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Title: Exempting the Churches - An Argument for the Abolition of This Unjust and - Unconstitutional Practice
Author: James F. Morton. Jr.
Language: English
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An Argument for the Abolition of This Unjust and Unconstitutional

By James F. Morton. Jr.

"No person shall be required to support any ministry or place of worship
against his consent"--The accepted American principle.

"To relieve the property of a church from taxation is to appropriate
money, to the extent of that tax, for the support of that church....
To exempt the church from taxation is to pay a part of the priest's




The history of the democratic spirit, from its first inception to the
present day, is that of a ceaseless struggle with special privilege. The
principle of caste, in its numerous manifestations, is constantly at
war with the right's of man. After centuries of incessant conflict, the
advance of democracy is beyond all question; and its ultimate triumph
can be denied only by those who hold that progress is destined to cease
and civilization to decay. It has become evident that what is democratic
is good and beneficial to mankind, that what is undemocratic is evil and
harmful to the human race. Kings, kaisers, emperors, czars, hereditary
aristocracies and oligarchies of every kind, however necessary or useful
factors they may have been in certain early stages of the transition
from barbarism to civilization, are now recognizable as drags on the
chariot wheel of progress. The world has begun to rid itself of
all these anachronisms; and the day of their entire and permanent
disappearance can now be foreseen in the not extremely distant future.
Complete autocracies have practically ceased to exist. Monarchy by
divine right is recognized for the monstrous lie which it always was;
and the few atavistic survivals who continue to mouth that once revered
phrase are abhorred, pitied or despised by all sane men and women. Mixed
governments are the general rule, since the old and exploded fallacies
of personal government yield unwillingly to the march of progress and
justice; but in each case the authority is slowly but surely passing
more and more into the hands of the people; and the hereditary
rulers are becoming mere figureheads or subsidiary agents of popular
government, pending their final disappearance. In our own and a few
other lands, we are happily rid of them long since, and we wish the
same good fortune at an early date to the rest of the nations. The
reactionaries of the different countries vainly declare that democratic
triumph is a sign of degeneracy. On the contrary, where democracy
flourishes, all forms of progress are found to thrive best. Each new
step in the direction of human liberty has been bitterly opposed by the
worshipers of the past. They have poured forth eloquent jeremiads, and
vehemently predicted the collapse of society and the deterioration of
the race, whenever religious liberty, freedom of the press or of
speech and assembly, a republican form of government, the abolition of
hereditary office and titles of nobility, the overthrow of slavery or
any other great forward step was proposed; and in every single instance
the result of the increase of liberty proved so beneficial to the human
race as to give the lie most unequivocally to the false prophets of
evil. Never has autocracy been proved to be superior to democracy in any
single particular of a fundamental nature.


Reading the future in the light of the past, we may safely maintain that
a fuller application of the democratic principle in our own republic can
be fraught with nothing but blessings to our people. Democracy does not
mean merely the election of officials by popular franchise, nor is it
synonymous with unlimited majority rule. Starting from the premise of
the equal rights of all men and women, it necessarily signifies the
paramount importance of the individual, and next to the individual, the
rights of the collective community. It must protect the individual
to the fullest possible extent in his "inalienable rights" of "life,
liberty and the pursuit of happiness." It is only when he alleges the
pursuit of these rights as a pretext for meddling with the equally
fundamental rights of his fellows that the community, as the
representative of the total rights of all its members, finds warrant for
interference, and for restraining the invader. There can be no question
as to this general principle. The difficulties in application arise
only from the facts that the relative rights of individuals are not
mathematically determinable and that human judgment is not infallible.
Lawmaking is an attempt, more or less successful, to reach a workable
approximation of absolute justice, based on the general democratic

The antithesis of democracy is special privilege. This is the extension
of certain powers to one or more individuals, at the expense of one or
more other individuals, without proper compensation and in violation of
equal justice. Whatever interferes with equality of initial opportunity
falls under this head. Democracy abhors all forms of favoritism. There
is no injustice in unequal remuneration for differing degrees of social
service; but there is grave wrong in rewarding equal services unequally
or unequal services equally. All theories of social reform are based on
a more or less clear realization of this truth, and on the supposition,
whether correct or incorrect, that conditions exist at present which
confer undue advantage on a favored class or on favored classes.


What is true of material advantage is equally true of prerogatives of
every description. The state cannot legitimately restrict any form of
personal liberty, unless its indulgence involves some definite injury
to the liberties of others, and that so great as to overbalance the
interests of individuals in maintaining the liberty in question. Where
there is a reasonable doubt, democracy demands that it be resolved
in favor of the individual. Mere majorities cannot decide the issue.
Redheaded men and women form a very small percentage of the population;
but the overwhelming majority of others have no right whatever, under
the democratic principle, to decree that this small group shall be
exterminated, or even that it shall be subject to a special tax or to
any other burdensome restraint not applied to all the people. Freedom
of the press is a vital democratic principle, which becomes absolutely
worthless, unless it be recognized as a right of even the smallest
minority, no less than of the largest majority. The humblest citizen
is entitled to trial by jury and the use of the writ of habeas corpus,
although his enemies and accusers constitute the great mass of the
people. Majority tyranny is in no sense genuine democracy, but is a
wretched counterfeit. As a practical necessity, the majority must be
held to govern in all matters of strictly collective concern; but it has
no right to meddle with that which is strictly of a private nature.

The absolute and perpetual separation of church and state is among the
most imperative requirements of the democratic principle. Nothing can
be so essentially the private concern of the individual as his personal
beliefs on subjects of abstract speculation. Here, of all places, the
state cannot intrude without rendering itself guilty of the foulest
conceivable crime against its citizens. Religious conviction can never
be a collective matter. Only if all the brains in a group of persons
could be fused into one, would it be possible for such group to hold
an opinion of its own. Each of ten men may accept the doctrines of the
Roman Catholic church; but the moment an eleventh man, who is of another
way of thinking, joins the group, it can no longer be said that
the group believes in the tenets of Catholicism. A majority of the
individuals composing the group so believe; but there is no one mind
thinking for all. Apparent exceptions exist only in the case of mobs,
in which the free play of individuality is temporarily suspended, the
members of the crowd being hypnotized and maddened out of the capacity
for intelligent thought or action by some influence which has been
brought to bear on them. This is not a collective mind, but the
temporary surrender of a group of individuals to an overpowering and
irrational impulse. The mob spirit is at the opposite pole from the
spirit of democracy.


Not only can a group or a nation not hold a collective religious
opinion, but no majority in it, however great, can change the opinion of
a single individual by any form of coercion. It may suppress the outward
manifestation of opinion, and may indirectly present considerations to
the mind of the individual which will lead him ultimately to recast his
views in some respects; but it cannot directly command the humblest
or most docile of its members to change his mode of thinking on
the instant. The pretense of uniformity of faith in a people must,
therefore, be the sheerest humbug. Could belief be collective, and made
to continue so, there would be some pretext for the advocacy of a state
church. Since, however, there is no way of making every individual an
organic part of a believing whole, a real state church is an unqualified
impossibility. A dominant party or number of individuals may by sheer
brute force compel the rest of the community to pay lip-service to a
formal organization labeled a state church; but the total amount of
belief in the dogmas of such an institution will not be increased in the
slightest degree by the false label which seeks to represent it as an
expression of community-belief. A state church cannot become a centre
for collective worship, since no such thing is possible; it can only
bring together for joint outward expression of worship a mass of
individuals, the real believers among whom will engage in actual
worship, while others, under persuasion or coercion, will go through
certain mechanical forms of no value to themselves or to others, in
simulation of the reverence which they do not feel, and without which
their participation in the external rites of religion is meaningless.


History joins forces with reason in proving that union of church and
state is an intolerable evil. The state religions of antiquity were
either the agents of political despotism, or themselves, as in Egypt,
formed a special despotism under which both rulers and people were
crushed to the earth. Since the advent of Christianity, the rule of the
church has never failed to bring disaster. The beginning of the calamity
is traceable to the reign of the Roman emperor Constantine, sometimes
misnamed "The Great." Of many bad emperors, this man stands out
conspicuously among the worst. Usurper, liar, perjurer, thief, murderer,
and villain in many other regards, he adopted Christianity as a state
religion from motives of an unusually crafty policy. So little did
his newly professed faith influence his underlying character, that
his crimes of the blackest type continued unabated after his professed
conversion. He did not even respect the foundation principles of
Christianity sufficiently to become baptized until he lay on his
deathbed, when his grossly superstitious mind deluded itself with the
fantasy that a few drops of water and a few mumbled incantations would
have the magical effect of atoning for a lifetime of infamy, and would
carry him straightway into a region of eternal gratification of every
desire. During Constantine's reign, organized Christianity began by
dividing official honors with the more ancient Roman religion, and ended
by usurping the entire authority, and by persecuting those who still
clung to the faith of their fathers. Later emperors carried the process
still further, ostentatious piety and unbounded corruption going hand in
hand, until Rome became a synonym of utter rottenness, and fell an easy
prey to the barbarian hordes which poured down from northern Europe.

With the union of church and state under Constantine began a period of
mental and moral stagnation, which continued for about ten centuries.
It was an anti-millennium, a thousand years of distinctively Christian
rule, productive of every conceivable evil, with scarcely a redeeming
feature. So black a night settled down on the human race that by common
consent the epoch is appropriately known as that of the "Dark Ages."
The church was sole master, and independence of thought was visited with
torture and death. Persecution, massacre, religious wars without end,
and extermination of whole populations and the merciless slaughter of
the noblest of the race were its characteristics. Rome, the alleged
"holy city," the centre of church power, was a pestilential swamp of
vice and crime beyond the ability of words to describe. Not a ray of
hope appeared in the blackness until the raising of voices against the
extreme control of the church. The human mind refused to remain forever
in fetters, and the rising movements of humanism and the renaissance
witnessed the beginnings of the great revolt. The Protestant
Reformation, an attempt to purify Christianity from within, succeeded
in rending the church asunder, but failed to redeem it from the worst of
its inherent evils. Its leaders loved religious liberty as little as did
their Catholic rivals. Calvinism proved to be as ready to murder in
the name of God as ever Romanism has been. Persecution of heretics,
witch-hunting and the oppression of the whole people for the profit of
ecclesiasticism went merrily on in all lands. The gradual fading out
of these horrors has been brought about step by step by no other agency
than by the gradual emancipation of the state from the clutches of the


Looking around the world today, it is easy to measure the progress
of the different peoples by the degree in which they have attained
religious liberty. The strictly Catholic countries, where least light
has penetrated, and where the right of the church to control the
lawmaking power and to dominate public education has been longest
recognized, are precisely those most backward in all the essentials of
civilization; and in each of these lands, any uprising of the people on
behalf of liberty and progress is invariably accompanied by an open war
against the special privileges of the church. Thus France and Portugal
have found it impossible to win and hold their fundamental liberties
except by shaking off the ecclesiastical yoke; and in these lands
the clerical element is foremost in the evil work of plotting the
restoration of the monarchy and the annihilation of the rights of man.
In Mexico, the priesthood has been fully recognized as the most deadly
enemy of the people. In Spain, the founder of secular education,
Francisco Ferrer, was brutally murdered at the behest of the clerics;
and their associates in this and every land have not ceased to spread
abroad lies that are intended to blacken his memory and to excuse his
assassins. The anti-clerical and republican movements in Spain and Italy
go hand in hand.

The United States of America started right in theory, although it has
not been always firm and loyal to the democratic principle. Observing
the evils of a state church, as they had existed in Europe and in the
American colonies, our forefathers wisely incorporated into the federal
Constitution strong provisions intended to save our land from
religious tyranny. By this fundamental document, the right of political
organization is expressly derived from the people, and not from any
supposed divine sanction. No recognition of any religious doctrine
appears anywhere in the instrument. To make perfectly clear the
democratic purpose of the Constitution, a bill of rights, consisting of
eleven amendments, was added as a condition of the ratification of the
instrument by the original states. To the eternal honor of the framers
of this bill of rights, the first words of its first article are:
"_Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,
or prohibiting the free exercise thereof_." The Constitution itself
contains the no less highly significant clause: "_No religious test
shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust
under the United States_."

The various state constitutions, while not so thoroughly and
consistently secularistic as the fundamental document of the nation,
in practically every instance contain a general provision guaranteeing
religious liberty. The legislatures and courts have often enough
betrayed their trust, and have imposed on the people of the respective
states measures of the grossest unconstitutionality and of the most
shocking disregard of private right in this regard. Rarely, however,
is warrant to be found in a state constitution for legislation looking
toward the patronage of any form of religion by the state. The numerous
existing encroachments on our liberties are as unlawful as they are

     *  For a fuller discussion of the principles of Secularism
     (the democratic doctrine of absolute separation of church
     and state) and of improper religious legislation in this
     country, see "The American Secular Union" (J. F. Morton,
     Jr., 5 cents), "Christian Sabbath" (J. E. Remsburg, 3
     cents), "Congress and Sunday Laws" (3 cents), "The Fourth
     Demand" (Woolsey Teller, 10 cents). All for tale by The
     Truth Seeker Co.


Even were the facts otherwise, democracy is greater than any
constitution; and its vital principles would remain valid. From a
democratic point of view, the state has no right to impose any religious
observance on a single individual, nor to limit any of his actions
in accordance with the doctrines of any religion; it has no right to
appropriate a single cent of public money for any religious purpose,
nor to cast its moral influence for or against any religion or religious
sect. Its plain duty toward all forms of opinion concerning religion is
to maintain a perfect neutrality, and to treat all citizens on a plane
of absolute equality in this respect. The state is officially
neither Christian nor anti-Christian. It is simply an organization of
individuals for mutual protection and for the more effective forwarding
of their strictly collective aims and interests, which are exclusively
secular. The moment it passes beyond these boundaries, its actions
become _ultra vires_ and tyrannical.

As already shown, nothing can be more completely and essentially a
private matter than religion. Where the beliefs, words or acts of an
individual do not affect the equal rights of any of his fellows, singly
or collectively, the state can under no legitimate pretext interfere
with them. Not only may it not interfere with the free exercise of any
form of religious worship or the performance of any religious acts not
properly prohibited on grounds of public policy independent of their
connection with religion, but it is guilty of a flagrant denial of equal
justice, if it shows the slightest partiality to any form of religious
or anti-religious belief, or practices any discrimination against any
such. It has no right to help or encourage any or all forms of religion,
any more than to hamper or discourage them. The one thing to which they
are all, from Roman Catholicism to Atheism, entitled to receive from the
state on precisely equal terms, is protection in the peaceable exercise
of their rights, involving full liberty to spread their respective
doctrines at their own cost. No honest cult would ask for more, and
no self-respecting school of thought would accept less. Whether any
particular religion or religion as a whole thrives or decays, is none of
the state's business. All it has to do is to give a free field to all,
and let them succeed or fail in proportion to their own merits and their
ability to convince men and women of their truth and of their claim to
support at the hands of individuals.


The exemption of church property from taxation is a direct and
unqualified violation of every one of the foregoing principles. It is a
denial of the foundation truths of democratic government. It is a
mean and underhanded attempt to do indirectly what cannot be done more
directly. In its essence it is nothing more or less than the indirect
support of the church by the state. It is the connivance of the state in
the picking of the pockets of its citizens by the church. Every dollar
of taxation which the church is allowed to dodge is one dollar more
laid on the shoulders of the honest taxpayers. To exempt the church
from taxation means to lighten its load at the expense of the people.
It means that the state helps to proselytize in the interests of special
cults. The smaller or incipient sects, which own no land or buildings,
are placed at a relative disadvantage, regardless of their merits
compared to the older and stronger religious bodies. The state rewards
mere acquisition in such a way as to facilitate greater acquisition. It
helps the strong as against the weak, the wealthy as against the poor.
The trifle saved by the small country church, with its cheap structure
located on land of a nominal value, is relatively of immeasurably less
help to it than that given to the rich city church, with its magnificent
edifice erected on a plot worth its tens of thousands of dollars and
constantly appreciating in value. Even as among the churches themselves,
the system of exemption works thus unfairly and in the direction of
concentration of wealth. It affords temptation to the churches to
procure and hold much more land than they really need, regardless of the
growing wants of the community.

Talk of the ethical and educational attributes claimed for the church is
wholly beside the question. It is not the business of the state to raise
its revenues only from the baser elements of the population. As its
private citizens do not pay taxes in proportion to their lack of
virtuous qualities, so neither should the institutions which enjoy
state protection. Our great philanthropists, scientists, inventors and
educators are not exempt from taxation on the ground of the great good
they are doing. As citizens of the state and nation, they receive their
share of social advantages, and do not whine over the fact that they are
asked to pay their quota toward the maintenance of those advantages for
the common good. Their good deeds in addition are voluntary, and not
performed in the expectation of being permitted to shirk their social
obligations by way of reward.


No amount of sophistry can disguise the fact that the church is
primarily a doctrinal organization. No theories of supernaturalism
are needed, in order to teach a pure morality, founded on the social
relations of human beings. If the church existed primarily for
ethical purposes, we should not have the spectacle of some hundreds of
struggling sects, each loudly proclaiming itself as the great repository
of fundamental truth. The religious denominations, at their best, are
rival establishments, vociferously competing for public favor. To say
this, is to cast no reflection on their sincerity. But even the highest
degree of sincerity does not necessarily involve freedom from error.
As mutually destructive theories cannot be alike true, it follows as
an imperative conclusion that not more than one religious body can be
entirely correct in its doctrinal formulas. All may be wrong; all but
one must be. And if the truth rests in a single religious sect, there
exists no competent and wholly impartial arbiter to settle the dispute
in the eyes of everybody. Even if it were not a fact that majorities
cannot determine truth, no one denomination has anything like a
majority. The largest single body is the Roman Catholic. Yet even
this powerful body numbers less than a sixth of the population of our
country. Far behind it comes the Methodist, a much subdivided body. Even
if all its branches be counted as one united organization, it includes
less than one in ten of the population, and is far from containing even
a majority of the Protestant Christians. Exemption from taxation is
primarily assistance toward the spreading of doctrine. Inasmuch as only
one of the beneficiaries of this disguised state aid (if even one) is
the repository of basic truth unmixed with glaring error, it follows
that, no matter where the truth may lie, at least five-sixths and
possibly an enormously higher proportion of the money thus released for
doctrinal proselytism represents the subsidizing by the state of what is
mathematically proved to be false teaching. On this simple proposition
all must agree.


If all religious bodies are exempt from taxation, no member of any
one of them can dispute the fact that for every dollar which the state
indirectly contributes to the cause of truth, it gives from five to a
thousand times as much to error. If all but a mere handful of the people
accepted some one creed as divinely inspired, while exemption from
taxation would still be an unjustifiable infringement on the rights of
the minority, there would at least be some plausibility in the attempt
to justify it on the ground that the balance of probability might fairly
be claimed for the views of the overwhelming majority. Unsound as
such an argument would be, it would possess an overwhelming weight in
comparison with the present position of the tax exemptionists, who
would not merely leave the enemy to sow tares amid the wheat, but would
themselves fairly choke the good seed with a crushing preponderance
of foul weeds. If the democratic principle of separation of church and
state forbids the manipulation of public funds, and by an obvious parity
of reasoning the taxing power of the state, for the promotion of any
given sect which may possess the whole truth, the general subsidizing
of all sects, so far from being less obnoxious to objection from the
standpoint of honest administration, is even more so, since it ensures
the survival of a mass of falsehood, incapable of being sustained by its
own unaided efforts. It fosters the less worthy among the sects, which
could not win their way by merit; and it insidiously corrupts the
more worthy, by inviting them to thrive by parasitism, rather than by
appealing to the force which resides in truth and in the consistent
devotion to high ideals.


In thus granting an indiscriminate subsidy to a vast number of doctrinal
bodies, the state violates the fundamental doctrine of democratic
neutrality and impartiality. It favors a portion of the community at the
expense of all the rest. The millions of dollars which are thus given
back to the churches do not come out of the air, but out of the pockets
of the taxpaying citizens. It is the worst form of taxation without
representation. It places a premium on dogmatic faith. It is an
establishment of religion in direct defiance of the spirit of the
Constitution. Contrary to the rudimentary principles of democracy, it
places the state in the position of formally endorsing the proposition
that religion is a public function and not an affair of the private
conscience. It differs from medievalism only in degree, but not a whit
in kind. It is worse than robbing Peter to pay Paul; it is robbing Peter
and Paul to pay Judas.

Rights of Conscience Disregarded. Not only is exemption from taxation a
covert subsidy for the spread of doctrinal proselytism; not only does
it place the state in the position of paying for the circulation of
incomparably more error than truth; not only does it rob part of the
community for the benefit of another part; not only does it violate
the principles of justice and of impartiality as among the conflicting
beliefs of its various citizens; not only does it force the taxpayers
to support religion, whether they wish to do so or not; not only does it
unite church and state in defiance of democracy and equal liberty; but
it constitutes a direct and deliberate violation of the fundamental
rights of conscience. It is not a mere matter of making individuals pay
for that toward which they are indifferent; it is stealing their money
to assist in the circulation of dogmas which they regard as positively
pernicious and evil. In a democracy, all citizens possess the same
rights, and can lawfully be called upon to surrender no freedom or
prerogative except for some public end of paramount consequence.
No majority, however large, can offer the faintest valid excuse for
trampling on the private convictions of the humblest member of society.
By all uncorrupted minds, it would be at once recognized as the most
glaring tyranny to demand that any individual be compelled to make
public or private profession of a faith in which he did not actually
believe, or that he be required to participate in public worship against
the dictates of his own reason and conscience. Such infamies have been
perpetrated in the history of mankind; but they are now justly abhorred
by all who have assimilated the elementary lessons of civilization.
No longer are men and women hunted down as heretics for their honest
inability to believe that a muttered priestly conjuration can turn a
cracker into the flesh of a deity or a cup of wine into his blood. No
longer are the fires of persecution kindled for those whose mathematical
training has made them incapable of accepting the paradox that one is
three and three are one. The thumbscrew and the rack no longer punish
with a hell on earth all who have too high an opinion of any God whom
they can conceive as existing to believe that he is so vile a monster
as to have prepared a hell beyond the grave for any of his own children.
Even in the backward countries where democracy and religious liberty are
equally obnoxious to the powers that make their rule a curse to their
subjects, and where the miserable thing known as a state church thrives
to the fullest extent, such concessions to the growing decency of the
world have been forced upon a reluctant priestcraft, that its venom
is largely drawn. Once in a long time, after years of patient and
incalculably subtle plotting for its nefarious end, it may achieve a
crowning infamy, such as the murder of a Francisco Ferrer; and even for
this triumph it pays dearly in the end, by arousing against itself
the loathing of all that is honorable on earth. In the main, however,
priestcraft, growl as it may, even in the lands where its strength for
mischief is greatest, can only suppress free speech, free press and
free assemblage; indulge in acts of petty persecution, which arouse
resentment rather than inspire terror; punish refusal to bow to a
religious procession or indulgence in the expression of honest opinion
with fine or relatively brief imprisonment. It can annoy, but it can no
longer crush.


In a land of democracy, even these last remnants of the scourge of
medievalism are wiped out. We look with indignation and disgust at the
priest-ridden countries where a slavish population submits to the lash
of bigoted despots, and rejoice that our lot is cast under a freeer
heaven. Such religious persecution as may still be found among us finds
no warrant in law. It consists of the abuse by individuals of their
economic power over others. In any community where human beings are
found vile enough to wish to destroy what they can of the happiness
of all who do not pronounce their shibboleth, they can only resort to
private activity in the way of ostracism, boycott, blacklisting and
other weapons of cowardly malignance; and the state gives them no
countenance in their criminal enterprises. It is our proud boast that
in this land of freedom the state protects every person in the full
exercise of his right to choose his own religion, and to abstain from
recognition of any other.

What a pity that words are not always equivalent to deeds! So curiously
compounded is the human mind that few are capable of carrying a
principle to its logical conclusion. In some matters, a middle ground
is possible; but there can be no compromise in cases where the slightest
concession vitiates the entire contention of one side or the other. In
matters of policy or of tactics, it is often feasible and just that
each of the contending parties should recede somewhat from its extreme
demands, in order to break a deadlock, or to promote good feeling;
and refusal to yield a non-essential point may be justly condemned as
obstinacy. Even in matters of principle, there is no sacrifice of one's
own sacred convictions in manifesting respect for the convictions of
others. But between manifesting respect for the views of an opponent and
surrendering one's own conscience to him, there is a great gulf fixed.
We may agree that truth needs no artificial props, and that nothing
can be safer than to allow even the most flagrant error full liberty of
expression. This, however, is something very different from ourselves
furnishing the medium of expression for that which we believe to be
false and pernicious, and giving it the unmerited advantage of our moral
sanction. When we realize that exemption from taxation is as palpable
a subsidy as direct appropriation of funds for the propagation of the
doctrines of the exempted institution, and that every taxpayer must not
only bear a heavier burden in consequence of such exemption, but must
also, with or against his will, be counted as part of the organic
social whole which officially pronounces in favor of the merits of such
doctrines, we immediately perceive that the wrong done to the citizens
is not to be measured in dollars and cents. Standing at the parting of
the ways, the state deliberately chooses to follow the path which
leads in the direction of ecclesiastical domination of the protesting
individual. It denies the sacred and blood-bought principle of full
religious liberty. It asserts that the private conscience of the
individual is the property of the community. This is the theory of the
Spanish Inquisition, and is diametrically hostile to democracy. If the
state has the right to decree that its citizens, regardless of their
desires and convictions, shall be forced to contribute to the support of
the church, it has an equal right to declare that they shall give their
time as well as their money to its upbuilding; that they shall attend
its services and give it the benefit of their membership; that they
shall refrain from any word or deed, public or private, which may tend
to weaken its influence; that they shall submit all their affairs to
its guidance, and shall obey its ministers in all things. There is
no logical stopping-point short of this consistent application of the
doctrine that religion is a matter of public concern. If this doctrine
be true, every step away from the Middle Ages has been a ghastly
mistake; and we should return in all reverence and humility to the ideas
and efforts of Torquemada and Simon de Montfort. No person has a logical
right to condemn medievalism, who does not fully and consistently accept
the democratic principle that religion is a strictly private affair and
that it is in no way the business of the state to concern itself
with the question whether the church is to live or to die. From the
democratic standpoint, the church is simply a voluntary group of
individuals, who hold certain beliefs and aims in common, and who have
the same right as all similar groups to associate for the carrying out
of such aims, provided that they do not involve lawlessness of any kind,
and to use their own means in propagating their ideas among such men
and women as choose to lend a hearing to them. Like all other groups of
law-abiding men and women, it is entitled to protection against lawless
interference with its peaceful and lawful activities, whether the
majority of the community may approve or disapprove of its specific
doctrines; and it is bound, in its turn, to refrain from interfering
with the equal freedom of other groups or individuals. In case of a
dispute, the state is the proper umpire, not with reference to the truth
or the wholesomeness of the doctrines professed by the church or by its
opponents, but solely with reference to the question whether the civil
rights of either faction have been infringed by representatives of the
contrary party. There is no room here for the favoritism inherent in tax
exemption. This measure cannot satisfy the claims of either democracy or
medievalism. It gives to priestcraft either too much or too little.


If the church is entitled to put its hands in the pockets of individuals
to further its own purposes, tax exemption is a cowardly subterfuge;
and the honorable way would be to announce openly the abrogation of
religious liberty and democracy, as proven incompatible with the higher
truth, and to require every individual, as a lawful tributary of
the church, to contribute directly to its support. If the church has
rightful authority over us all, the sooner we know it the better. Let
us then cease to prate of freedom, and bow our necks meekly to the yoke.
Let it be distinctly recognized that the priests are absolute masters,
and that we of the common herd have no human rights but the duty simply
of passive submission. In such a reversion to the Dark Ages, there
would at least be the merit that we should at last have done with
the miserable hypocrisy which pays lip-service to democracy, while
insidiously making the state the tool of ecclesiastical influences. We
should know the worst, and could choose whether to submit or to raise
the banner of open revolt against an undisguised enemy and usurping

As this happens to be the twentieth century, and as the pet dream of
the Vatican that in some way the world may be brought to return to the
degradation and servitude of the tenth century is one fortunately
doomed to disappointment, few beyond an occasional Spanish Jesuit or an
irresponsible Billy Sunday will regard the foregoing program as possible
or desirable of realization. No matter how untrue we may be to our
democratic ideals, we know in our inmost minds and hearts that the
progress and well-being of humanity depend on their realization. We
do not propose to take a single step backward into the darkness of the
past, or to forfeit any of the liberties already won through centuries
of struggle. It is too late in the world's history to dispute the right
of private conscience. All that is necessary is to realize how far
that right actually extends, and not to be cheated by a remnant of
reactionary tradition. This being true, tax exemption is at once doomed
in the court of enlightened morality, since we unite in rejecting its
logical implications. If priesthood has no lawful power over our private
actions, it has no right to claim a subsidy at our expense. What it
may not do directly, it has no right to do indirectly. If we may not
be compelled to a full support of the church, it is nothing short
of larceny to require us to render even a partial assistance to its
propaganda. We ask no discrimination against it, but simply that it be
required to exercise its functions at its own cost, supported by the
voluntary contributions of those, and those only, who believe in its
doctrines and its methods, and who desire to help it. This is simply
common honesty, to which the church, as the professed exponent of the
higher ethics, should be the first to give its enthusiastic adhesion.


The sin against private conscience becomes the more glaring, when it is
considered that in the eyes of many individual citizens the creeds and
conduct of certain at least of the churches represent not merely error,
but positive evil. It is irrelevant to assert that these citizens are
wholly mistaken. None of us being infallible, their opinion is entitled
to the same consideration as that of anybody else. The exemption of
church property from taxation forces them, as citizens of a secular
state, to pay tribute to what their consciences condemn as organized
vice. The teachings of the Mormon church are anathema to many, so much
so that in more than one otherwise law-abiding community missionaries
of this faith are even denied a hearing and are subject to persecution,
which naturally strengthens them in the conviction that they are
suffering for righteousness' sake. Yet the Mormon church is a
beneficiary of tax exemption, no less than any other Christian sect;
and every citizen must pay a higher tax, in order to put money into
the treasury of this gigantic fraud and to enable it to carry on
its propaganda more fruitfully. The Roman Catholic confessional, its
celibate priesthood, its non-producing and parasitical monks and nuns,
are held in holy horror by many conscientious Protestants, who look
upon these features as conducive to vice and as reeking with immorality.
Every one of these Protestants, however, is forced by the state to
present the Roman Catholic church with a portion of his earnings, and
thus to provide it with the means of increasing its power for evil. In
like manner, the zealous Catholic, who is certain that Protestantism
is dragging millions of souls to hell, and who earnestly believes that
married pastors sin against God and lead others away on the road to
perdition, must help pay for the perpetuation of this ministry of Satan.
The liberal sects, which thunder against the villainy of creeds that
drive human beings mad with despair by visions of an imaginary hell and
fiery devils, cannot protect their adherents from being compelled to
enrich the purveyors of these hateful and injurious dogmas. Nor can the
orthodox denominations, on the other hand, escape from the outrageous
condition which requires their members to pay for the circulation of
Unitarian and Universalist teachings, which they regard as the most
hideous and soul-destroying blasphemy. In the logrolling attempt to
give every hog a chance at the trough, the only result is that nobody's
conscience is free from violation.


As for the vast number of the unchurched, they might as well have no
civic rights whatever, for all the attention that is paid to their
sincere convictions. In defiance of the elementary right of religious
liberty, so sedulously professed by politician and priest, millions of
our citizens are informed that if they are not members of some church,
and so getting their share of access to the swag, it is their own fault;
and that they have no right to complain of the robbery of which they are
victims. Since it is impossible to apply direct force, in order to make
every individual become a churchman, the next best ecclesiastical scheme
is to soak him in the pocketbook for not doing so. In other words, the
state is used as a tool to force men and women into the church on the
ground of pecuniary self-interest. The proposition is a brutally plain
one. If they join the church, they get something for the money stolen
from them in the shape of increased taxation; if they remain outside,
the added tax is a dead loss. The idea is worthy of corrupt political
hirelings of a degenerate church, which is out for nothing but profit.
If this is modern Christianity, it is fit only for persons dead to all
sense of honor and of shame.

If all institutions or groups of like-minded individuals received
the benefit of tax exemption, a better defense might be made of the
practice, although it would still involve an injustice toward those who
are perfectly good and useful citizens, in spite of their choice not
to participate in the affairs of any organization. But the favoritism
extended to bodies of a religious nature is at once invidious and
unjust. While the whole theory of our government is hostile to special
privilege, the church arrogates to itself the right to be made
an exception, and to become a particular pet. It ardently craves
parasitism, and is not denied its wish. When other groups of citizens
meet together to consult over their common affairs, or to engage in
common activities, they are not pauperized by the community. If they
occupy land and build upon it, they pay their share of the public
burden, based on the property they possess, just like any other person
or persons, and do not sell their self-respect for the sake of saving a
few dollars. It remains for the one institution which constantly puts
on airs of superior virtue, and which expects to take front seats on all
occasions and to have everybody kowtow to it, to come with the beggar's
whine, and to demand charity of the state. Its dishonesty is only
excelled by its impudence.


The church cannot be heard to claim that it is a public or a
quasi-public institution. It exercises no public function of any
description which should warrant granting it immunity from the general
laws binding on all members of the community. Its mission is to preach
something which it calls the gospel. By its own insistent declaration,
it derives its authority to teach solely from the being whom it worships
as its deity.* It is not in any sense commissioned by the state or by
the people, and asks no permission of either to carry out its purposes.
Its members are held together by a body of doctrine accepted by them
all; and they maintain a form of worship which they count pleasing in
the sight of their God. If they are mistaken, it is labor and
devotion thrown away; if they are right, they will be individually and
collectively rewarded by heaven, either in this life or in some other.
All this is strictly their own business and that of their deity. It does
not concern the state in any way whatever. The state has no means of
knowing whether they are right or wrong, and is not being served in any
way by their ceremonials. Its work and theirs do not lie parallel in a
single respect. The further function of the church, _as a church_, is
simply to seek to convert others to the body of dogma which it puts
forward as the message of God to man and the revelation of the divine
will. Here, again, the state is in no way concerned, provided the
alleged divine will is not an incitement to any form of lawlessness or
crime. If the attempt at proselytism fails, the community is in no way
affected; and if it succeeds, the state receives no possible benefit,
and owes the church nothing for the putting forth of its activities. As
God is the only possible beneficiary of the church's efforts, it is for
him to pay its taxes*, if it is itself unable to do so. The state is
under no moral compulsion to discharge his obligations. If he does
not see fit to come to the rescue of his needy representatives, their
conclusion must logically be that he expects them to pay their own
bills. The church, like every other organized or unorganized group of
human beings, receives certain definite and regular services from the
state, which cost money to render, and which create a debt just as
palpable as the debt to the carpenter who builds the meeting house or
the coalman who furnishes fuel to keep it warm. If the church had any
adequate conception of common honesty, it would pay its taxes without
a whimper and as a matter of course*, just as it pays its gas bills or
settles any of its accounts with individuals. It does not inform its
private creditors that it should be exempt from payment for services
rendered, just because it is a religious body; and it would be given
small shrift by any court, should it attempt to evade such claims on
such a ground. As little has it a moral right to take from the public
without returning an equivalent in material remuneration.

     * Even by a miracle if necessary. It is recorded that when
     Jesus was called upon to pay taxes in Capernaum (Matt, xvii)
     he made no argument for exemption, but straightway
     dispatched his disciple Peter after the didrachma, with
     which, it is assumed, the debt to the community was


A weak attempt to justify church graft consists in the affirmation that
it is engaged in purely altruistic labors, and is not a profitmaking
institution. It is not engaged in any openly commercial undertaking.
Salvation is free, and all are welcome to its inestimable blessings. The
sophistry and lack of ingenuousness which make it possible to present
such an argument with a straight face can scarcely be characterized in
parliamentary language. It fairly reeks with self-evident fallacies.
First of all, if the church chooses to run its affairs on a non-profit
basis, that is strictly its own business, and does not concern the state
in any way. If it has no property, it escapes taxation as a matter of
course, like the individual who has nothing. But if it is able to own
property, it immediately incurs a specific obligation to the state,
which is totally independent of the use it makes of its property.
The man who retires from business, and lives on his income, is not
thenceforward exempted from all taxation, because he is no longer making
money. Nor does it serve as an excuse that he is making no profitable
investments, but is using up his bare capital, and is spending his time
and part of his means in philanthropic work. In spite of all this, he is
a member of society, and must meet his obligations as such, whenever
the tax collector comes around. The same is true of an organization. The
church takes up just as much space, receives as much social protection
and as much benefit from every civic improvement, whether it is making
money or not. The state does not forbid it to make money or to engage
in commercial enterprises; and its failure to do so is purely voluntary,
and is entirely irrelevant to the discharge of its pecuniary obligation
to organized society. Its privileges may be free; but what does that
mean to those who count them as worthless? It is a cheap evasion of
responsibility to offer in lieu of the specific payment of a debt, to
render the creditor some form of alleged service for which he has no
possible use, and which means nothing whatever to him. This remains
true, even if the unbeliever is under the spell of error, and ought to
appreciate the blessings of religious counsel. The dance may be one
of the most beautiful forms of art; but if Vernon Castle offered to
discharge a monetary obligation to a blind creditor by the execution of
the most wonderful Terpsichorean evolutions in his presence, there would
be no payment of the debt, even though the artistic performance might be
intrinsically worth far more than the sum owed, and would be readily so
appraised by all who had their eyes. No matter how valuable religious
exercises may be in themselves, nor how much satisfaction they may give
those who believe in them, the civil rights of the unbeliever remain on
a par with those of the believer; and it remains true that the offer
by the church of un-desired services can in no way constitute an
obligation. Let the church be supported by those who accept its offer,
and who desire to profit by its privileges, such as they are. This
remains no affair of other persons, or of the state. The benefits of
religion are subjective and strictly personal; and the state is in no
way qualified to pass on their value. To say that non-churchmen should
help pay the expenses of the church because they can become churchmen
if they wish to do so, is to say that a debt can be contracted without a

     * Not that the church always regards the payment of its
     private debt as "a matter of course." The Rev. Dr.
     Huntington of Grace Episcopal Church, New York city, and
     William R. Stewart, one of the church wardens, in 1908 asked
     an architect, J. Stewart Barney by name, to prepare plans
     for extensive and expensive alterations in the church
     building. The architect did the work in good faith and to
     the full satisfaction of the church, but was deliberately
     cheated out of his pay on the pretext that, though the
     church wanted the work done, knew and approved of its being
     done, received and was fully pleased with the benefits of
     it, yet it had not technically authorized its pastor and
     warden to give the order! Grace church is one of the
     wealthiest religious bodies in New York. Such is Christian
     honor and morality, the exalted character of which is
     supposed to lay the community under a burden of gratitude
     toward the church!


It is not strictly true, however, that the church is in no sense a
profit-making institution, or that it has no commercial aspects. If the
church were not successful in a business sense, it could not accumulate
property or capital, and would not have to worry about exemption. There
are more ways of making profits than by straight buying and selling.
An organization which is able to play on the hopes and fears, the
superstitions and sentiments, the beliefs and enthusiasms of its members
and of those who come under its spell, and thereby to secure the means
of buying land, erecting buildings and paying v current expenses, cannot
honestly pretend to be a purely benevolent society. Let its teachings
be true or false, good or bad, the principle is precisely the same.
It receives money from individuals, who believe that they receive,
in spiritual, to some extent in intellectual and esthetic and even in
physical values, an adequate return for what they pay. This is a plain
business proposition, whether the value is really there or not. The fact
that no definite price is fixed for the services, but that payment is at
least nominally voluntary, is wholly irrelevant. A restaurant conducted
on the liberal plan of "eat what you like, and pay what you think it is
worth," would be no less a business enterprise, and its property taxable
as such. As a matter of fact, business men in some lines have actually
been known to follow a similar plan. How successful the church has been
in this regard may be seen by the enormous wealth which various
church corporations have acquired, always under the claim of being
non-profit-making institutions. Trinity Church corporation of New York
owns hundreds of houses, and pays taxes on some $15,-000,000 worth
of property, which it cannot deny that it uses for purely commercial
purposes, besides its immense holdings of valuable land and buildings
claimed to be used by it only for worship and hence exempt from
taxation, amounting to approximately an equal value. Where did Trinity
church, which keeps up the sham of representing the faith of the poor
Nazarene reformer, who "had not where to lay his head," and who lived
mainly by hand-to-mouth charity, get the means of purchasing some
$30,000,000 worth of property, if it is a purely non-profit-making
institution, which has honestly followed its alleged master's express
injunction to "take no thought for the morrow," and to "lay not
up treasure on earth"? Exemption on that part of its property used
"exclusively for worship," by setting free a large proportion of the
moneys accruing to it from its members and benefactors, which would
otherwise have been used in paying its debt to the community, enabled
it to use its surplus in investments which were of a directly commercial
nature. One hand washes the other, and the state is the dupe of the
pious legerdemain.


Even the religious and ceremonial features of the church are not free
from commercialism. The Romain Catholic church represents the extreme
example of the money-making aspect of religion. Its audacity in
pretending to deserve consideration as an organization devoted purely
to worship, and in no sense to profit, is beyond the power of words to
characterize as it deserves. The dupe of papistry pays, in good, hard,
current coin, for all that he gets, and for a great deal more than the
actual value that he receives. For the pious and credulous Catholic,
life is one long litany of "pay, pay, pay," wherever the priest and the
church are concerned. The shouting Methodist may be satisfied to yell
that "salvation is free," and to take a chance on the collection as a
means of defraying the high cost of delivery on the "free" article; but
the Roman Catholic priest knows a better trick. It is strictly a cash
business with him. The Catholic believer must pay his little ten
cents every Sunday for the "privilege" of sitting on a hard bench, and
listening to a ceremony very little of which is intelligible to him. In
order to catch him in all the relations of life, and to entangle him in
a network from which there is not even a momentary escape, the astute
hierarchy has devised a series of no less than seven sacraments. So
cleverly is the scheme arranged for the trapping of credulous flies
that a consistent Catholic can take scarcely an important step in life
without incidentally paying tribute in some form to the church, the most
monumental beggar history has known. Every real or pretended service of
the church has its price, and no evasion is tolerated. The confessional
and the system of penance are finely constructed to wheedle or frighten
more money out of the ignorant and susceptible. The greedy priest
hovers about the sickbed, ready to take any possible advantage of human
weakness. The patient or his relatives may be reduced to a sufficient
state of imbecility to seek the aid of the church's pretended miracle
system or of some of its holy relics. If recovery seems hopeless, there
is always the pleasing possibility of coaxing or bulldozing the half
dead and mentally decayed victim to make a will in favor of the church,
no matter what cruel and unjust deprivations are thereby imposed on
helpless dependents. What would be baseness in any other human being,
becomes transmuted into the most exalted virtue on the part of the
priest; and any graft is permissible and commendable, from the Romish
viewpoint, if the church is the beneficiary. An immense traffic is
carried on in all sorts of "consecrated" objects for the greatest
variety of purposes. Even at death, the church does not relax its hold,
but has concocted the preposterous fable of purgatory, in order to
keep its foolish dupes continually paying out money for which nothing
whatever is given in return. Then there are all sorts of indulgences and
dispensations for those able and willing to pay for them, besides the
practical coercion by which, under the guise of voluntary beneficence,
the slave of superstition is continually mulcted for various alleged
needs of the church.


The Protestant churches adopt a different method, not quite so
successful in dragging the hard-earned dimes out of the worn purse of
the poor washerwoman or in stealing the coppers off the eyes of the
corpse, but reasonably efficacious. They, too, to at least some extent
make merchandise out of "the house of the Lord." The pew rent system
is as plain a business affair as the buying of seats in a theatre.
The collection is the most important item in almost every Protestant
religious service. It is nominally voluntary, but there are numerous
ways of inflicting acute mental discomfort on those who do not come
up liberally "to the help of the Lord." By skillfully playing on the
emotions of the congregation, and if possible inducing in them a
state of hysteria, an astute moneyseeker like Simpson of the Christian
Alliance or Billy Sunday of the "gutter gospel" can induce a scared,
madly excited, hypnotized crowd to help the Lord to the extent of
thousands of dollars, none of which can be recovered by the victims on
the next day, when they have become sobered and ashamed of their fit of
spiritual intoxication. And the church has the phenomenal impudence to
boast that the money thus tricked out of persons reduced to a frenzy in
which they did not know what they were doing was "voluntarily" donated!
Large funds are also secured by this "non-commercial institution"
through church fairs, grab bags, special entertainments and other
devices which are held to be decidedly commercial when carried on by
worldly people, but which become mysteriously sanctified when conducted
for the benefit of the church.

The claim that the church, as a non-commercial institution, is entitled
to the kind chaperonage of the state in the shape of exemption from the
obligation of paying its honest debts, besides being bad and invalid
in itself, has not even the poor merit of resting on a basis of fact.
Moreover, since there are plenty of other noncommercial institutions,
which pay taxes like any other concern, no reason is given why the
church should be the one special pet. Social and recreative institutions
are not conducted for profit, nor are Socialistic or Anarchistic groups,
the property of which is not exempt from taxation. All of these, like
the church, meet the desires or gratify the tastes of individuals, and
are of the greatest subjective value to those to whom they appeal, while
worthless to everybody else, and in no way connected with the legitimate
functions of society in its collective aspect. Hence none of them
can justly make the slightest claim to be exempted from the duty of
"rendering to Cæsar that which is Cæsar's."


Exemption of church property from taxation is a deliberate invitation
to the concentration of wealth, in opposition to its equitable

While social reformers are straining every nerve to devise and apply
effective methods for the breaking down of monopoly, the policy of
favoritism toward ecclesiastical bodies is building up the evil in its
most aggravated form. If the churches really regarded themselves as
simply trustees of the resources placed in their hands by private
benevolence and state favor, and spent all or practically all that they
received for the benefit of humanity, some defense, though even then an
insufficient one, might be made of the practice of tax exemption. The
tendency, however, is wholly in the reverse direction. The more the
churches receive, the more property they accumulate, heedless of
the stern warning of Isaiah, the iconoclastic Hebrew reformer, who,
according to tradition, was sawn asunder for offending the priests and
the king by the heretical doctrine that Jehovah "would have mercy and
not sacrifice" and preferred social justice to religious ceremonialism.
"Woe," cried the prophet, "unto them that join house to house, that lay
field to field, till there be no room, and ye be made to dwell alone in
the midst of the land!"

It needs no expert knowledge of political economy to comprehend how
readily untaxed property can be made to multiply. Sharing all the social
advantages, and bearing none of the social burden, its owners can bide
their time through all the tips and downs of the market, sure to gain in
the end.

All things come to him who is in a position to wait longest. While the
possessions of others are automatically limited by the effective lien
placed on them by the taxing power, the churches can placidly increase
their holdings to their hearts' content. In the long run, they can
outbid competitors, who must add the cost of annual taxation to the
original payment for the property acquired. Safe in the evasion of their
civic duties, they have nothing to do but to grow richer and richer.
Paying no taxes, they become independent of the state, an _imperium in
imperio_, a power rivaling that of organized society itself.


No class in the community can grow steadily richer without causing other
classes to grow relatively poorer. The two tendencies are halves of the
same process. If a larger and larger percentage of the land falls into
the possession of a given institution, it is mathematically demonstrable
that a greater number of individuals must remain landless and homeless,
and that the cost of access to the remaining land in the community must
become greater and greater, making it harder and harder for the common
citizen to live. Untaxed property in any community adds heavily to the
common burden.

That this is not mere speculation may be seen by a glance at history,
where it will be found in land after land, and in century after
century, that favoritism to the church, wherever tolerated, has wrought
incalculable evil to the people, largely through the heavy accumulation
of wealth by the ecclesiastical body. So unendurable has the condition
become that in country after country the only possible relief was found
to be through wholesale confiscation, thus settling accounts at one
stroke. Thus, Henry VIII of England became a reformer in spite of
himself, and though personally a dishonest tyrant with few if any
redeeming features, at least conferred a lasting blessing on the people
of England by forcing the church parasites to disgorge enormous values
which had become means of the most intolerable oppression. France and
Portugal, though for centuries staunch Catholic countries, found
the wealth of the church and the impoverishment of the people to go
regularly hand in hand, and were finally forced, in decreeing the
separation of church and state, to adopt stringent measures for breaking
the monopolistic power of the hierarchy. The Philippine insurrection
against Spain was largely an uprising of an outraged people against the
priests and friars, who were coming to own everything, and to reduce the
population to a state of vassalage. The part played by the priesthood
of Mexico in the impoverishment of the people, while the church revenues
waxed greater and greater, is familiar to all who are acquainted with
the causes which have brought that unhappy land to a state of chaos and
wholesale bloodshed.


Like tendencies are to be observed as a result of exemption of church
property from taxation, wherever the false principle is in vogue, the
only variance being one of degree. In Montreal, for instance, we have
a striking example of the effect of wholesale exemptions. In 1913, when
the evil had reached its height, and relief was imperatively demanded,
the church had already come to own no less than one-fourth of the real
estate in the community. This was simply the logical outcome of favoring
this class of landholders at the expense of all others. The Montreal
provisions were unusually lax, thus hastening the inevitable result; but
they did not differ in principle from those of the American states which
favor monopoly by leaving church property untaxed. The case of Trinity
Church of New York city, already cited, with an accumulation of about
$30,000,000 in property, is ominous of the fearful possibilities of an
indefinite continuance of the policy of permitting one group of citizens
to prey upon all the rest. The one missionary society named for St. Paul
the Apostle, in the same city, owns not less than fifteen lots of land,
appraised at various amounts from $2500 to $11,000 each, and is still
adding to its accumulations. It would be hard to conceive of a more
unwholesome state of affairs; and the process continues with unabated
celerity. The peril against which England found it necessary to provide
in the Statute of Mortmain is a very present one. If church property is
to be permanently exempted from taxation, it is not difficult to see
how an enormous percentage of all the property of the community
may ultimately come to be tied up in the hands of these wealthy
ecclesiastical corporations which have already made so substantial
a beginning in this direction. We are jeopardizing the rights and
liberties of future generations.

In this connection, it must be borne in mind that nothing is stationary.
The minds of men change from age to age; and that which appears to one
generation to be the most rootedly established truth, is in the course
of a few decades completely rejected. Religion is no exception to the
general rule. The Greek, the Roman, the ancient Norse gods have had
their day; and not a worshiper remains on earth to bow before their
altars. Christianity may likewise pass; already its active devotees form
but a minority of the population. And if Christianity as a whole may
ultimately relinquish the field altogether, it is still more unlikely
that the tenets of any particular sect known today should hold permanent
sway over the minds and consciences of sincere men and women. We are
allowing hundreds of millions of dollars of property to be insidiously
withdrawn from the community, and tied up in the hands of great
corporations which in fifty or a hundred years will be the mere shells
of soulless organizations. We are making it possible for them to become
our economic masters, long after men and women shall have ceased to
find spiritual nutriment in any part of their creeds. By what species of
casuistry does any person think it possible to put this forward as sane
public policy?

     "O judgment, thou art fled to brutish beasts,
     And men have lost their reason!"


If the argument has thus far been conducted from the standpoint of
the outsider, it is not intended to imply that the case against the
exemption of church property from taxation rests in any fundamental way
on the assumption that the teachings of Christianity or even the creeds
of the churches are false. On the contrary, every most material ground
for condemnation of the practice in question would continue to be
valid, even if the truth of the Christian doctrine were assumed as
a starting-point. "My kingdom is not of this world," is the express
utterance put into the mouth of Jesus by his biographer. This obviously
implies the principle of absolute religious liberty, so far as the
secular state is concerned. The Christ of the New Testament disclaimed
the intention of constraining the actions of unwilling followers. Even
the man who had resolved to betray him was suffered to go forth in peace
with the exhortation: "What thou doest, do quickly." In no part of his
teaching is there warrant for religious domination of the state, or for
control over the private actions of individuals. The only penalty for
disobedience was withdrawal from the privilege of communion with
him. Even the passage of dubious authenticity which smacks most of
ecclesiastical judgment of the individual, goes no farther than to
prescribe excommunication from the fellowship of the saints. "Let him be
to thee as the Gentile and the publican," involves at most no more than
an injunction to withdraw personal companionship from the unworthy. It
is by man's own conscience and by the judgment of God in another world
that Jesus expects evildoing to be punished. It never occurs to him to
make religion a state affair.

Nay, it is possible to come closer home to the present subject. Unlike
the church, which mutters "Lord, Lord," but departs from his teaching
and example whenever its convenience is promoted by doing so, Jesus
decided this very question on the side of honesty and justice. When
this exact issue was placed before him, he not only paid his taxes,
but plainly declared the duty of so doing, even though the existing
government was one imposed by aliens. That, unlike the church which
mocks truth by misusing his name to cover its utter antagonism to all
that was vital in his teachings, he was so poor that he must needs work
a miracle in order to obtain the tribute money, in no way touches the
point at issue. The fact remains that he refused to take advantage
of his exceptional position, but set the example of paying his tax to
organized society. If the Lord of the church recognized the obligation
of performing his civic duty, despite the fact that he was the
exemplification of the religious principle, by what right does his
church make itself more highly privileged than its master, and seek to
set itself above the state?


Not satisfied with example, Jesus is quoted as setting forth
the principle specifically and unequivocally in plain words. The
representatives of Judaism put the question to him plainly. "Is it
lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?" There could be no dodging
the issue. They who inquired of him stood for the church of his period,
the church which he himself recognized as such. "They were intrusted,"
said Paul, "with the oracles of God." Jesus himself referred to their
temple as the house of God, and indignantly drove from its precincts
the traders who sought to commercialize the sacred enclosure. It was his
custom to attend the synagogue, and occasionally to take an active part
in the service. If the ministers of sacred things are rightfully exempt
from taxation, the Jewish nation, constituting as a whole a priesthood
to God, as the channel of his revelation to man, might surely, from the
standpoint of the faithful Bible believer, claim that exemption. Nor
were indications wanting that they themselves felt so, and looked upon
it as blasphemy to assert the contrary. In the hope to fasten a charge
of either blasphemy on the one hand, or sedition on the other, on the
wandering teacher, they eagerly awaited his answer. When it came, it was
unanswerable. "Render unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar's, and unto
God the things that are God's." Cæsar was the lord of the coinage which
bore his "image and superscription," God of the thoughts of their hearts
and their private lives. Hence, the former rightfully laid claim to the
tribute which enabled the public treasury to carry on not only the work
of the coinage, but all other public works of a secular character; while
the latter would hold them in the end accountable for their failure to
obey his commandments, summed up in the injunction to "love the Lord
thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy
strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself."

The difference between the Pharisees, to whom Jesus laid down the law in
favor of the payment of honest taxes, and the churches, who are called
upon to-day to perform this elementary civic obligation, lies simply in
the greater impudence of the latter. The interlocutors of Jesus, says
the text, "marveled, and left him, and went away." It is not stated that
they proceeded to mend their ways, and to become honest; but they at
least had the decency not to attempt to bluff themselves out of a false
position. Confronted with the same issue, the churches of our time
reject the commands of their alleged lord and master, and consult only
their own greed of profit. They will cheat both Caesar and God out of
what is due. That which they themselves hypocritically pretend to
adore as the word of God they spit on in their actual performance, by
deliberate disobedience. In spite of the almost unlimited capacity of
human nature to deceive itself, it is practically incredible that they
can seriously believe in the puerile sophistry by which they seek to
conjure up pretexts for stealing the public revenues. The one plain
reason is that they want the money, and are not honest enough to do
their duty to the state which shelters and fosters them. They know
this perfectly well, however glib they may be in trying to persuade the
credulous that in cheating the community out of part of its revenues
they are actuated only by the highest and holiest motives, and that
the fact that they happen to be beneficiaries of the steal is merely an
irrelevant coincidence. It is possible that there are still marines, to
whom such a tale can be told.

In justice to sincere believers in Christianity, who do not make their
piety a cloak for greed and dishonesty, it should be stated that a
conscientious minority in the churches has consistently accepted the
principle of religious liberty and of equal justice and has steadily
protested against every infringement of the secular principle, even when
the abuse seemed to favor their own interests.


The first great voice raised on these shores for the complete separation
of church and state was that of the Baptist preacher Roger Williams,
founder of the Rhode Island colony, which as a state has proved in
the latter days one of the worst traitors to the spirit of democratic
justice. While the Baptist church as a whole has become no more loyal
to religious freedom than any other, and has thus cheaply and basely
surrendered its once glorious heritage, it has always embosomed
individual members who could not forget that the founders of their
sect suffered persecution to the death for proclaiming full freedom of
conscience, and for declaring that the state could not lawfully meddle
with affairs of religion. The Rev. Dr. Alvah Hovey, for many years head
of the famous Newton (Mass.) Theological Seminary, wrote more than
one book in which the principles of Secularism were proclaimed in
full measure from the standpoint of orthodox religion, and enforced by
numberless arguments drawn from the Bible and from theological lore. The
relatively small sect of Seventh Day Adventists is constantly active
in fighting for the complete separation of church and state, maintaining
with ardor that Christianity stands in no need of patronage from human
government. Indeed, it is amazing that any Christian, who is not playing
a part, but truly believes in the divine origin of his faith, can come
to any other conclusion. If the church is of God, it will live and
conquer, though all men forsake it, and needs not the feeble prop of
political favor; if it is of man, and must therefore risk failure unless
bolstered up by artificial aid and by state subsidy, there is no reason
why anybody not directly interested in its prosperity should wish to
preserve it. Whether of God or of man, it is in no legitimate sense
the ward of the state. In recent years, numerous church members are
beginning to have some inkling of these truths, and to express their
willingness to renounce the adulterous union with the politicians.
At the hearings before the Committee on Taxation of the New York
Constitutional Convention, in June, 1915, for example, preachers and
laymen, representatives of individual churches and of Men's Christian
clubs, appeared in favor of abolishing the exemption from taxation
enjoyed by the churches. They did so, not as enemies of the church,
but as its most far-sighted friends. Thoroughly believing in its divine
mission, they were convinced that it could not afford to make itself
dependent on graft for its very life.


From the Christian standpoint, the argument against church exemption is
as unanswerable as that from the standpoint of the independent citizen.
A sham Christian, to whom the church is a means of getting ahead in the
world, and whose profession of faith is a cloak to cover his greed and
egotism, or a means of purchasing popularity and business success at any
easy rate, may find it natural to carry over into his religious life the
spirit of commercialism with which he gouges his fellowmen every day
in his business relations. It is only natural that such a one should
be impatient of any attempt to introduce ethical considerations into a
question of self-advantage; for to him it is axiomatic that any way
of getting money without being arrested is good enough for himself and
therefore good enough for the church, honesty being merely a question of
keeping out of the clutches of the police. He is so ignorant of the very
elements of morality that he does not even know that he is a hypocrite,
and that the kind of thing which stands for religion to him is
as worthless as the cheap varnish which constitutes his imaginary
respectability. To such as he, church exemption is justified by the fact
that the church is clever enough to get away with it. A genuine believer
in the Christian revelation, however, will wish the church, as its
divinely commissioned repository, to "keep itself unspotted from the
world." He will insist that, so far from seeking its private advantage
by questionable means, which may by casuistry be made to appear
defensible, it shall conceive of itself as "a city set on a hill," which
"cannot be hid," and shall, in all things and at any sacrifice, let its
"light shine before men," that by reason of its good works and spotless
character it may prove that it is of God, and not of men. In case of
doubt, he will demand that it refuse to set an example whereby the
weakest observer may be caused to stumble.

With a keener jealousy for its purity than that ascribed to the ancient
Roman, who declared that "Caesar's wife must be above suspicion," he
will insist that it avoid the very appearance of evil. Such a believer
will never be found in the halls of legislation, howling for the loaves
and fishes, and asking that a secular state stultify itself by
stealing money from its individual taxpayers, in order to subsidize
the proselytism of the sects. And a church composed of such sincere
believers will not give occasion to the enemy to blaspheme by evading
its obligations through shallow quibbles about its moral influence in
the community, but will prefer to give a practical demonstration of its
boasted moral quality by willingly paying its honest debts.


Like all false principles, the habit of accepting a subsidy from
the state does not fail to bring harm to the church itself, as the
intelligent and high-minded among its friends are beginning to realize.
It is not with impunity that an individual or institution adopts
parasitism as a basic condition of existence. At the New York hearing
already referred to the Rev. Charles T. Terry, pastor of the Brick
Presbyterian church of New York City, did not hesitate to aver that
the removal of the exemption graft would kill many churches. A divinely
ordained institution is indeed in a parlous state when it has no shame
in confessing that it is dependent for its very life on the favor of the
politicians, its God having totally forsaken it. Such an organization
is better dead. If the alleged divine head of the church is not able or
willing to preserve it, in accordance with his emphatic promise, "even
unto the end of the world," it is plain either that his promises are
spurious, and hence the whole Christian fabric rests upon imposture and
deserves to perish; or that the church which fails for lack of divine
aid is a pretender and not the real body of believers whom he is pledged
never to forsake. Let those so-called Christians, who cling frantically
to the legislature instead of to Christ for the preservation of the
agency for preaching his gospel, take which horn of the dilemma they

Every form of union with the state has not merely made of the church
an instrument of oppression by reason of its preferred position and the
artificial power thus conferred on it, but has been poison to the church
itself. Its political alliance invariably sullies whatever primitive
purity it may be believed to possess. No person having faith in its
spiritual mission and anxiety to see it kept "unspotted from the world"
and faithful to its "high calling" can fail to oppose every "entangling
alliance" which may tend to corrupt it in even the smallest degree. In
theory, the church should be purged of all motives of self-interest, and
devoted solely to the good of mankind. Exemption from taxation and the
lobbying necessary to maintain this special privilege infallibly defeat
its alleged aims. In the scramble for political favors, it learns the
tricks of "practical politics" at the expense of the unselfish devotion
by which alone it could justify its claims to spiritual leadership.
It gains material wealth at the cost of its own higher purpose. It
unconsciously learns to regard money as the chief object of attainment,
and to compromise its sterner principles for self-advantage. "_Facilis
descensus Averno_" is the motto over its downward path.


Even if the church could, by some miracle which has never yet been
vouchsafed to it, retain its purity of character while remaining the
recipient of state graft, the crippling of its influence would continue.
If it wishes to win the world to its gospel, it does ill to put the most
potent of arguments in the mouths of its enemies. Let Christians make
no mistake on this point. So long as the church continues to mulct the
taxpayers for its own profit through the exemption of its property from
taxation, it will be held by the multitude to give the lie to its own
professions; and it will drive thousands of earnest seekers for truth
away from its doors. We do not go to a thief for lessons in the higher
morality. If rejection of the Christian message means the loss
of immortal souls, their destruction lies on the heads of those
representatives of Christianity who prize a few dollars stolen from the
people at a higher rate than the privilege of coming forward with clean
hands, and being listened to with respect and in a teachable spirit
by those whose ears are now sealed against the admission of the gospel
message by their unconquerable distrust and contempt for those who come
with lessons of moral and spiritual uplift, but whose hands are tainted
by the acceptance of graft from politicians who never give without
expecting an equivalent in return. In receiving this dishonest money the
church is not only guilty of an immoral act, but is legitimately subject
to many suspicions of unworthy conduct of which it may be innocent, but
which it has debarred itself from being in a position to refute. It has
thus tied its own hands with reference to its real work of benefiting
the spiritual natures of human beings. Whether the teachings of
Christianity are true or false, the adulterous union of church and state
creates a reasonable and just bias against them, and prevents them from
having a fair hearing. Those who believe that the eternal salvation of
mankind hangs on the acceptance of these teachings are, from their own
standpoint, incurring a fearful responsibility in placing so huge a
stumbling-block in the way of inquiring minds. They have no reply, and
can only hang their heads in shame, when we outsiders sharply demand
what value a religion can have for mankind if it cannot breed common
honesty even in the institution which embodies it and which has no other
function than to spread its teachings.


Since no corrupt condition has ever wanted for apologists, it is not
surprising that self-interest has prompted many voluble spokesmen for
the churches to cast about for plausible arguments in favor of a system
by which they fatten on avoidance of responsibility. While most of such
attempts to excuse the inexcusable have already been refuted in advance,
a brief summary of those currently employed is desirable, as revealing
their utter ineptitude. In practically every case, it becomes
self-evident that they are not the true reasons for church exemption,
but worked up by way of afterthought. Having already decided to rob
us, on quite other grounds, our plunderers sit down to devise specious
phrases which may serve to cajole their victims. In reality, the
exemption of church property from taxation is, of course, a survival
from the times when it was frankly regarded as the duty of the state to
support the church and to enforce the dogmas of religion. This medieval
view having passed away, so far as the enlightened members of the
community are concerned, the subsidizing of the church by the state
should have perished with it; but since the churches do not wish to lose
their easy money, they have manufactured pretexts for the continuance of
the favoritism to which they are self-evidently not entitled in a land
and an age of religious liberty and equality.

The chief defense of church graft is based on the claim that religion
is the supreme moral agency of the community. This argument is found in
many forms, and is highly elaborated by those who put it forward. Boiled
down, it expresses the point of view that the church is a voluntary
adjunct of the police power; that it lessens crime, and therefore
directly saves expense and trouble to society, for which exemption from
taxation is only a reasonable return. In part, this argument has already
been tested and found valueless. The church claims a kingdom, which "is
not of this world," and its main business is to create subjects for that
kingdom. To receive salvation, faith is all-essential, moral character
being subsidiary. A single act of penitence may atone for a lifetime of
crime. The great work of the church is to develop faith, without which
the righteous deeds of the purest and best man on earth are nothing but
"filthy rags." The vilest murderer, "converted" under the fear of
being presently precipitated into a yawning hell, and having no further
opportunity to enjoy life on this earth, may pass directly from the
gallows or the electric chair to the bosom of Jesus, while his
innocent victim, struck suddenly dead without a chance to reflect on
possibilities beyond the grave, has sunk to everlasting perdition in
spite of possessing a character above reproach. Is this the form of
doctrine calculated to raise the moral tone of the community? Let it not
be replied that this is the antiquated theology which the liberal and
most of the orthodox churches have long since outgrown. On the contrary,
it is the teaching of the entire Roman Catholic church and of the
largest section of the Protestant church. In its coarsest and crudest
form, it has in our own day been preached to huge audiences from one end
of the country to the other by the spectacular evangelist, Billy Sunday,
as the only true Christianity; and this otherwise negligible religious
mountebank has received the explicit endorsement of the principal
evangelical organizations and an overwhelming majority of the orthodox
preachers in every one of the largest and a multitude of the lesser
cities of our land. The churches in which this repulsive and vicious
doctrine is taught receive much the larger share of the benefit from tax


But from a social point of view the case is even more serious. It is not
the most intellectual and refined classes which even the wildest zealot
will claim to stand in special need of religion to restrain them from
crime and from all forms of conduct calculated to injure their neighbors
in the community, but the most ignorant and crude; and it is precisely
these latter types which remain totally impervious to highly developed
forms of religious expression, and throng to the Catholic cathedrals and
the revival meetings of the Billy Sundays and Gipsy Smiths, where belief
is emphasized above integrity of character. Just those persons who may
be assumed to need whatever ethical element is to be found in religion
are those who receive the least of it. If, in spreading its gospel
of faith and obedience to ecclesiastical superiors, the churches
incidentally lead an occasional individual to a more honest and upright
social life, this result is simply a by-product of the religious
operation, and creates no claim on the state. In reclaiming the
down-fallen, the church wins another supporter for itself, and adds a
soul to the "kingdom." In seeking a subsidy from the state, it foregoes
its higher pretensions, and seeks to be paid double for a work which
it undertook on its own account. If it is part of the function of the
church to teach morality, so is it part of the function of the home;
and in the average decent home there is much more specific, concrete
and effective teaching of good morals, brought closely home to the
individual, than there is in the best of churches. Yet the home does
not claim exemption from taxation because of its moral influence. As has
been suggested elsewhere, the argument as to moral influence speedily
leads to a _reductio ad absurdum_, implying, as it does, that all
taxes should be raised from the vicious and immoral elements in the
community--that criminals should be the only taxpayers, or that taxes
should be levied on citizens and institutions in inverse ratio to
the moral character and ethical influence of each! Every legitimate
enterprise of any description exercises a wholesome moral influence in
the community, and directly benefits society in one way or another;
and the church, even taking it at its own valuation, is but one of many
institutions which, while existing primarily for ends of their own, are
incidentally of benefit to society as a whole. Why should it be the
only one to demand a favoritism incompatible with self-respect or with
justice to its fellows? The question as to the exemption of educational,
charitable and certain other institutions need not here be raised to
confuse the issue. Each of these must be settled on its own merits. It
is enough to suggest that where their primary function, like that of
the church, is something with which the state is not directly concerned,
they fall in the same category, and have no right to any subsidy. Where,
however, their entire work is directed toward meeting a recognizedly
collective need, which the state finds it less practical or satisfactory
to discharge in a more direct manner, exemption from taxation is
properly invoked as an indirect means of accomplishing the social end.
The impropriety of exempting any sectarian or partisan institution
results from the entire argument herein contained. As to non-partisan
and non-sectarian institutions, the question of propriety is one of
fact, to be determined by the best public judgment in accordance with
the foregoing principle.


While the argument has thus far proceeded on the assumption that the
church, in spite of certain questionable teachings, is to be taken at
its own valuation as a moral agency, fidelity to truth demands the plain
statement of the fact that such definite particulars as are available
fail to bear out the claims so positively put forward. This is
especially true of our criminal statistics. Even on the most generous
calculations, the church membership of the country embraces considerably
less than half of the population. If the church were so powerful a moral
factor as its supporters declare it to be, we should expect to find the
average criminal a wholly irreligious being, with no contact or sympathy
with the doctrines of Christianity. What we actually observe is that of
all the criminals in penitentiaries in this country, not less than 75
per cent, are of Christian antecedents and profess a belief in religious
dogmas; while the number of Christian preachers convicted of crime is so
large as to be almost incredible, in spite of the fact that most
cases of minor clerical offenses and some of the more serious ones are
systematically hushed up, to avoid public scandal for the church.*

     * See "Religion and Roguery," by Franklin Steiner. Price 10
     cents. For sale by The Truth Seeker Co. Also "Crimes of
     Preachers," for sale by the same. Price, 35 cents,

Benefit of clergy, though theoretically as obsolete as it is inexcusable
in a secular democracy, is known to all who are on the inside to be
a tangible fact in our land today. It is one of the forms of indecent
favoritism of which the church and its agents are always eager to avail
themselves. In any one of the annual reports of the Society for the
Suppression of Vice, the reader may observe that the late Anthony
Comstock, though an excessively pious Christian and hater of all
forms of unbelief, bears reluctant testimony in tabular form to the
overwhelming preponderance of religious offenders among those whose
convictions he has secured. For example, the total number of arrests
for crimes against the obscenity and lottery laws from March, 1872, to
January, 1915, was 3,641. Of these (annual report for 1914) 1078 were
Jews, 964 Catholics, 954 Protestants, and 564 of no known religion,
leaving only 80 to be distributed among the several classes of
Freethinkers, Spiritualists and "heathen." The figures speak for
themselves. Turning from statistics to scientific criminology, we find
abundant confirmation of the close relation between religion and crime.
So far from being a restraint, religious faith of a very intense sort is
commonly found closely associated with criminal tendencies, and is
one of the most marked characteristics of the typical criminal. This
conclusion, unpalatable though it is to the defenders of the churches,
is irrefutably proven valid by the most competent observers. (See "The
Criminal," by Havelock Ellis, fourth edition, pages 185-190, with facts
and citations from Ferri, Garofalo, Casanova, et al.) Let it not be
thought that the writer is here attempting to prove that religion is
a frequent cause of crime. It is enough to show that it is practically
inoperative as an inhibition. The many good men and women who are also
pious put the cart before the horse in crediting their religion with
their moral character. Whatever ethical elements the higher forms of
religion contain in theory, it is not these on which the incidence
is laid in religious teaching or in the performance of religious
ceremonies. Consequently, no matter how much is said in the churches of
righteousness, as an observed sociological fact religion has little to
do with it, one way or the other. The good man or woman, on becoming
religious, remains good; the bad man or woman does not cease to be bad
because of possessing a strong religious faith and participating in
religious exercises. Those who have been both virtuous and religious all
their lives would have been no less virtuous if they had never heard
of religion. Even the tyro in the study of the evolution of religious
belief knows that primitive forms of religion are entirely void of
ethical content. The moral imperative is a gradual development of the
social instinct; while the religious "instinct" is the reaction of the
individual to external influences which inspire him, in his ignorance
of their real nature and of their subjection to iron laws of cause
and effect, with fear and wonder. (Admiration, gratitude for imagined
favors, hope for protection and support, and other forms of mental or
emotional reaction, come somewhat later, and are efficient in reshaping
the primitive phases of religion into more specific conceptions of
anthropomorphic deities.) In the course of time, it becomes natural that
the worshiper of beings above himself, to whom his supreme reverence is
due, should come to endow those beings with the highest qualities he is
capable of conceiving, and hence should represent them as authors of the
moral law which has become an ingrained part of his personal and social
existence. Yet it remains a fact with both the savage and the civilized
man that his moral conceptions change from age to age, and that his
attribution of any particular ethical mandate to his deity is always an
afterthought. In other words, both in general and in detail, morality
caused and determined by social needs and the growth of the social
spirit precedes morality under a religious sanction, and would persist,
even if all forms of religion should be annihilated. The church does not
create moral standards for the community, but is at most a register of
them. Without the church, it is probable that few individuals would
be either more or less moral than with it; they would simply use other
terms in which to interpret their moral sentiments to themselves and
others. There need then be no fear of the consequences of recalling the
churches to the exercise of common honesty. As recipients of graft, they
can certainly not claim to exemplify the morality which they profess to
teach. Such of them as cannot live without theft from the taxpayers are
better dead, since their dependence on dishonesty for existence must
more than nullify any conceivable good which they can do the community
by the hollow mockery of teaching a morality which they do not practice.
On the other hand, such churches as find it possible to live on an
honorable basis, without claiming a subsidy, will stand some chance of
being listened to when they seek to preach morality to others.


It is further claimed that the church is directly engaged in social and
philanthropic activities, which would become sorely crippled by a forced
diminution of revenue. Advocates of this view have declared that the
church is specially fitted for many branches of social service, being
able to command invaluable volunteer assistance, which the state could
not hire at any price. Hence they conclude that the elimination of the
churches would throw on the state a burden far in excess of the amount
now conceded to these institutions in exemption from taxation.

It will be seen that the foregoing claim of the church rests entirely
on assumptions of the most gratuitous nature. In the first place, only
a minority of the churches are of the "institutional" order, and
practically engaged in social welfare work; and in the exemption laws
no distinction is made between this minority and the large majority of
churches which render no such public service. In fact, the law works
entirely in favor of the parasitic churches, the mere accumulators of
wealth. The institutional churches attract to themselves the support of
individuals who wish to see the work done, and who will stand by them to
any extent needed; while the other class of ecclesiastical bodies, which
exist mainly for the promulgation of effete dogmas, lean on the state
for a much larger proportion of their total revenue. With state help,
they fatten and become rich; while the few socialized churches spend
their revenues as fast as they come in. The repeal of exemption laws
would not kill any churches which are doing a work felt in the community
to be one of public necessity; it is the socially useless churches which
would be forced to perish, if they could not win sufficient voluntary
support by showing some indication of deserving it. The fallacy that the
repeal of exemption laws means the killing of the institutional churches
or the crippling of their work is a most glaring one.

It is further not true that the supporters of the social work now done
through the higher type of churches would lose all interest in it if the
church were to disappear from the scene. Such a claim is an insult to
human nature and a fatal confession with reference to the quality of the
religion which is thus assumed to teach its followers to labor only for
the sake of the church and not for the love of mankind. The desire to
minister to social needs, found among the nobler men and women of all
forms of faith and of unbelief, would persist in undiminished degree. If
the church were gone, it would simply use other channels through
which to work. They would likewise be joined by others, who cannot
conscientiously assist in the promulgation of dogmas they consider
false and pernicious, even though the doctrinal teaching is subtly
interblended with philanthropic work; and by still others, whose
earnestly proffered services are rejected by the religious bodies,
because, although eager to help in social service, they cannot pronounce
the doctrinal shibboleths of ecclesiasticism. The spontaneous response
of men and women to proven human need has been demonstrated again and
again, and never more than during the great world war, in the immense
sums of money and quantities of needful articles eagerly proffered and
the vast amount of personal service freely rendered, sometimes at the
risk or cost of life itself, to alleviate the sufferings of military
and civil victims resident in alien lands and totally unknown to the
millions of volunteer helpers. No church activity was needed to stir
all this active and uncalculating benevolence into life; and none is
required to arouse the higher sentiment in the community to co-operate
in combating its poverty, illness and degradation.


Moreover, the church is far from being the best agent for the carrying
on of social service. The trouble is that it has its own axe to grind.
Its eye is not single to the relief of human suffering, but it has also
to think of converting the sufferers to its creed. It is constantly
tempted to play upon the gratitude of those whom it helps, to induce
their attendance at its services, if not to dragoon these helpless
dependents into an outward expression of belief. Even where it does not
discriminate against non-believers in its creed, or seek in any way to
abuse its position in order to proselyte them directly, it too often
does its alms to be seen of men, and turns its social work into a huge
advertising scheme, after the fashion of an ostentatiously philanthropic
Rockefeller, who gives with one hand and with the utmost publicity about
one-hundredth part of what he extorts from the masses with the other
hand. At best, its activities are such as to generate a reasonable
suspicion that its aims are not wholly pure, nor its work of unmixed
quality; and the net result is not a wholesome one.

For the best good of the community, social service needs to be entirely
divorced from dogma, whether performed by the state as part of its duty
towards its members, or by private individuals or groups as a voluntary
effort to lessen the sorrows and evils of humanity. If the church
insists on doing a part of this community work, let it, like others
engaged in such work, do so at its own cost. If it is sincere in its
wish to help mankind, it will not balk at this condition; if not, it
betrays the selfishness of its aims. The argument in favor of exempting
from taxation organizations doing nothing but philanthropic work, and
organized for no other purpose, cannot be honorably stretched to embrace
bodies formed to propagate particular creeds, which simply take on
philanthropic activities as a side line. If this were otherwise, every
factory which introduces a "welfare department" should by a parity of
argument immediately have all its property exempted from contribution to
the public revenues.


The curious argument has sometimes been urged that churches raise the
value of adjacent property, and should therefore escape taxation. If
this be indeed a fact, it proves either nothing to the purpose or a
great deal too much for the comfort of those who put it forward. It is
difficult to see why the taxpayers of an entire city should reward the
church for enriching the few property-owners canny enough to secure land
adjoining clerically owned property. By merely increasing the value
of certain pieces of property at the expense of land less fortunately
located, the community as a whole is not made a substantial gainer.
Even taking the most favorable view, it is certain that the "unearned
increment" of the property adjoining the church will never rise so high
as to overbalance the total value of the church property withdrawn from
taxation; and hence the encouraging of church-building by tax exemption
must represent a net financial loss to the community. Moreover, every
improvement on land increases the value of neighboring property;
hence the argument, if valid at all, warrants the exemption of all
improvements from taxation, and the equal taxation of all land values,
whether the land is built on by churches or otherwise utilized, or left
wholly unimproved.

The fact should also be recognized that to many the existence of
churches adjacent to their property is anything but a benefit. So far
from regarding the value of their property as increased by the coming
of a church, many an owner will resent the intrusion, and sell out at a
loss, rather than be exposed to some of the features of church activity
in his immediate vicinity. To many, the ringing of church bells is an
intolerable nuisance and a positive grievance. The collection of crowds,
even of the most decorous nature, is most objectionable to others.
In New York and other cities, property in certain sections is highly
restricted by deeds which provide against the erection of churches, no
less than of livery stables and other structures considered undesirable
in a residential neighborhood. Real estate men do not bear out the claim
that the inevitable or even the usual result of the erection of churches
is to increase the value of property in the vicinity.


The weakness of the case for the exemption of church property is
apparent from the fact that the foregoing easily refuted claims
represent substantially the entire case in its favor. At the New
York hearing of 1915, and at all other hearings before the various
legislative bodies of our land, they have been the only points on which
stress was sought to be laid. Incidentally, of course, minor assertions
have been made, such as the alleged fact that the church is a public
utility, in the maintenance of which the community has a direct
interest. This plea, on which small reliance is usually placed, has been
fully disposed of by the analysis on a preceding page of the function of
the church. Sometimes attention is called to the apparent preponderance
of interest in favor of exemption, as witnessed by the number of
speakers who appear in its favor at committee hearings and by the number
and size of the organizations which they represent. This is obviously
the most transparent sophistry. Principles are not to be gauged by
numbers. A country in which the mob may dispose at its lightest whim of
the rights and liberties of the individual or of the minority is a
land of tyranny, and cannot prosper in the end. Moreover, the alleged
preponderance does not even prove that the majority of the citizens are
in favor of the special privilege dishonestly demanded by the churches.
It merely furnishes fresh evidence of the well-known fact that parties
with special interests to be subserved by class legislation will
organize more efficiently than those appearing for the general interest
of the citizens, but not backed by powerful existing organizations well
supplied with funds and having much to gain or lose in a financial way
by the passage or defeat of the proposed legislation. It is hard to stir
up popular interest to the point of action in matters that involve the
civic conscience. Nevertheless, the people are slowly awakening to a
realization of the iniquity of the manner in which the churches, for
their own profit, have played upon the religious emotions of those under
their influence; and a day of reckoning is imminent. The sentiment
in behalf of the repeal of the dishonest exemption laws is growing
continually stronger, and must finally become irresistible.

It has sometimes been asserted that precedent is against the taxing
of churches. At the New York hearing, this was gravely put forth by a
Presbyterian preacher as a serious argument; and he sought to dismiss
the proposition by cavalierly remarking that it was part of the present
craze for new taxes of all sorts. His deliverance was echoed by a lawyer
hired to represent Grace Episcopal church, the church which showed
its moral standards by cheating its architect out of his fee on a
contemptible legal technicality. "I am old-fashioned enough," remarked
the lawyer, metaphorically patting himself on the back for his astute
appeal to religious prejudice, "to believe that the house of God should
not be taxed." In other words, whatever is, is right. No old abuse must
ever be abolished, and every new idea must be wrong. Could there be a
finer admission that the bent of the churchly trained mind is against
all progress, and prone to resist change merely because it is new?


The defenders of church graft never fail in the end to reveal their real
position. At no public hearing has it ever happened that the shrewder
representatives of the church were able to restrain their less subtle
colleagues from avowing their disbelief in the separation of church
and state, and their conviction that the government should consider the
support of religion as part of its business. The important hearing
so often quoted had several such confessions of treason to American
principles. The Rev. Charles T. Terry of the Brick Presbyterian church
of New York city, when asked whether he would think it proper for the
state to appropriate money directly for the support of the churches,
since exemption was but an indirect way of accomplishing the same
result, completely missed the object of the question, and instead of
attempting to distinguish the two methods in principle calmly assumed
that there could be no question of impropriety in either, and explained
that he preferred the exemption method as _more dignified_. If he had
been entirely frank, he might have confessed his doubt whether a direct
theft from the taxpayers would be tolerated in this enlightened period.
The American churches would be only too glad to adopt the English method
of open and unabashed robbery of dissenting citizens for the support of
the churches in whose doctrines they do not believe. This, however, has
become an impossibility.

In our colonial period we passed through the mental condition in which
church and state were considered as one, and neglect of religious "duty"
was punished as an offense against the community. In default of a
return to those days, so blessed in the view of the enemies of religious
liberty, the churches are willing to accept the indirect contribution
of the state to their private expenses incurred in the interest of
sectarian proselytism. True Americanism, however, finds no logical
distinction between the one method and the other. A difference of degree
may exist, but not one of kind.

The Rev. Dr. D. C. Potter* of Brooklyn, who attended the hearing,
scorned to argue with unbelievers in any way except by ejaculations. He
fairly screeched his horror of the idea that anybody should propose to
"tax the house of God." The finely-spun fallacies of his colleagues,
who talked of the "social services" of the churches and their alleged
protection to the community from a flood of vice and crime, went down
in the wind before his anguished yells at the thought that religious
liberty and the separation of church and state were in danger of
becoming complete realities in a democracy nominally pledged to the
unwavering support of these great principles. In the same spirit, Herman
Metz, a politician and former officeholder, irrelevantly remarked that
the plea that non-churchgoers should not be forced to meet the expenses
of an institution which is of no value to them is like the objection to
paying taxes for schools if we happen to have no children, or for the
fire department if our house has never been on fire! The utter lack of
distinction between the ministering to private wants and the performance
of a public function would do discredit to an imbecile. Still worse,
because less excusable, was the assertion of Nicholas Murray Butler,
president of Columbia University, a man of education and formal culture,
that a person who did not believe in religion should be taxed to
support the churches just as an Anarchist should be taxed to support
the government! With greater suavity and shrewdness, but no less
indifference to historic fact and democratic principle, William D.
Guthrie, appearing as attorney for the Roman Catholic interests,
rejected the easy way out of pretending that the churches subserved some
civic function, and defended their claims on the ground that "immemorial
practice" sanctioned the exemption graft. In other words, a wrong
becomes right, an abuse a virtue, if it is only continued long enough!
Mr. Guthrie went so far as to assert that Christianity is part of
the common law of the land. If this be true, our case even yet is
not hopeless, for the "common law" of England, from which American
jurisprudence is derived, did not drop down from heaven as a sacred
deposit, forever perfect and unchangeable. As a matter of fact, most
of it has long since been superseded by the constitutional law of the
nation and the states, and by innumerable statutes. From the moment
of the adoption of our Federal Constitution, expressly forbidding an
"establishment of religion," Christianity, whatever its status under
the common law, ceased to form an integral part of the law of the United
States, and became simply one of many forms of private belief, the
relative number of its adherents being totally immaterial. In the treaty
with Tripoli, secured during the administration of George Washington,
our first great President placed his signature to the specific statement
that the government of this land is in no sense founded on the Christian
religion. The forenamed gentlemen, one and all, far from lending
strength to their cause by invoking the outworn traditions of the past
and by appealing to the brute force of religious bigotry against the
equal civic rights of all citizens, have turned state's evidence against
their accomplices by the unthinking confession that the case for church
exemption rests in the last analysis on treason to the Constitution and
to the principle of separation of church and state. When the enemies
of religious liberty and the rights of man thus come out in their true
colors we know how to meet them. It is the insidious method of seeking
to shelter church graft under pretensions of the common weal that is
able to deceive the public for a time.

     * See "Crimes of Preachers."


Our fight against church graft is not new, for through the ages of human
history men slow in learning the lesson of equal liberty have made this
warfare inevitable. Even those honestly desirous to be fair have found
it easy to cheat themselves with convenient sophistry, and to frame
fantastic reasons for deeming the public weal inseparably bound up
with their particular group of dogmas, so that the good of mankind must
require the submission of dissenters to the popular creed. That
the whole community should be forced to support the church appeared
axiomatic to the New England of Governor Bradford, Cotton Mather and
Jonathan Edwards. The settlement of Rhode Island by Roger Williams and
his associates, on the basis of complete religious liberty, was the
first event to startle Puritanism into a realization that the right
of the church to control the state was not as self-evident as had been
thought. Later were heard bold voices to demand that the church take its
proper position in the community as a voluntary body of believers,
free to worship in its own fashion, and leaving all others free to do
likewise or not to worship at all. And finally the foremost and boldest
thinkers began to see that there could be no equal justice while
unbelievers were mulcted in taxation to support the churches. One of
the first protests against the wrong which still prevails, although now
disguised under the form of exemption, took the shape of a memorial to
the general court (legislature) of Massachusetts in 1775. The core of
the argument is contained in the following paragraph:

"For a civil legislature to impose religious tax is, we conceive, a
power which their constituents never had to give, and therefore going
entirely out of their jurisdiction. We are persuaded that an entire
freedom from being taxed by civil rulers to religious worship is not a
mere favor from any man or men in the world, but a right and property
granted us by God, who commands us to stand fast to it. We should wrong
our consciences by allowing that power to men which we believe belongs
only to God."

In the same spirit, the pious and learned Rev. Dr. Wayland, in his
"Political Economy," wrote:

"All that religious societies have a right to ask of the civil
government is the same privileges for transacting their own affairs
which societies of every other sort possess. This they have a right
to demand, not because they are religious societies, but because the
exercise of religion is an innocent mode of pursuing happiness. If it
happens accidentally that others are benefited, it does not follow that
they are obliged to pay for this benefit. It cannot be proved that the
Christian religion needs the support of the civil government, since it
has existed and flourished when entirely deprived of this support."


After the theologian, the philosopher. These are the words of the
truth-loving friend of justice, Benjamin Franklin:

"When a religion is good, I conceive that it will support itself; and
when it cannot support itself, and God does not take care to support it,
so its professors are obliged to call for help from the civil power, it
is a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one."

The soundness of Franklin's test cannot be successfully disputed. If the
churches must look to the state, instead of to their God, for continued
life and prosperity, it is "a sign," indisputable as a voice from
heaven, that they are not divinely commissioned, but are impostors. The
demand for exemption from taxation is a confession of lost spiritual


Two presidents of the United States, braving ecclesiastical censure,
have had the moral courage to speak out on the present question. One of
them, the heroic Grant, was heretical in his religious views; the
other, the martyred Garfield, was an orthodox Christian, and had been a
clergyman and president of a religious college. In Grant's presidential
message in 1875, he said:

"In connection with this important question, I would also call your
attention to the importance of correcting an evil that, if permitted
to continue, will probably lead to great trouble in our land before the
close of the nineteenth century. It is the acquisition of vast amounts
of untaxed church property. In 1850, I believe, the church property of
the United States, which paid no tax, municipal or state, amounted
to $87,000,000. In 1860 the amount had doubled. In 1870 it was
$354,483,587. By 1900, without a check, it is safe to say, this property
will reach a sum exceeding $3,000,000,000. So vast a sum, receiving
all the protection and benefits of government, without bearing its
proportion of the burdens and expenses of the same, will not be looked
upon acquiescently by those who have to pay the taxes. In a growing
country, where real estate enhances so rapidly with time as in the
United States, there is scarcely a limit to the wealth that may be
acquired by corporations, religious or otherwise, if allowed to retain
real estate without taxation. The contemplation of so vast a property
as here alluded to, without taxation, may lead to sequestration without
constitutional authority, and through blood. I would suggest the
taxation of all property equally."

With no less emphasis President Garfield put himself on record in the
following words:

"The divorce between church and state ought to be absolute. It ought to
be so absolute that no church property anywhere, in any state, or in
the nation, should be exempt from equal taxation; for if you exempt the
property of any church organization, to that extent you impose a tax
upon the whole community."


The New York _Evening Post_ in its greatest days, when edited by William
Cullen Bryant, spoke boldly on the subject of church exemption. Hear it:

"The _Evening Post_ has long been of the opinion that the American
theory of a self-supporting church ought to be carried out to its full
and legitimate conclusion, and that the separation of church and state
ought to be complete. It should include the total discontinuance of
contributions of public money, direct or indirect, to the support of any
religious establishment. We have never been able to see the slightest
difference in principle between the appropriation of a certain sum of
money raised by tax to a particular church, and a release of that church
from a tax on its property to the same amount. The cost of the act in
either case falls upon the taxpayers generally."

An admirable summary of the vital principles involved is contained in
the following editorial from the San Antonio _Express_:

"The _Express_ is not antagonistic to the churches. It believes that
many of them are doing a great and noble work; but it does not believe
in exempting sectarian property from taxation in a land of alleged
religious liberty at the expense of men who regard the church as a brake
on the wheels of progress, an incubus on civilization, the preservator
of antique ignorance, the storehouse of foolish superstition. It does
not approve of the church posing as an almoner while the thin purse of
labor is annually mulct to make it a present of several millions. Let
it be just before it attempts to be generous. Let it assume its due
proportion of the public burdens, and perchance there will not be so
much need of its dole. The church should not profit at the expense
of the poor; it certainly should not fatten at the cost of those who
despise it."

Even the New York _Independent_, when it was a distinctly clerical
magazine, allowed the following clear statement of principle to appear:

"The time has come when all religious denominations must affirm that no
public moneys shall be used for sectarian instruction; the time-honored
principle of the separation of church and state must be again
emphasized. If a church is not willing to support its own schools, it
cannot come to the state for aid. I would go so far in the application
of this principle as to be willing to see all our churches taxed as is
other property. We have no right to tax unbelievers that churches may be
maintained; no more right than they would have to tax churches for the
support of Infidel clubs."


The efficacy of the arguments contained in the foregoing expressions,
chosen from among many others, is independent of the weight attachable
to those who uttered them. One and all, they express the attitude of all
who view the subject without bias, and who refuse to allow self-interest
to swerve them from a frank recognition of what is due to the principle
of civic justice. No better summary of the main issue could be found
than the vigorous answer of Robert G. Ingersoll to an interviewer. That
the great Agnostic orator should show strong feeling on the subject, is
not surprising, nor does it in any sense weaken the logical force of his
protest. It is only natural that the victim of a burglary should be more
energetic in his complaint than a third person who has slight interest
in the matter. The churches have had many a fling at the peerless
champion of freedom of thought; but they will find it easier to slur his
memory than to refute his arguments. He says:

"I have seen a memorial asking that church property be taxed like other
property.... Such memorials ought to be addressed to the legislatures
of all the states. The money of the public should only be used for the
benefit of the public. Public money should not be used for what a few
gentlemen think is for the benefit of the public. Personally, I think
it would be for the benefit of the public to have Infidel or
scientific--which is the same thing--lectures delivered in every town,
in every state, on every Sunday; but, knowing that a great many men
disagree with me on this point, I do not claim that such lectures ought
to be paid for with public money. The Methodist church ought not to
be sustained by taxation, nor the Catholic, nor any other church. To
relieve their property from taxation is to appropriate money, to the
extent of that tax, for the support of that church. Whenever a burden
is lifted from one piece of property, it is distributed over the rest
of the property of the state; and to release one kind of property is
to increase the tax on all other kinds.... To exempt the church from
taxation is to pay a part of the priest's salary. The Catholic now
objects to being taxed to support a school in which his religion is not
taught. He is not satisfied with the school that says nothing on the
subject of religion. He insists that it is an outrage to tax him to
support a school where the teacher simply teaches what he knows. And yet
this same Catholic wants his church exempted from taxation, and the
tax of an Atheist or of a Jew increased, when he teaches in his untaxed
church that the Atheist and the Jew will both be eternally damned! Is
it possible for impudence to go further?... In my judgment the church
should be taxed precisely the same as other property. The church may
claim that it is one of the instruments of civilization and therefore
should be exempt. If you exempt that which is useful, you exempt every
trade and every profession....

"There was a time when ministers were supposed to be in the employ of
God, and it was thought that God selected them with great care--that
their profession had something sacred about it. These ideas are no
longer entertained by sensible people. Ministers should be paid like
other professional men, and those who like their preaching should pay
the preacher. They should depend, as actors do, upon their popularity,
upon the amount of sense, or nonsense, that they have for sale. They
should depend upon the market like other people; and if people do not
want to hear sermons badly enough to build churches and pay for them,
and pay the taxes on them, and hire the preacher, let the money be
diverted to some other use. The pulpit should no longer be a pauper. I
do not believe in carrying on any business with the contribution box.
All the sectarian institutions ought to support themselves."


The foregoing chapters having demonstrated the iniquity and
indefensibility of the exemption of church property from taxation,
the sole remaining point of interest concerns the amount of the wrong
inflicted on the community by legalized church graft. That it is very
considerable, a bare inspection of the wealth of the more favored
churches makes abundantly plain. The enormous holdings, for example,
of Trinity Church corporation in New York city prove the immense
possibilities in this direction. Incidentally, it is an interesting
fact, pointed out in detail some years ago by John E. Remsburg, that
exemption is not only unfair to the general public, but a means
of favoring the city churches, already rich and well-supported, as
contrasted with the relatively poor and weak country churches. The
latter have certainly good ground to complain that they do not get their
fair share of the swag. In the country, land is cheap and abundant, and
under normal conditions does not change much in value over a long period
of years, while general taxes are comparatively low. It is the cities
that pay the mass of the taxes; and it is in the cities that the rapidly
growing population causes frightful congestion, and allows the most
unscrupulous land speculation to return the largest profits. In the
general scramble for "unearned increments," property holders who are
exempt from the payment of taxes are given an overwhelming advantage.
They take no risk, can wait as long as they please for the expected
rise, and pocket the entire amount of the increase in land values,
to which they have made no important contribution. The state actually
encourages and urges the churches to become land gamblers, and to enrich
themselves at the expense of the people. As the city grows, the churches
gradually find excuses to move away from their earlier locations,
selling out their sites at huge profits, not one dollar of which is
restored to the community as conscience money, and to buy less costly
land with part of the proceeds, investing the balance where it will
bring substantial returns. No wonder they grow rich while the poverty of
the tenement dwellers proportionately increases! And no wonder the city
churches, luxuriating in their bloated prosperity, are able to lord it
over their country associates, and to rule the affairs of their sect
with an iron hand, despite their gross numerical inferiority. No
wonder that the general assemblies, synods and the like of the various
denominations are so frequently characterized by peanut politics which
would disgrace a ward caucus, and by bitter wrangling and exhibitions
of ill-will which contrast strikingly with the professions of Christian


As Mr. Remsburg's article (Truth Seeker, Jan. 14, 1911, p. 22,) is not
now available except to those possessing files of the paper, no apology
is required for reproducing the following paragraph from it:

"Ecclesiastical property is confined chiefly to cities. One city
in Massachusetts owns nearly one-third of the church property of
Massachusetts; one city of Pennsylvania owns nearly one-third of the
church property of Pennsylvania; one city in Missouri owns nearly
one-third of the church property of that state; one city in Nebraska
owns nearly one-third of the church property of that state. One city in
Illinois, Chicago, owns more than three-eighths of the church property
of Illinois. St. Paul and Minneapolis, practically one city, own
one-half of the church property of Minnesota. One city in Louisiana owns
more than one-half of the church property of Louisiana. One state,
New York, owns nearly one-fourth of the ecclesiastical property of the
United States; while one city in New York owns more than one-half of
the church property in that state. One city in Rhode Island owns
nearly three-fifths of the church property of Rhode Island; one city in
Delaware owns nearly three-fifths of the church property of Delaware;
one city in Colorado owns nearly three-fifths of the church property
of Colorado; while one city in Maryland owns nearly two-thirds of the
church property of Maryland. Thus, a dozen cities own one-half of the
church property of their respective states. This property includes only
church buildings. The proportion of ecclesiastical property other than
church buildings owned by the churches of these cities is much greater.
Two-thirds of the ecclesiastical property of these states is confined to
these cities. And yet, nine-tenths of the churches in these states are
outside of these cities. One-tenth of the churches in these states,
therefore, own two-thirds of the church property of these states. Adding
the other cities and large towns of these states, it is safe to say that
one-fifth of the churches own four-fifths of the church property. The
property owned by four-fifths of the church organizations consists
principally of modest, inexpensive church buildings. If church property
was taxed, the amount of taxes levied on these churches would not be
great. The greater portion of taxes would come from the costly churches
and from the real estate owned by wealthy church corporations in the
cities; and even the advocates of church exemption cannot deny the
justice of taxing this property. Municipal taxes are enormously high;
and the exemption of so large a property imposes an unjust burden on
those who have to pay these taxes. In every city is to be found property
that taxes have devoured--families who have been rendered homeless by
excessive taxation."


Of the many queer things that can be done by virtue of tax exemption
laws, a recent episode in New York city furnishes an apt illustration.
A saloon keeper had for some time a monopoly of trade in one of the
less settled but growing districts. With the opening of a new boulevard,
houses began to go up; and a rival was not slow in taking advantage of
the opportunity to set up in opposition to the first comer. The newcomer
was an energetic business man, and knew how to draw custom, so that
he at once made considerable inroads on the patronage of his older
competitor. The latter, however, was a man of resources. Among the
few lots of land not yet occupied for building purposes was one in the
neighborhood of the second saloon. This was quietly purchased by the
older saloonist, and the other awaited results, expecting to see a third
saloon established with a view to stealing some of his trade. His wily
rival, however, knew a trick worth two of that. Almost over night, a
rude shack was erected, with a slight steeple which pointed heavenward,
though not with what usually pass for heavenly aims. This was turned
over free of charge to a handful of persons, to hold meetings of a
nominally religious nature. Having no taxes to pay on property thus
dedicated to holy uses, and being thus able to hold it indefinitely at
practically no expense, the original saloon keeper straightway appealed
to the police department to enforce the law forbidding the existence of
a saloon within a certain distance of a church, and thus, at the latest
report, was on the eve of triumphantly driving his rival from the field.
The next move would naturally be to purchase the abandoned saloon at a
low figure, allow the "church," having served its purpose, to give up
the ghost in an unobtrusive manner, and to resume business with the
second saloon, where the discomfited competitor had been compelled to
leave it off. Whether the ingenious scheme worked out to the finish
or not, the writer is not informed. At least, it went far enough to
demonstrate the remarkable possibilities under legislation encouraging
the juggling with religious things for purposes of private advantage.


The apologists for church exemption find themselves in a position of
great embarrassment when the nature and amount of the exempted property
are called into question. In the difficulty of securing accurate and
complete figures they attempt at once to minimize and to magnify the
amount involved. In pleading for the country churches, they raise the
cry of poverty, and solemnly aver that these feeble institutions are so
dependent on state help for their existence that without it they must
inevitably perish. The claim is both false and irrelevant. It is false,
because the taxable property of the country churches, as may be readily
seen from the preceding discussion, and may be learned by any person
through direct observation, is of extremely low value, and bears far
less proportion to the available income of their aggregate membership
than the holdings of the city churches. The few dollars of taxes which
an honest fiscal policy would impose on the average country church would
be raised without the slightest difficulty. As a matter of fact, it
is not the "poor and struggling country churches" which are lobbying
against the removal of exemption; it is the wealthy city corporations,
which use the "poor country church" argument as a means of drawing a
red herring across the track, and diverting attention from their
own handsome pickings. The claim, even if true, would obviously be
irrelevant, since it is not the business of the state to keep churches

Forgetful of their professed fear on behalf of the struggling country
churches, however, the apologists for religious graft lay tremendous
stress on the assertion that the amount which the state loses through
the churches is a mere bagatelle, and that the taxpayers would not gain
enough to help them much, if it were reclaimed. A pat retort, of course,
is that if this be the case, it is amazing that the churches have become
so terrified at the idea of handing over so small an amount to the
state. Wealthy as they are, if the sum is as trivial as they say, they
will never miss it, and can afford to be honest, and to conciliate the
favor of those who are now driven away from the gospel by the greed and
grafting spirit of the agencies which represent it. Like the fiction
of the dying country churches, however, the claim is both false and
irrelevant. It is false, as will presently be shown by some of the
figures which have become available; and it is irrelevant, because the
moral character of a thief is not to be graded according to the amount
of loot which he has succeeded in acquiring. The recognition of the
right of the church to receive a subsidy from the state, and thus to
make the separation of church and state a dead letter, would remain as
serious a crime against the democratic principle, if not more than a
single dollar were involved.


Before taking up the subject of statistics, it will not be amiss to
quote the exemption law of New York as typical of church graft at its
worst. It will be seen that references to religious uses and purposes
are ingeniously smuggled in, side by side with much verbiage as to
institutions serving a public purpose, so that they may appear to fit
naturally among such bodies as so minister to the collective needs of
the community that they deserve to be subsidized by the state. For this
reason, it is best to cite the germane portions of the statute in
full, instead of isolating those that relate solely to the churches.
Incidentally, it will be noted that the churches are not once mentioned
by name. It is the nature of graft to seek shelter under evasion, and to
avoid clear expression of its intentions. The following, then, is drawn
from Section 4, subdivision 7, of the Tax Law of New York:

"The real property of a corporation or association organized exclusively
for the moral or mental improvement of men or women, or for religious,
bible, tract, charitable, benevolent, missionary, hospital, infirmary,
educational, scientific, literary, library, patriotic, historical or
cemetery purposes... and the personal property of any such corporation
shall be exempt from taxation. But no such corporation shall be entitled
to any such exemption, if any member or employee thereof shall receive
or may be lawfully entitled to receive any pecuniary profit from the
operations thereof except reasonable compensation for services in
effecting one or more of such purposes, or as proper beneficiaries of
its strictly charitable purposes; or if the organization thereof, for
any of such avowed purposes, be a guise or pretence for profit... or if
it be not in good faith organized or conducted exclusively for one or
more of such purposes. The real property of any such corporation or
association entitled to such exemption held by it exclusively for one
or more of such purposes, and from which no rents, profits or income
are derived, shall be so exempt, although not in actual use therefor by
reason of the absence of suitable buildings or improvements thereon, if
the construction of such buildings is in progress, or is in good faith
contemplated by such corporation or association.... Property held by
any officer of a religious denomination shall be entitled to the same
exemption, subject to the same conditions and exceptions, as property
held by a religious corporation."

In the comprehensive list of exempted classes of property enumerated
above, it will be observed that all save those of a religious nature
have at least some show of claim to be regarded as ministering to public
aims, or as essential to the existence of a civilized community, and
therefore deserving of public encouragement. Whether the claim is in all
cases sufficient to warrant exemption from taxation, need not be here
discussed. In the opinion of many students of the problem, nearly all
exemptions are illicit. Whether that be the case or not, it has been
made clear that the argument for taxing churches is stronger than that
for taxing any of the other classes, and the argument against it weaker.
This results from the fact that religion is more distinctly a matter of
the individual than is literature, science, education or philanthropy.
Hence, even if it be good public policy to subsidize these agents of
social progress, it by no means follows that the same is true of the
churches; while, conversely, the taxation of churches need not logically
embrace the taxation of any of the other classes. Each must stand on its
own merits; and in each case enter considerations that make it improper
to draw the fate of any one of them into that of any other. That a
mischievous and loosely drawn statute has bracketed them all together
should not blind us to the radical differences that exist among them, or
to the fact that none of the grounds on which exemption of most of the
others is defended apply in any degree to the churches.


The recklessness of the enactors of the New York tax law is visible in
its blanket nature. Not satisfied with exempting property in actual use,
the statute contains a provision by which the tax assessor is called
upon to become a telepathic expert, and to divine the intentions of a
corporation holding land out of use! Not only property actually used
for religious purposes is to go untaxed, but also land where the
construction of buildings for the purpose of worship "is in good faith
contemplated!" No method for testing the "good faith" is provided, nor
any safeguard against abuse of the "good faith" clause. No more
open invitation to fraud could be devised. No penalty for evasion is
provided, and no means of collecting back taxes, in case the church
corporation, after grabbing land from the heart of the city, and holding
it ten or twenty years under the pretense of intending to build on it
at some future time, shall find it impracticable or undesirable to carry
out the "contemplated" action, and shall sell the land at an increased
valuation, and put a handsome amount of money into its treasury through
the kindness of government in promoting this species of land speculation
without risk. Should the property depreciate instead of rising, there
is still time to use it for church purposes, and nothing is lost. Every
other land speculator must at least take some risk; but the church is
playing a sure game and cannot lose. The community pays the bill for the
benefit of the sure-thing gambler. If it be urged that this particular
clause allows the same abuse by any other form of exempted corporation,
the answer is that this only makes the evil all the greater. The clause
would be bad, even if it applied only to corporations rightfully held
exempt from taxation on the property in actual use by them for public
purposes; and the wrong is multiplied by its application to the
churches, which have no legitimate claim to exemption under any

Turn now to the last sentence in the law as quoted. This works in two
main ways. In the first place, it is special legislation in favor of the
policy of the Roman Catholic church of placing church properties in the
hands of bishops, over whom there is no adequate check. The congregation
might as well be so many cattle for all the rights they have over the
church property accumulated through their sacrifices. All they are for,
in the eyes of the hierarchy, to which they submit with the docility of
sheep, and less than a sheep's intelligence, is to pay. Contrary to the
entire spirit of self-government, the State of New York endorses this
exploitation and tyranny, and ordains that the irresponsible bishops
shall hold other people's property free from all taxation, to use or
abuse as they see fit. The provision also makes it possible for any
individual to start a church on his own hook, for any ulterior ends
he may see fit, and to maintain sole authority over the property as an
"officer of a religious denomination," thus under the color of religion
to claim divine sanction for the most anti-social ends, and to receive a
subsidy from the state while doing so. Its second use is to complete
the parasitical status of the ordinary parson by exempting his house
and land from taxation, provided only he is not using it to buy and
sell goods, but only for the pretended service of God. When the land
appreciates, he may sell at a profit, and start to "serve God" in a
brand new parsonage, putting into his own pocket the surplus cash thus
sweated from the community. Like the church, he may gamble in land
values to his heart's content. As he pays no taxes, he cannot lose, and
can hold on indefinitely, where the ordinary real estate dealer must
let go his holdings if the market runs against him. The state thus
interposes to favor one land speculator above another, and to tempt
the clergyman to neglect his spiritual duties for financial profit. The
provision is thus an outrage on the community, an unfairness to the real
estate interests, and an injury to whatever is good in religion.


The amount of the indirect subsidy annually paid to the churches by our
government which pretends to separation of church and state cannot
be exactly determined. Statistics of the value of church property are
inaccurately gathered, with a tendency to underestimate; and tax rates,
of course, vary within very wide limits. Taking the figures as we find
them, however, and assuming an average tax rate of $1.50 per $100, we
shall still arrive at striking results.

As we have seen, President Grant, in his presidential message for 1875,
quotes the amount of church property exempt from taxation in 1850 as
approximately $87,000,000. This had doubled, he states, in 1860; and
the official figures for 1870 were $354,483,587. This terrific rate of
growth, far in excess of the growth of any other form of wealth, could
not, of course, be maintained in full; but the actual increase has, none
the less, been enormous and alarming. In 1890, the admitted value of
church property, as compiled by H. K. Carroll, LL.D., the well-known
authority on religious statistics, had risen to $679,694,439. The latest
available figures of the present time are those of 1906, in which year
the church property of the country was valued at $1,257,575,867. Keeping
well within bounds in estimating the value of this favored class of
property in the present year (1915), we shall be more than safely
conservative in calling it at least $1,500,000,000; and it is still
rapidly increasing. Thus, from 1850 to 1915, the value of church
property was multiplied not less than fourteenfold. In the same space of
time, the population had increased less than fourfold; and church
membership has just about kept pace with the population; showing a
growing tendency to fall behind. In other words, the churches are making
money from three to four times as fast as they are gaining members
(winning "souls" in their own phrase), and the same number of times as
rapidly as the population is growing. They are "laying up treasures on
earth" faster than any other class in the community and at the expense
of the whole community; and it is no wonder that their clutch on the
"things of this world" and their opposition to any check on their graft
prove them amenable to the saying: "Where thy treasure is, there will
thy heart be also." When an organization so rapidly absorbs the wealth
of the nation it cannot resent the imputation that acquiring wealth is
its chief concern.

At the assumed rate of taxation ($1.50 per $100), the money actually
filched from the public treasury by the churches is at least $22,500,000
a year; and this minimum calculation, far below the actual amount, is
increasing swiftly from year to year. In all the talk of economy
in taxation, and of seeking new sources of revenue, when will our
"statesmen" have the intelligence to stop this frightful leak? The
churches owe the money, they can afford to pay, and they should be made
to pay. Did they not set the satisfaction of selfish greed above moral
and civic considerations, they would do their duty without compulsion.
Since, however, they will do nothing for the community, except when
they are forced to obey the people's will, the problem is only that
of enlightening the public as to the manner and degree in which it is
robbed. If legislatures cannot be found with moral courage to withstand
the threats of the church lobby, and with sense to penetrate the
sophistries of the hired lawyers arguing in behalf of the church's
demands, a counter force must be provided in an enlightened public
sentiment so strong that the politician will find his political future
dependent on his deafness to the ecclesiastical sirens and his support
of full justice to the taxpaying citizens as against the pious harpies
now permitted to prey upon them.

To enter upon the figures for each of the different states and for the
principal cities would savor of iteration. In no case will analysis
of the figures for any state or city negative the foregoing facts or
conclusions. Those interested in pursuing the question of statistical
detail may find food for study and reflection in the work of H. K.
Carroll, LL.D., "Religious Forces in the United States," edition of
1912, pages 378-381 and 418-421. Dr. Carroll was in official charge of
the department of churches in the census of 1890 and is a recognized
authority on church statistics. Active in Methodist circles all his
life, he may be trusted to resolve all doubts in favor of the church,
and his testimony cannot be put aside by church apologists.


Illustration of the looting of the public treasury by church exemption
may be drawn from New York. In this state church property in 1890 was
valued at $140,123,008. In 1906, a period of fourteen years, it had
risen to $255,166,284. Here, as elsewhere in the country, Dr. Carroll
points out ("Religious Forces" Introduction, p. 59) that the increase
in church buildings comes nowhere near keeping pace with the increase
in values. In the country as a whole the increase in values from 1890 to
1906 was 85.1 per cent., while the increase in church edifices was only
35.3 per cent. In New York, the increase in the number of buildings
within the period given was only from 7,942 to 9,193, or less than 16
per cent., as compared to the increase in value of more than 82 per
cent. Even with this small increase of churches, it is notorious that
more buildings exist than are needed or used. But taking the figures as
they are, it is self-evident that for this huge increment of value the
community gets nothing. Even the friendly Dr. Carroll is forced to
admit this, and to draw the inevitable conclusion (Int., p. 60) that the
increase results from more costly edifices and the "natural" increase in
values, which can mean nothing but speculative land values. This removes
the last faint pretext for exemption. Even supposing that the services
rendered by the churches were indispensable to the community, it is
palpable that the performance of such service draws upon only a fraction
of the wealth possessed by these bodies. Out of the immense margin they
could well afford to bear their honest share of civic burdens, and would
not be compelled to curtail their beneficent activities in order to
do so. Honest church taxation would merely prevent the storing up of
superfluous wealth at the expense of the whole people.

Since the most valuable church property is concentrated in the cities,
a glance at their statistics should not be omitted. Figures for 1890 are
given by Dr. Carroll in the volume cited, pages 400-415. From these, it
appears that in that year $313,537,247 of the total previously given
was situated in the 124 cities of the first, second and third class. The
population of these cities amounted to 13,988,938 in 1890; that of the
whole country to 62,622,250. Thus were the enormous profits from the
exemption graft poured mainly into the swollen coffers of the city
churches. While serving considerably less than one-fourth of the
population, they had amassed nearly one-half of the property owned by
all the churches of the country. The churches of New York city alone
owned in the year stated property to the value of $73,352,437, more that
a tenth of all the church property in the country, although then, as
now, containing only about one-twentieth of the population. While
no exact figures are at present available as to the value of church
property in the metropolis to-day the amount cannot be much short of
a quarter of a million dollars. In a printed brief presented to the
Committee on Taxation on the New York Constitutional Convention,
William D. Guthrie, retained as attorney for the Roman Catholic
interests, estimates, according to figures as of May, 1914, the amount
at $170,445,725.* As his whole aim was to minimize the amount of
exemptions this is certainly none too high a figure, and is probably
much too low. Allowing it to stand, however, a comparison with the
foregoing data will show that either New York churches are at a fearful
rate growing richer and richer at the expense of the other churches of
the country, or that the total of church property in the land has risen
to the appalling figure of at least $1,700,000,000.

     * In 1913 an analysis of the official figures given in the
     City Record to show the amount of exempt property in New
     York City was made for The Truth Seeker. The exempted church
     property listed was appraised at $244,-445,955.


Taking the church population instead of the general population as, from
some points of view, a fairer measure of the degree to which the city
churches amass wealth at the expense of the country churches, we find
that the total number of communicants in 1890 was 20,618,307 in
the entire country. In the 124 cities of importance, the number was
5,302,018. It should further be remembered that the Roman Catholics are
concentrated in the cities, about one-tenth of all the Catholics in the
country being in the single city of New York; and that this sect does
not keep honest records of its communicants, but practically forces all
the children of nine years of age and above, born in Catholic families,
to become communicants, and then on the basis of "once a Catholic,
always a Catholic," counts them forever after in its doctored figures.
Thus the hundreds of thousands of born Catholics who have turned
Protestants are counted twice in making up religious statistics, once
as Catholics and once as members of the denomination to which they have
transferred their allegiance; while the ex-Catholics who have left the
church altogether are still counted in to swell the total. Thus through
accepting the crooked Roman Catholic statistics, the ostensible number
of church members in the country is greatly overestimated by Dr. Carroll
and others, while the proportion of Catholics to the whole number is
likewise immensely exaggerated. Could we squeeze out the water from the
religious statistics, it would be found that the actual percentage of
genuine communicants in the cities is much less than one in four. Even
from Dr. Carroll's figures, however, it is but little more. Thus a
church member in one of the cities is a partner in twice the wealth of a
church member in the country; and "where the treasure is, there will the
heart be also." By the same census, the number of communicants in New
York city was only 866,564, or less than one-twenty-third of the
total, and this in spite of having much more than its share of persons
dishonestly counted as Catholic "communicants." So, according to the
system of church exemption, the rich New York churches, with less than
one church member in every twenty-three in the country as a whole, have
swept into their hands, by the method attributed by the author of the
Proverbs to the daughters of the horseleech, more than one-tenth of all
the church wealth. No wonder they can afford to hire expensive counsel
to appear before the state legislature and the Constitutional Convention
to demand that they be left undisturbed in the profitable enterprise of
impoverishing the community to provide more luxury for themselves.


A final comparison will prove even more startling than what has gone
before. In 1890, the total number of church buildings in the country
was 142,639; in the cities referred to, the number was 9,722; and in
New York city it was 917. That is to say, 124 cities, with less than
one-fourteenth the number of church buildings, possessed practically
one-half of the church wealth; while the single city of New York, which
absorbed more than one-tenth of the wealth, had less than one out of
every 155 of the church buildings of the country! No wonder the churches
of the large cities, and of New York in particular, howl bloody murder
when asked to part with some of their popular graft and pay their debts!
To them, at least, Christianity is no longer a religion for the poor
and disinherited of earth, but the special enjoyment of idle wealth and
heartless vanity.

What New York lacks in number of churches to the population, it makes
up in the luxurious elegance of those it does possess. Its houses of
worship are magnificent religious clubs for worship on the _de luxe_
plan. What the poor, wandering Nazarene, if any credence is to be placed
in the story of his life, would have said to this cynical burlesque of
his teachings, may be left to the imagination. Were there any honest
excuse for asking the state to bear part of the burdens of the church,
it would apply in a tenfold degree to the struggling country churches,
which form a much more organic life of the community than do the
city ones, and may much more plausibly be credited with genuine and
community-wide social service. As has been seen, however, tax exemption
going in the main to multiply the superfluous wealth of the city
churches, does next to nothing for them.


In addition to all the other unanswerable objections to the
exemption system, it is thus irrepealably convicted of a systematic
discrimination in favor of the rich as against the poor. This, in a
nutshell, is the spirit of present-day Christianity. The plethoric
churches of the cities are the main foes of economic honesty. It is
they, rather than the country churches, which, feeing expensive lawyers
and maintaining elaborate lobbies at our state capitals, menace our
politicians with ruin and bring all forms of pressure to bear to
terrorize our legislatures, in order to prevent the withdrawal of the
special privilege that heaps up in their hands the earnings wrenched
from others by legal favoritism; and in all this they are not seeking
to protect their existence against threatened destruction, nor to keep
themselves from being crippled in their legitimate work, but to add more
millions to the superfluous treasure they have already extorted from
the people, and to cater to the decadent demand for extravagant display.
Isolated instances of churches engaged in serious attempts to grapple
with the larger social needs prove nothing to the purpose. Such churches
need no graft to win the cooperation of devoted workers and benefactors.
If they join in the cry for exemption, it is because they are made
catspaws by the parasitic churches, and have not enough faith in
righteousness to shun the practice of doing evil that good may come.

In order that the issue might be made as clear as possible, the
discussion has been confined directly to churches and church property.
Of the property of religious and semi-religious bodies other than
churches, and of the educational, hospital, philanthropic, reformatory
and other institutions controlled by religious bodies and exempt from
taxation--although in many cases making their ostensible activities a
cover for sectarian proselytism, and in all cases using their otherwise
excellent work as a means of advertising their sects--little has been
said. The reasons against exemption of church property apply largely,
if not fully, to these as well, although they have at least certain
specious grounds for favor which the churches cannot show. It cannot be
doubted, at least, that the more completely society, in city, state
and nation, performs all its collective functions directly, rather than
through the medium of any semi-private institution partly withdrawn from
its direct supervision and control, the better. If some compromise is
found necessary, it should be looked upon only as a temporary expedient,
and not as a permanent policy.

The evils attendant upon subsidizing any form of sectarian institution,
whatever its social services, are too great to be ignored. Yet, making
the largest possible concessions to these bodies, such grounds of
expediency as may at present be held to justify their exemption from
taxation cannot legitimately be extended to the churches, whose mission
is in no way allied to any function of organized society.

The taxation of church property is demanded by every consideration of
sound public policy, common sense, democracy and justice. In the day
when these principles are heeded, the people will come into their own.

The matter in this pamphlet is an expansion of the argument made by the
author, June 1, 1915, at a hearing held in the Senate Chamber at
Albany, New York, before the Committee on Taxation of the Constitutional
Convention, in support of an amendment offered by James L. Nixon of
Buffalo, to abolish all exemptions of church property from taxation.

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