--Subsequent rounds will follow the same format (provide an answer to previous question, ask a new question) until Round 5.

--In Round 5, the Instigator will follow the normal procedure of answering the Contender's previous question, as well as asking a new question. However, in the Contender's portion of Round 5, they will ONLY provide an answer and end the cross examination. This should allow each participant to ask and answer 4 questions.

Here's an example of what it should look like:
Round 1 (Instigator): Waive.

Round 1 (Contender):
Ask Contender's first question (CQ1=Contender Question #1).
Round 2 (Instigator):
Answer CQ1.
Ask IQ1.

Round 2 (Contender):
Answer IQ1.
A CQ2.
Round 3 (Instigator):
Answer CQ2.
Ask IQ2.

Round 3 (Contender):
Answer IQ2.
Ask CQ3.
Round 4 (Instigator):
Answer CQ3.
Ask IQ3.

Round 4 (Contender):
Answer IQ3.
Ask CQ4.
Round 5 (Instigator):
Answer CQ4.
Ask IQ4.

Round 5 (Contender):
Answer IQ4.
End cross examination.

Round 1
Per the proposed format, I will waive this round. To clarify, this would resemble a formal cross examination so I think asking specific questions about the topic rather than vague ones allowing for concise and clear answers would be best. But I will allow my opponent to open up with a question.
1) There are multiple definitions for "Church". Is Pro advocating for all of them not paying taxes?

a) a building for public and especially Christian worship. 

b) the clergy or officialdom of a religious body

c) a body or organization of religious believers

2) Are there any exceptions to when this "right" should be taken away? Because there are certain extremist movements that may have their own churches (even if illegal or regarded as controversial), such as Islamic terrorists.

3) Are we advocating world-wide, or just US? Because the latter has the constitution stressing the idea of separation of church and state. 

4) Are there restrictions or requirements for this church to be accepted as a proper church? Because otherwise, even an atheist could gather a group of atheists to claim to have a religion that believes in the "supreme being named science" or some other absurd idea.
Round 2
1) Yes, I would include all churches. More specifically, all churches assuming they meet the current definition of a "religious" 501(c)(3) organization.

2) If an organization is acting illegally, they should be punished according to the current laws. I don't know the exact laws, but I don't believe an organization that is found guilty of terrorism will qualify as a 501(c)(3). The source provided in the previous answer also provided circumstances that would cause a religious 501(c)(3) to not qualify for tax-exempt status. I think the current regulations are acceptable and there is not sufficient reasoning to remove churches from being tax-exempt.

3) Good question. I specifically had the U.S. in mind. The Constitution, nor the Bill of Rights, contain any articles or amendments specifically referring to the "separation of church and state." In fact, the First Amendment is the reason churches qualify for tax-exempt status. The government is not establishing a religion, nor even promoting it. It is simply choosing not to take money from it in the form of taxes.

4) I made the clarification in a different question that I believe the current rules regarding non-profit 501(c)(3) organizations is sufficient. The previous source states that to qualify as a religious organization, it must be one "whose principal purpose is the study or advancement of religion."  We could argue what constitutes a "religious" organization but for the purposes of this cross examination, I would go with the regulations for churches which included regular worship meeting, formal doctrines, ecclesiastical government, etc.

My description was confusing but I see your point that 1 question per round seems too few. 4 questions might be too much, so let's maybe try 2 questions per round and see how that goes.

1) Since we did not actually have a debate on the subject, could you briefly list at least two specific reasons you think churches, or qualifying 501(c)(3) religious organizations, should lose their tax-exempt status?

2) Do you believe that secular non-profit organizations such as colleges or public charities should also lose their tax-exempt status?
1) A lot of people who run churches are already really beyond rich and incredibly self-satisfying. The point of majority of religions is to do good and help others. I trust that this is common knowledge that does not need to be backed. Tax is used by government to spend on things but ultimately improve lives of people in general. With refusal to pay tax, the popes just get richer and richer for seemingly no good reason. As BigThink notes, ". An investigation by Sen. Chuck Grassley in 2009 gave a rare public glimpse of how powerful preachers spend the cash they rake in from their flocks: jewelry, luxury clothing, cosmetic surgery, offshore bank accounts, multimillion-dollar lakefront mansions, a fleet of private jets, flights to Hawaii and Fiji, and most famously in the case of Joyce Meyer, a $23,000 marble-topped commode. Meyer's ministry alone is estimated to have an annual take of around $124 million." Normally, richer people would be able to be taxed more since they earn more money, and can contribute more to society. But now.... oof.

2) I answer this with another question (my first question of this round, if you don't mind). How are colleges non profit? They are often complained by students to have heavy amount of loan needed to pay off the entry and is very costly in return. For Charities, they seem to have similar problems. We've noticed that charities just keep getting richer and richer somehow. Which doesn't make sense. So I don't see the problem here.

I know we said no rebuttals but I think this is the perfect opportunity to see if we can break the ideas within the answers with my second question of the round.

The government is not establishing a religion, nor even promoting it.
So.... how is... "you don't pay money to the government" not promoting religion?
Round 3
I know we said no rebuttals but I think this is the perfect opportunity to see if we can break the ideas within the answers with my second question of the round.
You have helped identify another area where I could have been more precise in my description. My intention was not eliminate any and all interaction with answers. Rather, I just did not want to have this turn into a mini debate where I am providing paragraph-long rebuttals to your answers. For instance, I have things I could say to address your point about the reprehensible acts of Joyce Meyer and such. But rather than directly responding to those claims, I would instead have to use questions to flush those points out. The way you asked about colleges being non-profits was actually also an example of how that cross-examination approach might look. But let’s continue!


How are colleges non profit?
Well there are for-profit colleges but most are non-profit. There are slight distinctions between “non-profit” and “not-for-profit,” but the basic concept is that they end the fiscal year without making a profit for the owners and operators. They must spend all the money they earn on the cause they are involved in. The charities are not necessarily “getting richer and richer,” they are just spending more money because they take in more money. For colleges in particular, the tuition money they charge is spent on education costs. I agree that the amounts are ridiculous, but the fact remains that the college itself is not actually making a profit.

Now non-profits can hire employees and pay them. However, finances are made public as a stipulation for qualifying for tax-exempt status and this includes salaries. The author of the Vox article you cited seems to have a problem with people not knowing how dollars are being spent. All it requires one to do is to look up the organization's 501(c)(3) form. It does require a bit of extra work, but the website is a great and easy tool to do so. I would be open to perhaps creating even more transparency regarding organizational spending. But I do not see how removing the tax-exempt status would be a solution.

So.... how is... "you don't pay money to the government" not promoting religion?
Perhaps promote was not be the best word. My point though is that the government would not be endorsing any particular religion since any religious organization that qualifies as a non-profit would receive the benefits. And the reason that the government does not tax these organizations is because of the public services they provide including “relief of the poor, the distressed, or the underprivileged” as well as “lessening the burdens of government” ( In the 2019-2020 year, my church alone spent around $180,000 from a dedicated account that is strictly used for meeting the physical needs of people in our area (food, rent, gas, etc.). If that money had been taxed at a hypothetical 25% rate, we would have had $45,000 less to spend on those in our community. Now multiply those types of numbers all across the country and you would see a massive drop in private dollars being used to meet these needs.


1) To restate my previous question in a more direct way, do you believe that secular 501(c)(3) organizations should also lose their tax-exempt status?

2) This website ( used the 2010 US Religion Census report to estimate that there are roughly 338,000 Christian churches in the United States. There were only six ministries involved in the investigation by Senator Grassley. Do you believe that hundreds of thousands of churches across America should lose their tax-exempt status because of a relatively few cases of abuse?

1)  do you believe that secular 501(c)(3) organizations should also lose their tax-exempt status?

Not if they perfectly fulfill the requirements. As Investopedia notes, all the non profit organizations definition is "Be organized and operated exclusively for charitable, scientific, religious, or public safety purposes." 

However, the donations must purely be proved to be charitable and/or religious. There have been some real life exceptions. An expert notes, "It is important to remember, however, that even when an organization calls itself a church and is legally recognized as a church, such recognition does not always guarantee that tax-exempt status will follow. Note, for example, the Church of Scientology. In the case of Hernandez v. Commissioner, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that contributions to the Church of Scientology could not be tax-exempt and the Church itself could not be tax-exempt because “donations” in questions were not for religious or charitable purposes. Instead, what was happening was that church members were required to make 9 Patrick at 156. 10 Ibid. 11 Patrick at 156. payments to the church in exchange for auditing or training courses, so the payments were not contributions, and the church was earning income like a business." As you can see, there are certain exceptions to church earning their tax exempt status. 

2) Do you believe that hundreds of thousands of churches across America should lose their tax-exempt status because of a relatively few cases of abuse?

Non, it is simply that, the religious must prove their worth through showing that the money donated is to good cause and not hoarded for financial gain. We should have the right to take away the tax exemption if you abuse it and claim you are a church even though you are not. Otherwise you have $100 billion lost like in the Mormon Church's scandal. (Okay, not really "scandal", but you know what I mean)

1) You said most colleges are not for profit. What about the ones for profit? []

If that money had been taxed at a hypothetical 25% rate, we would have had $45,000 less to spend on those in our community. Now multiply those types of numbers all across the country and you would see a massive drop in private dollars being used to meet these needs.
2) Pro seems to misinterpret what exactly would be taxed, thinking that the money gained is what is taxed. There are other spending (for the building, for improvements, etc.) that is not relevant for what would be "lost" by the investor of the church. For example, "Estonia levies a Land Value Tax which is used to fund local municipalities. It is a state level tax, but 100% of the revenue is used to fund Local Councils. The rate is set by the Local Council within the limits of 0.1-2.5%. It is one of the most important sources of funding for municipalities.[1]
The Land Value Tax is levied on the value of the land only, improvements are not considered. Very few exemptions are considered on the land tax and even public institutions are subject to the land value tax. Land that is the site of a church is exempt, but other land held by religious institutions is not exempt.[1]
The tax has contributed to a high rate (~90%)[1] of owner-occupied residences within Estonia"  [Wikipedia]

As you can see, Estonia was wise enough to let the church have land owning to its location, but to abuse this power to buy more land tax free under claim of the church seems absurd. So my second question is, does pro want to repeal Estonia's set law, and allow churches to buy things that it claims are for its use, while being irrelevant (such as land held by the church, but not at the site)?


I thought of a third question that might be interesting as an extension. Should profit organizations that net below a certain amount also be tax exempt?

Let me explain. Obviously, if you gain zero dollars, it makes no sense to tax, as there is nothing to tax. If I only net 100 dollars, I cannot survive. Taxing 100$ gain organization seems absurd. Okay, but what about 10,000$/year? At what point do we start taxing organizations?
Round 4
1) My original question was, "Do you believe that secular non-profit organizations such as colleges or public charities should also lose their tax-exempt status?" Since for-profit colleges are not tax-exempt, I do not think they would be relevant. They operate like a business with the students acting as customers. Thus, my original question applies only to non-profit colleges. But you did provide an answer to that question.

2) While I am not familiar with Estonia's laws regarding non-profits, I would say yes, the church should be able to buy more land than the specific plot it is on. Of course, the purchased land would have to stay within the cause of the organization that gives them their tax exempt status.  A church buying a new parking lot or buying adjacent land for building expansion might be relevant reasons. Another reason might be to buy a building to operate a particular ministry (food distribution, women's shelter, or other property that would serve the church's charitable mission).

But even if the tax-exempt status was only applied to the church's single parcel of land, I do not think it should have to start paying taxes on that piece of land too, as in having it's tax-exempt status removed.

3) This would be a difficult question to answer since different types of businesses are taxed differently. I suppose if had to choose, I think a flat tax across the board would be my choice. The IRS begins imposing a self-employment tax on anything above $400. I wouldn't see any issue with that. Of course, I am not extremely well informed on business tax laws. I am also, in general, a big fan of lowering taxes and government spending.

1) Since we didn't have an actual debate, I'll ask a more open-ended question to maybe give a bit more content to work with. It appears you may not want to completely remove the tax-exempt status of churches given the positive contributions they have in community service. So what parts of a 501(c)(3) qualifying church's finances would you have churches pay taxes on? For instance, should the government impose taxes on property/land, donations, remove tax deductions for individuals who donate, etc.? Feel free to elaborate as you see necessary.

2) The fact is that any money a 501(c)(3) qualifying church loses due to taxation would reduce money spent on charitable causes to some degree. Should the government be responsible to increase funding for social services to make up for this loss of charitable giving by churches?
1) Land/property, as implied within the question about Estonia I gave. 

2) Yes, I'd say so. Ironically, the solution might be even more tax, but on the people instead. Already Europe has its own church tax that offsets any potential problems such as Estonia's edge case making churches pay more for extra land to own.

Your case is pretty clear enough that I don't think there's a lot of questions can actually clarify it even more, so I will just come up with intriguing ideas that can be potentially extensions of this debate:

1) Do you think churches should have been tax-exempt in the middle-ages?

The Church was the single largest landowner in every European country. Dioceses, monasteries, and convents owned vast landed estates and enjoyed tax-exempt status. The monarch was limited to taxing peasants who rented land from the Church. According to medieval tax laws, such property did not actually belong to the Church but, rather, belonged to God, and the revenues generated were used to support clergy, charity, education, and church buildings – in other words, to do God’s work. The government had no authority to tax God! In addition to its tax exempt status the Church had the authority to collect an annual tithe from all landowners in the kingdom. The tithe was 10% of the value of the produce of the land. While medieval kings were chronically short of cash and couldn’t afford to keep standing armies, the Church possessed much wealth frustratingly beyond their reach. [At this time, Pope had equal or greater power to the monarch. This can be quite controversial and problematic if you think about it.]

2) Regarding people who also depend mainly on donations to survive (rather than a living salary), streaming themselves doing works of good, but on his own. Should these people also be tax-exempt? This is interesting because these people are not organizations. They could potentially earn a profit for what they are doing, but at the same time, if I stream myself giving big amounts of food and bread to starving children in Africa daily, it's indirectly a charity.
Round 5
1) From the perspective of the government and citizens of a country, I think the best reason not to tax churches is their charitable giving. In the case of the church in history that you referenced, there was certainly good things being done by the church to meet peoples' needs, but there was also much corruption and many other agendas. The Roman Catholic church of that day was not acting as a biblical church should. Our single greatest purpose is to worship and glorify the one true God. But we don't just do that on Sundays. He has called us to care for those in need, and we exemplify his mercy by showing the same mercy to others. The government benefits by giving us more ability to do so. Every private dollar spent by churches is money saved by the government and thus taxpayers.

Personally, I believe that our current system for providing exemptions for 501(c)(3) organizations is pretty good. So with that preface, I would say that our current standard is a good one to use to judge hypothetical examples to see if they met some similar qualifications as a 501(c)(3). I don't think the Roman Catholic church of history would have qualified though. I think this is so because they were engaged in illicit activity that would disqualify churches from being tax-exempt today too.

2) The only way I could see the government justifying making a benevolent individual's income tax-exempt (even if the income is from donations) is if they start a qualifying 501(c)(3). There are many individuals who have done so. This helps with accountability in making sure the tax free money is in fact being spent on the cause they claim it is. So yes, only if they apply and qualify for non-profit status according to current law.

1) Do you have any final thoughts on the topics we have discussed so far?

2) Do you have any thoughts regarding the debate format, and if it might be useful in the future? Be as critical as you'd like.

Obviously we varied from our original topic. Given that we did not actually debate the topic before testing this cross examination format, it was difficult to maintain a steady flow of questions. I had no problem with this at all. I just thought it was worth mentioning for those evaluating the discussion. For anyone who may vote, I think it is up to your discretion if and how you would do so.

There are certainly some issues that I found in testing this format. I may try to test it again following a formal debate but we will see. I would like to thank seldiora for being flexible and participating in this. I appreciated the discussion on this topic. Feel free to leave feedback, good or bad, in the comments.

I think overall an entire debate dedicated to CE might not work, but some implementation of in-between round could be nice. Like R1 opening, R2 CE, R3 refutation, R4 conclusion or something like that. I think Pro side has the edge on the topic but it's not entirely a lost clause for con if they can ask questions to poke holes, as churches is very generalized, and my medieval question should be very intriguing in an actual debate, should con decide to try taking pro back in time. In summary, nice experiment.