Property Taxes

Property Taxes – A Biblical And Historical Perspective

by Bob Long, March 2006
The Heart of Texas Forum, www.TheHeartOfTexas.org
Rally Call Ministries, www.RallyCall.net

Introduction

In 1787, speaking to George Washington and the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin stated, “I have lived, sir, a long time and the longer I live the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?” This paper serves as an introduction to biblical perspective motivated by the belief that the more our public policy is rooted in God’s Truth, the more God will “aid” and bless our nation, our states, our cities and our people.

The Biblical Perspective

One of the preeminent themes the Bible expresses is that God is the owner of the Earth and all things in and on it, as stated in Psalm 24:1 – “The earth is the Lords and the fullness thereof, the world and those that dwell in it. For He has founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the waters.” The national understanding of this truth was a major reason property tax was purposely never instituted in Israel. Israel knew that ownership of land was God’s intended blessing to families so they could prosper and then perpetuate that blessing through each generation by inheriting the land of their forefathers. This is reflected in Deuteronomy 19:14 – “Do not move your neighbor’s boundary stone set up by your predecessors in the inheritance you receive in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess.” (See also Leviticus 25.)

Private property was a key theme in national life under God. Ancient Israel had several forms of civil taxes in place to pay for the military, the Temple, etc. but a property tax was purposely never instituted. As far back as Abraham in Genesis 23, the land was appraised, bought and sold with a corresponding deed of ownership. Free markets and private property are biblical concepts that were and are blessed by God.

An obvious expression of God’s position on private ownership is found in the Ten Commandments of Exodus 20:15 – “You shall not steal.” In the New Testament Church, when believers were voluntarily selling land and donating the money to the Church, the apostle Peter declares to Ananias and his wife (who had purposely lied about the price for which their land had sold) in Acts 5:4 – “Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal?” The overwhelming pattern of biblical revelation is that God designed and desired His people to own property with the intention of it being a blessing to pass down to the generations. When a property tax is imposed, the government claims ownership of the land and the citizen is merely renting it.

Taxing private property is unbiblical and displeasing to God. Any law that promotes true private ownership of land is a just law and will bring the grace and blessing of God upon that society, but any law that taxes land indirectly or directly is an unjust law before the Lord and will not bring His aid and blessing.

The Historical Perspective

In 1819, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall, in the famous McCulloch vs. Maryland case, “The power to tax is the power to destroy.” Property tax is historically a form of oppression. Taxation of land was the sign of a conquered people. Biblical history illustrates this many times with Nehemiah 5:4 being just one fearful example where the conquered people of Israel were incurring debt simply to pay the King’s tax on their land. It is known from modern history that in Nationalism, Nazism, Socialism, Communism, Islamic totalitarianism and other forms of oppressive government property rights are among the first rights taken away.

Our founding fathers knew all too well the abusive doctrine of “Divine Right” where Kings usurped authority and created serfdoms and class distinctions. A popular cry during the American Revolution was – “Liberty and Property!” In fact, until it was changed later, the original phrase about our God given inalienable rights was “life, liberty and property!” The phrase “the pursuit of happiness” was equated with property because those patriots believed that there could be no pursuit of happiness nor true liberty if there was no freedom from government oppression in the owning of private property. A study of world history from an economic perspective reveals that only governments who promoted and protected private property have truly prospered.

Points For A Principled Policy On Property Tax

1. Property rights come from God not the State.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with inherent and inalienable rights; that among these, are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Thomas Jefferson – The Declaration of Independence.

“We need governments for the mutual protection of our Lives, Liberties and Estates, which I call by the general name –Property. In fact, the great and chief end of men uniting into Commonwealths and putting themselves under Government is the preservation of their property.” John Locke – Second Treatise.

“The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the law of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence.” John Adams.

A property tax is a direct assault upon individual liberty and freedom.

2. Property tax is an unbiblical tax.
Property taxes mean that the government claims ownership of the land and the citizen is merely renting it. This was never God’s intention historically or presently. If a man can lose his land to the government because of taxation, then he will never truly own that land. This is not the proper role of any government and it does not have the biblical authority nor was it ever the Founders original intention. God never allowed the institution of a property tax among His people in ancient times.

3. Property tax is an anti-family tax.
Families are robbed of inheritance by property taxes. This is in direct contradiction to God’s purpose for future generations of the family to inherit and own property. Families are prevented from passing on debt free property to the next generation because of property tax. A tax burden is bequeathed instead of a blessing. A family can actually lose their land and still owe taxes on it to the government!

4. Property tax is a disincentive for property improvements.
Improvements increase property value causing the property tax to increase. This discourages citizens from investing in improvements and additions which prevents money from flowing back into the economy. If a property owner decides to make improvements he pays sales tax (and more) on materials used to make the improvements, then that citizen is taxed again on the improvements when the property value increases. Property taxes directly penalize owners and indirectly inhibits commerce.

5. Property tax is counter productive to economic prosperity.
A property tax works directly against free market exchange of goods and services. History shows that laws direct economy. Every nation whose laws promote and protect true private property ownership prosper more than the nations that do not. History reflects two main streams of thought with measurable results.

#1 – “The theory of Communism may be summed up in one sentence: Abolish all private property.” – Karl Marx

#2 – “So great moreover is the regard of the law for private property, that it will not authorize the least violation of it; no, not even for the general good of the whole community” – Sir William Blackstone.

History declares that Blackstone was right and that our laws should overtly protect property. A property tax is a form of nationalization.

It is unjust socially, unsuccessful economically, and a clear failure historically. A property tax is a step toward abolishing private property.