Slim: It puzzles me that more citizens in secular European countries don’t opt out of church tax
Apparently the changes in church tax (tax on capital gains was recently added) has led to a sharp drop in church membership in both Catholic and Protestant faiths:
Hundreds of thousands of German Christians are formally renouncing their faith and leaving the church in order to escape a controversial change in the tax laws.
Up to 200,000 Germans are believed to have filed official declarations last year renouncing their membership of the Protestant church, the highest number in almost two decades. A similar number are thought to have left the Catholic Church.
Church members in Germany are required by law to pay tax to fund church activities, which is collected by the government.
Under German law, anyone who was baptised as a child is automatically amember of the church and obliged to pay the tax, charged as a percentage of their income, regardless of their beliefs or whether they attend church services.
Until recently, many Christians have been prepared to pay the extra tax for the benefits it brings them, including access to church schools and day care facilities that are funded by the state.
But the only way out of paying the tax is to make a formal declaration renouncing your membership of the church – and there is a government fee for this as well.
A decision to extend the 8 or 9 per cent charge to capital gains income, or the profit earned from selling an asset, appears to have sparked the sharp decline in church membership.
As I understand it JWs are entitled to collect tax in various European countries but have not done so. Is there evidence they are beginning to collect tax?
I don't have any evidence of that.
However, whether the org collects that compulsory tax or not, the org, as a "public law" status religion, is now in the position to collect that tax and that means that they have the right to access income tax records of their members. Either that, or turn their membership roll over to the government to collect that compulsory tax.
How the org actually handles this new found power is not public information, but the possibility that they hold income information on JWs cannot be discounted. Yes, there are privacy laws but the assumption would be that the org is responsible in how they handle that sensitive data under privacy laws.
If the org has chosen the second option - to be their own tax collectors of that compulsory church tax from its membership - even if they don't actually levy a tax on their members, it still leaves them in the position of accessing income records and "making shepherding calls" on targeted pensioners to "discuss estate planning".
Legally, the org is in the position to collect tax on any capital gains that its members make. Whether they do it or not is another matter.
How will the org use their power as tax collectors? I don't know. But, I have a hard time believing that all those years of the org fighting for public law status in Germany was done so that elders had less work (and saved admin costs in filing reports) and children in school didn't get teased for belonging to a sect instead of a religion (as the org article states).