“Sunday Clubs for Wealthy People”: Taxing the Churches
In the aftermath of the Civil War, calls to tax church property were heard in state constitutional conventions and legislatures, tax commissions, the secular press, and even in some pulpits. Churches had long enjoyed an exemption from the property tax. But their exemption came under attack because of a deep-seated resentment that religion was losing its popular mission. As opulent churches sprang up in Gilded Age cities, more and more Americans feared that houses of worship were turning into exclusive clubs for the wealthy. In a society experiencing economic turmoil and widening social division, secularists made a powerful case that churches, like other powerful corporations, should be made to pay taxes.