It seems that the FFRF has won a case that can have a profound impact on organized religion across the nation if the ruling isn’t overturned on appeal. This past Friday, Nov. 22 2013, U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Crabb ruled in favor of the FFRF in a case where they were challenging the IRS exemption that gives clergy tax-free housing allowances. The FFRF argued that this exemption violated the constitutional concepts of “separation of church and state” and “equal protection under the law”. They even argued that if tax-exempt religious groups are allowed a housing “subsidy” then other tax-exempt groups, like the FFRF, should get one too. The federal judge decided that the exemption was unconstitutional saying that it “provides a benefit to religious persons and no one else, even though doing so is not necessary to alleviate a special burden on religious exercise.” I’m guessing from that statement that she was focused on the “equal treatment” part of the argument. Now to be fair, Judge Crabb did stay the ruling until all appeals are exhausted. (FYI, Crabb is the federal judge that ruled the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional back in 2010.) I have news for both the FFRF and the judge in this case. You can make any number of arguments against the tax exemption if you are so inclined, most of which don’t (or at least shouldn’t) hold legal water, but you can make those arguments. However, this exemption in no way violates the establishment clause because it does not favor any one faith over another nor does it do anything to force any belief system on anyone. I would remind my learned friends that the establishment clause is not as inclusive as many of them would like to make it; the clause only prevents the government from establishing a national religion or by extension favoring one religion over another. The exemption in question applies to about 44,000 ministers, priests, rabbis, imams and “others”. (See my point about it not favoring one faith over another?) If the ruling stands, which I don’t believe that it could under the exemption clause argument, it would mean a 5 to 10 percent cut in take home pay for some clergy. In this economy who can afford to lose any of their income? The case was decided in the District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin and will most likely be appealed to the 7th Circuit which very well could reverse the ruling. If the 7th Circuit lets the ruling stand then it will become precedent for courts not only in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana (the 7th Circuit’s region) but all across the land. For the record, the 7th Circuit barred the enforcement of the contraceptive mandate in Obamacare; but of course that is being taken to the Supreme Court.
Now as bad as the attack on the income of these church leaders is, and I remind you here that the FFRF is after all not just one or two individual cases where there might be some actual abuse going on, there are things at play in this case that is far worse. Take a look at the use of the word subsidy in the FFRF argument. Look at Harry Reid’s use of the “Nuclear Option”. Look at the continuing attacks by the FFRF and other like groups on people of faith.
In the use of the word subsidies in referring to the tax exemption they show the typical political left thinking that all money belongs to the government and we should just be happy that they let us keep any of it. Using the term subsidy in place of tax cut, tax break, or tax exemption implies that there is someone outside of the church (church used here as a general term for all spiritual organizations) who has to help pay for the housing allowances. This is clearly an attempt to control the language to win the argument. It is also an effort to, over time, make most people accept the idea that the government is entitled to the first piece of everyone’s pie. While you can make an effective point that every time you exempt some form of income from the tax pool it makes it harder on those not exempted from paying to cover the government’s tab you could just as easily use the same logic to call for an end to all tax credits and exemptions at every economic level. Somehow I think if taken to that level many people who might support attacking the clergy’s housing allowance might rethink the whole subsidy argument. But make no mistake about it; there is a lot of potential tax revenue on the table here. The exemption is worth about $700 million per year according to the Joint Committee on Taxation Estimate of Federal Tax Expenditure. And FYI, the Hosans-Tabor vs. EEOC case decided last year that a teacher could be considered a “minister” so the ruling in this case could go beyond just those we would think of as clergy. Does anyone believe that given an opportunity that our government won’t jump at the chance to pull in an additional $700 million regardless of it’s source? Add that the current bunch of statists running the show could grab that cash from clergy… well it might as well be tea party groups.
Harry Reid just changed the Senate rules to reduce the number of votes to end a filibuster. Called the “Nuclear Option” Reid did this for the sole purpose of getting on with the “so-called progressive” agenda of stacking the federal courts with leftist, activist judges who will be happy to slap down conservative challenges to unconstitutional laws and actions taken by our government. They want judges who would also legislate from the bench when they aren’t happy with laws passed by conservatives. The idea is to get as many judges in place that will ignore the Constitution and simply side with their “progressive” arguments regardless of the issue of the case. (Like maybe a judge who would rule that the National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional should be moved up to a higher court so that when those type of cases are appealed that they will have a much lesser chance of success.)
The worst part of this is almost lost among the talk of increased taxes, reduced income, and activist judges stretching the limits of our founding documents. The open attack on religion in this country should be of the highest concern to all Americans religious or not. This nation was first founded on the concept of Freedom of Religion. Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker, co-presidents of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, hailed the decision saying, “May we say hallelujah! This decision agrees with us that Congress may not reward ministers for fighting a ‘godless and anti-religious’ movement by letting them pay less income tax. The rest of us should not pay more because clergy pay less.” But here they show their willingness to mislead people because no one, outside of the churches, is paying more because of the allowances. The clergy housing allowance’s tax-exempt status is not an establishment of religion but in fact is the exact opposite as it is the government staying out of the affairs of religious groups in the U.S. and that it is neutral to all religions. The FFRF also showed there hand when earlier this year the federal government offered them a tax break available to religious groups and they rejected that offer. They are not interested so much in “equal treatment” as they are in weakening organized religion through any means possible. They know that clergy in small congregations will be harmed greatly by this ruling if allowed to stand. These atheists are committed to the cause of ending religion in all it’s forms here in the United States and most likely the whole world.
I wish these guys would have started their crusade in a Muslim theocracy. I would love to see how successful their efforts would have been in Iran for example. Here in the United States they can find like-minded people; they can join together, express their opinions freely and raise money to further their cause. Here they can petition the courts and find like-minded judges who will side with them even if the law does not. The FFRF uses our system meant to protect our Freedom of Religion to attack it.
I have more news for the FFRF and any other atheist group that thinks and acts in a similar fashion (important to note that many do not). You are not superior to people of faith. You are not smarter. You are not more enlightened. You are not leading to way to some greater tomorrow. You are in fact missing out on an important part of the human experience; and for that I pity you.
I stand with Christ. I stand for the Constitution. I stand for Freedom of Religion not from religion. I stand for what I believe but I also stand for your right to believe as you do. You have a right to not believe; but you do not have the right to tell me that I can not. You do not have the right to attack me or my church just because you don’t like it. And you most definitely do not have the right to twist the U.S. Constitution to serve your agenda of attacking people of faith.