Tolliver: What Does This Mean…?Written by Guest Author | | GuestAuthor@toledofreepress.com
By Lafe Tolliver
Well, it may be high time for churches and pastors to pay up and start either working a second job or have their congregations up their income to cover residential housing expenses.
A federal judge in the western district of Wisconsin in the case of Freedom from Religion Foundation Inc. vs. Lew and Werfel, recently ruled that 26 U.S.C. section 107 of the IRS violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
In every day parlance, that means unless the decision is overruled, churches will not be able to pay their pastors a certain sum for their housing allowance and have that amount be exempt from personal taxes.
The court opined that such an exemption is limited strictly to pastors and thus is not a benefit to others who are not pastors and as such violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
As Martha Stewart says, “This is a good thing.”
It is good because those who profess a faith in their respective religions and especially the Christian faith benchmark that God is their source and supply, the pastors and their assemblies (unless the decision is overturned on appeal…there is a stay in effect) will have to now walk by that faith and not by sight (aka IRS tax exemptions).
It means that churches and pastors will have to renegotiate their compensation packages to see if the churches can continue to slice and dice a piece of the pastor’s compensation so that it can be exempt from taxes — if that slice is used for their personal housing.
And why should that slice it be exempt? If you are a pastor of a particular denomination, you are asking the tax code and the other tax payers to subsidize your religious beliefs by letting you have tax free monies to live in a house of your choosing or monies be applied towards your parsonage house (if your church provides such a dwelling).
If you walk by faith, do you really want the IRS to be in bed with you as to how your church spends it funds for the benefit and care of its pastoral staff?
If you claim that God is your all in all and that He is your source and supply, why not live the talk and walk the walk and tell the IRS that you do not need their tax coverage in order for you to propagate the gospel?
I contend that a lot of shrills and con artists can get a 501(c) (3) exemption, register with the state as a minister of the gospel and — voila! — they can set up a “church” that will have those under their pastoral care paying monies to them for their housing and thus avoiding IRS taxes.
I never was clear why the church loves the state so much until you realize that the state gives the church tax exemptions on property and income and other valuable holdings to the tune of billions and billions of dollars nationwide.
It is almost unthinkable to many people that this cozy relationship should not continue as it is.
As a reminder to those who may be in shock, you do not need to incorporate with the state or the IRS in order to form what is colloquially known as a “church.” (Note: The church is comprised of the believers — not the building that they assemble in).
You can be an unincorporated voluntary association and thus do not need a 501(c) (3), unless of course you want your members to receive a tax deduction for their charitable donations to their house of worship.
Question: How much less giving would occur if your house of worship did not have a tax exempt ID number? Would you give the same, less or more?
If you could not write off on your taxes at the end of the year hundreds or thousands of dollars in tithes and offerings, would you still attend that house of worship or would its benefits be diminished because there was no longer a financial gain for you?
Churches and pastors do not need the IRS or the myriad of tax breaks that it gives to religious organizations in order for them to propagate the faith. If pastors and churches want to be free from “Caesar” and proclaim the gospel, they are able to do so without getting or needing an exemption to live in a house or to cover their car costs.
What a profound statement of faith it would be for the Presbyterians and Episcopalians and Baptists and Lutherans and Methodists and other religious organizations to make a statement and renounce any involvement with the IRS which is the revenue gathering arm of present day “Caesar.”
Can you imagine the profound shake-up in America regarding religious undertakings and professions of faith if organized religion told the IRS to take their bushel basket full of exemptions and shove it?
But, alas, that will not happen because for decades, too many churches in the USA have been co-opted or silenced from being bold and aggressive in their ministries due to being weaned and raised on a steady diet of canned IRS stew and the juicy financial pulp of state exemptions and they want and expect to continue to dine at that money laden trough.
And as for this professed faith walk and that God will supply all of their needs — save that for Sunday morning sermons and church publishing houses, but leave my private Learjet and houses and vacations and cars and other tax benefit goodies alone!
Contact attorney Lafe Tolliver at Tolliver@Juno.com.
Tags: 501(c)(3), Christian faith, churches, Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, Freedom from Religion Foundation., God, Inc. vs. Lew and Werfel, IRS, Lafe Tolliver, Martha Stewart, pastors, tax exempt ID