RGD, let's not begrudge the Church its little 'benefits'

Thursday, August 16, 2018

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The Church in Jamaica has not been a mere religious body concerned only with the spiritual element and a life of faith among its members. It is not by any means academic to ask where would Jamaica be without the Church.

Even for the many Jamaicans who do not subscribe to the teachings of the Church, attend worship service on a Sunday or a Saturday, get married in a church or are taken to be eulogised upon death, the reach of the Church is long and deep.

The contribution of the Church to the lives of Jamaicans, especially the poorest of them, dating back as far as we want to go, is impossible to quantify as a measure of gross domestic product (GDP).

The work of the religious denominations and the fighting men of the cloth has been well documented. We know, for example, that black Jamaicans would have been even worse off had the heroes of the faith — such as John Clark; Thomas Fowell Buxton; William Knibb; George Lisle; and others who have been celebrated — not organised to get land into the hands of the freed slaves.

No one denies any more the vast contribution made by the Church in the education of the Jamaican masses, as evidenced in the many schools founded and funded by churches throughout the island.

Soup kitchens; school fees; money for uniform, lunch money; hostels, and other relief and charity efforts too numerous to mention have come from the offering plates of churches or from money they invested on behalf of their flocks.

It is for that reason that churches were not asked to pay tax on their income or afforded certain import duty exemptions out of deference for their incalculable contribution to national well-being that no Government could replace.

All of this to say that the unholy fuss between some sections of the Church and the Registrar General's Department (RGD) over marriage licence fees is absolutely unnecessary. The Church cannot be treated as just any other organisation where fees or tax exemptions are concerned.

Of course, one can understand the Government wanting to tax money from offering being sent out of the country to enrich overseas branches of the church; or the earnings from investments made overseas.

There are marriage officers who are not linked to the Church and it could be argued that they should pay the fees. However, these non-church officers need not be a bother to the RGD, because they should be filing taxes anyway, and thus making returns on anything they may charge members of the public for performing marriages.

By and large, the Church is akin to a non-profit entity which usually enjoys special treatment from the Government, including tax write-offs. This is wholly appropriate and is a trade-off for all the other things the Church does to make life better for Jamaicans.

Let's not begrudge the Church any of the little benefits it enjoys. There is no priest or pastor among the Fortune 500 published annually by Forbes and other wealth magazines.

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