[VIEWPOINT]Why should one group stand apart

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[VIEWPOINT]Why should one group stand apart

In our society, there are people who do not pay income tax, although they have a source of income. They must belong to a privileged class.
Some of them earn a large amount of money, drive big cars and enjoy an affluent lifestyle. Why then don’t they pay any income tax at all? Is a society that tolerates such privileges a healthy society?
Chapter 2, Article 11 and Clause 1 of the Constitution of Korea stipulates that “All citizens shall be equal before the law.” Clause 2 of the same article makes it clear that “no privileged class shall ever be recognized or established in any form.” Article 38 of the Constitution makes it clear that “all citizens shall have the duty to pay taxes under the conditions as prescribed by law.”
Therefore, it is clear that the clergymen who have not paid income tax in the past 50 years, since national liberation in 1945, have behaved as if they belong to a special social stratum. The government has overlooked or tacitly acknowledged such behavior for all that time.
The income tax law of Korea applies an enumeration system. But it is not the enumeration of those who pay income tax, but of those who are exempt from paying taxes.
The reason that there is no separate rule or regulations for clergymen is because there is no need to discern a religious clergyman from an ordinary worker.
In the case of artists or writers, they pay income tax because there is no separate tax exemption clause for them in the law.
As long as there is no exemption clause for clergyman, they naturally should have to pay income tax.
Among clergymen, there must be people who find difficulties in managing their daily lives on their own.
According to the current income tax law, a household of four that makes less than 1.46 million won ($1,570) a month is exempt from paying income tax. Accordingly, clergymen who earn less than that tax exemption amount are free from worry about paying any income tax.
To the contrary, clergymen who have difficulties in managing their livelihood can enjoy various welfare benefits that the government provides if they report the amount of their income.
Even clergymen in a country where a specific religion has been adopted as a state religion pay income tax.
In a country like Korea, where politics and religion are separate and multiple religious beliefs are followed by people, it is difficult to understand that clergymen are exempt from paying income tax.
In the United States, all types of income received by clergymen, including their salaries and various rewards, are subject to taxation, but their housing expenses are exempt from tax.
In some European countries, including Germany, believers do not make their contributions to the church or cathedral directly, but pay a religious tax to the government. Then the government provides support to the church with the money it collected as a religious tax.
Of course, European clergymen pay income tax. Korea’s income tax law is similar to those of European countries.
Why then is it that Korean clergymen alone do not pay any income tax? It is hard to understand.
It seems that the imposition of income tax on clergymen will provoke a strong reaction from the clerical community.
I have never thought that the incumbent government under President Roh is a weak government. I wish that the government would show a strong will to eradicate the irrational practice that was tolerated for the past 50 years as soon as possible.
If clergymen pay income tax, it will contribute to the easing of Korea’s social polarization, which is getting serious. It will also help ease the sense of relative deprivation of salaried workers.
In addition, it will enhance the transparency of accounting in the religious community, which has been opaque so far, and provide a foundation for equal application of the law on the religious community, which is called the “last sanctuary” in Korea, by bringing it within the bounds of the law.
Imposing a tax on clergymen is natural in view of the spirit of the Constitution, which separates Church and State.
It has nothing to do with infringement of the freedom of religious belief, as some people claim. We should no longer overlook things that obviously violate the Constitution and the income tax law, and go against the general sentiment of citizens.
We cannot hide the sun with our palms. Wrong practices should be corrected.
The National Tax Service should not evade its duty to collect taxes according to the law.
Even before such an action has to be taken, it would be far more desirable for the clergymen themselves to step forward and voluntarily pay taxes of their own accord.

* The writer is an interim leader of a civic group, the Solidarity for Freedom to Criticize Religion.

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