While the founders believed they were a creating a nation where Church and State were separate, including in the Constitution an Establishment Clause declaring that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” that First Amendment phrase has been subject to Supreme Court rulings allowing for churches to gain increasing power over the nation’s political institutions.
Among those rulings are decisions mandating the expenditure of tax revenues for religious schools, including direct funding through vouchers, payment for textbooks and computers, and even provision of funds for busing students to church schools and direct payments for educating students in charter schools and religious colleges. For a comprehensive review, begin here, here, here, here, and here.]
In addition, churches and their institutions receive massive tax breaks, with exemptions from income and property taxes, while salaries they pay may be exempt from Social Security and unemployment taxes.
Added to all those tax-exempt contributions from the faithful, the resulting picture is one of an institution with unparalleled economic and political clout.
No wonder that there are calls for an end of the religious tax exemptions. . .
And it’s a trillion-dollar business. . .
Just how much economic clout does organized religion wield.
In a word, huge.
From the Guardian:
Religion in the United States is worth $1.2tn a year, making it equivalent to the 15th largest national economy in the world, according to a study.
The faith economy has a higher value than the combined revenues of the top 10 technology companies in the US, including Apple, Amazon and Google, says the analysis from Georgetown University in Washington DC.
The Socioeconomic Contributions of Religion to American Society: An Empirical Analysis [open access] calculated the $1.2tn figure by estimating the value of religious institutions, including healthcare facilities, schools, daycare and charities; media; businesses with faith backgrounds; the kosher and halal food markets; social and philanthropic programmes; and staff and overheads for congregations.
Co-author Brian Grim said it was a conservative estimate. More than 344,000 congregations across the US collectively employ hundreds of thousands of staff and buy billions of dollars worth of goods and services.
More than 150 million Americans, almost half the population, are members of faith congregations, according to the report. Although numbers are declining, the sums spent by religious organisations on social programmes have tripled in the past 15 years, to $9bn.
Twenty of the top 50 charities in the US are faith-based, with a combined operating revenue of $45.3bn.
Businesses with a religious twist
In addition to churches, schools, and religion-based NGOs, the paper also identifies major corporations with a strong religious link, including programs devoting to furthering religious agendas — programs that are also, in most cases, tax-exempt.
The following table from the study lists some of those major business entities:
More from the study:
In 2014, a landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court determined that the closely held for-profit corporation Hobby Lobby is exempt from a law that its owners religiously object to, as long as there is a less restrictive means of furthering the law’s interest. That ruling was the first time the Supreme Court recognized a for-profit business’s claim of religious belief. While the ruling was limited to closely held corporations, it sets up the situation where the boundaries of faith and business are clearly not absolute. It is therefore reasonable in any valuation of the role of faith to the U.S. economy to recognize businesses that have religious roots. This expands our purview beyond companies that have a specific religious purpose, such as producing traditional halal or kosher foods, to companies that have religion as a part of their corporate culture or founding.
To identify such companies, this second estimate includes companies identified recently as having religious roots. For instance, Deseret News recently identified 20 companies with religious roots, and CNN produced a list of religious companies besides Chick-fil-A. Also, the recent book by Oxford University business professor Theodore Malloch produced a global list of such faith-inspired companies. Not all of these would identify specifically as being faith-based. But faith is part of the founding and operating ethos. Malloch notes that although the commercial success of Walmart is well known, “less well known are Walmart’s connections to the distinct religious world of northwest Arkansas and rural America … [and its] corporate culture and how specific executives incorporated religious culture into their managerial philosophy”. . . Likewise, although the Marriot Hotels are not religiously run, John Willard Marriott, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, founded the chain and supplied many of the rooms with not only the Bible but The Book of Mormon.
Some other companies listed, however, have a more overt religious identity. Tyson Foods company, founded by John Tyson, provides 120 office chaplains for employees, ministering to the personal and spiritual needs regardless of the employee’s faith or non-faith, as the case may be. The Deseret News story notes that Tyson speaks openly about the company’s aspiration to honor God and be a faith-friendly company. Also, as a further indication of the company’s faith-orientation, Tyson recently financed the launch of the Tyson Center for Faith and Spirituality in the Workplace at the University of Arkansas.
And to close, here’s John Oliver. . .
In a repost of a segment he did a year ago on America’s ,egachurches and their egregious tax exemptions.
From Last Week Tonight:
Televangelists: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
U.S. tax law allows television preachers to get away with almost anything. We know this from personal experience.
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