The problem of religious tax exemption keeps cropping up on the edge of various complaints: ecclesiastical abuses, increased community taxes following extensive exemption of church properties, spiritual concern lest the Church depend more on special privilege than on religious sources, and anxiety that secular resentments may climax in the expropriation of church properties—these are very real factors in the discussion.

The question of religious exemptions needs careful study. To focus attention only on chronic abuses that fire anti-church resentments or to overlook the fact that most church institutions and churches do not accumulate excessive properties would be far from adequate. Nor ought the inquiry to proceed merely on the edge of anti-Catholic criticism, for even denominations not under fire also can profit from asking how fully the Church’s strength depends upon tax benefits or what relationship exists between the Church’s spiritual vitality and its tax privileges. We need to probe what exemption does to the local church and how it affects community attitudes among the unchurched. Does the local church’s relationship to community tax burdens adversely affect the congregation’s position among fellow citizens?

At the same time such a study must also consider the reasons given for religious exemptions. Sometimes these exemptions rest only on an appeal to tradition, like the Model T Ford which was observed to function without a motor, simply on its past reputation. The argument from tradition often exhibits little power when it meets the challenge of uphill cultural opposition.

On the American scene religious exemptions, like those for educational and welfare purposes, are more often justified ...

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