Renowned atheist Richard Dawkins has called the tax-exempt status given to churches a "disgrace," and has insisted that atheists and the non-religious are just as generous and good as religious people.
"Incidentally, because churches are automatically classified as charities for taxation purposes is a disgrace," Dawkins recently wrote in an op-ed for The Washington Post.
"Nobody denies that some churches do charitable work. But that doesn't mean that any organization should automatically qualify for tax-free status simply by calling itself a church. Each church organization separately should make the case that it does charitable work, just as anybody else has to when seeking tax exemption," he added.
The author of The God Delusion pointed to polls on religion in the United States by Pew and Gallup to show that freethinkers in America are on the rise and outnumber Mormons, Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists all put together. Freethinkers still remain marginalized by society because they do not believe in God and people assume that they are not as generous as religious people, the biologist positioned.
"I would hypothesize that the difference in giving between the religion and nonreligious is negligible if you only count donations to pure charity and discount donations to atheist advocacy organizations, or to churches (including tithes) and 'charities' that unscrupulously use their resources to proselytize rather than bestow real charitable benefits," Dawkins argued, and pointed to several secular organizations that are doing a lot of charity work and good for their communities. He added that his own website, RichardDawkins.net, has helped organizations raise more than $500,000 for groups such as Doctors Without Borders and the Red Cross.
The atheist professor concluded by stating that "atheists and freethinkers are full human beings whose generous impulses are at least as sincere as those of the religious."
Some Christian ministries, however, have argued that the tax-exempt status for churches comes at too great of a cost – the 'muzzling' of pastors. In order for churches to still be considered charities and not lose their tax-exempt status, pastors are banned from endorsing or denouncing political candidates running for office from the pulpit.
In May, Truth in Action Ministries, a Christian national media organization, began urging people to sign a petition that calls for a repeal of the IRS regulation that prohibits pastors from sharing their thoughts on political candidates from the pulpit.
"What we are trying to say basically 'Hey, enough with this. This doesn't sit well with the First Amendment,'" said Dr. Jerry Newcombe, spokesperson for Truth and Action Ministries.
"We are not saying that pastors should be partisan or supporting of a political candidate, but they certainly should be able to speak out on issues that may have political implications."