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June 15, 2012

Religious Tax Breaks Costs U.S. $71-Billion, Says Study

The federal government gives up as much as $71-billion a year in revenue by maintaining a virtual blanket tax exemption for religious institutions, according to a new report cited by Religion News Service.

The study by Ryan Cragun, an assistant sociology professor at the University of Tampa, and two students, attempted the quantify the cost of religious groups' exemption from taxes on property, donations, business enterprises, capital gains, and housing allowances for clergy. It was published in Free Inquiry, a magazine put out by the Council for Secular Humanism.

While the authors do not claim their findings are comprehensive, the study has raised eyebrows among nontheist activists, who have long argued without success for limiting or ending tax policies they contend unfairly favor faith groups.

"It is something lots of people have been against, but not very much has been done about it," said Tom Flynn, editor of Free Inquiry. "Coming up with hard numbers has been so difficult. But if there are going to be good discussions about this, we need good data."