The Instigator
Pro (for)
7 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
14 Points

Debate: Churches ought to pay taxes

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Voting Style: Open Point System: Select Winner
Started: 10/30/2016 Category: Religion
Updated: 5 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 7,141 times Debate No: 95556
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (62)
Votes (4)




Full resolution: Churches ought to pay taxes

The debate is impossible to accept, apply in the comments if you are interested and I will send the challenge to the applicant of my choosing. First round is acceptance only. No new arguments in the final round. Kritiks aren't allowed.

Taxes on churches would mean regular property taxes and commercial income taxes. Basically they lose their tax exempt status.


Thanks Hayd, I look forward to an interesting debate.
Debate Round No. 1


The resolution of this debate can only be fulfilled by the government passing legislation. This is because taxation is inherently governmental. Governments, societies, individuals, and all other forms of entities, act (or ought to act) on a utilitarian basis: things that have more benefits than harms ought to be retained, whilst those that have more harms than benefits ought to be abolished. Goodness is determined by the ratio of desirability to undesirability. This is because every entity or being intrinsically seeks to maximize their desirable states (read: pleasure) and minimize their undesirable states (read: suffering.) Things that overall prevent suffering while promoting pleasure are thus good for that being. Because we know that other sentient beings undergo this as well, we can *empathize* with them and thus seek to extend the same principle (preventing suffering and promoting pleasure) to them. Without empathy morality cannot exist, it is contingent. Given that morality in and of itself is a system used to determine whether entities should or should not do something, morality can be used to determine whether a government should or should not make churches pay taxes. I find that the benefits of taxing churches outweigh the costs associated with it, and thus I affirm the resolution.

The first way in which church tax exemption brings a societal cost is through the US government being forced to defend itself in lawsuits over tax exemption status to certain institutions (such as Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and other controversial faiths.) Lawsuits against government entities require that the government spend money in order to defend themselves against the lawsuit. The amount of money required to do this is enormous. For example, Texas has spent $3.5 million defending themselves against voter ID lawsuits [1]. This same issue happens over interpretation of tax exemption laws for churches. This can be seen in the Church of Scientology’s numerous and year long lawsuits against the government wherein they can harness millions of dollars in funds; which the government then has to match. In the end, tax exemption law results in millions of dollars in lost money for the US government.

My second argument is thus: churches are not like other (secular) not-for-profit charitable organizations. Churches’ primary goal is in the practice and spread of their religion, rather than charity like other non-religious tax exempt charitable organizations. Research has found that around 29% of the average church’s income is for charitable purposes, the rest is used for internal costs such as wages [2]. Other, secular charities though are able to do *more* good with their funds. For example, the Red Cross uses 92.1% of its income for helping people. A property tax on churches would raise around $71 billion dollars per year [3], while the commercial income tax would raise around $6.75 billion. (This is because the median congregation income is $60,000 [6], and thus the income tax bracket becomes $7,500 + 25% [8], meaning $22,500 payed in taxes per congregation. Given there are 300,000 congregations in America, that ends up being 6,750,000,000.) Reallocating money from churches, where only 29% of it would go to help people to secular charities where 92% of it will be used to help people, would be a massive impact on the effectiveness of charity. Significantly more people will be helped through charity. It is important to note the amount of money that $71 billion dollars is, as it is easy to just put it away as another number. $71 billion dollars is more than the top two wealthiest charities in the world combined [4]. Using all of this money for charity work rather than a fraction of it, as would happen without taxes, is a huge impact.

Taxes on churches will also give more funds to local governments, and given that local governance is the most important government, the impact of this on people is substantial.

Plus, George Washington said that, “I agree with...Ha...yd’s...argument that...churches…should pay taxes.” (1782) [10]

Peace and Love













Thanks, Hayd.


I was extremely surprised to see Hayd go with a purely utilitarian framework and not make any arguments based on higher principles such as separation of church and state. This means that if I can prove that religion is on balance good, and that the resolution would harm religion in this country, I automatically win. Due to his framework, if religion is good than we should pursue policies that encourage religion.

I. Religion is a social good

According to a Pew survey, Americans who attend religious services weekly are significantly more likely to maintain strong contacts with extended family, to report being "very happy" with their life, and to volunteer in their local community[1]. There is not a single metric rating positive life experience that Pew measured where the nonreligious came out on top. Religious people are 9% more likely to donate to charity than the nonreligious[2]. Religiosity is positively correlated with a number of positive health outcomes which is why a study from Duke Medical Center found that the religious had lower blood pressures[3]. A Harvard study recording the life outcomes of 75,000 women over a 20 year period found that religious women live longer lives than their nonreligious peers[4]. Remarkably, the effect was correlated with the degree of religiosity--the most religious women were 33% less likely to die than the nonreligious, but even those who infrequently attended services were 13% less likely to die than those who never attended. Even more remarkably, this conclusion was reached AFTER controlling for the observations that the more religious women were less likely to smoke or to be depressed.

Again, because this warrants repeating, not only were the religious women less likely to report depression or to smoke, but they were STILL significantly less likely to die AFTER controlling for these facts (which alone would be impactful enough to win me the debate).

Clearly religion is some powerful stuff. Why do these effects exist? The sense of community that a religious community offers is something that greatly benefits social animals like humans. Interestingly, the Duke study notes that while church attendance and active involvement in church activities was correlated with lower blood pressure, viewing religious media was NOT. It's the community. The dangers of social isolation are incredibly well studied--it's about as dangerous for your health as smoking, and twice as dangerous as obesity[5]. For many people, especially the elderly, going to church is the only time they get to socialize. This is the institution that Hayd wants to tax.

It's not just beneficial to the individual. Houses of worship are often used as community gathering centers for secular or semi-secular organizations--think things like Preschools or your local Boy Scout troop. Under Hayd's plan, a LOT of these local churches are going to shut their doors.

I contend that the government should let organic social goods flourish. Remember, since Hayd only cares about maximizing "desirable states", he should concede that the government shouldn't harm religion since religious people are happier, healthier, and less likely to die. At this point, he can only win the debate if he proves that taxing religious institutions will somehow strengthen them.

II. Economic effects

Before I get started, let's clear something up. Hayd claims that taxing churches would bring in $71 billion a year, citing an article from the Council of Secular Humanism. An analysis by DJ Clayworth tears this article to absolute *shreds*[6]. The most absurd part of the fact that the article itself estimates that churches take in about $100 billion in revenues each year, then claims taxing churches like "everyone else" would bring in $71 billion. Except nobody else pays 70% of their *gross revenue* in taxes. Clayworth notes that the biased authors of Hayd's article know nothing about taxation law and get their estimate through tricks like denying churches the ability to deduct expenses from their taxable income, wildly overestimating the value of church property, and by counting government subsidies to religiously affiliated homeless shelters or hospitals as grants that provide no value to society. Until he amends his estimate, Hayd is advocating for an economic formula that would utterly bankrupt every religious institution in the nation.

In fact, Hayds OWN ARTICLE chastizes religious congregations for donating only an average of 29% of their revenues to charitable causes. Except it notes literally right afterward that 71% of Church revenues are used for legitimate operating expenses that would be written off when paying taxes. The church spends 71% of its income on operating expenses and then donates everything that would be considered taxable income in a corporation to charity. In the status qou, congregations donate everything beyond operating expenses to charity because they are legally prohibited from an income or else they'll lose their non-profit status. Using any reasonable tax code, Hayd only gets the government a chunk of the 29% that already goes to charity. Is it Hayds position that the government would allocate this money better than the charitatable organizations already receiving it?

Lets talk some real numbers from unbiased sources. The Washington Post notes that the Catholic Church is the second largest employer in the US, employing some 1,000,000 people[7]. The Church spends about $170 billion in the United States a year. Its primary expenses? Running hospitals that save thousands of lives and schools that educate thousands of children. This is the institution that Hayd wants to tax out of existence. Right now, the business model of the Catholic Church assumes that it is not subject to taxes. Finding what the profit margin of the church would be if it were treated as a corporation is difficult, but we know from estimates from The Economist[7] that Health Care, Schools, and Parish operations constitute 93% of the Church budget.

Hayd wants to throw the business model of the second largest employer in America into a tailspin for virtually no reason. It's tough to estimate just how hard taxation would hit the Church because Hayd's plan is utterly absurd and I'm being charitable to him, but considering that the Catholic Church owns over 26,000 properties in America[8] a property tax alone would do significant damage. Hospitals would start cutting staff or closing down entirely. Schools would shut down, forcing the students itno public schools and further stretch municipal budgets. Tens of thousands of workers would be cut off and forced to compete for private jobs or take government welfare. All of this for nothing.

Moreover it's certain that many local congregations would wither if they were subject to taxes. Small congregations (7-99 congregants), which represent 59% of American churches[9] would be some of the first to go. In fact, Megachurches that are already run like a business and embody the worst of religion would best weather the storm.

III. Separation of Church and State

Separation of Church and State is a principle that is often misunderstood by secularists. The idea is not merely that the church ought to have no influence on the state--it's that the state also ought to leave the church alone. The spiritual and the temporal are separate spheres.

This is so important because a healthy relationship between Church and State has a sense of "mutually assured destruction." Both the Church and the State recognize that open competition for power and dominance would benefit no one, so they leave each other alone to the best of their ability. Hayd wants the government to violate this unspoken truce.

Does he really not expect religion to hit back? Right now, religious organizations are prohibited from endorsing political candidates due to a law called the Johnson Amendment. If they do so, they will lose their tax-exempt status. If the government removes this penalty, there is nothing stopping churches from directly influencing government policy or endorsing candidates. The Catholic vote was almost evenly split in 2012[10]. An endorsement from the Catholic Church would swing any US presidential election and any congressional race in an area with a lot of Catholic voters. In fact, they would probably just endorse whichever candidates vow to return their tax-exempt status, negating all of Hayds impacts. Oh, and while it power they would probably repeal the Johnson Amendment.

This is not the path to secularism. This is the path to dominionism.

Hayds plan also opens up a HUGE religious discrimination can of worms. He complains about the lawsuits religious institutions bring to defend their tax-exempt status, but this cost is a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of defending against litigation from religious organizations that feel discriminated against because they were audited or their property taxes went up.

The resolution is unworkable. Vote Con.


Debate Round No. 2


In this round, I will be providing rebuttal to Thett’s offensive arguments and defending my own arguments against Thett’s rebuttals.


Thett begins by expressing surprise at a purely utilitarian framework rather than higher principles such as separation of church and state. Separation of church and state is not a higher principle. Maybe the purpose of establishing a utilitarian framework was unclear: my framework establishes a system in which impacts are weighed; not a common ‘theme’ of arguments. My framework argued (and was never contested) that impacts ought to be weighed based on the goodness to badness ratio; goodness being the creation of more positive mental states than negative ones. Because Thett never contested my framework, separation of church and state only becomes a ‘higher’ principle in that its impact weighed in positive to negative mental states outweighs any other impacts; or, in the sense of a ‘principal’, categories of impact (such as economic growth, unemployment, crime, and such.)

Thett’s claim at the end of this section that if religion is proved as an overall benefit and taxes would harm the prevalence of religion, he would automatically win, is simply untrue. By my established framework, as long as a higher impact is created by taxing churches (a higher impact than harm done to prevalence of religion), I win the debate.

Religion is a social good

I do not contest the health benefits of being religious. Thus, I concede all of what Thett says here; with the exception community gatherings since that can easily be done at public schools rather than churches.

This entire contention only gains impact if Thett can show that taxing churches would result in less religious attendance through the inability of people attending church (because the local church closes down.) I find that this link is unwarranted, and extremely weak at best. If you go back and read through the debate, the only times Thett addresses churches shutting down is through unwarranted claims. There is the exception of bringing up 26,000 Catholic properties in America, of which I address and negate in my second to last paragraph of the next contention. Thus, the link between taxing churches and decrease in health is nonexistent as it is thrown away on the basis of a bare assertion fallacy.

Regardless, even if a link did exist and this argument had any impact, the amount of good that could be done with $14.6 billion (see next contention) far outweighs the amount of good that attending church does. $14.6 billion could save millions of lives through preventing starvation and crime. These impacts outweigh decreased stress and lengthened lifetimes. This entire contention is negated on two layers.

Economic effects

The beginning of this contention is spent attacking my source for the statistic of $71 billion raised from taxing churches. The source can be seen here [1].

I will start at the beginning of the calculation and go step by step until I reach the conclusion. The average church property value is estimated at $1.7 million. This is reached from averaging the property values of 47 different churches in Tampa, Florida. I think this is a reasonable estimate given that the median household property value in the US is $189,400 [2]. The median household property value in Tampa is $165,200 [3]. Because churches are zoned for commercial properties and are only able to be built on residential properties after obtaining a variance, most churches lie on commercial property [4]. And since residential and commercial property values are proven to exhibit strong correlation [5], and commercial property values tend to be significantly higher in value than residential properties [6], the estimation would follow a national trend. As my source [6] explains, it is standard to have a residential property sell for $100,000 and a commercial property of the exact same size across the street sells for $1,000,000. As logic shows, the $1.7 million statistic is reliable. The average property tax on households is 1.29% [7] and commercial property taxes are 20% higher [8], which puts the tax at 1.55%. Thus the average church would thus pay $26,350 in taxes. Given there are 300,000 churches, that ends up being $7,905,000,000. That’s $7.9 billion. Since under the resolution I am only arguing for commercial income tax and property tax, I drop the prior $71 billion to $7.9 billion. Thus my overall money raised from church taxes is $14.6 billion.

Thett’s next point is that a tax would shut down thousands of churches and thus lose many jobs. First of all the entire assertion that churches would close down or jobs would be lost is unwarranted, as I explained earlier. But regardless, even if jobs are lost, since the money is reallocated to secular organizations, the same number of new employees are hired at the organization than were lost at the church. This compensates for any lost jobs.

Thett makes a sidepoint in the second paragraph noting that 71% of church expenses are on operation costs, which he argues would be tax deductible because internal operations are essential to spending on charity. Thus, the government would only get a portion of that already donated to charity. And since my plan would use the taxed money to donate to charity, my plan would seem pointless since I am taxing charity donations to spend on charity.

This argument does not work for a few reasons. Firstly, it assumes that all churches, or even the majority of churches are non profit organizations. This is not true, just as the Ford Motor Company donates some of their income to charity does not make their internal operating expenses tax deductible, neither does a church’s. These internal operation expenses are for religious practice, such as worship, rather than operations relating to charity. Thus, these internal operations would not be tax deductible. The only exception for this is when the church files to be classed as a non profit, or a 501(c)(3) organization. When this happens no income can be used for “private purposes” [9]. This eliminates the ability of a church to function as a church, and thus no longer becomes a church since it provides no worship services, guidance, or whatever. All profit is donated to charity except for money spent to maintain the donation of money (operating expenses.) My plan would not tax these non profit organizations, only churches. And churches are inherently for profit, as my logic just showed. Thus, my tax would take away X amount of money, of which 29% would ordinarily be used for charity, and I would donate it to charity making 92% of it used for charity. Based on my uncontested framework, my plan wins out here. The other option is that the church’s donations to charities are written off on their taxes, and thus I am only taxing the remaining taxable income: 71% of their income. The tax on that income would then further be spent on charity due to my plan, and again, based on my uncontested framework, my plan wins out.

Thett goes on to cite the Catholic church in spending 93% of their $170 billion budget on charity. This is all true, and it is of course good. But the claim that church taxes would “tax them out of existence” is unwarranted, as I explained earlier. What will happen is a portion of their budget will be deducted in taxes, which then, according to my plan, will be reallocated to secular nonprofits, of which are just as or more utilitarian in spending their money. It's important to note that using the example of the Catholic Church is cherry-picking, and a more topical example would be the national average, which is 29% of the money going to charity. Taxing and reallocating it would make 92% go to charity. More lives are saved, diseases cured, and homes built through my plan.

But even regardless of this, as I said earlier, any money that the Catholic church uses for charity is tax deductible. This means that only funds used for non charity related uses, such as worship, guidance, or whatever is actually taxed. Saying that hospitals would close, or any other negative affect to charity is simply untrue, a tax would only harm the worship part of church.

Separation of Church and State

Thett’s argument here is that the church and the state have a truce of mutually assured destruction. The problem with this is that is makes the unwarranted assumption that churches would retaliate, or that their retaliation is bad. Neither of these are true.

First of all, the head of the largest religious institution in the world endorses church taxes for noncharitable churches [11]. Secondly, taxes won’t significantly harm religious organizations, and Thett has given no argument that it would, so significant retaliation is unlikely. Regardless, the only retaliation that Thett brings up is in endorsing candidates. I don’t see this as a bad thing, as religious institutions have every right to exercise their free speech and endorse candidates. There is no negative here, or at least no negative that Thett has argued for. So the idea that taxing churches is bad because it will result in churches retaliating by endorsing candidates has no impact for Thett since he failed to show why churches endorsing candidates is a bad thing. There is no arguable difference between the Catholic Church, Bernie Sanders, or the NAACP endorsing someone for president. None of these are bad things, this argument has no impact.

Also, the claim that the tax exemption status would just be returned is outside the scope of the resolution since it is a should proposition, not a *would*.

Suing the government because your taxes went up due to a newly passed law has no ground. The government does not have to spend any money defending that kind of lawsuit since there is nothing to sue over. There is room for debate in what's defined as a church though, and these are funded by wealthy organizations making the cost of these courses more expensive.

Sources in comments



Thanks, Hayd.

I'm just going to respond to Hayd's attacks since I directly refuted his case in my own. There will be a lot of fresh attacks against his case wrapped up in my defenses.

I. Religion is a social good

Hayd concedes this point entirely, noting only that public events could be held at schools, crowding out after-school activities.

You can vote Con. It is not remotely plausible that forcing Churches to hire armies of tax lawyers and pay taxes on their properties (many of which are priceless architectural marvels) will help religion in this country. Remember, active involvement in a religious community extends life, makes that life happier and more fulfilled, and increases that individuals positive impact on society. Does Hayd want to compare that record with the government?

His only real response is that my claims that religion will be damaged if it's taxed is unwarranted. I didn't hit this very much because I assumed it was completely obvious, but I'll note that Hayd totally dropped my argument regarding the business model of churches assuming that they don't pay taxes. Adding a massive tax burden throws that model into flux and adds instability for no reason. I'm not sure what else I can be expected to do here. As the complete take down of the Council of Secular Humanism article shows, making accurate estimates about this kind of thing is incredibly difficult and often leaves you with your foot in your mouth. Instead you have to go with the logic that, yes, having to hire armies of tax lawyers, pay property and income taxes, and totally change your business model from the bottom to the top is going to cause damage on the margins. Corporations fight taxes tooth and nail for a reason, the extra expense harms the bottom line. Since Hayd has totally conceded that the bottom line of religion is a massive boon for society, it's difficult to see how Pro can win the debate.

But the absurdity of this line of attack really comes through when you get into the specifics behind Hayd's case. Hayd later claims that the government will make tons of money because the average property tax burden on the 300,000 churches would be over $26,000. Doesn't sound so bad if you're thinking about Billy Graham sized crowds. Except the majority of congregations in this country consist of less than 100 people. $26,000 distributed over, say, 50 congregants is an incredible burden that would shut down almost any church. And that's just the property taxes.

I'm also going to rebut Hayd's entire case by calling for him to morally justify taxation. The general argument for taxing corporations is that since society provides for them via the roads their goods travel on, the police force protecting them from robbery, and so on they owe something in return. If churches are as great as I claim they are, and Hayd has conceded to every single one of my claims, they are already fulfilling their debt to society. The moral justification for taxing churches is bunk.

II. Economic effects

Hayd writes:

"[Thett] assumes that all churches, or even the majority of churches are non profit organizations. This is not true, just as the Ford Motor Company donates some of their income to charity does not make their internal operating expenses tax deductible, neither does a church’s."

This is ***COMPLETELY*** false and not at all how corporate taxes work. If expenses weren't tax deductible, literally every business in the United States would go under. Corporations are taxed on their *income* which is the number you get after subtracting revenue (all of the money the organization takes in that year) from expenses (everything it spends). So for example in 2015 Ford earned some $149 million in revenue[1], but operating costs ate at that number until the taxable income was a mere $10 million. Legitimate operating expenses like building upkeep and employee payment are ALWAYS tax-deductible because they whittle away the corporations taxable income.

Hayd says he is not allowing churches to deduct these legitimate expenses. He loses his previous argument that churches won't be hit very hard by his new taxes as he is subjecting religions to a completely unfair and unique tax burden by not allowing them to write off operating costs.

If he chooses not to advocate for this exaggerated and unfair tax burden, I hereby turn his entire case: Hayd's impact relies upon more money going to charity if you tax churches. But the reality is that *LESS* money will be going to go to charity. Right now in order to maintain their non-profit status, churches are legally prohibited from having an income. As we've already discussed, on average 71% of their income goes to expenses and only 29% would be considered "income." Hayd gets the government some of that 29%. But the Church keeps the rest. And now that they're no longer obligated to maintain their non-profit status, with many strapped for cash due to the massive financial burden Hayd throws on them, can they really be expected to donate all of their remaining profits to charity? By legally turning churches into a business, Hayd is actually reducing the money that goes to charity and opening the door for unscrupulous religious leaders to enrich themselves from church revenue.

Further, if you don't buy that turn for some reason, you still vote Con because Hayd can't just assume that all the money is going to be donated to charity. The resolution does not say "Churches ought to be taxed and the proceeds will go to charity"--we have NO REASON to assume that the government will give this money to charitable causes and Hayd has not articulated any.

You can vote Con because Hayd literally has no impacts. His plan requires you to assume that no churches are hurt by a sudden tax burden, the church does not retaliate against the government in a negative way, that no churches keep rather than donate their profits now that they have the option, and that the government will donate the proceeds to charity. Give him all of these EXTREMELY GENEROUS assumptions and it is STILL a wash. Even if you don't buy any of my own points Hayd still loses because he adds instability to the status quo without producing any tangible improvement.

III. Church and State

Hayd fundamentally misunderstands why the sacred and the secular should be separate spheres. He says the argument that churches would retaliate to this violation of their sovereignty is unwarranted, but he is actively undermining their interests by imposing a massive financial burden. Hayd says he doesn't see a problem with the church influencing secular politics, but the vast majority of Americans do. When His Holiness the Pope himself criticized Trump he was roundly condemned and THE POPE apologized.

I find it extremely doubtful that Hayd can't see the obvious problem with every election in the United States literally being decided by who the major religions endorse. All it takes is one instance of the church's political position contradicting the public good for there to be an impact when you're working with a government that is completely reliant on the church for its legitimacy. This is the road to dominionism. Remember that since Hayd has no impacts, even the tiniest risk of an undue religious influence on the government harming the public good is enough to win me the debate.

Hayd bizarrely responds to my religious discrimination argument by claiming that lawsuits wouldn't cost the government anything because the law is the law, despite making an extremely similar point in his first round. Which is it?

Hayd causes a lot of instability without anything to show for it. The resolution is completely negated.


Debate Round No. 3


This is my response for Round 4, the final round of the debate. I’d like to thank Thett for coming out of retirement to debate this with me. Since this is my final response for the debate, I will not be introducing any new arguments to the debate. I will be mostly responding to what Thett says in R3.

Religion is a social good

The first point of contention that Thett brings up here is in claiming that churches will have to hire armies of lawyers to pay their taxes. This isn’t true, as the only reasons for hiring a tax attorney is for if you are in debt with taxes, issues with tax returns, facing criminal investigation, or are going to US tax court [1]. None of these would likely happen under my plan, thus this argument doesn’t work.

Next Thett argues for his notion that churches will have to “change their business model” and thus the bottom line of churches will have to shut down. That churches have operated under the model that they don’t have to pay taxes and thus altering the model to having to pay taxes will make churches shut down. I find this notion unwarranted because it assumes that churches or church leaders are extremely irresponsible with money. It assumes that church leaders will literally forget that their is a church tax, then spend the entirety of their budget, and then not be able to pay the taxes. The possibility of this happening, realistically, is extremely low. The amount of churches that will actually be affected by this mismanagement of money is so low that I find it silly to see this as a feasible impact for Con’s side.

Regardless, dividing $26,000 among 50 congregants is $520 per congregant, or around 0.01% of the average income [2]. Given the average giving to church per congregant is $1,038 [3], paying all of the taxes will be no problem. The only impact left on Thett’s side for this is the implication of mismanagement of money, which is a slim impact at best.

What does “changing their business model” even mean? And what makes having to change it bad? I don’t see any negative impact in changing a “model” that would cause churches to close. The link between taxing churches and churches closing doesn’t work, since it is unwarranted and proven to be sustainable by congregation members. The only way a church can close is if they cannot pay off expenses (since it isn’t for-profit, it's for-religion, profit of a location is irrelevant) and I have shown that congregations will be able to fairly easily.

Lastly, Thett calls for me to justify church taxation. This seems strange to call out this late in the debate, but I justify taxing churches through my framework and every argument I have made. By my uncontested framework, if taxing churches is a greater societal good than a harm then taxing churches is justified. That is why taxing churches is justified. Even regardless of that, Thett’s quick argument about the government providing roads and police protection ignores the fact that churches also take advantage of police protection and road transportation. Thus, by Thett’s own argument churches ought to pay taxes.

Economic Benefits

Alright, here I messed up big. Thett is right, legitimate operating expenses are tax deductible, did not know that until now.

This essentially destroys most of my case, since by my own argument, 71% of income goes to operating expenses while the rest, 29% goes to charity. It isn’t exactly realistic that a church would only spend money on two things, and the third thing they spend it on would be taxable. But I said what I said, and since this is the last round I cannot take that back. That means that based on an income tax, the government would be getting a portion of the 0% of taxable profits, or 0$. This means that my income tax part of my case is negated, making the amount of money the government gets through my plan is $7.9 billion through property taxes.

The next point of relevance comes when Thett argues that I can’t just assume that the money collected in taxes from churches would be donated to charity. Thett argues that it is not realistic to believe that the government would spend the money on charity. Since I am the affirming side I am allowed to put forth a plan in which to affirm the resolution, as long as it affirms the resolution I am allowed to use that plan. My plan, as I stated earlier, is to donate the collected money to charity. This is allowed and will happen under my plan.

Church and State

Thett responds to my argument by saying that the majority of Americans believe that religion should not play a role in politics because the Pope had to apologize after criticizing Trump. This argument doesn’t work, it's an appeal to popularity. Just because the majority of people believe that religion should not play a role in politics doesn’t mean that religion shouldn’t play a role in politics.

Thett further argues that all it takes is one religious endorsement contrary to public good to sway the election and produce a negative result, and thus negative impact. This doesn’t work since endorsements are a neutral value. A religious organization could just as easily endorse a candidate for the public good than a candidate against the public good, and thus there is no impact either way here. It is a neutral value. The notion that a government relies on the church for legitimacy makes no sense and is unwarranted.

The only way that Thett has proposed that religious organizations retaliate against the government is through getting involved through politics through endorsements, which as I just showed has no case. Thett’s entire argument based on separation of church and state relied on the church getting involved in politics through endorsements, which I proved is neutral. Thus Thett’s argument here is negated.


Through my plan $7.9 billion is raised in taxes. Given that $28 billion is used to save 6 million lives, $7.9 billion will be used to save 1.7 million lives. Even if we accept Thett’s unwarranted link between churches closing and taxes, and then accept that the link is logically sound, the argument still doesn’t work because reduction in people attending church leading to an increase in stress and depression is outweighed by the 1.7 million lives that are saved. In order for Thett’s impacts to outweigh mine, about 6 people would have to die per congregation as a result of taxing churches (1.7m/300k.) This is not realistic given Thett’s argument, thus I win this debate.

Peace and Love






Fun debate.

I. Religion is a social good

The conclusion to this point is short and sweet. Vote Con if you think there is even a slight chance of taxation harming religious life.

Throughout the entire debate there has never been any attempt to refute the actual impacts that I brought up in this contention. Religious experience betters a persons quality and quantity of life as well as increasing the positive influence they have on their community. Don't let these impacts get lost in all of the numbers thrown around in this debate.

It is not remotely conceivable that taxing religious institutions would do anything but harm them. On the margins, extra expense burdens *always* harm the bottom line. This is simply a fact of business, and Hayd pretending like a $26,000 cost spread out over 50 "customers" (congregants) is nothing or that massive organizations like the Catholic Church wouldn't spend a ton of money on tax lawyers doesn't make his case any more credible. It comes off more as grasping at straws--he would've been better off to concede some impact and try to outweigh it, because it's incredibly clear that extra expense harms institutions ON THE MARGINS. Small churches that are already struggling will close. Services that are attended by fewer congregants will stop. Struggling branches of large religions, especially in under populated areas, will shut down. And with them community and social capital that has been built up over years, often generations, will vanish overnight. And all of this for nothing.

He mocks my argument about a changing business model as vague, but when you're dealing with thousands of diverse institutions making any concrete assumptions is dicey. The point is that churches don't currently account for the extra expense that taxation would impose upon them. The apparatus used for financial decision-making would be totally upended, throwing the system into a state of flux. Hayd doesn't take this point seriously, but all serious businesses take precaution to avoid unnecessary instability. We don't know for sure what taxing religions would look like, but we can ascertain that they would be harmed ON THE MARGINS.

I encourage everyone to go back to my opening case and reread my impacts, which are quite substantial. Nothing Hayd has to offer comes even close to outweighing what I bring to the table.

II. Economic Benefits

The progression of this argument tells you all you really need to know about the resolution. Hayds $71 billion has slowly been whittled down to 10% of what it once was. This is a case study in how all of the supposed benefits of taxing religions fall apart when subjected to close scrutiny.

The only impact Hayd has left is the $7 billion or so that he says he'll get from property taxes. Except he won't because like I already said, many institutions will close down rather than manage such a large tax burden.

Hayd argues that this money will be used for charity. First, you're still getting less money for charity overall because when you remove the non-profit status of churches you cannot stop them from keeping their incomes rather than donating them. I'm sure that many would continue to donate, but there are enough unscrupulous people out there (and far more money contributed to charity from the "income" pool) to more than make up for any gains that Hayd gets.

But the most important thing to realize about his argument about using this money for charity is that it will not be used for that purpose. He has offered literally no reason to believe that the government would earmark the money for this purpose, and considering how property taxes are collected by municipalities I'm not sure how it would even be possible for the government to do this. He says that he's allowed to make a "plan" to affirm the resolution, but that's absurd if the plan isn't feasible. His plan could just as easily claim that the government would invest the money into a portfolio that would return 100x the money invested. Such investments exist. Would it be fair to claim that the government would be able to do something like this?

No. And similarly, you can't assume that the money goes to charity. In reality, the money would go to municipalities where it would be a small drop in their buckets.

Refer back to the impacts stated in my original case. While the benefits of Hayd's plan are distributed over tens of thousands of municipalities and thus diminished, the negatives are all centralized. The Catholic Church is the second largest employer in the United States. Subjecting them to billions of dollars in taxes means that many of those jobs are going to vanish.

III. Church and State

This point alone wins me the debate. Under Hayds framework, there would only have to be one instance where a politician was unduly influenced by a religious donor or endorser for the public good to be harmed and for me to gain an impact.

We cannot forget that an endorsement from the Catholic Church would swing literally any presidential election. The results for 2016 are in, and once again Catholics were a pretty closely divided group. Trump won 52% of them, and Hillary won 45%[1]. Catholics represented nearly a quarter of all voters in an election where the popular vote was virtually tied. Say an endorsement from the Catholic Church would flip 20% of these voters either way. That would be the equivalent of a 5 point swing, enough to change the result of all but one of the past five elections[2]. In reality, the impact would probably be far larger.

This is the power that Hayd will give to the Catholic Church. Not to mention the numerous legislative seats that could be flipped even more easily. All it takes is ONE TIME for the political opinion of the Catholic Church (or whichever religious institution won the race for a politician) to conflict with the common good for their to be an impact. Except this will happen all the time. If you want a Christian dominionism vote Pro, otherwise preserve the integrity of the state by keeping it separate from the church.

All hail President Trump. Vote Con.

Debate Round No. 4
62 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by CosmoJarvis 5 years ago
Thett, you made an excellent argument. No wonder you're well admired by people on DDO.
Posted by Stupidape 5 years ago
"Clearly religion is some powerful stuff. Why do these effects exist? The sense of community that a religious community offers is something that greatly benefits social animals like humans. Interestingly, the Duke study notes that while church attendance and active involvement in church activities was correlated with lower blood pressure, viewing religious media was NOT. It's the community. The dangers of social isolation are incredibly well studied--it's about as dangerous for your health as smoking, and twice as dangerous as obesity[5]. For many people, especially the elderly, going to church is the only time they get to socialize. This is the institution that Hayd wants to tax." thett3

The problem with that argument is it is a double edged sword. That churches cause social isolation. They exclude non-conformists. Free thinkers, LGBT, and other religions. My church experiences were largely negative. The young were expected to help the elderly, despite the young were struggling more, mostly financially.
Posted by tejretics 5 years ago
100% agree with Thett.
Posted by thett3 5 years ago

Sometimes I forget how blank-slate many people judge. It looks like your difference with Romanii is just a difference in judging style. You were both convinced by the argument that every presidential election being decided by the Catholic church would be a bad thing, but the nitty-gritty aspects about what that would actually look like weren't articulated enough to win your vote
Posted by tejretics 5 years ago
>The state would gradually become subservient to the church

Thett never highlighted why this was a problem; all he said was "if the church's views harm public good even *once* then they lead to a negative outcome." That's literally how Thett articulated the impact. And that's problematic, as Hayd pointed out, because if the church's views *benefit* public good even once then the opposite is raised. So I'm looking for a calculus of the impacts there: which side has the greater impact? The obvious answer is Thett (i.e. the impacts on Hayd's side are worse) but I'm never getting any analysis on those very obvious reasons (e.g. the notion that the church's influence on public policy is in the net good is bullsh!t because of examples A, B, and C; the church controlling public policy is detrimentally oligarchic; separation of church and state outweighs any public good from the state because ________). Those are analyses I need, and I don't get them. It's a very strong argument but with poorly articulated impacts.
Posted by tejretics 5 years ago

I 100% know and understand the argument to the point at which it actually convinced me. But the argument rests on two impacts: (1) it violates the principle of separation of church and state; and (2) it could be potentially harmful to public good, e.g. via Christian doctrine or whatever. But Thett actually never highlighted the impacts of Christian doctrine, at which point all Hayd needed to say was "so what? It doesn't matter if the church has 100% control over elections." That's what happened, and that's where Thett's response was insufficient. The burden is on Thett to explain why we should give a sh!t about secular democracy.
Posted by Romanii 5 years ago
I don't think Tej understands the reason why intervention by religious institutions into elections is dangerous. Nobody cares which specific policies would be endorsed. It's not about "public good" at all. Interpreting Thett's argument that way totally misses the point.

Churches (particularly the Catholic Church) have tremendous psychological influence over a majority of the population; if they decided to start playing an active role in American political life, it would fundamentally change the nature of our democracy -- politicians would begin pandering along religious lines, the state would gradually become subservient to the church, and the "secular" in "secular democracy" would vanish. "Public good" would take a back seat to "Christian doctrine" as the standard for evaluating policy.
Posted by tejretics 5 years ago

Disclaimer: This vote was requested by both Thett and Hayd. In the time of writing this RFD, I have not read any of the other RFD's cast on this debate.

All arguments regarding Hayd's "plan" such as donations to charity disappear simply because Hayd simply never articulated them as a policy in his case.

Hayd's moral argument on how churches do not deserve tax exempt status simply because they engage more in propagation of religion than in charitable activity directly conflicts with Thett's analysis re: how the church and the state are under "mutually assured destruction." Hayd essentially concedes that religious endorsements will increase and merely tries to turn the impact, but Thett argues that there will inevitably be at least one instance in which the church's sway will be against public good; this is unpersuasive because it lacks any clear impact in how it would be a "net" harm since as Hayd notes, and Thett concedes, the church will also advocate policies in favor of the public good. Thett's impact that religion is a social good does not give me a link between how taxation of churches leads to the social good somehow declining.

With regard to whether the government loses a lot of money, he concedes a substantial portion of that impact mid-debate, and the impact analysis is unclear when taking into account Thett's argument that jobs will be lost due to lack of incentive to spend extra money into those jobs by religious institutions. Argumentation on economics all falls down in that clash, and the impacts I have on economics are (i) a vague and unspecified amount of charity revenue, and (ii) a vague and unspecified magnitude of unemployment. I lack even a marginal bit of impact analysis here on either side. This debate is tied.

I need an impact analysis to evaluate the debate. Both debaters have vague and unclear magnitudes of impacts, and very hazy probability. Impact analysis is virtually impossible. Ballot is tied.
Posted by Hayd 5 years ago
In this debate I didn't come out with a plan in the beginning, which is something I should have done. Didn't make it clear in the very beginning and didn't specify it.
Posted by Zaradi 5 years ago
With YYW in that both sides could've done a lot more to make this debate a lot easier for me. It's pretty unnecessarily painful for me to evaluate.
4 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 4 records.
Vote Placed by Romanii 5 years ago
Who won the debate:-Vote Checkmark
Reasons for voting decision: Utilitarian framework; Thett wins because he shows that a world in which churches aren't taxed is better off than a world in which they are. The only tangible benefit of affirming the resolution seems to be that the government would get $7.9 billion, but it's impossible to say whether or not that's actually a "benefit," because Hayd never shows that the government would necessarily do a better job of spending that money than the churches would. So long as Thett can show a single benefit of negating the resolution (or harm of affirming), he wins. And he does -- taxing churches would invite interference by the Catholic Church into elections, a prospect which should terrify any informed person who's fond of secular democracy. And also, imposing a sudden tax burden on churches would cause many of them to struggle financially (even if they don't shut down), which harms the socially beneficial institution of religion. Resolution negated. Easy vote for Con.
Vote Placed by tejretics 5 years ago
Who won the debate:--
Reasons for voting decision: Comments.
Vote Placed by Zaradi 5 years ago
Who won the debate:-Vote Checkmark
Reasons for voting decision:
Vote Placed by YYW 5 years ago
Who won the debate:Vote Checkmark-
Reasons for voting decision: PRO must persuade that churches should pay taxes, whereas CON must show that churches ought not pay taxes. Equal burdens for obvious reasons. PRO's main points are that in the status quo the government loses lots of money, and that churches are undeserving of the exemption because rather than engaging in charitable activity, they promote religion. CON says that churches ought not pay taxes because religion is a social good worth promoting (which excluding them from taxation achieves), some forms of economic benefits result, and the affirmative world would result in some sort of abstract harm ('mutually assured dest.'). Hayd concedes economics, but wins everything else. PRO world raises revenue, and questions how religion is a social good. The separation of church and state point was far too speculative to be meaningful, because CON had no evidence supporting the idea that even if endorsements translate into political outcomes, how that offends the separation of church and state.

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