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Parsonage Allowance: IRS argues that FFRF is a religion

Discuss church-state separation issues including court cases, school prayer, and other topics in the political or community arena dealing with theism treading on nontheism.
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Parsonage Allowance: IRS argues that FFRF is a religion

Post by Toto » Mon Aug 19, 2013 2:41 am

Government Lawyers Advocate For Atheism As A Religion
The parsonage exclusion (Code Section 107) allows “ministers of the gospel” to exclude from income both in-kind housing they receive from congregations and cash housing allowances that are spent on housing. Although the benefit is usually a fairly modest boost to the take-home pay of ministers of small congregations, there is no dollar limitation allowing for the folks my blogging buddy Reverend William Thornton calls “religious racketeers” to have six figure housing allowances. ...

It is actually pretty hard to litigate about somebody else’s tax break. The explanation is pretty lawyerly. The general idea is that if you think the laws are screwed up in general, you should be calling your congressman. To have access to the courts you should be arguing that the laws are screwing you specifically. FFRF came up with a clever way around this problem. They started paying two of their officers housing allowances. They could then argue that they were being treated unfairly, because they were not entitled to exclude their housing allowances. The Government, in a summary judgment motion, argued that they did not have standing, because they did not file a claim with the IRS, but the Court thought that was pretty silly, since the FFRF officers were clearly not ministers. That was nearly a year ago.

Things Get Weird

So now we come to the weird turn. In another summary judgment motion, the Government is arguing that maybe the FFRF officers are ministers. . .

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Post by Perspicuo » Mon Aug 19, 2013 1:31 pm

That would be convenient for certain Christian apologists. They've been arguing for that a long time.

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Post by J-D » Tue Aug 20, 2013 4:11 am

Seems to me what's going on there is the government is trying to get people who are complaining about a racket to go away by giving them a share in it.

Plainly the objective of the FFRF is not to get the allowance for their employees, and neither the FFRF nor the employees involved would consider that result a victory. But if the court accepts that position, the basis for suing--namely, that the plaintiffs are being inequitably denied an advantage that's being given to others--will go away. If the court rejects the idea, though, it will have to go ahead and decide whether the allowance is constitutionally permissible, and I guess the government would prefer not to risk what might happen then.

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Post by Toto » Thu Aug 22, 2013 5:00 am

Feds offer atheists a clergy tax break that they don’t want
In a brief, the Justice Department argued that leaders of an atheist group may qualify for an exemption. Buddhism or Taosim don’t include a belief in God and are considered religions, the government’s lawyers argued, so why not atheism?

The Internal Revenue Service does require, among other things, that a “minister” be seen as a spiritual leader and provide services for a religious organization. Belief in a deity is not required.

“Plaintiffs may not presume that a law’s reference to religion necessarily excludes beliefs that are specifically non-theistic in nature,” the government argued in a motion to dismiss the suit
(The law actually refers to "ministers of the gospel.")

What this is really about: Private jets, 13 mansions and a $100,000 mobile home just for the dogs

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Post by Toto » Sun Nov 24, 2013 12:10 am


FFRF Press Release
The Freedom From Religion Foundation and its co-presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker have won a significant ruling with far-reaching ramifications declaring unconstitutional the 1954 “parish exemption” uniquely benefiting “ministers of the gospel.”

“May we say hallelujah! This decision agrees with us that Congress may not reward ministers for fighting a ‘godless and anti-religious’ movement by letting them pay less income tax. The rest of us should not pay more because clergy pay less,” Gaylor and Barker commented.

U.S. District Judge Barbara B. Crabb for the Western District of Wisconsin issued a strong, 43-page decision Friday declaring unconstitutional 26 U.S. C. § 107(2), passed by Congress in 1954. Quoting the Supreme Court, Crabb noted, “Every tax exemption constitutes subsidy.” The law allowed “ministers of the gospel” paid through a housing allowance to exclude that allowance from taxable income. Ministers may, for instance, use the untaxed income to purchase a home, and, in a practice known as “double dipping,” may then deduct interest paid on the mortgage and property taxes.

“The Court’s decision does not evince hostility to religion — nor should it even seem controversial,” commented Richard L. Bolton, FFRF’s attorney in the case. “The Court has simply recognized the reality that a tax free housing allowance available only to ministers is a significant benefit from the government unconstitutionally provided on the basis of religion.”

Crabb wrote: “Some might view a rule against preferential treatment as exhibiting hostility toward religion, but equality should never be mistaken for hostility. It is important to remember that the establishment clause protects the religious and nonreligious alike.”

The benefit to clergy is huge — saving an estimated $2.3 billion in taxes in the years 2002-2007 alone, according to a statement by Congressman Jim Ramstad in 2002. Clergy are permitted to use the housing allowance not just for rent or mortgage, but for home improvements including swimming pools, maintenance and repairs. They may exempt from taxable income up to the fair market rental value of their home, particularly benefiting well-heeled pastors. The benefit extends to churches, which can pay clergy less, as tax-free salaries go further.

The 1954 bill’s sponsor, Rep. Peter Mack, argued ministers should be rewarded for “carrying on such a courageous fight against this [godless and anti-religious world movement].”

“I agree with plaintiffs that §107(2) does not have a secular purpose or effect,” wrote Crabb, adding that a reasonable observer would view it “as an endorsement of religion.”
Crabb wrote that “the exemption provides a benefit to religious persons and no one else, even though doing so is not necessary to alleviate a special burden on religious exercise.”

All taxpayers are burdened by taxes, Crabb noted. “Defendants do not identify any reason why a requirement on ministers to pay taxes on a housing allowance is more burdensome for them than for the many millions of others who must pay taxes on income used for housing expenses.”

Crabb invoked the Supreme Court’s 1989 case, Texas Monthly, Inc. v. Bullock, calling exemptions for religious publishers from having to collect state sales tax “unjustifiable awards of assistance to religious organizations.”

“If a statute imposed a tax solely against ministers (or granted an exemption to everyone except ministers) without a secular reason for doing so, that law would violate the Constitution just as §107(2) does.” Crabb reasoned.

Crabb’s decision dismissed as implausible the government’s strange argument — attempting to deny them standing to sue — that atheists Gaylor and Barker could “conceivably” qualify as “ministers of the gospel.” Gaylor and Barker, as directors of an educational organization advocating atheism and freethought, have not been entitled to claim the housing allowance FFRF designates for them, while any “minister of the gospel” may do so for promoting religion.

Crabb rejected the claim that the 1954 bill was necessary to eliminate “discrimination” against ministers not living in parsonages. “A desire to assist disadvantaged churches and ministers is not a secular purpose and it does not produce a secular effect when similarly disadvantaged seculars organizations and employees are excluded from the benefit.”

Crabb added: “Under defendants’ view, there would be no limit to the amount of support the government could provide to religious groups over secular ones.”

Crabb’s decision notes that the Treasury Secretary in 1984 wrote a memorandum advising repeal of § 107 because there “is no evidence that the financial circumstances of ministers justify special tax treatment.” Ministerial compensation may be low compared to other professions, but “not compared to taxpayers in general.” The recommendation was withdrawn after clergy protests.

In 1921, Congress passed a law allowing ministers of the gospel to exclude from gross income the rental value of housing, such as a parsonage, received as part of compensation, saying it was for the convenience of the employer. Since FFRF does not provide Gaylor and Barker with a house, FFRF voluntarily dropped that portion of its challenge.

While enjoining Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew and IRS Acting Commissioner Daniel Werfel from enforcing the tax break, Crabb stayed her ruling until the conclusion of any appeals, as is typical in significant cases.

The far-ranging ruling makes interesting reading, even working in Robert Ingersoll’s maxim, “With soap, baptism is a good thing” (quoting from FFRF’s “De-Baptism Certificate”).
The opinion is here:

http://ffrf.org/images/FFRF%20v%20Geith ... mption.pdf

Comment from Forbes

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Post by joedad » Sun Nov 24, 2013 2:19 pm

There was a time when religious institutions were socially responsible. Sure, they still preached and converted but they actually did perform charitable service that governments typically did not. So giving them a break was not terribly bad.

But as the article points out that is certainly not the case anymore. The word "scum" comes to mind.