Sometimes I muse about what it must have been like for a pagan priest in 4th century Rome who tended a crossroads shrine as he watched the demolition of his entire world.
It is, perhaps, our turn now.
The not-so-Catholic-friendly, Liberal Religion News Service has a story which reveals another symptom of the Left’s relentless attack on religion in the public square.
Federal judge: Clergy tax-free housing allowance is unconstitutional
(RNS) A federal judge has ruled that an Internal Revenue Service exemption that gives clergy tax-free housing allowances is unconstitutional. [One wonders about the twisted logic of this. Maybe it will be explained.]
The exemption applies to an estimated 44,000 ministers, priests, rabbis, imams and others. If the ruling stands, some clergy members could experience an estimated 5 to 10 percent cut in take-home pay. [Because they get so much already.]
U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Crabb[7th District Court – appointed by Carter, from ultra-liberal Madison] ruled on Friday (Nov. 22) in favor of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, [HQ in ultra-liberal Madison. We have seen them before.] saying the exemption violates the First Amendment because it “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.” [It isn’t? Given their salaries, you could argue that it is. How else are some protestant groups able to court a pastor? How will many parishes bear the extra expenses of higher salaries?]
The case, decided in the District Court for the Western District Of Wisconsin, will likely be appealed to the the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers the states of Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana.
The housing allowances of pastors in Wisconsin remain unaffected after Crabb stayed the ruling until all appeals are exhausted. Crabb also ruled in 2010 that the National Day of Prayer was unconstitutional. [Are you sensing a pattern? It sounds as if the Freedom from Religion people have a tame judge.]
Earlier this month, the 7th Circuit barred the enforcement of the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate, [Which judge made the ruling? I suspect it wasn’t her. No, wait… split court, and Crabb isn’t mentioned. HERE] an issue circulating through federal courts across the country and likely to be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court next spring.
Churches routinely designate a portion of a pastor’s salary as a housing allowance. So, for example, a minister that earns an average of $50,000 may receive another a third of income, or $16,000, as a tax-free housing allowance, essentially earning $66,000. Having to pay taxes on the additional $16,000 ($4,000 in this case), would mean an 8 percent cut in salary.
The exemption is worth about $700 million per year, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation Estimate of Federal Tax Expenditure. [Hmmm… judicial activism for the sake of the governments desire to raise taxes?]
Crabb ruled that the law provides that the gross income of a “minister of the gospel” does not include “the rental allowance paid to him as part of his compensation, to the extent used by him to rent or provide a home and to the extent such allowance does not exceed the fair rental value of the home, including furnishings and appurtenances such as a garage, plus the cost of utilities.”
Tobin Grant, a political science professor at Southern Illinois University, said the exemption dates from an era when churches paid clergy who lived in church-owned parsonage. [So, priests who live in a house away from their parish…]
“Over time, fewer churches owned parsonages and instead gave clergy housing allowances, which were also treated as tax-free. The difference, however, was that these were regular salaries that now had an exclusion. Part could be tax-free, part couldn’t. So, why not give a pastor a huge housing allowance, which is tax free?” [Do they actually get “huge” allowances?]
The ruling addresses the housing allowance, while parsonages are still tax-exempt properties, like the churches that own them.
Peter J. Reilly, a contributor to Forbes, writes that the exclusion goes back to 1921.
“I’m not sure what Congress could do in this instance,” he said. “There is strong clergy influence on both sides of the aisle though, so there is a good chance that Congress will at least try to make it look like it has done something.” [Will “try to make it look like it has done something”. Yep. ‘Bout right.]
The law’s tax exemption has been contested since a decade-old dispute between the IRS and California megachurch pastor Rick Warren. In 2002, the IRS attempted to charge Warren back taxes after he claimed a housing allowance of more than $70,000.
He eventually won the federal court case, and that led Congress to clarify the rules for housing allowances. The allowance is limited to one house, and is restricted to either the fair market rental value of the house or the money actually spent on housing.
Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker, co-presidents of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, [based in ultra-liberal Madison, where the federal judge is from] which brought the suit, hailed the decision. “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,” they said. “The rest of us should not pay more because clergy pay less.” [HUH? Pay more? Why would… ah yes… liberals believe in the zero sum model of the pie, don’t they.]The Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and Southern Baptist-affiliated GuideStone Financial Resources plan to fight for the exemption.
“The clergy housing allowance isn’t a government establishment of religion, but just the reverse,” said Russell Moore, president of ERLC. “The allowance is neutral to all religions. Without it, clergy in small congregations of all sorts would be penalized and harmed.” [Which is what that foundation, and probably the federal judge, want.]
Church housing has been a hot topic in recent months as the Southern Baptist pastor of one of the nation’s fastest-growing churches is building a 16,000-square-foot gated estate near Charlotte, N.C. The tax value on the 19-acre property owned by Steven Furtick of Elevation Church is estimated to be $1.6 million.
Earlier this year, the federal government offered the Freedom From Religion Foundation a tax break available to religious groups that it rejected. [If they really believe in what they are doing, they should voluntarily pay twice the amount of taxes owed.]
Separately, in a federal court case in Kentucky, atheists are challenging IRS regulations that exempt religious groups from the same financial disclosure requirements of other non-profit groups.
We will have choices to make in the future, dear readers, hard choices.
More from the atheist group HERE.