Religious Questions: Why churches don't pay taxes and why that's unlikely to change

Wooden cross on a simple steeple set against a sunny summer blue sky. church tile cross building / Getty Images

Editor's note: This article is part of a series answering your biggest religious questions. Each week, we will answer one submitted faith question. To send a submission, visit or email

Question: Why is it that churches do not have to file IRS form 990 or 990-EZ or 990-N like other nonprofits must do to ensure that money received is being used for charitable causes and not for personal profit? Why should churches be able to hide how they spend their money?

Answer: In short, because of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Both provisions of the First Amendment - barring Congress from making laws establishing religion or prohibiting the free exercise of religion - are intended to limit entanglement of government and churches, said Jill Manny, executive director of the National Center on Philanthropy and the Law at New York University.