Compulsory payments for advancement of religion — let’s get rid of that.

By Ken Perrott 29/09/2011 6


I read  recently how cynically humans use the word “freedom.” (I think it was in Jennifer Michael Hecht‘s Doubt: A History)  How often do you see a fascist or otherwise undemocratic organisation with freedom in its name or slogans?

This came to mind again when I saw this post Students: Free at Last. (At Say Hello to my Little Friend – a blog which has a smoking gun in its heading. The blogger justifies the graphic saying “it depicts the way I like to ruthlessly ’whack’ bad ideas.” Rather unfortunate use of gangster terminology – especially as he uses the blog to advance his own “bad ideas”).

This particular post is “whacking” the “bad idea” of compulsorily union membership. I agree that, in this case, it is a bad idea  – in principle. During most of my working life I supported unionism – and the union I belonged to was voluntary, a comparatively strong and active union because of that. In fact people of my “socialist” persuasion saw compulsory unionism as a right-wing fetter, promoting class apathy and, in most cases, ensuring a leadership complaint with employer interests.

But, in my experience, most of those who have campaigned against compulsory unionism did so because they were more opposed to the “unionism” part than the “compulsory” part. They had their own ideological reasons for their campaign and it wasn’t desire for freedom.

This is why I find this, and similar campaigns, by conservative Christian groups and blogs (as “Say Hello” is) hypocritical. Some of these groups don’t allow their own members to join unions, compulsory or not. And many of their policies are the very opposite of freedom.

For example – I oppose the classification of “advancement of religion” as a charitable purpose for purposes of tax exemption – and local body rates. In practice these means part of my taxes are used to subsidise the tax-free status of people, organisations and buildings whose only purpose is proselytization of ideas I find abhorent. I don’t see that a charitable purpose, nor would most New Zealanders. Yet provided these organisations or people are proselytising a supernatural world view they can get tax exemption. No real charitable work is required for this.

Sure, many religious organisations do genuine charitable work – and I have no problem with their receiving tax exemption for that part of their work. None at all.

But this subsidy for the “advancement of religion” is undemocratic on two grounds:

  1. It is available only to those who hold supernatural beliefs;
  2. We all pay for it through our taxes and rates, we have never been asked if we wish to and most people are just completely unaware of this imposition on their earnings.

I think it is hypocritical for conservative Christians to argue on the one hand against compulsory unionism, or deduction of union fees or their equivalent. Then, to argue on the other hand that the compulsory payment of taxes to subsidise their specific supernatural beliefs is somehow OK.

It is not.

If we want to talk about freedom lets not be hypocritical about it. Let’s recognise that this compulsory deduction from our earnings to subsidise the advancement of supernatural ideas also violates our freedoms – specifically our freedom to be treated equally, irrespective of religion or belief. And our freedom of, and freedom from, religion or belief.

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6 Responses to “Compulsory payments for advancement of religion — let’s get rid of that.”

  • When I was a pacifist I didn’t like my taxes going to pay for the armed forces.
    There are times when my taxes have gone to pay for art work that I find abhorrent, or sporting events that I wouldn’t choose to support etc etc etc.
    There are even tax dollars that have gone to science projects I don’t particularly like.
    By your definition of hypocrites, then at least some artists and scientists who oppose compulsory unionism are hypocrites.
    It’s inevitable that any govt will spend some of my tax dollars in ways I don’t like. I have the opportunity to vote and/or get involved in changing political party policy if I can persuade others that my “not-likes” are somehow of national importance.

    • Kiwiski – I am not arguing, and never have argued, that I should be able select what my taxes go towards. I am arguing that our current laws contradict each other. Specifically that the tax exemption for advancement of relgion contradicts our human rights legislation. Our rights to freedom of relgion and belief, and freedom from relgion and belief are violated..

      Seems to me this can be correected either by removing the anochristic advancement of relgion as a charity altogether, or updating it by extending it to relgion and belief – all life stnaces. That way anybody advancing a belief would get the subsidy.

      I do think it is hypocritical to dogmatically argue against compulsory unionism as a violation of human rights and then turn around and argue for compulsory subsidies to religion (and not other life stances) when it also clearly violates human rights.

      Mind you – here we have to combination of one’s back pocket/wallet, and one’s ideology. Enought to interfere with most people’s logic.

  • In which case, how does one go about persuading others that giving religion tax exempt status on non-charitable works is of national importance? Surely it’s an avenue that should be explored given the countries current paucity of funds?

    • Ben, I agree we should be discussing this whole issue. Unfortunately it tends to be religion’s dirty secret and they try to keep it that way.

      So, I guess the solution is slow education, bringing the subject to people’s attention over time.

      The current situation is clearly out of step with our pluralist and secular society. We all (or most of us) demand a secular government. We have to understand that in some ways that secularism is constantly being violated and fight against them.

  • Hi Ken,
    Does the Human Rights legislation specifically say freedom “from” religion and belief? I doubt it, and it is an important distinction from freedom “of” religion.

    I don’t believe “compulsory subsidies” are being given “to religion.” I believe that the money I earn is my own and that I have a choice to give some to a charity rather than the govt. i.e. it is not that the govt giving money to charities on my behalf the way it gives money to the sciences or arts or education etc.

    However, just what passes some “worthiness” threshold or however it is judged is a matter for debate and I agree that there is no inalienable (sp?) right for religious organizations to pass that threshold. We elect representatives to make those decisions and it is a valid question to ask if they are out of touch with a majority of NZers on this issue.

  • Kiwisiki, freedom to leave a religion is certainly implied in legislation. Surely you wouldn’t oppose the freedom from approach, would you? Seems pretty fundamental to me.

    The government gives money to religion as it does to any registered charity – by tax exemption (and in the case of religion, rates exemption). Those who pay taxes (and rates) make up the difference.

    Most of us don’t mind subsidising charities in this way – but when there is an unfairness (as here between supernatural belief and other belief or life stance – no other life stance is by definition a charity) most people would see this as immoral.

    Your statement “that there is no inalienable (sp?) right for religious organizations to pass that threshold” actually conflicts with taxation and local body law which grants exemptions to relgious organisations purely because they have, and advance, supernatural beliefs.

    It could well be that many of those organisations would still register if the supernatural sector was removed – that is under the education or other charitable actions sectors as the rest of us do.

    However, the vehemence which with the theologically inclined cling to this privelige and the mental gymnastics used to justify it suggest to me that, at least in the relgious mind, they see some advantage in this privelige.

    Of course their advantage is our disadvantage.