Victory in Kentucky. Ministers Have to Pay Taxes, by Edwin Kagin.

Remember, the new Internet call-in radio sensation “Answers in Atheism,” will again air live tomorrow at 7:00 pm Eastern Time. Tomorrow’s guest will be Dan Xenatro, the vice-coordinator of Connecticut Valley Atheists. Seems a local mayor or somesuch in their area, has decreed that only Christian kitsch can be displayed on their public building. Tune in, and call in, at www.answersinatheism.net . If you are misfortunate enough to miss this historic event, it will (should be) archived for later enjoyment.

Edwin.

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From reader Sharon:

Edwin,

I am pleased to announce that my letter to the editor re: the film The Golden Compass and the christians’ over the top reaction to it has been published today in the Press of Atlantic City:

http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com/opinion/letters/story/7523259p-7423781c.html

It’s the second letter on the page.

Chalk up another victory for our side!

Regards,

Sharon Hutchinson

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Her letter:

Egg Harbor Township

Religious fear

rational thinking?

I am glad to see such a ruckus being created over the film, “The Golden Compass.” If nothing else, it shows both the fear and prejudice directed toward atheists and other free thinkers in this country.

What exactly is the religious community afraid of? That their children might be exposed to the fact that there is such a thing as the existence of reason and logic? For too long, our young have been literally brainwashed from an extremely early age to believe that there is no alternative to the faith-based beliefs that seem to have taken over this country.

To label this film fantasy is the height of irony. Children need to be armed with the knowledge that there is an alternative way of thinking, one that does not require belief in mythology or fairy tales. Our greatest inventors have been agnostic at the very least. In this time of planetary peril, we need to raise a generation taught to think rationally and use scientific principles rather than depend on Dark Ages belief systems.

SHARON HUTCHINSON

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PRESS RELEASE. FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

AMERICAN ATHEISTS, INC.

http://www.atheists.org

http://www.americanatheist.org

For more information, please contact:

Ellen Johnson, President (908)

Dave Silverman, Communications Director (732) 648-9333 Edwin Kagin, National Legal Director (859) 384-7000

ATHEIST GROUP CLAIMS VICTORY, COUNTY BOARD VOTES TO END SPECIAL SALARY TAX EXEMPTION FOR MINISTERS

Members of the clergy will now be paying salary taxes just like everyone following a vote last night by officials in Boone County, KY.

Two years ago, attorney Edwin Kagin — National Legal Director for American Atheists — filed suit to challenge a local practice which exempted ministers, priests, rabbis, mullah’s and other clerics from complying with state law, and being taxed the same 0.8 percent as everyone else who works for a living. Kagin cited the Kentucky State Constitution which forbids any direct or indirect public aid to religious sects, or the payment of salaries for the clergy.

“The tax exemption clearly favored religion over non-religion, and elevated members of the clergy to a special position where they didn’t have to shoulder their fair share of the tax burden,” said Kagin. “This levels the playing field and complies with both of our state and federal constitutions.”

One Boone County official court, Judge-executive Gary Moore, said he disagreed with the statute.

“I would not normally vote for this,” Moore told the Kentucky Enquirer, “as much as I disagree with it.” But he said he would comply with the state law. Moore added that he told a delegation of ministers about the change, and that “They seem to understand it, not happy about it.”

Mr. Kagin said that officials should have been abiding by the constitution two years ago, obviating any need for a lawsuit. “This is

what American Atheists does, though, as a First Amendment watchdog group. We find statutes like this being ignored in communities throughout the country. Officials comply only when you threaten to take them to court.”

“We’re pleased with the outcome, and that Boone County will be treating all citizens equally, and not waste taxpayer money defending an unconstitutional practice.”

AMERICAN ATHEISTS is a nationwide movement that defends civil rights for Atheists; works for the total separation of church and state; and addresses issues of First Amendment public policy.

American Atheists, Inc.

P. O. Box 5733

Parsippany, NJ 07054-6733

Tel.: (908) 276-7300

Fax: (908) 276-7402

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Here are the newspaper articles:

http://news.nky.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/AB/20071217/NEWS0103/712170361

The Kentucky Enquirer

December 17, 2007

Clergy tax break to end

Lawsuit, state law spark change

BY BRENNA R. KELLY

*
BURLINGTON – Ministers in Boone County have been exempt from paying the county’s payroll tax for seven years, but the clergy may soon lose that perk.

The county plans to remove the exemption Tuesday in response to a new state law, the state constitution and a lawsuit filed by an atheist who says the exemption is not fair.

Once the exemption is removed, ministers’ salaries would be subject to the 0.8 percent tax that all workers in the county must pay. Because the county stops taxing wages after someone makes $51,257 year, the most a minister could pay next year in taxes would be $410.06.

Boone County Treasurer Lisa Buerkley doesn’t expect the tax on ministers to generate much money.

“It not about the money, it’s about complying with law,” Buerkley said.

Boone County gave ministers the tax exemption in 2000 after a ruling in Kenton County Circuit Court that said the tax violated ministers’ First Amendment right to freedom of religion.

The ruling also said such an exemption did not violate the state constitution, said Jim Parsons, Boone County administrator at the time.

After the ruling, a Florence minister threatened to sue Boone County if it did not allow the exemption, Parsons said.

“It was a very minor impact on our revenues, so we decided to put it on,” Parsons said.

The county was sued anyway, not by the minister, but by Edwin Kagin, a Union resident and atheist.

Kagin, who is legal director of the American Atheists, said the exemption violates Section 5 of the Kentucky Constitution.

The section says religious groups cannot be given preference under the law. It goes on to say, “nor shall any person be compelled to attend any place of worship, to contribute to the erection or maintenance of any such place, or to the salary or support of any minister of religion.”

If everyone has to pay the tax except ministers, “you are contributing to their keep,” Kagin said.

In protest, Kagin said, he didn’t pay the tax for several years until the county threatened to have him prosecuted. Kagin’s lawsuit has been pending since 2005, but it will be dropped if the county removes the exemption, he said.

Kagin said he hasn’t been outspoken about the change because he didn’t want people to think that the proposed ordinance is pro-atheism.

“It’s really pro-constitution,” he said. “Everyone ought to be outraged that ministers are exempt from paying the taxes they have to.”

The question of the ministers’ exemption had been interpreted differently by attorneys.

But a law the legislature passed in 2006 appears to clear up any confusion, said Boone County Attorney Bob Neace.

That law, which took effect in July 2006, says that “Duly ordained, commissioned, or denominationally licensed ministers of religion shall be subject to the same license fees imposed on others in the county on salaries, wages, commissions, and other compensation earned for work done and services performed or rendered.”

The county must comply with the new state law, Neace said.

“If that statute doesn’t exist, do we then have an argument that we can have that exemption?” he said. “I think that’s open to interpretation.”

In Campbell County, ministers are still exempt from the county’s payroll tax of 1.05 percent, said Linda Eads, the county’s occupational tax manager.

Eads said the new law was discussed at the Kentucky Occupational License Association conference last year.

“I’m aware of it,” she said. “We discussed it at the KOLA conference and decided nobody is going to sue us to make us tax them.”

Kenton County did not return calls about its payroll tax.

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http://news.nky.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/AB/20071219/NEWS0103/712190409

The Kentucky Enquirer, December 19, 2007

Ministers lose exemption

State law forces collection of tax on their salaries

BY BRENNA R. KELLY

BOONE COUNTY – Ministers will have to pay the county’s payroll tax after Boone Fiscal Court voted to rescind an exemption the clergy enjoyed for the past seven years.

A change in state law forced the county to tax ministers’ salaries at the same 0.8 percent as everyone else who works there, said Judge-executive Gary Moore.

“I would not normally vote for this,” Moore said. But the county has to comply with state law, he said, “as much as I disagree with it.”

The county was embroiled for more than two years in a lawsuit by Union atheist Edwin Kagin over the exemption. Kagin claimed the break for ministers violated the Kentucky Constitution. The lawsuit will likely be dismissed.

Moore said he met with Boone County ministers to tell them about the change.

“They seem to understand it, not happy about it,” he said, “but understand it’s out of our control.”

Because the county stops taxing salaries at $51,257, the most a minister could pay is $410.06.

Also Tuesday, Fiscal Court delayed a vote on establishing a code enforcement board.

Commissioner Cathy Flaig said she wants to visit Florence’s and Covington’s boards first.

Flaig attended Kenton County’s board meeting and hopes to find another nearby county with a board.

Commissioner Charlie Kenner said he hoped to find one to visit in the counties surrounding Louisville. Those counties, such as Spencer and Oldham, have a mixture of rural and suburban areas like Boone, he said.

If the board is established, a five-person board instead of District Court would handle violations of the county’s property maintenance ordinance, such as high weeks or abandoned cars.

Violations of the ordinance are criminal misdemeanors. They would become civil cases.

The court could vote Jan. 8 or table the issue again.

“This is too important to try to push through or rush through,” Moore said.

Local governments legally have been allowed to have code enforcement boards since the mid-’90s. Florence has had a code enforcement board for three years. Kenton County established one this year.

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Fan mail:

From: Maui Grammy [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: Wednesday, December 19, 2007 5:01 PM
To: [email protected]
Subject
: Ministers to pay tax

Dear Sir:

I sincerely hope you are satisfied that ministers do have to pay an occupational tax, You do have ALL MY PRAYERS to God the Father that you and your wife will truly be shown the Light of Salvation and be saved by the precious blood of the Lamb. I am also so thankful I have not needed an attorney. I do now realize should I need an attorney, I will check him out thoroughly.

A loyal Christian,

Joyce Steele

(It is unclear whether this dear heart favors the result of not. Edwin)