Preacher housing allowance survives at appeals court.

The benefits of tax evasion enjoyed by the freeloading preachers, ministers, rabbis, & imans of the United States will continue after the 7th district Appeals Court overruled a previous finding that the "longstanding clergy housing allowance was unconstitutional." The Appeals Court once again brought up the issue that the plaintiff (FFRF) has no "standing" in the matter and therefore the case amounts to nothing but a grievance. Bullshit.

http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2014/november/good-news-...

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Comment by Dr. Bob on November 17, 2014 at 4:18pm

I think courts really do a disservice by using the lack-of-standing argument when they want to avoid or delay ruling on the merits.

Nevertheless, in most cases for most religious groups this is a perfectly acceptable thing within the tax code, and it applies to secular institutions as well.  Many public and non-sectarian private universities, for example, require their university presidents to live on-campus in a president's residence, which in most cases is tax exempt.   Fire departments may require on-duty firefighters to reside in their fire station which is also a partial housing benefit for which they do not pay income tax.   There are numerous other examples, like teachers at boarding schools, counselors at camps and residence programs, etc.

This is not really the case of a special exemption for religion, but rather a common-sense general benefit.  If your employer provides housing and requires you to live in it as a part of your employment, then it is tax exempt.   There can be issues with edge cases (ex. the home/storefront ministry, the home daycare center, etc.) as there always are, but the core of the matter is really just a common-sense tax exemption that is available to anyone in similar circumstances.

Comment by Ed on November 18, 2014 at 8:49am

Bob,

I am not aware of any mandatory requirement that preachers have to live on the premises. The double or single wide trailers set up next to many fundamentalist churches for their preacher are more a "take it or leave it" amenity than anything else.

Comment by Dr. Bob on November 18, 2014 at 1:39pm

Hi @Ed,

Living on the premises in the parish rectory or in the monastery/religious house is generally a requirement for Catholic clergy and religious in most cases, also some episcopal congregations, one Buddhist group near us, etc.  I can't speak to the fundamentalists; they don't talk to me all that much because I'm a servant of the AntiChrist.  [do you think the AntiChrist has opposite charge from positive Christ?]

I know several Catholic clergy who would very much prefer to live off-premises, in fact.  Living at the parish rectory amounts to being constantly on-call, 24/7/365.  These days it can also be a bit lonely. 

I can't speak to Canada, @kris.  Here in the U.S., we're sensitive to the notion of employer-owned housing, because of historical abuses in "company towns".  Allowing the employer to count housing as compensation and then taxing the worker's real wages for it allows workers to become trapped in a form of serfdom. 

Comment by Reg The Fronkey Farmer on November 18, 2014 at 3:54pm

Here is an interesting article from an old Sunday School link. It deals with the broader tax exemption costs to the (secular) state. There is a link to a PDF which is worth a read.

Comment by Ed on November 19, 2014 at 8:36am

"we estimated that the average value of a church in the United States today is about $1.7 million (land and building)" -http://freethoughtblogs.com/dispatches/2012/06/19/what-religious-ta...

@Reg

That estimate seems a little inflated when I look around Arkansas (here in the States) and see the numerous small town rural churches. Many are kind of pathetic looking but nonetheless still deserving of taxation.

Comment by Dr. Bob on November 19, 2014 at 11:01am

I think the issue of property tax is a different one than taxing the income of individuals because their job requires them to live on-premises.

Property taxes in the U.S. fund police, fire, garbage collection and other infrastructure that by and large benefits property owners in proportion to the value of their property (the exception is that public schools and some social services are also paid by property tax, which doesn't fit the model).

I think a good case can be made that there should be no property tax exemptions for infrastructure-and-protection types of property tax.  In my state, universities and hospitals are also property tax exempt, but there's no question that universities and hospitals put huge burdens on police, fire, waste disposal, and other infrastructure.   Asking the local residents to absorb those added costs is inequitable, especially for older folks on fixed incomes whose property values are probably inflated already as the result of the university's presence). 

So I could support curtailing the property tax exemption for all charitable entities, at least for the portion of the tax that applies to infrastructure/protection.

Comment by Davis Goodman on November 19, 2014 at 11:43am

To be honest churches are really a big drain on the economy ... so much wasted time chasing fantasies, throwing money at buildings that serve no purpose, fat pastors and in general creating a breeding ground of intolerance and hate (including the "don't make gay wedding cakes or serve queers"). So...if anything...they should be extra taxed. A luxury tax.

Comment by Reg The Fronkey Farmer on November 20, 2014 at 6:14pm

Nome, Alaska may be the first town to start taxing churches.

Comment by Ed on November 21, 2014 at 8:29am

@ Reg

Wonderful news, Reg!

"Estimates vary, but studies show exempting religion from taxes in America costs the taxpayers between $71 billion and $83.5 billion a year, according to the New Civil Rights Movement. For comparison, America’s food stamp program costs about $75-80 billion a year."

Comment by Dr. Bob on November 21, 2014 at 10:24am

"Estimates vary, but studies show exempting religion from taxes in America costs the taxpayers between $71 billion and $83.5 billion a year, according to the New Civil Rights Movement. For comparison, America’s food stamp program costs about $75-80 billion a year."

I'm always a bit nonplussed by people citing highly biased postings from the political advocacy blogosphere.  It's like climate change deniers citing climate skeptic blogs or gay bashers citing religious screeds.   There's not an iota of rationalism to be found.

When you follow the links to the "New Civil Rights Movement", you get exactly nowhere.  They don't even reference the study or the study authors.  It's even more embarrassing when they praise Walmart (Walmart?!) for giving more in absolute $ to food banks than the UMC gives to charity, without critically examining the business practices of Walmart which allow such huge profits that giving a tenth as much on a percentage basis amounts to more on an absolute basis.  Let alone examining whether Walmart is actually making a cash donation or merely writing off nearly-expired food being "donated".

Think critically!

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