Atheists getting IRS to bill churches $1B?

Monday, April 23, 2018
Michael F. Haverluck (

IRS building in WDCA prominent atheist group is suing the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and demanding that it bill churches and other religious organizations $1 billion in taxes, arguing that their tax-exempt status violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

Churches are now appealing a controversial decision issued by Judge Barbara Crabb of the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, who ruled against a tax exemption for pastors and other employees whose employers determine their housing – a ruling that not only violates the freedom of worship, but one that could also shut down numerous churches nationwide.

Church attack

The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) is behind the lawsuit targeting the “parsonage allowance,” and if the ruling stands, pastors of Christian churches and leaders of congregations of other faiths would be denied the tax break that is essential for many to do their jobs and stay financially afloat.

“[The parsonage allowance] provides that a housing allowance is not considered taxable income when the house is for the convenience of the employer,” WND explained. “While pastors do benefit, the tax deduction also is available for workers who live overseas, employees of educational institutes, any member or former member of the uniformed services, government workers living overseas, any American citizen living abroad and others.”

The ruling reportedly singles out Christian leaders for discrimination.

“Crabb’s verdict in the case brought against Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and others by the Freedom from Religion Foundation found that while the exemption is valid for secular employees, it should not be available for Christian pastors – setting up a discriminatory standard for the benefit,” WND’s Bob Unruh reported.

Chicago Embassy Church Pastor Chris Butler asked a federal appeals court on Thursday to stop FFRF’s discriminatory lawsuit, Gaylor v. Mnuchin, against the IRS that would devastate his community and churches nationwide with $1 billion in new taxes. The atheist group is determined to end the 64-year-old federal tax provision used by churches, synagogues and mosques that helps faith leaders live in the communities they serve.

It is contended that FFRF’s lawsuit would ultimately end up putting many needy Americans out on the streets and closing the doors of many churches from coast-to-coast – for good.  

“Pastor Chris Butler is the leader of a predominantly African-American congregation, whose ministry includes mentoring at-risk youth, decreasing neighborhood crime, and caring for the homeless in Chicago’s neediest neighborhoods,” states a press release issued by Becket Law, a nonprofit public-interest law firm representing Butler’s church. “Ending the housing allowance for faith leaders like Pastor Chris would discriminate against religious groups by treating them worse than many other secular employees who receive similar tax treatment. It would also harm poor communities by diverting scarce resources away from essential ministries, [and] it could even force some small churches to close.”

The pastor from Chicago’s South Side stressed how stripping away the provision – at FFRF’s demand – would keep many Christians from doing a basic part of their job, which is serving the poor and needy.

“For the majority of churches, the pastors are like me and experience at some level the same problems that we’re trying to face in the community,” Butler contended in the press release. “If you take away even a little bit, it can become a lot of trouble – quickly.”

Longstanding battle against churches

The federal tax code – which gives pastors, rabbis, imams and other faith leaders the same tax-free housing allowances enjoyed by teachers, business leaders, those serving in the armed forces and hundreds of thousands of other employees who rely on tax-free housing to do their jobs – has been in existence for more than six decades, but it has been under attack for the last seven years..

“[I]n 2011, the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) sued the IRS, demanding it end the tax exemption for faith leaders, saying it violates the Constitution,” Becket recounted in its release. “But the IRS would be discriminating against religious groups if it ended their housing allowance when so many secular businesses and organizations receive similar tax treatment.”

At the time, FFRF Co-presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker argued that their leadership roles over their atheist group are basically the same as pastors over their congregations – and therefore should receive the same tax breaks.

"As leaders of a freethought organization [we] are similarly situated to clergy [and should be able to take advantage of the same allowance],” Gaylor and Barker insisted in 2011, according to CBN News.

But legal action was soon taken by the atheist leaders when the IRS did not see things their way.

“The FFRF sued when the IRS denied their request, thus kicking off years of legal challenges,” CBN News noted.

Becket Deputy General Counsel Luke Goodrich – whose firm intervened in the case in January 2017 on behalf of Butler’s church, Holy Cross Anglican Church and the Diocese of Chicago and Mid-America of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia – says the lawsuit is typical of the atheist group, which seeks to oppose anyone and anything having to do with Christianity.

“The same group of atheists claimed it was unconstitutional to put Mother Teresa on a postage stamp, so it’s no surprise they’re trying to sic the IRS on churches,” Goodrich stated in the Becket release. “Treating ministers like other professionals isn’t an establishment of religion – it’s fair tax treatment.”  

Oral arguments for the case are slated to be heard at the Chicago-based Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in the upcoming weeks, and a verdict is expected before year’s end.


We moderate all reader comments, usually within 24 hours of posting (longer on weekends). Please limit your comment to 300 words or less and ensure it addresses the article - NOT another reader's comments. Comments that contain a link (URL), an inordinate number of words in ALL CAPS, rude remarks directed at other readers, or profanity/vulgarity will not be approved. More details




What is the best description of CNN’s LGBT town hall?





Biden, Warren, Sanders face scrutiny at Democratic debate
Hunter Biden denies doing anything wrong in Ukraine, China
Fort Worth officer released on bond after murder charge
LeBron James under fire from Hong Kong protesters
Explosive device blows up at Montana school, no injuries
Supreme Court lets US stop work on $8B SC nuclear fuel plant


How's that higher minimum wage working out for you? Target cuts workers’ hours after vowing to raise minimum wage to $15 by 2020
U.S. on verge of ‘digital experience addiction epidemic,’ professor warns
Political correctness versus common sense
Gender neutral bathrooms and the middle school girl
3 reasons black people should never support gun control


Cartoon of the Day
At issue: Parsonage allowance – taxable or not?

cross on church steepleShould the government continue to offer a housing allowance for clergy? That's a decision coming up on federal appeal.