Connect With Us

17 posts categorized "Religion"

Tax-Exempt for What and for Whom?

December 19, 2007

That's the question John J. DiIulio Jr. asks near the end of his article, "Non-Profits Without Honor," in the Dec. 10 issue of The Weekly Standard. You might remember DiIulio as the person tasked with selling George Bush's faith-based initiative to a skeptical public in the early, pre-9/11 days of the first Bush administration. The initiative itself never really made it out of the starting gate, and DiIulio resigned his position after only seven months on the job.

Well, he's back, and he has a book to flog (Godly Republic: A Centrist Blueprint for America's Faith-Based Future). DiIulio's chief complaint, in both book and article, is that "government routinely confers diverse public subsidies on nonprofit organizations that follow the law's letter while doing only incidental things to benefit their communities or the public at large."

He's especially critical of nonprofit hospitals and private colleges and universities, which occupy "land and buildings that generate zero local property tax revenue" and benefit from "myriad" government subsidies. To support his argument, he cites his hometown of Philadelphia, which by his estimate forgoes $90 million a year in property taxes from tax-exempt colleges and universities.

(The issue of nonprofit property tax exemptions is examined in detail by Rick Cohen in his most recent article for The Nonprofit Quarterly.)

What really bothers DiIulio, however, is the fact that religious congregations and faith-based organizations -- which, he notes, provide "scores of socially useful services to non-members" -- are excluded in most cases from applying for government grants and loans. And that's not only unfair, he says, its discriminatory. "The key nonprofit distinction," he adds, "is not religious or secular, large or small, national or local. It's who really serves disadvantaged members, non-members, or the public at large, how, and how much. [Therefore] it is time to consider revamping federal, state, and local laws governing nonprofit organizations so as to restrict full-fledged tax-exempt status to organizations that predictably and reliably produce significant non-member benefits."

Leaving aside the impracticality of such an idea (who would define -- and enforce -- the standards against which tax-exempt organizations and the social benefit they provide are evaluated?), we've seen this movie before -- and it ended badly. DiIulio is a smart man and a respected researcher. But his is an idea whose time has passed. In an age of global competition -- and global threats -- Americans want more from the nonprofit sector than services that only address the symptoms of existing social problems. Yes, those services are vitally important, and we're not suggesting that the sector doesn't have a role in their provision. But our sector is about much, much more than social service provision. And we would all be poorer if that were to change.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Does the Universe Have a Purpose?

October 08, 2007

Templeton_logo_sm Don't know how many of you saw the two-page Templeton Foundation spread in the Week in Review section of yesterday's New York Times (print edition only), but I was struck by both its subject matter and what it must have cost. It's not unusual to see an ad purchased by a global oil company or large multinational displayed prominently within the op-ed/commentary section of the Times, but I can't ever recall seeing a two-page spread from a private foundation -- let alone one devoted to a discussion of metaphysics. As for cost, based on figures that surfaced after last month's"General Betray Us" controversy, I'm guessing the Templeton folks spent upwards of $250,000 on the ad -- not a lot for ExxonMobil, perhaps, but a good chunk of change all the same.

The ad presents excerpts from what it calls a series of conversations about the "big questions" -- everything from explorations into the laws of nature and the universe to questions on the nature of love, gratitude, forgiveness, and creativity. In 54-point type, it poses the question, "Does the universe have a purpose?" and then presents the wide-ranging views of leading scientists and scholars -- people like Elie Wiesel, Jane Goodall, the astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, the essayist and computer scientist David Gelertner, and the cosmologist Paul Davies. In an age increasingly characterized by reductionist views of complex problems, it's a heartfelt and strangely old-fashioned attempt to promote dialogue and understanding between two seemingly irreconcilable world views, science and religion.

Oh, and if you're keeping score, the dozen essayists responded to the question with three "yeses," two "no's," an "unlikely," a "very likely," one "certainly," one "not sure," an "indeed," a "perhaps," and one "I hope so."

To read the essays in their entirety and/or to learn more about the authors, go here.

-- Mitch Nauffts


Quote of the Week

  • "They were careless people. They smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made...."

    The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)

Subscribe to Philantopic


Guest Contributors

  • Laura Cronin
  • Derrick Feldmann
  • Thaler Pekar
  • Kathryn Pyle
  • Nick Scott
  • Allison Shirk

Tweets from @PNDBLOG

Follow us »


Other Blogs