[Copyright 1996 by Luree. This article may be freely copied and distributed in paper and electronic form without charge. You may alter it to suit your particular region. Warning: It generates a lot of replies and letters to editors.]
All over Canada, in every small community, huge sums of money are being denied to residents through the tax exemptions given to major businesses. This is money which could be used to build playgrounds and parks, provide nursing homes for the elderly, youth recreation programs for teenagers, community centers for the use of all, libraries, health clinics, hospitals, animal shelters, fire halls, water treatment plants, road repairs, schools - all things that are vital to the fabric of civilization. Unfortunately, all these things are expensive and difficult for the average tax payer to support. In this time of fiscal restraint, when all our social and medical programs are being threatened, we must seriously look at why some segments of our communities are exempt from contributing their fair share.
Let's look at the city of Vancouver. The majority of people who live here are hard-working, middle-income citizens, who struggle to keep some earnings for recreation after all necessities are paid. Is it really fair to ask these people to subsidize major land holders in their community, particularly when these land holders represent big business firms which are considerably more wealthy than the taxpayers who now support them.
After researching church property assessment figures for our Greater Vancouver, B.C. area which includes the city and 11 surrounding municipalities with a population of about 1.3 million, the loss of revenue to the communities becomes apparent. The tax exempt assessed value of churches in the 12 areas totals $854,738,500! The average residential mill rate for the group is 7.309. This represents foregone tax revenue of $6,247,280. If we do rough calculations to include the whole country we conclude that the religious loopholers are getting away without paying taxes of about $160,000,000 in Canada. We wonder why cash- starved local governments don't jump at the chance to ask the churches to participate in the community instead of riding free.
And where does the money from donations to these businesses go? Because these organizations are not required to post accurate financial statements, few contributors realize that their money goes to purchase stocks, bonds and other property which all become tax exempt as well. Taxpayers are constantly complaining that we should be taxing the big corporations to give relief to the average Joe. Perhaps they just don't realize that churches ARE the big corporations.
We live in a democracy and people are free to adhere to any belief system they fancy. In all fairness to the various citizens who inhabit this country, they should not be forced to surreptitiously support a religion they do not believe in or may even find abhorrent. If you are a Christian, do you really want your money going to support a Christ-killing synagogue? If you are Jewish, do you want to contribute to the mosques of terrorist infidels? If you are a rational person, do you want good money wasted on promulgating superstitious nonsense?
Canadian citizens can no longer afford to carry free-loaders. For those people who find the idea of taxing religions repugnant, then perhaps they would concede if churches were required to put back into their community an amount equal to their tax assessment. As things stand, it is very doubtful that any church is putting as much into the community as it receives in benefit from being part of that community. As an alternative to taxation, churches could receive recognition for the things they give for use of the general public, providing it is presented without the accompanying propaganda. For example, if a playground was built with the tax assessment money from the local Catholic church, then a little plaque could be erected saying "Donated by St. Mary's Church in lieu of taxes for the year 1996".
This is not an indictment against religion in particular. Religion is a personal and private matter. It should also be one of free choice. This is an indictment of desperately needed money being withheld from communities. It is an indictment against money being given to businesses and organizations without knowledge or consent of donors. More than ever, citizens need honesty, integrity and accountability from organizations within their communities.
1. In a true democracy, children would receive a liberal education in the wide variety of religious doctrines available. Then, when they reach the age of consent, these young adults would be able to make an informed choice whether to accept the ideology of any religion in particular. Currently, children are indoctrinated like Hitler Youth, with no opportunity to question the validity of the tenets they are required to embrace. Would the majority of parents be willing to accept a curriculum which included the study of the major religions, leaving other parents with the right to educate their children, after school hours, in the privately supported church of their choice? Is there any reason why various religions would find it unacceptable for their children to obtain a liberal and complete education?
2. Religions tend to promote hatred against minorities. The most common example is the persecution of homosexuals on religious grounds. Scientists have now uncovered the genetic link to homosexuality. People are born with a specific eye color. Likewise, people are born with a specific sexual orientation. Who has control over the way they are born? God only knows! It is cruel to continue perpetrate hatred against a fragment of the population who have no control over the desires they were born with. Do you know if your donations are being used to perpetuate hatred?
3. Some religious organizations receive taxpayers' money to use terrorist tactics to enforce their will on democratic citizens. A recent example is the Right To Life Society which openly condones the shootings at abortionist clinics. If you find that harassment and victimization of Canadian citizens is repulsive, then you should be outraged that such organizations receive government and charitable funding. In the United States, families of shooting victims, as well as victims of harassment and stalking, are now proceeding with major lawsuits against organizations which promote hatred and crimes of hate. Would you like to see millions of your dollars being lost because you unknowingly contributed to the terrorist activities of these religious groups?
4. Do you know where the money you donate is being spent? Are you getting the most value for your dollar? Is it spent on things that you believe in? Perhaps you feel that your money should go to help the hungry at a soup kitchen, or go towards a shelter for the homeless. How do you know for sure that it isn't being spent to invest in luxury condos and holiday resorts for the wealthy? Perhaps it is going to purchase weapons to support a holy war, or subversive terrorist activities. Unless you can see a proper financial statement from your church, you have no idea where your money is going.
5. Common law has clearly established that the advancement of religion is a charitable purpose. Ask the native Indians just how charitable the purpose of the missionaries was. Natives lived on this land for thousands of years without cutting down a rainforest, or causing the pollution of a stream. Perhaps their pagan gods were much more benevolent than the Christian one they were forced to adopt? It is time to take a serious look at the value of these old accepted laws. Who do they really benefit?
6. It is correct to assume that most parents love their daughters and want the best for them. Why would they choose to support institutions in which women are excluded from positions of importance, where the female body is considered shameful, where the pains of childbirth are punishment for original sin and where women are depicted as wanton temptresses who incite men's desires? Isn't this an assault to the self-esteem of any young girl.?
Some religions are still debating if women have souls. Genital mutilations are done today as a faith ritual. A Muslim man may not pray if he has touched a woman and not washed first. St. Augustine was quoted as saying; "Women should not be enlightened or educated in any way. They should in fact, be segregated as they are the cause of hideous and involuntary erections in holy men." Would everyone in your community want to support a philosophy where men get all the excuses for immoral behavior and women get all the blame?
7. Mankind's history on earth has always been violent. Many parents consider violence to be pornographic. And yet, every holy book is filled with cruel atrocities, hatred, genocide, murder of whole civilizations, women, children and families. Little mercy or understanding is demonstrated for non-believers of a particular doctrine. The books reinforce the primitive "Might is Right" philosophy, with relatively little compassion for women, children or animals. Those who are physically weaker and unable to communicate their needs are in the most need of protection, however the written word ignores these pleas. Furthermore, holy books are filled with pornography, rape, sodomy, incest, adultery and many things that make for unsavory reading for young members of the community.
The two African countries of Rwanda and Burundi are the most Christianized of all the African nations. Unfortunately, birthrates are the highest in Africa because family planning and birth control are outlawed. Schools and hospitals are run by nuns. This has resulted in overcrowding, misery, tribal hatreds and environmental degradation, as well as the most horrendous slaughter and massacre of human beings. The birth control issue is highly hypocritical because the Catholic Church has owned shares in the major birth control producing company, Instituto Farmecologico Sereno, (as exposed in David Yallop's book, In God's Name. )
Almost every religion has a vengeful and cruel god who destroys entire nations on a whim. The holy books have been used as excuses to perform hideous acts against other human beings in the name of heresy and blasphemy. Psychotherapist, Dr. Albert Ellis, has suggested that a cruel and bloody god produces cruel and bloody followers. There seems to be much evidence to support this idea just by reading today's newspapers.
Conversely, hardened criminals can find immediate forgiveness (and possibly early release from prison) by proclaiming their new-found belief. Con men and religious hucksters, who have bilked people out of millions of dollars, can then go forth and confess their sins. Of course, their victims are supposed to be religious enough to forgive the sinner who fleeced them, and so the shell game continues.
Out of respect for non-believers who find many holy books totally offensive, bloody, racist, sexist and pornographic, wouldn't it make more sense to expose their children to these books, when they are old enough to study these concepts objectively?
8. Religious thinking is opposed to free inquiry and scientific investigation. It suppresses a child's natural curiosity and fills them with nightmares of hell and punishment if they dare question things that defy logic or make no sense. The dark ages set the progress of science and medicine back hundreds of years. As late as October, 1992, the Pope forgave Galileo, a seventeenth century scientist, for saying that the earth revolved around the sun.
Religious teachers condemn such ancient books as Homer's Iliad as being false and unproven, but they ignore the fact that Henry and Sophia Schliemann discovered the actual city of Troy in the late 1800's, using only Homer's exact words. Anyone can read the historic account of this discovery by Schliemann himself in Troja: Results Of The Latest Research, 1884, or the biographical account by Irving Stone called The Greek Treasure, 1975. To date, any discovery of Noah's Ark, using the Bible, has proven to be a hoax. This doesn't confirm one way or the other about the existence of Noah's Ark. It just confirms that some ancient manuscripts have proven to be far more accurate than the Bible.
Unfortunately, many religious teachers prey on the gullibility of their followers. A prime example was the television documentary on the discovery of Noah's Ark, which later was proven to be a hoax. In fact, Richard A. Fox won an award for his magazine article that analyzed the program and questioned the authenticity of the story. The article was entitled "The Incredible Discovery of Noah's Ark': An Archaeological Quest?" It appeared in the Summer 1993 issue of Free Inquiry. Any librarian should be able to get a copy. His article was also given national attention in Time magazine. This point is raised only because so many people think that Noah's Ark has actually been discovered and therefore this proves that there really was a Noah who put a gazillion animals into a small boat and managed to survive, in spite of the logical impossibility of this myth.
Religious advocates encourage fantastic thinking and discourage logical investigation. A most recent example is the celebration of holy statues drinking milk. This "miracle" occurs because the statues are made of a porous material. They would just as easily absorb chicken blood or urine. However, real scientists are never invited to closely scrutinze modern miracles. Unfortunately, Creation scientists, who are often called in to examine these phenomena, are not recognized as real scientists by the academic community because their methods fall short of scientific standards.
Whether you believe that the Universe has a purpose or not, do you feel comfortable with your money supporting Middle Age ideas?
9. Many religions promote cruel and barbaric punishments against outside observers of the faith and even their own followers. These people ask only for some change to bring their religion's doctrines into the modern world. Taslima Nasreen is under death threat by Muslim fundamentalists in Bangladesh. Her crime is one of blasphemy for having said that the Koran should be revised in regard to the status of women. Of course, the western world is well aware of poor Salman Rushdie, who is under sentence of death for "blaspheming the Prophet." Sheik Ahmed Deehat, a Muslim scholar from South Africa, when visiting Canada proclaimed, "According to the rules of the Holy Koran, the Holy Bible tells us anyone who blasphemes must be stoned to death. Those are the laws as given by God to the Christians and the Jews". (Ottawa Citizen, July 16, 1994) As late as 1994, Reverend Anthony Kennedy was quoted; "I would burn the bloody bitches....Let these bloody women go off and form their own politically correct church and religion. I would shoot the bastards if I was allowed, because a woman can't represent Christ."
No matter what religion you choose to follow, do you want money allocated to these extremist views? For those of you who hold these views, then you are entitled to contribute to your religion accordingly. Others should be free not to.
10. Sadly, religion cannot keep its promises to its followers. Who really knows if you will get to heaven faster if you send your pension to the televangelist? If you are an Islamic Jihad Suicide Bomber, will you really get to "sit on the right-hand side of God and enjoy the attention of 72 nymphs." (according to Sheik Abdallah Shami, spiritual leader). These assurances would constitute fraud or false advertising in the modern world. Religions tend to prey on fears of the sick and elderly, society's most vulnerable. In all fairness to these people, they deserve to see how their hard-earned pennies are spent. A full accounting would not be unreasonable.
Nothing will stop people from believing what they want to believe; and they have every right to their beliefs. They should not have the right to inflict their expenses on others. This report does not deny the comfort that some people receive by participating in the faith of their choice. I am sure that religion is seen as valuable to its many adherents. However, it is time to examine the old tradition of tax exemption for an ideology that isn't applicable to everyone in a community. As Thomas Jefferson said, "To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical."
We are facing severe fiscal restraint. Social, health and education programs are in crisis. Tax payers are bled dry. Would it be unreasonable to expect religious corporations to present auditor's reports to their parishioners? Wouldn't you feel more comfortable knowing what decisions the directors and officers of your church are making with your money? Is their any reason why we shouldn't consider a referendum so taxpayers can decide if they wish to continue to support tax exemptions to churches? Isn't it time for honesty and accountability from all members of the community?
Apparently the NDP Federal leadership has banished Svend Robinson to the back-benches as "punishment" for presenting a Petition to remove "supremacy of God" phrase from the preamble to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
It is very disappointing that members of a free society would take this attitude. Unfortunately, most people seldom read the religious books that they claim to adhere to and therefore don't realize the damage that religious belief has caused to our free country.
Christianity is based on a book that depicts racism, brutality, massacre and homophobia. In fact, Christians worship a God who promotes these activities. Do you know how many times their god has commanded his "chosen ones" to exterminate entire tribes and nations? Inquisitions, persecutions and witch hunts were all done in the name of godly devotion.
Even Hitler used Christianity as an excuse to commit atrocities. "My feeling as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who, once lonely with only a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were, and called me to fight them, and who, so help me, was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. With boundless love, as a Christian and as a man, I read the passage which relates how the Lord finally gathered His strength and made use of the whip in order to drive the urserers, the vipers, and cheats from the temple...." (From Voelkische Beobachter, April 22, 1922)
Religions were created to empower special groups of people. Most of the world's current strife can be traced to religious origins. Furthermore, most religions promulgate the myth of male superiority, with the brunt of problems and blame falling on female shoulders. Isn't it time that we freed ourselves of the shackles of primitive barbarity and stepped into the twenty-first century?
When has the bombing of a public or private building ever been traced to a humanistic or atheistic organization? When has the assassination of an abortion doctor ever been traced to a religious skeptic? If Canada is truly free, then all citizens should remain free to reject or accept religion. To be forced to accept a God as part of their Human Rights Charter denies the very freedom our society is based on.