Church tax

Church tax

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A church tax is a tax
Tax
To tax is to impose a financial charge or other levy upon a taxpayer by a state or the functional equivalent of a state such that failure to pay is punishable by law. Taxes are also imposed by many subnational entities...

 imposed on members of some religious congregations in Austria
Austria
Austria , officially the Republic of Austria , is a landlocked country of roughly 8.4 million people in Central Europe. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the...

, Denmark
Denmark
Denmark is a Scandinavian country in Northern Europe. The countries of Denmark and Greenland, as well as the Faroe Islands, constitute the Kingdom of Denmark . It is the southernmost of the Nordic countries, southwest of Sweden and south of Norway, and bordered to the south by Germany. Denmark...

, Finland
Finland
Finland , officially the Republic of Finland, is a Nordic country situated in the Fennoscandian region of Northern Europe. It is bordered by Sweden in the west, Norway in the north and Russia in the east, while Estonia lies to its south across the Gulf of Finland.Around 5.4 million people reside...

, Germany
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

, Iceland
Iceland
Iceland , described as the Republic of Iceland, is a Nordic and European island country in the North Atlantic Ocean, on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Iceland also refers to the main island of the country, which contains almost all the population and almost all the land area. The country has a population...

, Italy
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

, Sweden
Sweden
Sweden , officially the Kingdom of Sweden , is a Nordic country on the Scandinavian Peninsula in Northern Europe. Sweden borders with Norway and Finland and is connected to Denmark by a bridge-tunnel across the Öresund....

, some parts of Switzerland
Switzerland
Switzerland name of one of the Swiss cantons. ; ; ; or ), in its full name the Swiss Confederation , is a federal republic consisting of 26 cantons, with Bern as the seat of the federal authorities. The country is situated in Western Europe,Or Central Europe depending on the definition....

 and several other countries.

Germany


About 70% of church revenues come from church tax. This is about
Euro
The euro is the official currency of the eurozone: 17 of the 27 member states of the European Union. It is also the currency used by the Institutions of the European Union. The eurozone consists of Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg,...

8.5 billion (in 2002).

Article 137 of the Weimar Constitution
Weimar constitution
The Constitution of the German Reich , usually known as the Weimar Constitution was the constitution that governed Germany during the Weimar Republic...

 of 1919 and article 140 of the German Basic Law
Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany
The Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany is the constitution of Germany. It was formally approved on 8 May 1949, and, with the signature of the Allies of World War II on 12 May, came into effect on 23 May, as the constitution of those states of West Germany that were initially included...

 of 1949 are the legal basis for this practice.

In Germany, on the basis of tax regulations passed by the communities and within the limits set by state laws, communities may either
  • require the taxation authorities of the state to collect the fees from the members on the basis of income tax assessment (then, the authorities withhold a collection fee), or
  • choose to collect the church tax themselves.


In the first case, membership in the community is entered onto a tax document (Lohnsteuerkarte) which employees must surrender to their employers for the purpose of withholding tax on paid income. If membership in a tax-collecting religious community is entered on the document, the employer must withhold church tax prepayments from the income of the employee in addition to other tax prepayments. In connection with the final annual income tax assessment, the state revenue authorities also finally assess the church tax owed. In the case of self-employed persons or of unemployed taxpayers, state revenue authorities collect prepayments on the church tax together with prepayments on the income tax.

If, however, religious communities choose to collect church tax themselves, they may demand that the tax authorities reveal taxation data of their members to calculate the contributions and prepayments owed. In particular, some smaller communities (e.g. the Jewish Community of Berlin
Berlin
Berlin is the capital city of Germany and is one of the 16 states of Germany. With a population of 3.45 million people, Berlin is Germany's largest city. It is the second most populous city proper and the seventh most populous urban area in the European Union...

) choose to collect taxes themselves to save collection fees the government would charge otherwise.

Collection of church tax may be used to cover any church-related expenses such as founding institutions and foundations or paying ministers.

The church tax is only paid by members of the respective church. People who are not members of a church tax-collecting denomination do not have to pay it. Members of a religious community under public law may formally declare their wish to leave the community to state (not religious) authorities. With such a declaration, the obligation to pay church taxes ends. Some communities refuse to administer marriages and burials of (former) members who had declared to leave it.

The money flow of state and churches is distinct at all levels of the procedures. The church tax is not meant to be a way for the state to directly support churches, but since expenses for church tax are fully deductible (as are voluntary expenses for the Church, for charity or a bundle of other privileged aims) in fact such support occurs on a somewhat large scale. The effort of collecting itself, done by the State, is entirely paid for by the Churches with a part of the tax income.

The church tax is historically rooted in the pre-Christian Germanic custom where the chief of the tribe was directly responsible for the maintenance of priests and religious cults. During the Christianization
Christianization
The historical phenomenon of Christianization is the conversion of individuals to Christianity or the conversion of entire peoples at once...

 of Western Europe, this custom was adopted by the Christian churches (Arian and Catholic) in the concept of "Eigenkirchen" (churches owned by the landlord) which stood in strong contrast to the central church organization of the Roman Catholic Church. Despite the resulting medieval conflict between emperor and pope, the concept of church maintenance by the ruler remained the accepted custom in most Western European countries. In Reformation times, the local princes in Germany became officially heads of the church in Protestant areas
Cuius regio, eius religio
Cuius regio, eius religio is a phrase in Latin translated as "Whose realm, his religion", meaning the religion of the ruler dictated the religion of the ruled...

 and were legally responsible for the maintenance of churches. Not until the 19th century were the finances of churches and state regulated to a point where the churches became financially independent. At this point the church tax was introduced to replace the state benefits the churches had obtained previously.

Taxpayers, whether Roman Catholic, Protestant or members of other tax-collecting communities, pay between 8% (in Bavaria
Bavaria
Bavaria, formally the Free State of Bavaria is a state of Germany, located in the southeast of Germany. With an area of , it is the largest state by area, forming almost 20% of the total land area of Germany...

 and Baden-Württemberg
Baden-Württemberg
Baden-Württemberg is one of the 16 states of Germany. Baden-Württemberg is in the southwestern part of the country to the east of the Upper Rhine, and is the third largest in both area and population of Germany's sixteen states, with an area of and 10.7 million inhabitants...

) and 9% (in the rest of the country) of their income tax
Income tax
An income tax is a tax levied on the income of individuals or businesses . Various income tax systems exist, with varying degrees of tax incidence. Income taxation can be progressive, proportional, or regressive. When the tax is levied on the income of companies, it is often called a corporate...

 to the church or other community to which they belong.

For example, a single person earning 50,000 euros may pay an average income-tax of 20%, thus 10,000 euros. The church tax is then 8% (or 9%) of that 10,000 euros: 800 (or 900) euros.

Denmark



The members of Folkekirken pay a church tax, which varies between municipalities, but can be as large as 1.51%. The tax is generally in the vicinity of 1% of the taxable income. The tax doesn't cover the entire budget of the church. An additional 13% is paid by the government. This means even people who are not members of the church finance the church through taxes.

Sweden


The members of Church of Sweden
Church of Sweden
The Church of Sweden is the largest Christian church in Sweden. The church professes the Lutheran faith and is a member of the Porvoo Communion. With 6,589,769 baptized members, it is the largest Lutheran church in the world, although combined, there are more Lutherans in the member churches of...

 pay church tax, which varies between municipalities, but can be as much as 2%. Church and state are separated
Separation of church and state
The concept of the separation of church and state refers to the distance in the relationship between organized religion and the nation state....

 as of 2000, however the burial tax (begravningsavgift) is paid by everyone regardless of membership.

In a recent development, the Swedish government has agreed to continue collecting from individual taxpayers the annual payment that has always gone to the church. But now the tax will be an optional checkoff box on the tax return. The government will allocate the money collected to Catholic, Muslim, Jewish and other faiths as well as the Lutherans, with each taxpayer directing where his or her taxes should go. It is possible to leave the church with the help of a web page http://www.uturkyrkan.se/.

Austria


Church tax is compulsory for Catholics in Austria, with a rate of 1.1%. This tax was introduced by Hitler. After World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, the tax was retained in order to keep the Church independent of political powers.

Switzerland


There is no official state church in Switzerland. However, all the 26 cantons (states) financially support at least one of the three traditional denominations – Roman Catholic, Old Catholic (in Switzerland Christ Catholic), or Evangelical Reformed – with funds collected through taxation. Each canton has its own regulations regarding the relationship between church and state. In some cantons, the church tax (up to 2.3%) is voluntary but in others an individual who chooses not to contribute to church tax may formally have to leave the church. In some cantons private companies are unable to avoid payment of the church tax.

Finland


All members of either the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland
Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland is the national church of Finland. The church professes the Lutheran branch of Christianity, and is a member of the Porvoo Communion....

 and the Finnish Orthodox Church
Finnish Orthodox Church
The Finnish Orthodox Church is an autonomous Orthodox archdiocese of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The Church has a legal position as a national church in the country, along with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland....

 (the two state churches of Finland) pay an income-based church tax of between 1% and 2%, depending on the municipality. On average the tax is about 1.3%.

Formerly, to stop paying church tax, one had to formally leave the church by personally going to local register office and waiting during an allowance of time for reflection. This requirement was removed in 2003 and currently a written (but not signed) statement to the church suffices. The majority of resignations since 2005 are now handled through a web site, Eroakirkosta.fi
Eroakirkosta.fi
Eroakirkosta.fi is a Finnish website which offers an electronic service for resigning from Finland's state churches; the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland and the Finnish Orthodox Church...

. If one is member of church when year begins, he/she will pay taxes for the whole year; however, these are later returned as a tax refund.

In addition to personal taxation, the state divides some of the money collected by taxing private companies to the two state churches. It does not matter if company is owned by church members or non-members. It has been argued that the churches use this money to upkeep cemeteries, to which they are obligated by law.

Iceland


Taxpayers in Iceland are obligated to pay a congregation tax (Icelandic sóknargjöld) to the recognized religious organization of their choice
Religion in Iceland
Religion in Iceland was initially the Norse paganism that was a common belief among mediaeval Scandinavians until Christian conversion. Later, the nation became half-Christian and then more fully Christian. This increasing Christianization culminated in the Pietism period when non-Christian...

. Those who do not belong to any recognized religious organization pay the same amount to the University of Iceland
University of Iceland
The University of Iceland is a public research university in Reykjavík, Iceland, and the country's oldest and largest institution of higher education. Founded in 1911, it has grown steadily from a small civil servants' school to a modern comprehensive university, providing instruction for about...

. The Church of Iceland
Church of Iceland
The National Church of Iceland, or Þjóðkirkjan, formally called the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland, is the state church in Iceland. Like the established churches in the other Nordic countries, the National Church of Iceland professes the Lutheran branch of Christianity. Its head is the...

receives governmental support beyond the congregation taxes paid by its members.