Regarding a local church’s plan for helipad

We’re in the middle of an economic crisis. People are suffering, losing their homes and their jobs. Meanwhile, Christian Faith Center, a tax-exempt mega-church with no apparent philanthropic goals or activities, has recently sought and received approval for a helipad at its Federal Way campus.

It’s bad taste for people to flaunt wealth in an economic downturn, whether they be CEOs of major US automakers, executives at AIG, or a church. It’s in even poorer taste to use perceived wealth, and the promise of wealth, to attract followers to a religion. Tax-exemption is best reserved to support non-profit organizations dedicated to the public good. Though there are organizations with religious affiliation that engage in charitable work, the propagation of a religious belief is not charitable in and of itself.

Since the definition of a tax exempt religious organization is very broad and there is little oversight of their activities, many churches continue to maintain tax-exempt status and huge incomes. While it is not the place of government to endorse or oppose religion, this obligation of neutrality does not logically extend to giving religious organizations a special exemption from taxes. Whether a community organization is educational, charitable, or social, its income should be reported and subjected to oversight if it wants to remain tax-free and accept tax-exempt donations—or it should pay taxes like any other private corporation. The Christian Faith Center is spending its money on a helipad, a luxury; other religious organizations have funneled ridiculous sums of money to provide personal luxury (and legal defense) to charismatic preachers or even to provide aid to terrorist organizations, all while remaining tax-free and largely un-scrutinized. Laws prohibit any private individual from benefiting from tax-exempt earnings, but these laws are unenforceable on religious organizations due to other laws limiting civil tax inquiries of churches.

While we don’t wish to interfere with the Christian Faith Center’s community building efforts, we think that their plan for a helicopter pad demonstrates poor taste given the current economic climate, is a misuse of their tax-exempt status, and wastes the hard-earned money of their donors. We would like to encourage the Christian Faith Center to scrap their plan of unneeded air transportation and instead donate the money to a local charitable organization that does not discriminate on the basis of religion, such as Seattle Atheists did when they raised nearly $1000 for Seattle Children’s Hospital by wrapping presents this holiday season.

— Lex Maxwell

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