Monday, June 11, 2012

China Bans Temple IPO's

In the wake of Facebook's disappointing initial public offering (IPO), the Chinese government is cracking down on temples and other religious organizations seeking to issue shares and trade them on China's stock exchange. Some of these temples are highly profitable, bringing in a lot of money thanks to tourism, and have sought to set up publicly traded corporations to capitalize on this revenue stream. According to China's Administration of Religious Affairs, though, such schemes are wrong and will not be allowed to proceed.

The listing of companies linked to world famous Chinese heritage sites is not new in the country's three-decade-old capital markets, but attempts to list at least one religious site have apparently crossed a line.

Schemes to promote tourism via temples, or even for temples to band together and go public to raise funds, were wrong, Xinhua news agency quoted Liu Wei, an official with the State Administration of Religious Affairs, on Wednesday as saying.

Such plans "violate the legitimate rights of religious circles, damage the image of religion and hurt the feelings of the majority of religious people", he said in remarks at a conference on the management of religious sites.

Reports about the Shaolin Temple, famous for its kung-fu monks, planning a listing sparked a public outcry three years ago when they surfaced. Many Chinese are concerned that the Shaolin Temple, which has become a high-profile commercial entity in recent years, is becoming overly money-minded.

For all that China is officially a communist country, it's interesting to note that the idea of a church selling shares of stock simply would never happen in the otherwise more capitalist United States. The separation of church and state means that if a church wants to maintain its tax-free status it cannot operate like a regular for-profit corporation, and also means that the very idea of an "Administration of Religious Affairs" would violate the constitution. American religious groups in favor of eliminating the separation of church and state should keep in mind that the constitution currently keeps the government out of their business, and if the separation principle were ever overturned that all could change very quickly.

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Rob said...

I'm no tax expert, but I believe the current rules for tax exempt status leave some wiggle room. A church could, for instance, separate itself into different children in a parent organization. Then some parts could be run for profit, and some parts as church exempt. Many church's do this to raise additional funds. I think the biggest issue is making sure company's don't just declare themselves a church to get tax exempt status.

One area I don't understand is the political involvement rules involved in Church exempt status. It seems like a clear violation of first amendment rights in a lot of different ways, and it seems like its specifically geared towards favoring majority religions (ie Christianity) over minority faiths. It also seems like Christian church's ignore these rules completely and still retain their tax exempt status.

The way it seems to me, a Pagan priest, for instance, couldn't ask their congregation not to vote for a candidate based on a history of anti-pagan remarks and a clear religious agenda without risking their tax exempt status. In the same way a tax exempt institution couldn't publish a news letter informing members and non-members of minority faith sensitive and insensitive candidates.

Christian groups do this all the time though, and as far as I know retain their status.

Maybe there is some fear of political candidates being able to use church status to flaunt voting laws, but I don't understand those laws well enough to figure out how that might happen.

Scott Stenwick said...

@Rob: Scientology is kind of the poster case for organizations declaring themselves to be a church in order to make more money. But I doubt they're the only offender along those lines.

I do know that occasionally non-profit religious groups get in trouble for political advocacy. The Christian Coalition spent more than a decade in court with the IRS over that issue and finally settled in 2005. Still, I don't think the prohibition is as widely enforced with Christian groups as it should be, and you're probably right that the establishment would come down a lot harder on a Pagan group that did the same.

Of course, as long as Citizens United stands, all the Pagan group would have to do is set up a Super PAC to distribute those newsletters. Then they would be in the clear.

@Dorispinto1001: It sure looks like your Tarot reader advertises on the Internet to me! Or is it your contention that a blog comment is in some fundamental way different from a banner ad? ;-)