Association wants full accounting of revenue, including uses of property and positions on 'hot-button' issues
By Steve Weatherbe
Special to the B.C. Catholic
They're back! And they want all churches to lose their property tax exemptions.
The Victoria Secular Humanist Association is starting modestly enough, with a brief to all 13 municipalities in the Greater Victoria region challenging them to require all religious organizations claiming the municipal property tax exemption to produce a "full accounting" of their revenues, their uses of the property, and their position on such hot-button" issues as abortion, homosexuality, and "gender equality."
The Vancouver-based B.C. Humanist Association says it agrees in principle and is waiting to see how it goes in Victoria before going after churches, synagogues, temples etc, in the more religious Lower Mainland.
The Victoria group did the same thing in 2009 and Victoria city council gave it a five-minute public hearing but decided to do nothing.
"Some religious organizations do a lot of good," VSHA spokeswoman Jill Stainforth told The B.C. Catholic, "but when the money they raise leaves Victoria to pay for proselytizing in other countries, why should Victoria taxpayers subsidize that activity?"
Stainforth also claimed that some churches operate secondhand stores that produce "six-digit" revenues, and said the VSHA wants "full accountability" of all church operations.
The secularists would remove the property tax exemption if too much money goes out of Victoria or if too few good works are done within the city's boundaries. It also wants the exemption removed if churches engage in activities contrary to what Stainforth calls "liberal Canadian values," such as "gender equality," abortion on demand, and "equality" for homosexuals.
Father Dean Henderson, the Catholic chaplain at the University of Victoria, said the Catholic Church deserves the exemption on many grounds, such as its corporate works of charity in hospitals and soup kitchens and its contributions to culture through "beautiful buildings, works of art, and music. All of these are available to all regardless of race, colour or creed."
So too is the counselling which he and other clergy provide free of charge. As for homosexuals, Father Henderson said they are as welcome in church as anyone else, and they are called by the Church like everyone else to live their lives in accordance with the teachings of Christ.
If anyone is guilty of discrimination, he suggested, it is the secular humanists, since they are advocating requirements for religious organizations only, when equity would require they be applied to non-religious charities too. Discrimination on religious grounds is prohibited by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Father Henderson joked that if the secular humanists ever decided to put their love of humanity into some tangible project, "they would probably need a building to do it in, and I would support their right to a tax exemption."
Most provinces exempt churches and charities from part of their property taxes automatically. In B.C., worship buildings and the land they sit on is automatically exempted. Provincial law allows each B.C. municipality to exempt adjoining land or buildings owned by religious organizations at their discretion. Many allow a complete exemption.
Dale Jackaman of the B.C. Humanist Association told the B.C. Catholic the organization had no immediate plans to follow the Victoria group's lead, "but we are watching what happens in Victoria with interest."
Jackaman said the "Religious Right's growing influence" in Canada was encouraging secular humanists to take defensive action, which might take the form of an attack on public funding for religious schools.