Traditional U. S. policy of full property tax exemption for all churches and religious organizations apparently faces a major review.

Such exemptions now cover property with a total assessment estimated at 10 billion dollars or more.

In New York City alone, the current value of churches, synagogues, monasteries, and convents is nearly 570 million dollars. Projected for the entire nation on the basis of population, the comparable figure easily exceeds 10 billion dollars.

Tax officials in numerous communities are known to be studying the possibility of modification in the church tax exemption pattern. They are particularly concerned in cases where churches appear to engage in outright competition with secular enterprises. So are many churchmen (see “Tax Exemption and the Churches,” August 3, 1959 issue; editorial, “Taxation and the Churches,” January 4, 1960 issue; as well as page 20 in this issue).

Boldest effort thus far is in Nashville, Tennessee, where city assessors have been trying to add to their tax rolls the Methodist and Baptist publishing houses, which are among the largest in the nation.

The assessors’ move ultimately came before the Tennessee Board of Equalization, the state’s tax review agency. The board disallowed the city’s assessment of the Baptist operations, but retained 50 per cent of the assessment on the Methodist publishing house. Board members apparently feel that the Methodists fail to confine publishing activities to the religious sphere.

Tax officials and churchmen alike are becoming more vocal over alleged abuse of property tax exemption by some religious enterprises. In view of rising demands for additional public revenue, crackdowns on abuse are predicted.

Increased attention to church property exemptions ...

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