Major FFRF Legal Victory Eliminates Tax-Free Housing for Pastors

For years now, the Freedom From Religion Foundation has been in a legal battle to end the “parish exemption” that allows ministers to deduct the cost of rent for their church-owned houses from their taxable income. FFRF believes that this shows preferential treatment for religious leaders.

FFRF’s own board has even paid its co-presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor $15,000 each as part of their housing allowance, but because they don’t qualify as “ministers of the gospel,” the law doesn’t apply to them. That’s one of the ways they’ve tried to prove the law is illegal.

A few months ago, the U.S. Department of Justice ridiculously argued that the exemption was legal and that FFRF’s leaders were eligible for the tax breaks… because atheism, they said, was a religion:

Non-theistic beliefs, including atheism, may qualify as “religious” beliefs in various contexts because they pertain to religion and fulfill a similar role in a person’s life:

Because [FFRF] can show no facts to suggest that the IRS will apply terms like “minister” and “religious organization” as if they turn on adherence to some theistic belief or other content, this Court should not presume that the IRS would act inconsistently with the governing law regarding whether atheism a religion for purposes of an atheist’s claim…

No thanks, says Gaylor.

“We are not ministers,” she said. “We are having to tell the government the obvious — we are not a church.”

Yesterday, in a very surprising (but legally sound) decision, U.S. District Judge Barbara B. Crabb ruled in favor of the FFRF, writing that the “parish exemption” was indeed unconstitutional:



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Freedom From Religion Foundation Sues Pismo Beach (California) City Council for Its Sectarian Invocation Prayers

Just days before the Supreme Court hears the case of Town of Greece v Galloway, the city of Pismo Beach, California just got served with a major lawsuit by the Freedom From Religion Foundation over sectarian prayers at city council meetings.

In short, the Pismo Beach City Council has offered explicitly Christian invocation prayers at its meetings 125 of the past 126 times (from 1/1/2008 through 10/15/2013). That one exception still included the city’s Chaplain Paul Jones saying the Pledge of Allegiance. (And why does the city have an official Chaplain in the first place?)

These are not non-denominational prayers. These are prayers to Jesus. These are prayers that promote Christianity. These are prayers that have no business at government meetings.

There’s also historical revisionism in many of the prayers, the kind that would make Christian pseudo-historian David Barton proud.

FFRF has the transcripts (more than a hundred pages of them, which must have taken an incredibly long time) and the invocations are simply indefensible:

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85-Year-Old Atheist Sponsors Billboard Reading ‘Enjoy Life Now: There Is No Afterlife’

Wayne Hensler, an atheist in his mid-80s, has decided to leave a “legacy for [his] grandchildren” by putting up a billboard showcasing his thoughts on the afterlife in his hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin. It reads “Enjoy Life Now: There Is No Afterlife”:



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American Legion Group Demands Prayer at Public School’s Veterans Day Ceremony, but School Officials Say No

This past June, the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to Wallenpaupack Area Schools (in Pennsylvania) Superintendent Michael Silsby letting him know that if a clergy member ever again led a prayer at the district high school’s graduation ceremony, they would be hit with a lawsuit. Silsby wrote back in August: “The District will no longer have religious rituals as part of the commencement ceremony.”

Excellent. Problem solved.

So you can imagine how Silsby reacted when he learned what American Legion Post 311 wanted to do during Wallenpaupack Area High School’s Veterans Day ceremony next month. Normally, the event includes announcing the winners of an essay contest, singing patriotic songs, and listening to a guest speaker. But this year, the Legion made an additional, ungrantable request: Let our chaplain say a prayer at the assembly.

Silsby, not wanting to go through the same legal battle again, told them prayer wasn’t an option. It was a public school ceremony. There would be no mixing of church and state.

The veterans didn’t take the news so well. They’re now saying if the school won’t allow their chaplain to say a prayer at the event, they just won’t show up:



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Cannon County School Board Unanimously Replaces ‘Winter Break’ with ‘Christmas Break’

Last week, when the Cannon County Board of Education (Woodbury, Tennessee) held its monthly board meeting, nothing very eventful happened until the board members discussed next year’s school calendar.

This is normally a quick, breezy process. Just approve it and move on.

But one of the board members was offended by what he saw on the proposed schedule:

“What is the possibility of calling Winter Break Christmas Break instead?” [Chris] Blackburn asked.

“I am frankly tired of being pushed around by people that want to take Christ and God and Christmas and everything out of the school system,” Blackburn said. “They want to take prayer out of school and they want to take it out before ballgames. I am in favor of this calendar as long as we call it Christmas break.

What the hell…?



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