Goodbye parish exemption

A news release from the Freedom From Religion Foundation:

November 22, 2013

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.”

Well yes indeed: hallelujah!

What was the reason for passing the exemption in 1954?

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].”

Oh right. The establishment clause was ignored, because Stalin.


  1. Peter B says

    Somehow I felt that this ministerial housing allowance came from rural churches with an attached manse. The concept spread to urban areas in the form of a housing allowance for home purchase or rental unit. I had no idea it was because of 26 U.S. C. § 107(2).

    Learn something new every day. Okay, almost every week.

    Now on to the property tax exemption enjoyed by churches. I would go so far to allow property tax exemption based on actual charitable activity. (Disallowed: Mass, Worship services, religious education, School of Music Education and you get the idea.) I.e. tax rules should be the same as for non religiously based charities. I can think of a few gray areas but these are likely resolvable on a percentage basis.

    Ministers should be in Social Security just like almost everybody else.

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