Sunday, November 22, 2009

Why Churches have tax free status

This letter to the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald explains why churches have tax-free status in Australia.
Tax and religion

Allan Lewis (Letters, November 20) suspects the tax-exempt status of religious bodies is a function of the ''socially beneficial works they undertake''. That is incorrect. The tax status of religions relies on the 1891 Privy Council Pemsel case, which confirmed four categories of charitable purpose: relief of poverty; advancement of education; other purposes beneficial to the community; advancement of religion.

This was confirmed in Parliament by Senator Peter Walsh on May 1, 1984, when he said: ''Legally, the advancement of religion is a charitable activity.'' It follows that religions, including Scientology, are charities in themselves, because they ''advance religion''. This means taxpayers are subsidising religions to proselytise.

This should be abandoned on the grounds that religion is a private matter. At the same time, as Mr Lewis recognises, activities by religious bodies that are of public benefit could continue to have tax-exempt status as ''other purposes beneficial to the community''.

Max Wallace Australia New Zealand Secular Association, Gosford

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