The New Internet Sales Tax and ‘Rendering to Caesar’
I received the following email from a well-intentioned by misinformed Christian about taxation:
“Hello, I see that you are sponsoring an internet link to stop the Congress from passing a bill that would cause Americans to pay taxes on items bought over the Internet.
“Surely I do not have to remind you that we were commanded by ‘Jesus’ Himself to pay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God [Matt. 22:21].
“This sort to discrepancy causes me to doubt your entire site and the truthfulness of it.
“As much as I hate to admit it when I do buy something and I happen to not be charged taxes, it does make the burden of purchase much better. However as Christians we must follow the teachings of Christ, because honestly that is the evidence of true followers.”
First, we don’t live under Caesar. Our system of government is antithetical to that of the Roman Caesars. At the national level, our “Caesar” is the Constitution. At the state level, it’s our state’s constitution. Our rendering is to them. The principle to “pay tax to whom tax is due” (Rom. 13:7) is present, but let’s not forget that we don’t live in a dictatorship (yet). At the present time, an internet tax is not due.
Second, at the present time, the law states that products purchased out of state are not subject to state sales taxes unless the company selling the products has a physical presence in that state. That’s the present law. So how am I not rendering to “Caesar” by not paying a tax that at the present time I am not legally bound to pay?
Even before the internet, out-of-state retailers were not required to collect taxes from people who ordered merchandise from other states.
Third, governments at all levels tax us far beyond their rightful governing authority. There is a second part to Jesus’ statement: “render to God the things that are God’s.” That includes Caesar. Civil governments are not exempt from the limitations put on them by God, and as voters, we have an obligation to keep governing authority and power in check.
Fourth, voters have a constitutional right to “petition the government for a redress of grievances,” as the First Amendment clearly states. We are not obligated to be passive when governments want to pass laws. Just because a group of public officials want to implement a law does not mean that we have to accept that proposed law based on the directive to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” It’s not “Caesar’s” until it’s the law, and if it ever becomes the law, we can work to overturn it. At the present time, a nationwide internet tax is not a law, therefore, I am not violating Jesus’ command by not paying a tax that I’m not legally bound to pay.
Too many Christians are under the false belief that whatever law a government proposes (but does not pass into law), they have a biblical obligation to go along with it. They only have to pay the tax when it’s the law to do so, and they can fight it so it won’t become a law.
Fifth, four states (some say five) do not have a sales tax. Will companies move to these sales-tax- haven states to get around the new internet tax law so they can keep their prices down to compete in the marketplace? Will companies that do this and people who purchase from these no-sales-tax states be violating Jesus’ command in principle? Is legal tax avoidance a sin? Are people who live in the state of Washington and live near the no-sales-tax-state of Oregon violating Jesus’ directive when they shop in Oregon to avoid the sales tax in their own state? Will businesses in Oregon have to keep track of all out-of-state transactions and charge them the tax of their state of residence?
Sixth, a new internet national sales tax will be a bookkeeping nightmare, especially for small companies. Paperwork will have to be filed out to satisfy what every state requires. Will local options sales taxes be included? Counties often add to what the state requires.
Seventh, the nightmare created by this new law will lead to the Federal government to get involved.
So then, until an internet tax becomes law, no one is violating Jesus’ command to “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesars.”