How much should we pay for religious activities?

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Discussion by: ieva

We have place of mass pilgrimages in Latvia. It is Aglona and every year on August 15 huge number of pilgrims gather there. The problem is: who should pay for maintaining cleanliness and order, and medics constantly awailable to provide emergency care? In our case all expenses are covered by the State. And this leads to the outburst of emotions every year, starting from: "Waisting money on those f… pedophiles!" and "We also pay taxes, you, godless gays (some christians think that all atheists are male and gay!" The more sensible (that is what I think) remind that, since there are rules imposing which things organiser of some mass activity should provide and State does not cover such expenses, except if the organiser is Catholic church, the Statesmen should read our Constitution once more….

12 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Ieva,

    Your question is one that begs to be answered in every country.

    How did religions achieve tax exempt status?

    It seems to me they are either involved in business or charitable works. Many taxes apply to other forms of charity.

    Peace.

    • In reply to #3 by Stephen of Wimbledon:

      Hi Ieva,

      Your question is one that begs to be answered in every country.

      How did religions achieve tax exempt status?

      In the US the first amendment that guarantees government can’t interfere in religion means government can’t tax religion. It’s that simple. The real issue in the US is that we essentially ignore the law when it comes to religion though. The flip side of the no taxation thing is that religions don’t get involved in politics. The line as to what constitutes involvement is fuzzy but it’s obvious that many probably most churches in the US have gone way over that line in the last few decades.

      The problem is that it would be the IRS that would prosecute these cases. The IRS is under control of the president. You can guess why under someone like Bush the IRS would ignore these issues — the religious groups usually help the Republicans — but you might wonder, I did at first, why Obama (and I think any other democrat who could be elected would do the same) doesn’t go after them.

      The reason for that though is the political backlash would be overwhelming. Not just from Republicans but from many democrats in the bible belt and middle America. There would be new laws passed in Congress and the energy around the backlash would galvanize people to vote against the democrats. At least that is the standard wisdom. I actually think that many of these things people in the US take as givens are changing. A good example is gay rights, it used to be that being for gay rights took immense political courage. Now it’s become the rational thing to do because opinions have changed so much. I think the same is happening in the US although not as rapidly as with gay rights. Part of the problem is that atheists are terrible compared to the gay rights community in explaining our message.

      • In reply to #4 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #3 by Stephen of Wimbledon:

        Hi Ieva,

        Your question is one that begs to be answered in every country.

        How did religions achieve tax exempt status?

        In the US the first amendment that guarantees government can’t interfere in religion means government can’t tax religion. It’s that simple…

        I don’t think it’s only about getting involved in politics. It also means that religious institutions can’t be for profit. In other words they can’t be businesses. And this is another issue that is largely ignored. You have these mega churches that clearly are business oriented. Their leaders get paid huge amounts of money while a very small portion is actually used for religious activities. I think it makes sense to give religious institutions tax exempt status if they truly are charitable organizations. The reality though is that often they are not.

  2. Does the community benefit from the increased tourism? Every year people decry the use of our tax dollars being spent on displays of fireworks and yet for an investment of $millions the community reaps $billions.

    A few years ago the RCC held World Youth Day on our shores. In principle it rankled as this government backed festival was hardly representative of the community, but I imagine it would have put money in the coffers of local businesses as well. I’m torn between the two positions, religious events vs tourism dollars. A tough one.

    • In reply to #5 by Nitya:

      Does the community benefit from the increased tourism? Every year people decry the use of our tax dollars being spent on displays of fireworks and yet for an investment of $millions the community reaps $billions.

      A few years ago the RCC held World Youth Day on our shores. In principle it rankled as this government backed festival was hardly representative of the community, but I imagine it would have put money in the coffers of local businesses as well. I’m torn between the two positions, religious events vs tourism dollars. A tough one.

      I would suggest that they are treated the same as other festivals, with the organisers taking responsibility for arranging the services and the clear up. Religious groups should have plenty of subscriptions and volunteer helpers.

      http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/news/glastonbury-2013-the-big-cleanup-in-numbers-8681673.html

      As thousands of Glastonbury festival-goers pack up their tents today they will wade through fields of litter, not mud.
      It will take six weeks to get the site back to a fully-functioning farm, and in the meantime 1,300 recycling volunteers will help to pick up the discarded bottles, cans and packets left in the 900 acre site.

      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2352229/Glastonbury-2013-After-Britains-biggest-music-festival–great-clean-up.html

      • In reply to #7 by Alan4discussion:

        . Pope farewells Sydney as clean-up begins>

        To be fair, the article continues to say that 8,000 volunteers helped with the smooth running of the event. Over 200,000 ‘pilgrims’ were in attendance. The crowd behaved very well the whole time… no drunken brawls or general rowdiness.

        My complaint is that we are now obliged to hold festivals for all religious groups, should they ask. I think a similar Islamic festival would invite an angry response from the general population.

  3. It’s no different from having sporting fixtures funded by government, local or national. If the event brings in the visitors, and the visitors spend money, local businesses benefit. That’s the rationale anyway. As one who cares little for sport, and whose income is not dependent on sporting visitors, I’d prefer not to donate to the costs of any sporting event, but as a taxpayer and ratepayer they’ve got me, as they do spend my taxes and rates on sport. The Olympic Games is a high-end example of this, but there are many many more.

    So, all we can do is grumble, and hope that the business-benefits rationale actually makes sense.

  4. Of course there is no simple answer to this question. This is something you as citizens of Latvia has to decide. I can’t really see how this is related to the principle of secularism since even a secular government usually accepts the burden of protecting people who travel and visit it’s country. You can just as well have this discussion with regard to sport events or other mass gatherings. Who should pay for these events? There is no single right answer to this. It’s up to the citizens to decide how your government acts in these situation.

    That said, it might be a problem if the government does not pay for other mass gatherings but only chooses to pay for this particular religious event. Then you have a real problem, and the solution is of course obvious. The government should handle this mass gathering in the same way as they handle other mass gatherings.

  5. I would agree with Nunbeliever. Where you have large crowds of people gathering for a particular event (religious, sporting, political – it makes no difference), the authorities have a duty of care to ensure that crowds are managed and stewarded well in the interests of public health and safety.

    I think they do it right where I live. There is an annual sporting event which attracts 80,000 people to a particular stadium. In the public streets surrounding the stadium, the police organise and keep control in fairly large numbers and this is paid for by the taxpayer. Inside the stadium, however, the same police also patrol but their costs are paid for by the private sporting organisation making a contribution to the police force.

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