Last month, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton sent a letter to Washington, D.C., asking that churches and other houses of worship be allowed the same access to federal Hurricane Harvey aid that other nonprofits are.

“Churches have opened their doors to feed, shelter, comfort and rebuild their communities — even hosting FEMA operations in the process — but this policy has made those very same churches ineligible for assistance because their primary use is, by nature, religious,” Abbott and Paxton wrote.

Days before Abbott and Paxton sent the letter, three Texas churches damaged by Hurricane Harvey sued the Federal Emergency Management Agency, demanding access to disaster relief money they say nonreligious nonprofits are able to get, according to The Washington Times.

Abbott and others make a compelling argument. Many local churches, some severely damaged by Hurricane Harvey, did step in to help hundreds of residents in Galveston County. In many cases, the churches were the first to respond and were on the front lines of relief and recovery efforts.

But it’s also very true that churches are exempt from taxes, a long-standing arrangement meant to protect religious freedom and to curb the temptation of government to establish an official religion.

In 2013, the Washington Post began raising the issue of whether churches should pay taxes and pointed out: “When people donate to religious groups, it’s tax-deductible. Churches don’t pay property taxes on their land or buildings. When they buy stuff, they don’t pay sales taxes. When they sell stuff at a profit, they don’t pay capital gains tax.

“If they spend less than they take in, they don’t pay corporate income taxes. Priests, ministers, rabbis and the like get ‘parsonage exemptions’ that let them deduct mortgage payments, rent and other living expenses when they’re doing their income taxes. They also are the only group allowed to opt out of Social Security taxes (and benefits).”

Should churches, which don’t pay taxes, benefit from a program supported by taxpayers?

Under current U.S. law, FEMA cannot give money to churches for repairs, reconstruction or replacement of facilities damaged by a storm.

Consider that apartments and other such income-producing properties that do pay taxes also don’t qualify for FEMA assistance because they aren’t primary residences.

Many landlords instead rely on low-interest Small Business Administration disaster loans. It’s a simple question of fairness, first and foremost.

Churches do qualify for some forms of aid, including recovery loans from the SBA. What they can’t receive are grants, which are given with the expectation that the money will be paid back.

But there are other questions that beg answering as politicians champion the idea churches should receive FEMA help: Which churches? All churches? All denominations? Will it apply to synagogues, mosques? It would have to.

And what about nontraditional places of worship? It’s a slippery slope when you consider that just about any group could call itself a church.

The government would then be in a precarious position of deciding just what qualifies as a real church as it decides to dole out FEMA dollars.

Churches, mosques and synagogues are membership organizations. What’s to stop them from using federal dollars to help only who they see fit or to proselytize those they help?

The contributions churches have made in Harvey relief are worthy of praise and shouldn’t be dismissed. But it’s a dangerous thing to weaken and erode foundations of religious liberty and church-state separation.

Churches are tax-exempt because the founding fathers believed government should have no authority over religion, which is an important principle.

We also shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that in the United States, tax exemptions for churches are largely based on the rationale that those organizations provide social benefits. Churches on one hand can’t argue they should enjoy tax exemptions because they provide a social service and then argue they should get taxpayer aid because they provide social services.

Churches should do good things because they should do good things. We should remember what the Bible says about being rewarded for good deeds in heaven and not on Earth. The takeaway being you can’t have both your tax exemption and your FEMA help.

There’s another relevant adage here: As the government gives, so too does the government take away.

Churches in this case should be careful what they pray for.

• Laura Elder

 Laura Elder: 409-683-5248; laura.elder@galvnews.com

(39) comments

Steve Fouga

Nice one, Ms Elder.

All "entities" that own property and buy things should be taxed, if any of us are taxed. That's my view. [cool]

Carlos Ponce

"They also are the only group allowed to opt out of Social Security taxes"
Reminder: Texas public teachers don't pay into Social Security.
Think about the groups that helped out after Hurricanes Ike and Harvey struck Galveston County:
Operation Blessing - a Church group
Samaritan's Purse - a Church group
Catholic Charities - a Church group
etc.
Do these groups thumb their noses to individuals who don't belong to their sect or pay into their funding? No. They help everyone in need in this county regardless of religious affiliation or even lack of. Think about that next time you say the churches don't pay taxes so forget them.

Kim Baldwin

ALL nonprofits, which do not pay taxes, should be treated the same.

Gary Scoggin

Exactly right, Kim. Most churches, like most other non-profits are 501(c)3 organizations. Treat them the same.

Ron Shelby

Churches should definitely pay taxes above a certain amount of income. It's difficult for an extremely small congregation to get going, but once it hits a certain threshold it should be taxable. And in all cases, if it employs anyone, it should pay social security taxes. And why wouldn't it want to see its dedicated employees receive assistance in retirement. If a church fought against that, its congregation should seriously question its leadership.

PD Hyatt

When the Church starts wanting help from the Federal government what they are saying (IMHO) that they no longer believe that God is in control and that He will take care of them.... The church helped many during these difficult times as that is what they are supposed to do.... The Church and other non-profits do not pay taxes and I agree with that, and they should depend upon the people to support them through God and not depend upon the government....

Jack Cross

Main stream churches are getting a lot of taxpayer money to resettle refugees. They get a $1,000 a head/ They bring these people into states and cities un known to the city governments.

Randy Chapman

Catholic Charities is big importer of folks we don't need.

https://catholiccharitiesusa.org/efforts/immigration-refugee-services

Mark Aaron

Randy: "Catholic Charities is big importer of folks we don't need."

Another proud member of the "usual suspects club" I see.

Randy Chapman

Mark, please explain in depth why we need un-vetted folks that are coming from countries that hate the U.S. We ONLY need to be taking those that have the background to prove that they will be an asset to us. We are not the world's welfare provider.

Mark Aaron

Randy: "Mark, please explain in depth why we need un-vetted folks that are coming from countries that hate the U.S. We ONLY need to be taking those that have the background to prove that they will be an asset to us. We are not the world's welfare provider."

Who duped you into believing immigrants are unvetted Randy, Trump? You know he constantly lies, right? Or are you duped about that too?

Randy Chapman

As usual, Mark deflects.

Mark Aaron

Randy: "As usual, Mark deflects."

The deflection is yours, Randy. You didn't answer the question: "Who duped you into believing immigrants are unvetted Randy, Trump?" Jim has thoughtfully provided solid evidence that immigrants are indeed vetted, which makes you clearly a dupe. So who duped you Randy? Which also begs the question: do you intend to stop getting your information from that discredited source, or will you continue being played for a fool, a chump, a patsy?

Carlos Ponce

Randy Chapman,
You give a link to Catholic Charities, which states on its home page:
"You must not mistreat or oppress foreigners in any way. Remember, you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt." Exodus 22:21
Catholics use the NAB ( New American Bible).
Exodus 22:21 in the NAB states, "You shall not wrong any widow or orphan."
it is Exodus 20:20 states, "You shall not oppress or afflict a resident alien, for you were once aliens residing in the land of Egypt."
http://usccb.org/bible/exodus/22
Whoever did this website (catholiccharitiesusa.org) did not use the authorized Catholic Bible. They are using the NLT (New Living Translation). There is a Catholic Edition (NLTCE) not authorized for liturgical use but for private study only.
Why use it in place of the NAB? "Resident alien" has a different connotation than "foreigners". The Catholic Charities website and organization is run by the Liberal faction of the Catholic Church at odds with many Catholic parishioners who follow Biblical directives to obey civil law. And I am Catholic. Remember Evangelicals and church going Catholics overwhelmingly voted Republican in the last presidential election. We are not against immigrants but frown on ILLEGAL immigration into this country.

Mark Aaron

Carlos, you claim to be concerned about possible terrorists and what they might do in America...so how do you feel about people on the no-fly list being able to buy guns and the NRA supporting them?

Jim Forsythe

Randy, part of the process is below, what more are you saying we need?

 Americans are understandably worried that terrorists might use any and all opportunities to enter the United States.
So what does the refugee vetting process look like?
First, most applicants apply for refuge through the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR. The office then forwards some applications to the U.S. State Department, which prepares these applications for adjudication by Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Once an applicant is referred to the State Department, biometric and biographic checks are done against various U.S. security databases at multiple points throughout the process.
Multiple agencies systems and databases are incorporated in this process, including:
The State Department
-Consular Lookout and Support System
-Consular Consolidated Database
-Department of Homeland Security
-TECS (a DHS security system)
-DHS Automated Biometric Identification System
National Counterterrorism Center/FBI's Terrorist Screening Center
-Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment
Terrorist Screening Database
Federal Bureau of Investigation
-Extracts of the National Crime Information Center's Wanted Persons File, Immigration Violator File, Foreign Fugitive File, Violent Gang and Terrorist Organization File (and the Interstate Identification Index)
-Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System / Next Generation Identification
Interpol
Drug Enforcement Administration
Department of Defense
-Automated Biometric Identification System
In addition, the refugee process requires a security advisory opinion to be completed by the FBI and the intelligence community on many refugee applicants who are considered higher risk. Similarly, interagency checks are constantly being done in connection with a wide range of U.S. agencies.
In additional to these background checks, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services conducts a refugee interview. These interviews cover everything from refugee and immigration matters to security and country specific questions.

Carlos Ponce

What do real "refugees" want? They would rather remain in their home country. They would prefer that conditions were safer in their own country. Liberals want the door open. Come on over, things are safer here! Really? And how can you properly vet someone when information from their home country is unreliable? And Liberals want to include "a path to citizenship" in their "Welcome to the USA" to boost their own numbers. What's best for them? Policies that improve conditions in their home country. They say they'd be happier there.

Mark Aaron

Carlos: "Liberals want the door open."

For someone who professes to be a devout Christian you sure do show an astonishing lack of charity and compassion, Carlos. Is there a different Jesus you worship that I don't know about, one that hates and demagogues at every opportunity?

Steve Fouga

Mark asks: "Who duped you into believing immigrants are unvetted Randy, Trump?"

Probably not Trump himself. More likely the Russians. Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Instagram are gradually admitting that the Russian government used targeted ads and posts to dupe gullible Americans into favoring Trump by spreading anti-immigrant propaganda.

More revelations to come soon, as these generally liberal companies realize their platforms were used to dupe gullible Americans into voting for Trump. Certainly not all Trump voters and probably not those on this forum, because their minds were already made up, but perhaps a few hundred thousand here and there. Who knows, the Russians might have swung the election because Americans were too stupid to realize what they were seeing.

Mueller will find out. Matter of time. [cool]

Randy Chapman

Again. The way immigration works is that we only want the best. I'm sorry, but we are not the World's Welfare System. It may seem cruel to those who believe the "government" can provide for everyone. We can't. We do not have the unlimited resources to continue to allow anyone and everyone to come here and feed at the trough. Coupled with that is the fact that vetting them based on documentation that is sketchy at best, and provided by unreliable sources such as their third-world countries of origin is a recipe for disaster in today's crazy world. It's really not that hard to understand, is it?

Carlos Ponce

Steve posts, "Mueller will find out. Matter of time." They'll find one on Trump's team to indict to satisfy the Leftist on his team but nothing will come of it. His team however is discovering plenty of corruption from Obama's administration. Problem is - they're Liberals and won't do anything against their own.

Steve Fouga

Carlos, it's not Trump's team I'm concerned with. They're the Keystone Cops. It's the Russians themselves that worry me. I don't want my country messed with by a second-rate power that we shoved into the poorhouse almost 30 years ago, and which we could trounce militarily within a few weeks, or at most, months. I don't want them to be able to use AMERICAN-OWNED social media platforms to duped gullible voters.

Randy, as for immigration policy, I'm in favor of being far more selective about who we let into the country. I'd rather have a process other than the RAISE Act, and I'd rather not cut legal immigration in half, but something different needs to be done. I would probably start by simply recruiting foreign STEM students, Dean's List and higher, already earning their degrees from our universities.

Carlos Ponce

Russians in the form of the Soviet Union have been interfering with American politics for a long time so nothing new there. They even tried to influence the 1960 elections. And to date, no one who voted for Trump has said the influential factor was anything found on social media. They were not duped. People I know did not like Hillary's policies. They did not like her telling coal miners they'd be jobless. Despite their dislike of Leftist news, putting a rope around them looked horrible. Face it, Hillary was terrible candidate who ran a terrible campaign. Who follows social media? The young voters. And they voted Hillary but preferred Socialist Bernie.

Randy Chapman

Steve, I agree completely.

Carlos Ponce

The sad thing is that Liberal followers are allowing themselves to be duped. The mantra for several decades: Republicans are racists, homophobes, haters of women. Republicans only want tax breaks for the rich. Republicans' idea of health care is to have you die. Republicans want to throw grandma off the cliff. Only a STUPID Liberal believes that garbage. But most Liberals do. Just see which forum poster agrees with that mantra and my case will be proven.

Mark Aaron

Carlos: "Republicans are racists, homophobes, haters of women. Republicans only want tax breaks for the rich. Republicans' idea of health care is to have you die. Republicans want to throw grandma off the cliff. Only a STUPID Liberal believes that garbage. "

Carlos, you are the living embodiment of those charges. You are first in line to demonize and demagogue anytime the subject turns to minorities or immigrants. Your fact-free attacks on Hillary Clinton are as vicious as they are dishonest. You support every measure the GOP forwards, no matter the cost to the public. You genuflect at the feet of the groper-in-chief and refuse to admit ANY wrongdoing on his part, no matter how blatant or vile. You show every sign of believing all welfare is evil. Why would you expect people to ignore that?

Mark Aaron

Carlos: "They'll find one on Trump's team to indict to satisfy the Leftist on his team but nothing will come of it."

Do you think everyone who doesn't adore Trump like you do is out to get you Carlos?

==> "His team however is discovering plenty of corruption from Obama's administration."

Sure they are Carlos.(rolls eyes) The depth of your delusion never fails to astonish me Carlos. There is zero evidence to support your claim, yet you make it as if it were a foregone conclusion. Is that what Pat Roberson is preaching this week? Your gullibility is off the chart Carlos. So pathetic.

Mark Aaron

Carlos: "And to date, no one who voted for Trump has said the influential factor was anything found on social media. "

From a study by Oxford University:
_Many of the swing states getting highly concentrated doses of polarizing content were also among those with large numbers of votes in the Electoral College. ~ Junk news, characterized by ideological extremism, misinformation and the intention to persuade readers to respect or hate a candidate or policy based on emotional appeals, was just as, if not more, prevalent than the amount of information produced by professional news organizations. _

http://comprop.oii.ox.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/89/2017/09/Polarizing-Content-and-Swing-States.pdf

Mark Aaron

Steve: "Mueller will find out. Matter of time."

While that is my fervent wish I am not holding my breath. I remember when the country hung its hopes on special counsel Fitzgerald to take down the corrupt Bush-Cheney administration. We only got one sacrificial lamb with the prosecution of Scooter Libby, even though Fitzgerald made clear that Cheney was as guilty as the day was long. I hope I am wrong and Trump is indicted for obstruction of justice.

Steve Fouga

Carlos writes: "Russians in the form of the Soviet Union have been interfering with American politics for a long time so nothing new there." PLENTY IS NEW, Carlos: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. PAY ATTENTION.

"They even tried to influence the 1960 elections." Who cares? We're talking about 2016 and future elections. You're mired in the past.

"And to date, no one who voted for Trump has said the influential factor was anything found on social media." OF COURSE NOT. That's a symptom of being duped.

"People I know did not like Hillary's policies." Do you think it's because most you know are Republicans from Texas? A majority of voters liked her policies enough to vote for her.

"Face it, Hillary was terrible candidate who ran a terrible campaign." She was an awful candidate, but would have been a good president. But Hillary is old news. I'm talking about Russians.

"Who follows social media? The young voters." Hahahahaha! FACEBOOK ~65M Americans over 45 yrs. TWITTER ~25M over 45. INSTAGRAM & SNAPCHAT 20%+ over 50 yrs. Get with the times, Carlos. There were clearly enough easily duped old social media users to swing the election, not to mention the even more easily duped young ones. A Y-U-U-U-U-G-E majority of voting-age Americans use social media, probably as high as 70%. This is why your man Trump uses Twitter so much. He got with the times!

There are ~175M voting age people in the U.S. using social media. At least a few hundred thousand of those were stupid enough to be duped by Russian propaganda. They either still don't know it or, possibly, are barely smart enough not to admit it.

Carlos Ponce

Nothing new.
"OF COURSE NOT. That's a symptom of being duped." When they ALL give reasons than that given on social media methinks you are clueless.
"She was an awful candidate, but would have been a good president."Talk about being duped.
And more young voters use social media than older voters. Yes there is a number of older voters that use it but they are outnumbered.
" At least a few hundred thousand of those were stupid enough to be duped by Russian propaganda." Unless you questioned each one that is a baseless conjecture.

Mark Aaron

Steve: " At least a few hundred thousand of those were stupid enough to be duped by Russian propaganda."

Carlos: "Unless you questioned each one that is a baseless conjecture."

It is not conjecture, it is fact. From an Oxford University study on Social Media, News and Political Information during the US Election:

_Two things should be noted across categories. First, the number of links to professionally produced content is less than the number of links to polarizing and conspiratorial junk news. In other words, the number of links to Russian news stories, unverified or irrelevant links to WikiLeaks pages, or junk news was greater than the number of links to professional researched and published news. Indeed, the proportion of misinformation was twice that of the content from experts and the candidates themselves. Second, a worryingly large proportion of all the successfully catalogued content provides links to polarizing content from Russian, WikiLeaks, and junk news sources. This content uses divisive and inflammatory rhetoric, and presents faulty reasoning or misleading information to manipulate the reader’s understanding of public issues and feed conspiracy theories. Thus, when links to Russian content and unverified WikiLeaks stories are added to the volume of junk news, fully 32% of all the successfully catalogued political content was polarizing, conspiracy driven, and of an untrustworthy provenance. _

http://comprop.oii.ox.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/89/2017/09/Polarizing-Content-and-Swing-States.pdf

Steve Fouga

Carlos writes: "And more young voters use social media than older voters. Yes there is a number of older voters that use it but they are outnumbered." Carlos, you taught math. It doesn't matter if they were outnumbered. All that matters is whether enough were duped into voting for Trump by Russian trolls and bots to swing the election.

Carlos writes: "Unless you questioned each one that is a baseless conjecture." Not baseless, just unproven. Exactly the same as your conjecture that there was not one Trump voter who WAS duped. The difference is that my baseless claim is legitimized by a team of federal prosecutors investigating it, recently with help of the world's largest social media companies. We'll see what they come up with. In the meantime I'll stick to my story about hapless Trump voters, young and old, being illegally swayed by Russian intelligence agents, trolls and bots.

Carlos, I'm not claiming you were duped, or anyone else on this forum, because I know you would have dutifully voted for Trump or whomever the GOP trotted out, no matter what. But all it took was a few gullible voters in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida...

Carlos Ponce

Steve, remember I was originally a Ted Cruz supporter as mostof your neighbors in Galveston County were. Donald Trump was properly vetted before he earned my vote. And the same can be said for all the Trump supporters I know. Why vote for him? His fiscal policy, his judge choices, a positive attitude. How much of that was in the Russian ploy? ZERO, ZIP, NADA. And Hillary calling a large segment of America "deplorable". Was that in the Russian playbook? No. And her telling coal miners their jobs were gone? No. And her roping off the news media behind her? No. Many reasons to vote Trump, many more NOT to vote Hillary on CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX, NYT, GCDN, etc.

Steve Fouga

"Many reasons to vote Trump, many more NOT to vote Hillary on CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX, NYT, GCDN, etc."

And despite what you say, many more people voted for Clinton than Trump. But it was exactly WHICH voters that really mattered, and that's where the Russians came in.

The reasons you list are important. That's why the election was even close. But the factors putting Trump over the top were Comey's mismanagement of evidence, Russian Military Intelligence's targeting of gullible voters using trolls and bots, and Obama's spinelessness in failing to emphasize said Russian involvement.

I know you don't believe me, but eventually this will be common knowledge, taught to schoolchildren. We won't view it the same as we do Pearl Harbor and 9/11 because no lives were lost. But we will view it as a successful attack on the United States by an adversarial power. It will be discussed in history classes, military science classes, political science classes, computer science classes, sociology classes, psychology classes...

Carlos Ponce

And when you are proven WRONG?

Steve Fouga

IF I'm proven wrong, I'll admit it. You can hold me to it, Carlos.

Carlos Ponce

I hope so. Let's see what you post after Trump is elected to a second term.

Mark Aaron

Carlos: "Let's see what you post after Trump is elected to a second term."

If you bothered to read the credible media and not just CBN you might realize that Trump will be lucky to make it through the year. From Vanity Fair:

_“I Hate Everyone in the White House!”: Trump Seethes as Advisers Fear the President Is “Unraveling” In recent days, I’ve spoken with a half dozen prominent Republicans and Trump advisers, and they all describe a White House in crisis as advisers struggle to contain a president that seems to be increasingly unfocused and consumed by dark moods.
At first it sounded like hyperbole, the escalation of a Twitter war. But now it’s clear that Bob Corker’s remarkable New York Times interview—in which the Republican senator described the White House as “adult day care” and warned Trump could start World War III—was an inflection point in the Trump presidency. It brought into the open what several people close to the president have recently told me in private: that Trump is “unstable,” “losing a step,” and “unraveling.”_
https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/10/donald-trump-is-unraveling-white-house-advisers

Not that you and the usual suspects would care. You'll support him until the bitter end, such is the depth of your mindless devotion to the GOP.

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