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(EDITORIAL from the Korea Herald on Aug. 3)
Taxes on priests
-Religious communities are more supportive this time-

The administration is working on a new tax policy, which officials say will be made public next week. Among those expected to be made worse off by the policy are Protestant and Buddhist clergy and some others holding religious office that have paid no income taxes in the past.

   A decades-long attempt to levy taxes on all incomes earned by clergy has been scuttled in the face of looming political backlash from religious communities ― powerful voting blocs. No wonder President Park Geun-hye’s administration is treading on the issue with as much caution as its predecessors.

   The new tax policy will include a principle under which incomes accrued to all people holding religious office are subject to taxation, says the Ministry of Strategy and Finance. But actual taxation will be conditional, with the ministry saying it will depend on the outcome of discussions it is conducting with religious groups.

   The ministry’s approach runs counter to the constitutional clause requiring all people to pay taxes under the conditions as prescribed by law. Found nowhere is any justification for prior consultations with prospective taxpayers on the taxes to be levied.

   This is not to say that none of those holding religious office are paying income taxes. Catholic clergy are among the voluntary tax payers. They have been paying taxes since a decision was made in favor of taxation at a 1994 convention of bishops.

   But Protestant and Buddhist clergy have paid no taxes. It is simply by convention that the National Tax Service has refrained from levying taxes on their incomes.

   The issue of taxing all people holding religious office came to the fore when the top tax officer proposed it in 1968 for the first time. It has since been shelved in the face of strong opposition from religious communities.

   The latest attempt to tax all clergy was made by the Lee Myung-bak administration in its final year of governance. All of a sudden, it made a politically risky proposition in March 2012 only to withdraw it ahead of the presidential election in December.

   According to one estimate, additional tax revenue would be 100 billion won a year ― a mere drop in the bucket. Still, 2 out of every 3 Koreans demand that the clergy not be exempted from taxation. The renewed proposition to tax all clergy is more of a matter concerning fair taxation than that of an increase in the government’s revenues.

   The religious communities are now more supportive for the plan to tax all clergy. The largest Buddhist order in the nation, Jogye, has recently decided not to put up opposition to what it calls proper taxation.