Time for tax fairness

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Time for tax fairness

The National Assembly set legal grounds on Monday to levy taxes on clergy and religious organizations.

The tax subcommittee of the National Assembly’s Strategy and Finance Committee decided to include a religious category in the income tax section in the revised tax code bill for levying taxes on clergy and religious organizations starting from 2018.

Taxes on clergy and religious organizations have been debated in the legislature for the last 47 years, but always failed to get through due to strong protests from religious groups.

The Christian community considers taxing as religious persecution.

But tax exemption for religious practitioners goes against the tax principle of levying taxes on all income. Advanced societies also levy income taxes on clergies and religious practitioners.

Catholic priests have been voluntarily paying income tax for the last 20 years. The Buddhist community has also been willing to pay taxes. Large Protestant churches have been voluntarily paying income taxes. But the legislature has put off enacting the law out of fear of angering the Protestant community.

Still, whether the bill can pass this time is also unclear. The government proposed to start taxation from January next year, but the National Assembly deferred it by two years in order to implement the move after the parliamentary and presidential elections are over.

If the Protestant community strongly resists the move, the tax revision again could be stalled. The revised tax code also raises the question of efficacy.

The obligation would be made optional to appease concerns about tax audits on religious organizations. Tax payments would continue to be left up to the voluntary will of religious leaders.

Religious organizations have long drawn questions about their funding and spending. To enhance accounting transparency and public confidence, religious organizations should be subject to tax audits.

By carrying out tax duties, the religious community could earn faith and respect from society. The administration and legislature must not waste this chance to enforce taxation on the religious community.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 1, Page 34

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