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Published On: Mon, Nov 25th, 2013

Wisconsin judge rules to end the housing tax exemption for pastors

The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit in Wisconsin and a federal judge struck down a law which allows pastors tax exemption from paying taxes on their housing allowance.

FFRF had sued US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew and acting IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfel, asserting that the tax exemption violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and the equal protection provision of the Fourteenth Amendment. The organization claimed that it was unfair for clergy to receive the tax break while others, such as the founders of FFRF, must pay taxes on their housing allowance.

“[I]t is pure discrimination to deny atheist leaders the housing allowance privileges given to clergy as a reward for fighting ‘godless foe,’” co-founder Annie Laurie Gaylor stated.

US District judge Barbara Crabb agreed with the group and declared section 2 of the tax code unconstitutional.

“Because a primary function of a ‘minister of the gospel’ is to disseminate a religious message, a tax exemption provided only to ministers results in preferential treatment for religious messages over secular ones,” she wrote.

“Although it is undoubtedly true that taxes impose a burden on ministers, the same is true for all taxpayers,” Crabb continued. “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.”

She then placed an injunction the enforcement of the code, stating that if Congress desired, it could rewrite the law to include those of no faith.

“[I]f Congress believes that there are important secular reasons for granting the exemption in § 107(2), it is free to rewrite the provision … so that it includes ministers as part of a larger group of beneficiaries,” she stated.

Reports state that unless the ruling is appealed and ultimately overturned, it could have a significant impact on pastors nationwide.

Here is the statute:

“In the case of a minister of the gospel, gross income does not include (1) the rental value of a home furnished to him as part of his compensation; or (2) 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.

Photo/Nodar Kherkheulidze via wikimedia commons

Photo/Nodar Kherkheulidze via wikimedia commons

 

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About the Author

- Writer and Co-Founder of The Global Dispatch, Brandon has been covering news, offering commentary for years, beginning professionally in 2003 on Crazed Fanboy before expanding into other blogs and sites. Appearing on several radio shows, Brandon has hosted Dispatch Radio, written his first novel (The Rise of the Templar) and completed the three years Global University program in Ministerial Studies to be a pastor. To Contact Brandon email [email protected] ATTN: BRANDON

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