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May 05 2014

Bill Submitted to Broaden Parsonage Allowance

The Freedom From Religion Foundation won a district court case (now on appeal) challenging the tax break for parsonage allowances for ministers. The judge ruled that because it applies only to ministers and not to other non-profit leaders, it violates the Equal Protection and Establishment clauses. A legislator has now proposed a bill to broaden that exemption to avoid the violation.

Today, Congressman Bill Cassidy announced he will be introducing legislation to protect faith-based institutions from unnecessary taxes. The Faith and Fairness Act of 2014 allows religious institutions to receive favorable tax status so they can provide housing for leaders of their communities. It upholds the position that the federal government has held for generations on whether such expenditures should be taxed.

Despite this long tradition of honoring faith and religion through favored status in the tax code, a recent court case deemed it unconstitutional for churches to provide ministers with tax-exempt housing allowances in lieu of housing them on church property. This legislation ensures theistic and non-theistic institutions are able to receive favorable tax status.

View the legislation here and see Dr. Cassidy’s statement below:

“The tax-exempt housing allowance helps ensure that faith-based institutions are able to extend their resources as far as possible to minister to their communities. It has been protected by federal law for generations, and its continuation is important for religious liberty. Religious institutions should be able to focus their resources on building faith and serving their people, not paying the federal government.”

That’s a reasonable solution. Given the inequality, there are two choices: Either eliminate the parsonage allowance for churches or give it to non-religious non-profits as well. Either one is fine by me.

11 comments

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  1. 1
    raven

    This legislation ensures theistic and non-theistic institutions are able to receive favorable tax status.

    Wow!!!

    This means Ed Brayton and PZ Myers can get this tax break if FTB’s gives them a housing allowance.

    So can FFRF, NCSE, Pandasthumb, and Planned Parenthood.

  2. 2
    Deen

    “Religious institutions should be able to focus their resources on building faith and serving their people, not paying the federal government.”

    Interesting how explicit Cassidy is about the purpose of the law, namely to protect religious institutions from paying taxes, and how quiet he is about the actual effect of the law, which is to enable non-religious institutions to do the same. Apparently he (or the person who excerpted his quote) doesn’t feel like that was worthy of mention.

  3. 3
    Reginald Selkirk

    Right wingers need to get on the ball. Supply-side economics, which already is faith-based, could be declared a religion, and thus many businesses could declare tax-free status and not bother with all the accounting tricks and overseas money-hiding.

  4. 4
    Chiroptera

    Huh. I’m thinking that if this passes, then in a few years the tax exemption for housing will be eliminated completely. I’ve noticed that Christianists often lose interest in a concept if they aren’t the ones with special privileges.

  5. 5
    zenlike

    A reasonable, sensible solution, to solve a clearly unconstitutional situation in effect today.

    It will never pass.

  6. 6
    Gregory in Seattle

    The bill still seems to be carving out special rights for religion: Cassidy speaks only of “faith-based organizations” and “religious liberty.” The bill does not remove religious language, it redefines it. This change benefits groups that present themselves as non-theistic religions, but will not apply to actual secular non-profits.

    This seems to be nothing more than an end-run around the ruling while preserving the status quo.

  7. 7
    iknklast

    Either one is fine by me

    The problem I have with this – when all these tax-exempt statuses are added, what are we going to cut to accommodate the reduction in revenue? I’ll make a list of what I expect: art, education, science, music, food stamps, medicare…want to go on?

    I think housing allowances should go.

  8. 8
    eric

    @6 – I don’t think it’s that bad. Here’s the language the bill adds:

    ‘‘For purposes of this section, the term ‘minister of the gospel’ includes any duly recognized official of a religious, spiritual, moral, or ethical organization (whether theistic or not).’’.

    Now it’s possible that someone in the IRS will narrowly interpret this and claim FFRF etc. aren’t ethical organizations. But honestly I don’t expect that. If anything, the IRS seems to interpret charity status too loosly. Their problem is they don’t regulate enough, not that they over-regulate. I predict they’ll allow the charities themselves to decide whether they are “a religious, spiritual, moral, or ethical organization.” And of course all charities will decide that they are.

  9. 9
    inquisitiveraven

    Heh, I want to see what happens when a mosque or coven applies for this exemption.

  10. 10
    democommie

    This could wind up with a bunch of taxpayer subsidized FSM domiciles.

  11. 11
    Scr... Archivist

    You can follow the bill’s progress through the Thomas website:

    http://www.thomas.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d113:h.r.04493:

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