Right-wing radio evangelist Bryan Fischer is no stranger to absurd and inflammatory statements, but when he reacted to the fact that the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act by suggesting that there should also be a church mandate and that everyone who doesn’t go to church should be taxed, he started what could be a national conversation, if the nation would dare to go there.
On Thursday’s show, a listener proposed the idea of an “individual mandate from the government that everybody has to go to church.”
Fischer loved it. From Raw Story:
“Because after all, Obamacare is all about improving the health of the American people,” the radio host explained. “We know that going to church is good for you, it’s good for your health. So we are going to mandate that you go to church for your own health and we are going to tax the atheists who don’t go to church.”
“Now we can’t make you go to church, but we are going to penalize you if you don’t,” Fischer continued. “We are going to assess a tax on every atheist who doesn’t go to church because those atheists are endangering their physical health.”
“That is actually a brilliant, brilliant suggestion.”
Here’s the video:
Of course, the Affordable Care Act doesn’t mandate that people act in healthy ways, it simply mandates that people not be a burden to the system when they are in need of medical care, but Fischer’s misinterpretation of the law is hardly unique. Even Justice Scalia hyperbolically wondered if a broccoli mandate could be next. Scalia also complained about the idea of actually having to read the law on which he was about to rule, which could be the reason for his vast misunderstanding.
Back to Fischer’s idea that we tax atheists (and I assume the rest of the country who doesn’t regularly attend church) – he’s about 60 years too late. In 1954, churches were granted tax exempt status, as proposed by then Senator Lyndon B. Johnson. His rationale was to remove the church’s influence over the government.
If recent history has proven anything, it’s that the church’s influence over government has not subsided, but they are still enjoying tax exempt status and church goers enjoy a tax shelter for their money. Meanwhile, the American people have to make up for the lost revenue in the form of higher taxes.
As an example, Mitt Romney has famously paid a tax rate of less than 15%, despite being worth about $250 million. Part of the reason for his low tax rate is that he claimed a significant number of charitable deductions, which are all perfectly legal. However, about 80% of his charitable deductions went to the Mormon Church. In 2010, the American people lost tax revenue from $1.7 million of Mitt Romney’s income, because it went to the church.
If Romney had spent that money in his deified private sector, the American people would have seen tax revenues not just from Romney, but from the company (or companies) that ended up with the money in the form of income tax and presumably, sales tax. Instead, the church spent it, completely tax free. Again, this is money that needs to be made up in the form of higher taxes for everyone.
While arguably the Mormon Church does spend some of its money on humanitarian efforts, it’s not much. In total, it’s about 10% of its revenue. The rest is invested in business holdings. In essence, the Mormon church is a multi-billion dollar multinational corporation with tax exempt status. To put it in perspective, if any other charity spent just 10% of its revenues on charitable expenses, it would certainly merit a visit from the IRS and it would be panned by charity rating organizations like Charity Navigator.
Like many multi-billion dollar corporations, the Mormon church uses its financial position to influence politics. Its influence over the State of Utah is almost impermeable. By now, almost everyone knows the impact that the church had on California’s anti-gay marriage amendment, Proposition 8.
Before I’m accused of Mormon bashing, I’m only using them as an example because they are currently in the news. Similar arguments can be made of many churches. And this certainly is not an indictment against Mormon people as individuals. Many Mormon people give very generously to other charities as well, as encouraged by the church. But even this pro-Mormon church New York Times columnist admits that the Mormon church’s charitable givings benefit Mormons and not secularists or even non-Mormon Christians.
As with his other investments, Romney benefits financially from his relationship with the Mormon church. As with all social institutions, the Mormon church is a hub of social and business networking. It could be argued that the donations he gives, on top of being sheltered from taxes, are a fee paid for a vast wealth of business connections, connections that are paying off in a big way during his run for President. In April, a church leader used church email lists to solicit donations for Romney. All of this is done at the expense of the American taxpayer, at the expense of non-Mormons and especially at the expense of non-church goers.
While Bryan Fischer has stumbled upon an interesting sound bite, one that will most likely be repeated in this era where atheists fall somewhere near Muslims in popularity, the fact is that Americans are already penalized for not attending church.