Inane Reaction to FFRF’s Parsonage Suit Victory

You knew that the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s victory in its lawsuit over the parsonage exemption was going to provoke lots of ridiculous responses and Tad Cronn of Godfather Politics steps up to the plate and does not disappoint. If ignorance was energy, this post could fuel the country for a decade.

Those provisions allow a minister — pastors, rabbis, imams, etc. — to exclude from gross income any housing allowance given to him by his employer as part of compensation.

Wrong. In fact, one of the issues raised in the case is that the 1954 law that established the parsonage exemption specified that it applied only to “ministers of the gospel,” meaning Christians. The IRS has, as the ruling in this case notes, “interpreted § 107 liberally to include members of non-Christian faiths,” but the judge then ruled that there is nothing in the statute or in case law that would require them to include non-religions in the application of the statute.

The atheists filed the suit under the theory that the IRS code somehow meant the government was establishing a religion, which is forbidden under the Constitution. They complained that as a “nonreligion,” they were excluded.

They were embarrassed when the government turned around and ruled that atheism is a religion and its “ministers” would also be eligible for the housing allowance exemption if they applied.

No, actually, they weren’t “embarrassed” by this and the government didn’t “rule” anything. They made that argument in this case, but the judge rejected that argument. The judge ruled that even if it were true that atheism is a religion (and it’s not), the law here applies only to “ministers,” that the plaintiffs in this case are not ministers by any reasonable definition, and that “no reasonable construction of § 107 would include atheists.”

Crabb’s ruling is wrong, of course. The exemption doesn’t have to do with establishing a religion, but it is merely one aspect of a larger rule that the IRS allows housing exemptions for any job where the employee is required to be housed at or near the job site as a condition of employment.

Again, wrong. This exemption applies only to “ministers of the gospel.” And there is nothing at all in the legislative history of this particular law to suggest that it had anything to do with housing exemptions in other parts of the tax code. In fact, as the ruling notes, those who passed the bill in Congress made clear that their entire purpose was to facilitate the preaching of the gospel. And the Establishment Clause covers far more than just a de jure establishment of religion, it also prohibits giving special benefits to religion that are not available to non-religions. The government cannot subsidize religion either.

Being wrong is no guarantee a bad ruling will be overturned, however. If Judge Crabb’s ruling stands, it will hit clergy in the pocketbooks. With rare exceptions, clergy are not highly paid to begin with, and such a tax change could have a dire effect on places of worship that will no longer be able to afford to pay a minister enough to live on.

Congress can easily fix that, of course. Judge Crabb’s ruling explicitly says:

Although I conclude that § 107(2) violates the establishment clause and must be enjoined, this does not mean that the government is powerless to enact tax exemptions that benefit religion…Thus, if Congress believes that there are important secular reasons for granting the exemption in § 107(2), it is free to rewrite the provision in accordance with the principles laid down in Texas Monthly and Walz so that it includes ministers as part of a larger group of beneficiaries.

That is, they don’t have to stop giving the parsonage exemption to ministers, they can just stop excluding non-religious non-profits from the parsonage exemption.

A reasonable person might ask, But doesn’t that hurt atheism as well, seeing how it too is a religion?

But the FFRF and other atheist groups long ago began calling themselves a “nonreligion,” a slick bit of doublespeak that has served them well in the courts. And it doesn’t hurt, either, that there is an unusual number of atheists working in most media outlets.

Um, no. Atheism is called a non-religion because it is, in fact, not a religion. There are no dogmas, creeds or doctrines, no ministers of any kind, no worship of any kind. It simply isn’t a religion.

The United States is inching along the path trod in the not-too-distant past by the Soviet Union, Red China and every other socialist dictatorship….

The FFRF is a hate group, little better than the Ku Klux Klan, and that only because they’ve stopped short of violence. But why resort to violence when you’ve got the government’s tacit endorsement.

Oh yawn. Same old inane bullshit. As for the government’s tacit endorsement, the government was the defendant in this case and on the other side. Logic is clearly not Cronn’s strong suit.

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  • raven

    Cronn the Kook:

    The United States is inching along the path trod in the not-too-distant past by the Soviet Union, Red China and every other socialist dictatorship….

    So wrong.

    The United States is inching along the path trod in the not too distant past by the UK, Western Europe, Japan, New Zealand, and Australia. The path taken by every civilized first world country in the world. Secularization and the end of the Dark Ages.

    Russia is taking the path taken by the Roman Empire. The USSR has fallen and now xianity is spreading through Russia again. If the historical pattern holds, they are well on their way to a new Dark Age.

  • peterh

    Echoes of “Expelled,” wherein there’s so much inane wrangling over the bathwater that the baby drowns.

  • http://polrant@blogspot.com democommie

    “Same old inane bullshit”

    INSANE, not inane. Inane bullshit is foolish, but generally innocuous; what this idiot spouts is egregiously stupid/mendacious, pernicious and hateful.

    “If the historical pattern holds, they are well on their way to a new Dark Age.”

    But this time they’ve got Lucifer’s fire bottled up in the silos and subs.

  • raven

    And it doesn’t hurt, either, that there is an unusual number of atheists working in most media outlets.

    That isn’t true at all. There are close to none.

    Who does have a huge media presence are…xians mostly fundie death cultists. Pat Robertson owns lots of TV stations, Glenn Beck, Trinity Broadcasting, Fox news, and huge numbers of televangelists raking in billions of dollars.

    And the mainstream media panders to xians however they can. It’s just business, they are 68% of the population and gullible enough to part with their money to anyone who performs the correct dog whistles.

  • colnago80

    Re democommie @ #3

    Mendacious, John Kwok’s favorite word.

  • doublereed

    Inane bullshit is foolish, but generally innocuous;

    Nah, inane just means nonsense. Connections don’t follow, non sequitors everywhere, walruses waltzing on a fence etc.

  • cptdoom

    The exemption doesn’t have to do with establishing a religion, but it is merely one aspect of a larger rule that the IRS allows housing exemptions for any job where the employee is required to be housed at or near the job site as a condition of employment.

    Seriously – does such an exemption even exist outside of churches? My mother was required to live in city in which she was a public school teacher – no income tax benefits at all. Many doctors and nurses are required to be no more than X miles or X minutes from a hospital for on-call purposes – again I know of no income tax benefits for their housing.

  • Erp

    Strictly speaking he is deliberately confusing two exemptions.

    1. An housing exemption for the value of the housing is allowed if the employee is required to live in company owned premises as a condition of employment (e.g., a house master in a boarding school or college); this has to be well documented. This has generally been used to include church owned parsonages and the ruling does not touch on this exemption.

    2. The exemption given to the money that a church allocates as housing allowance to ‘ministers of the gospel’. Note that a minister can only include the lowest of

    a. Actual housing allowance

    b. Actual housing costs

    c. fair market rental of the house (fully furnished and including utilities).

    The IRS has interpreted ministers of the gospel to include ministers of other religions (and some groups such as the Crouch’s empire use it to include as many employees as they can[1]). Tax free housing allowances also are given to retired ministers.

    3. Some other groups also are eligible for tax exempt housing allowances but almost all of these are also paid by the federal government (e.g., military) and only while they are actually working for the government not retirees. I’ve read that some railway employees are also eligible but haven’t seen the actual details.

    [1] the lower paid of these employees may find this comes back to bite them since ‘ministers’ need not be covered by unemployment (depending on state) or social security. Note that some ‘ministers’ will state they have to pay double social security but that is only because their employer is exempt from paying social security for ‘ministers’ and if they want full social security coverage they need to pay both halves (‘ministers’ can also exempt themselves completely from paying social security but then they are not covered either [not their minor children nor their spouse unless she or he is working and paying directly into social security]).

  • Chiroptera

    The IRS has, as the ruling in this case notes, “interpreted § 107 liberally to include members of non-Christian faiths”….

    This is kind of surprising to me. The law seems to explicitly single out “ministers of the gospel.” Does the IRS really have the authority to interpret laws broadly like this?

  • abb3w

    @0, Ed Brayton

    Atheism is called a non-religion because it is, in fact, not a religion. There are no dogmas, creeds or doctrines, no ministers of any kind, no worship of any kind. It simply isn’t a religion.

    “Simply” is simply an oversimplification; I’ve mentioned some perspectives from Dale Cannon’s framework before.

    However, even so far as it can be viewed as a religion (or a bit more precisely, class of religious expression modes, like “Christianity” or “Buddhism” or “Islam”), it is one exceedingly limited in Ritual elements — and also hierarchical elements. Which seems another basis for challenge not addressed in the current case: it would appear to favor hierarchical religions over non-hierarchical ones. (Unprogrammed Quakers would appear to also fall in that latter category.) Contrariwise, there might be some manner of legitimate secular purpose that government might have in encouraging hierarchical organizations in general; nohow, such encouragement would seem anathema to the egalitarian principle oft proclaimed fundamental to the values of the American experiment.

  • caseloweraz

    Top ten headlines from Godfather Politics:

    “Does New Fed Chairman Janet Yellen Have a Racist Past?”

    “Social Services Forcibly Takes Baby Via C-Section & Keeps It”

    “WSJ Says Obamacare Plans Raise Prices and Limit Medical Choices”

    “Meteorologists Disprove Myth of Global Warming Consensus”

    “German Court Must Decide if it’s a Crime to Kill and Eat Someone”

    “Obama and Democrats Support Non-Citizens over Citizens”

    “Ballot Initiative In Oregon To Protect Christian Business Owners”

    “Teachers Take Students’ Phones, Delete Videos of Teacher Student Confrontation”

    “Why Anti-Semites Are Just Plain Dumb”

    “Two Atheists Walk into a Bar . . . Only One Walks Out”

    But my favorite was filed on 22 October 2013 by Gary DeMar:

    Tea Party Members Know More About Science than Non-Tea Partiers

    This site apparently accepts posts from any body; it’s not Tad Cronn all the way down.

    But still, I paraphrase a comment by one James T. Kirk: “Cronnnnnnnn…!”

  • tfkreference

    @8

    “Note that a minister can only include the lowest of”

    The IRS must not be watching too closely, because a minister I know deducts the fair market rental value- and implies that it’s what is allowed.

    It’s also NOT a condition of his employment that he live near the church (and he doesn’t).

    He explains that the tax benefit came out of the trend of pastors no longer wanting to live in church-owned parsonages. Of the four churches that I once belonged to, only one had a parsonage and the pastor did not live there (they’ve since sold it).

  • Erp

    @tfkreference. The second exemption (straight money housing allowance for ministers only) doesn’t require the minister live near the place of employment (or even be working since he or she can get it as part of their retirement plan). It is a sweet deal for the denominations since they can pay their ministers less but the ministers still end up ahead in actual take-home pay.

    I suspect a fair number do fudge on the lowest of bit. Also sorting out the tax issues can apparently be confusing (if they do go for paying social security, which most except the crazy or the megarich do, the housing allowance is counted as income when paying that). The IRS has apparently gone after some (Rich Warren back about 10 years ago) and the exemption has been tightened a bit (a minister can only claim it for one place of residence not multiple ones now). However Congress doesn’t have the backbone to do anything more.