Render Unto Caesar: Law, Religion, and Tax

Allen Calhoun

No area of law is more central to the interplay of religion and law than taxation. In his book The City of God, the theologian and philosopher St. Augustine famously questioned the difference between an empire and a band of robbers. Any faith traditions trying to answer Augustine’s question must first wrestle with the justification for taxation.

Nevertheless, academics, policymakers, and the public rarely reflect on the close connection between religion and taxation. At first, the two seem to have little to do with each other, largely because of the influence that positivism has had on the way we conceptualize the fields of law and economics. The principles of economics and public finance usually dictate what we consider to be the right or wrong kind of tax policy. But those principles themselves are often ethical, philosophical, and religious. 

For instance, we may subscribe to the belief that the overall income tax burden on individuals and businesses should be low because we think that higher rates hurt economic growth. Whether that belief is correct or not depends partly on empirical evidence and economic theory (i.e., at what point do income tax rates negatively affect economic growth?) — but also on hidden value commitments. We may hold the conviction that the job of the government is to promote economic growth, or perhaps we believe the government’s job is to promote economic growth but only to the extent that economic inequality doesn’t worsen. Such convictions originate outside of economics and law.

This series will break down the walls that separate tax policy from religious and theological input in the public conception. To that end, we will publish religious perspectives on taxes and pieces on tax law jurisprudence that focus on the religious and theological roots of, and ideas latent in, tax policy. At the same time, this series will offer practical insights on the ways tax law impacts professional clergy and the administration of religious organizations.

We hope that this page proves useful and enjoyable to clergy, administrators, tax law professionals, and scholars! ♦

Allen Calhoun’s career has followed parallel tracks, one in the law and legal publishing field and the other in academics and higher education. He has, among other degrees, a PhD in theological ethics and an LLM in taxation and is currently putting both to use as a McDonald Distinguished Fellow at Emory University’s Center for the Study of Law and Religion and an adjunct professor of ethics and philosophy at Averett University.

Recommended Citation

Calhoun, Allen. “Render Unto Caesar: Law, Religion, and Tax.” Canopy Forum, November 16, 2020.