May 16, 2012

U.S. Loses Over $71 Billion in Religious Tax Exemptions

Center for InquiryThe following is from a press release distributed by the Center for Inquiry:

AMHERST, NY: In times of crippling cutbacks to badly needed government services, a new article published by Free Inquiry magazine details how the tax exemptions enjoyed by religious institutions cost the U.S. a staggering $71 billion per year, at the least. Meanwhile, this religious privilege helps to subsidize the lavish homes and lifestyles of numerous clergy on the taxpayers’ dime.

In their new report, “How Secular Humanists (and Everyone Else) Subsidize Religion in the U.S.,” researchers Ryan T. Cragun, Stephanie Yeager, and Desmond Vega reject the common assumption of churches as “charitable organizations” and instead classify them as primarily the purveyors of a kind of spiritual entertainment. “What we found,” they write, “suggests that religions, if they were required to pay taxes as for-profit corporations do, would not have nearly as much money or influence as they enjoy in America today.”

The authors calculate the loss of tax revenue to exceed $71 billion—with “parsonage” subsidies alone amounting to over $1.2 billion—and even these estimates, they say, are extremely conservative given the cloudiness and obfuscation that is endemic in religious finances. Write the authors, “We realized that religions would be the ideal way to launder money if you were engaged in an illegal enterprise.”

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Free Inquiry is a bimonthly magazine featuring thoughtful and provocative commentary from such leading political and social commentators as Richard Dawkins, Arthur Caplan, Wendy Kaminer, and Nat Hentoff. Launched in 1980, Free Inquiry has a paid circulation of approximately 34,000 worldwide. The Free Inquiry website is at

The Council for Secular Humanism—housed at the Center for Inquiry—is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational organization promoting rational inquiry, secular values, and positive human development through the advancement of secular humanism. The Council, publisher of the bimonthly journal Free Inquiry, has a website at

The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization based in Amherst, New York; it is also home to both the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and the Council for Secular Humanism. The mission of CFI is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. CFI‘s web address is