FFRF is Suing the IRS, Claiming That It Gives Preferential Treatment to Religious Groups

It was only a week ago when American Atheists announced it was suing the IRS because Commissioner Douglas Shulman was giving preferential treatment to churches and religious organizations.

I don’t see a cross on here

You can read a lengthier explanation here, but here’s the gist of their argument:

Overall, AA argues, the IRS gives unfair preferential treatment to religious groups and discriminates against atheists.

It prevents AA from getting donations larger than $5,000 because they would then have to disclose the donors’ names, something churches don’t have to do. This gives churches a “fundraising advantage.”

The filing fees to retain 501(c)(3) status are expensive — something churches don’t have to pay but atheist groups must.

Atheist groups have to pay their staff more money since they can’t deduct anything for housing expenses like churches can.

AA is asking the Court to rule that all tax codes treating churches differently from other non-profit groups are unconstitutional.

Today, the Freedom From Religion Foundation along with their Triangle Freethought Society chapter in North Carolina announced that they, too, are suing the IRS in a federal lawsuit because of the government agency’s “preferential treatment of churches in applying for and maintaining tax-exempt status.”

“Why should churches be exempt from basic financial reporting requirements? Equally important, why would churches not wish be accountable?” asks Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. “Having tax-exempt status is a great privilege, and in exchange for that privilege, all other groups must file a detailed report annually to the IRS and the public on how we spend donations.”

“The unfairness of this is so overwhelming,” says FFRF President Emerita Anne Nicol Gaylor. “There are different rules favoring churches.”

How this is different from AA’s lawsuit, I’m not sure, but I like that the court system is being hit with this from different directions. The cases could always be merged if they make it past the first hurdles.

More technically, FFRF is arguing that all 501(c)(3) non-profits have to file IRS Form 990 (which lists important information about your organization, including major donors, staff salaries, expenses, etc.) every year… but churches and certain other religious organizations are exempt from doing that.

The actual lawsuit (PDF) argues:

The preferential treatment of churches and certain other affiliated religious organizations by the IRS, under the direction and control of the defendant [Acting Commissioner of the IRS Steven] Miller, directly benefits churches and other religious organizations, while discriminating against other non-profit organizations, including the plaintiffs, solely on the basis of religious criteria.

The preferential treatment provided to churches and other affiliated religious organizations constitutes an exclusive and discriminatory benefit to religion in violation of the Establishment Clause, as well as the equal protection rights required by the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

This is actually FFRF’s third skirmish against the IRS over the past few months. In August, a district court granted them standing to sue the government over a law that lets church leaders (but not atheists) “deduct payment designated as a housing allowance from taxable income” when filing their taxes.

“We are very pleased that the court has acknowledged our injury and right to sue over this,” said Barker, a former minister who previously qualified for housing allowance benefits, but does not have that privilege as director of an atheist/agnostic organization. FFRF calls the statute a subsidy, rather than an accommodation of religion.

Last month, FFRF sued the IRS for not going after politically active churches.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/matt.norris.777 Matt Norris

    Good to see. Too bad the outcomes will likely be decided on how christian the presiding judge ends up being. Eventhough judges are supposed to rule solely on what the law says, too many let their preconcieved ideas about faith influence their decisisions when it comes to religion and the law.

  • coyotenose

    You can’t count on justice when Justice Scalia* has outright said that he has made up his mind on certain theoretical cases without having heard the arguments, and when he’s lied by claiming to be a Constitutional originalist, but conveniently forgetting the claim when the case doesn’t involve his being a sexist homophobe.

    *Practically the definition of “oxymoron”.

  • Spanish Inquisitor

    You wait and see. The same people who now claim there really is no separation of church and state will wrap themselves in the First Amendment and claim the state can’t touch the churches in this regard….

  • b

    This will be interesting to watch unfold. Imagine if churches (especially mega-churches) were required to detail salaries, expenditures, etc… could be an eye-opening experience.

  • Jess a

    Exactly! Those religion based commercials before the election that were promoting traditional family dynamics and antiabortion were not allowed because the churches do not pay taxes. the FFRF (Freedom from Religion Foundation was not allowed to make it’s own commercials for the same reason…..if u don’t pay taxes u are not,allowed to participate in political debates

  • ortcutt

    I can’t wait to read the strained judicial twisting required to explain why churches are exempt from disclosure requirements that all other non-profits are required to satisfy. I especially look forward to the nonsensical reasoning that will be required to explain why disclosure alone without any substantive restriction on what churches may do is somehow unnecessarily burdensome and entangling with churches and religious freedom.

  • evolved ape

    This issue also extends beyond IRS unfairness. Communities suffer from local tax exemptions given churches that have no requirements to give back to the communities they fleece revenues from. Religious non-profits’ preferential tax status comes from tax law based on “biased” interpretation of the first amendment and seperations clause. These laws will not be overturned because no political support or leverage will emerge.

  • GeraardSpergen

    Give ‘em hell, Annie Laurie!

  • rg57

    It’s worth noting, for constitutional literalists, that the 1st amendment forbids the “establishment of religion” not “a religion”. Read as plainly written, Congress cannot favor religion over competing ideas.

  • Quintin van Zuijlen

    To my best knowledge the FFRF didn’t endorse any candidate or party and only advocates and lobbies on specific issues related the separation of church and state, as is perfectly allowed by the same 501(c)3 regulations as all US churches are bound by. Churches can do much of the same, but some decide to do far more than they’re allowed.

  • signalfire1

    In any community, the most lavish buildings (and tallest skyscrapers in cities) are the banks and the churches. I submit that they are both in the same business; asking for money and pretending to use it for the good of the community while really enriching themselves.

    It’s obscene that a large building in any community should stand empty most days and nights while homeless people go without shelter outside. If the churches were really there for the people as a charitable organization, their doors would always be open and they would shelter the masses.

    If they want to be involved in politics, let them change their tax designation to a lobbying organization, and have them disclaim themselves to their ‘followers’.

  • SeekerLancer

    While it’s a nice thought I doubt we’ll see anything come of it.

  • John

    Thanks for mentioning, Antonin Scalia.
    I was able to find an interesting article.

    Our Faith-Based Justices – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/geoffrey-r-stone/our-faithbased-justices_b_46398.html

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

    Good to see the IRS finally getting hammered over their blatant preferential treatment of religious groups.

  • http://www.facebook.com/eukota Darrell Ross

    Yup. Here in Abilene, TX, there are > 100 churches in town. Since property taxes go to education, I always wonder how much money the local school district is losing since each church owns significant amounts of the town.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Russell-Davis/1098494552 Russell Davis

    Typical for an ignorant atheist, what you say about Scalia and likely Christians generally is a pack of pitifully groundless and bigoted vile lies as much as your own irrational belief is, for only one who is both omnipresent and omniscient could reasonably conclude there is no God. It’s like the stupid cosmonauts
    (whom creationist America defeated in the Space Race, NASA’s Von Braun having been a creationist like most Americans, not stupid enough to be an atheist; as our illiterate and mentally incompetent universities prove, especially law(less) schools, there’s a special kind of stupidity that requires higher education)
    who laughably opined that just because they managed to get into space they were somehow entitled to know there was no God. A fine site refuting the tired old atheist argument of modern incompetent antiChristian bigotry, e.g. Dawkins & co.: http://bible.org/seriespage/answering-atheist
    As to the “homophobe” nonsense of hypocritical “heterophobes,” such asininity, only defended by mindless groupthink tools incapable of independent thought, is well-refuted by “The gay invention” at touchstonemag.com and the wildly successfully plot to overthrow and destroy America as we return to the degenerate swamps of animalistic preChristian barbarism exposed by http://www.DrJudithReisman.org

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Russell-Davis/1098494552 Russell Davis

    The laughable Puffington Host is no less faith-based, only it’s faith is in something that doesn’t exist, as the far more highly educated Founders knew from painful experience: the delusion of man’s goodness the Christian faith has long exposed as the devil’s lie it’s always been since Adam in the Garden. For those ignorant enough to dismiss the irrefutable facts of creation, see creation.com and have you inherently antiscience and irrational evolution nonsense destroyed and decimated by truth and reason.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Russell-Davis/1098494552 Russell Davis

    Unlike atheists, those who are rational (see http://bible.org/seriespage/answering-atheist) know that our Founders always intended the state keep its hands off the church because they knew your kind would try it, as happend with their contemporaries in the French Revolution when barbarians broke into the churches and had orgies on the altars like they’re trying to do today. With sodomites (exposed by “The gay invention” at touchstonemag.com) tearing off and stomping on the crosses of silent praying old women when they get in their way it’s clear we’re turning back to such barbarism again. One can only wonder at the spin and excuses atheists will pretend when their own families are raped and robbed and murdered in the process as they were back then when deranged fascist lawlessness reigned.

  • coyotenose

    My statements about Scalia come from his own words and decisions. Meanwhile, all you have is changing the subject and random nonsense.

    Thanks for giving away your anti-intellectualism and hatred of those who learn.

    And your raving Cold War fetishism.

    And your persecution complex.

    And your stupid inability to grasp that not only homosexuals can see homophobia, such as yours (given away by your obsession on the point.

    And your being so bankrupt of thought that you don’t even know what words like “groupthink” mean or how to use them.

    Thanks for proving what I just recently discussed on this site: that anti-intellectual yahoos (e.g. you) think that maligning Dawkins without reading him is somehow a point in their favor, rather than just a statement on their own narcissistic ignorance.

    “Pre-Christian”, dimwit. “Pre-Christian.” Oh, you mean barbarians like the Romans and the Greeks? Those barbarians whose philosophies were the basis of the United States Constitution and law? Barbarians like Hammurabi, whose code was cribbed by the Hebrews for their own laws? Again: Dimwit.

    By the way, Jesus must love your arrogance and judgmentalism. I bet he even said in the Bible that he loves that about you.

    By the way, moron: If the U.S. had excluded science that disagreed with Creationism, we’d have never made it to the moon. And you’d be dead by now from food poisoning or disease. Dumb sacks of shit, I swear…

  • coyotenose

    Denigrating an article because it’s on HuffPo only shows that you don’t have an actual counterargument, know you’re wrong, and are desperate to avoid thinking about the subject. Thanks for admitting that.

    Moron, all almost of the American Founding Fathers were deists, agnostics, atheists or even antitheists. They were Enlightenment children, and Christianity despises the Enlightenment. You STILL bitch about it. How do you even dress yourself with so little knowledge?

  • coyotenose

    Thomas Jefferson proved you wrong over 200 years ago. Learn to read, dimwit.

    Christians have raped, robbed and murdered hundreds of millions. Learn to read, dimwit.

  • http://twitter.com/blamer ɹǝɯɐןq

    the Christian faith has long exposed as the devil’s lie //fixed

    Genesis 1:1-3 isn’t historically accurate nor truthful, see wikipedia.org.

  • http://twitter.com/blamer ɹǝɯɐןq

    In australia, the loophole is that “advancing religion” is a “public good”.

    Our tax office doesn’t seem to understand that advancing monotheism is only good if it what it’s teaching the public is in fact correct.

  • http://twitter.com/blamer ɹǝɯɐןq

    That answers Hamant’s question “How this is different from AA’s lawsuit, I’m not sure” because the FRF case hopes to force churches to reveal their expenditure.

    Whereas the AA case hopes to reveal why non-religious entities have expenses that the churches don’t have.

  • http://twitter.com/blamer ɹǝɯɐןq

    Wishful thinking. “Read as plainly written…” is the wrong way to look at what the constitution says. Look at historical judicial decisions. http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/first+amendment

    We want to say: “U.S. Supreme Court explained that the government cannot “aid all religions against non-believers,” any more than it can aid one religion over another (Torasco v. Watkins, 1961)

    But we cannot because: “…may enact legislation that concerns religion or religious organizations so long as the legislation has a secular purpose, and a primary effect that neither advances nor inhibits religion nor otherwise fosters an excessive entanglement between church and state

    So if christendom only need (1) to come up with a civil reason for their exemption that (2) isn’t evangelistic and (3) keeps their church & the state just separate enough… and then the 1st amendment won’t strongly support AA or FFR. Now or ever.

  • http://twitter.com/blamer ɹǝɯɐןq

    Define “not allowed”. They went to air didn’t they?

    Hence the last sentence “Last month, FFRF sued the IRS for not going after politically active churches.” (Hemant)

    Yes this is the spirit or the law if not the letter of it ;)if u don’t pay taxes u are not,allowed to participate in political debates

    Define “participate”. Pulpits have that freedom of speech. TV stations might not.

  • http://twitter.com/blamer ɹǝɯɐןq

    Well I suppose more or “far more than they’re allowed” if yes FFRF can successfully sue the IRS for not going after politically active churches.

    Are we there yet?

  • Natashe Whay

    stupid asshole – you actually believe that iron-age bullshit. It’s people like you that are dragging the US into that theocratic cesspit where you’ll find Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, …