We hear all the time from Christian conservatives, in the US, that they are being persecuted in some way like the fake ‘war on Christmas’ or the new rules requiring businesses to cover contraceptives for their employees. We seculars have always known that such claims of persecution were false and now a report from the Council for Secular Humanism and University of Tampa offers proof that most religious groups aren’t doing charitable work and taxpayers are in fact propping up some of them with tax subsidies.
In summary, religions spend a relatively small portion of their revenue on physical charity, and while they spend a larger portion of their revenue addressing spiritual concerns, most of that qualifies as labor, not charity. What little would qualify as “spiritual charity” would not be replaced by government if discontinued. In short, religions are, by and large, not engaged in charitable work.
What, then, can we conclude from these findings? First, we have avoided any discussion of the separation between church and state and the establishment of religion because these subsidies do fall under the protection of the First Amendment—they do not favor any one particular religion. They do, of course, favor religion over nonreligion, but, as noted above, we do not foresee the ending of these subsidies anytime soon. Second, it seems likely that subsidies are propping up religion in the United States, though to what extent is not clear. Certainly many religions that are near failing would have done so already if not for the subsidies they receive from the government. Another practical result of these subsidies is that religions are more affluent and more influential than they would otherwise be, because they have the resources to fund efforts to change legislation, create widely consumed media, and influence public policy.
As Americans United for Separation of Church and State notes:
Fortunately, some religious leaders recognize this. At the Edinburgh Book Festival earlier this month, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, noted, “I am always very uneasy when people sometimes in this country or the United States talk about persecution of Christians or rather believers.”
The reason, Williams says, is that Western Christians simply aren’t persecuted.
“I think we are made to feel uncomfortable at times,” he said. “We’re made to feel as if we’re idiots — perish the thought! But that kind of level of not being taken very seriously or being made fun of; I mean for goodness sake, grow up.”
Williams is correct. If the Religious Right needs an example of real persecution, they need look no further than the recent destruction of Coptic churches in Egypt.
But the situation is quite different in the United States. Far from being persecuted, American Christians enjoy religious freedom, and religious groups are able to tap into a lucrative network of tax breaks, preferential treatment and “faith-based” support.
It’s high time for the Religious Right to set the martyr complex aside and declare an end to its culture war.
I would think if the government wanted to cut spending, welfare to churches would be an easy cut to make. It might require one of the preachers to sell a home or two to make ends meet. Oh, No!