Beliefs Institutions Politics

Federal judge: Clergy tax-free housing allowance is unconstitutional

Annie Laurie Gaylor is co-president of the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation. RNS photo by Amber Arnold

Update 11/13: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit’s decided Thursday to throw out an earlier dispute on nontaxable housing assistance from churches to pastors in Lew v. Freedom From Religion Foundation.

(RNS) A federal judge has ruled that an Internal Revenue Service exemption that allows clergy to shield a portion of their salary from federal income taxes is unconstitutional.

The clergy housing exemption applies to an estimated 44,000 ministers, priests, rabbis, imams and others. If the ruling stands, some clergy members could experience an estimated 5 to 10 percent cut in take-home pay.

The suit was filed by the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation on grounds that the housing allowance violates the separation of church and state and the constitutional guarantee of equal protection. The group’s founders have said that if tax-exempt religious groups are allowed a housing subsidy, other tax-exempt groups, such as FFRF, should get one, too.

U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Crabb on Friday (Nov. 22) ruled in their favor, saying the exemption “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.”

The case, decided in the District Court for the Western District Of Wisconsin, will likely be appealed to the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers the states of Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana.

The housing allowances of pastors in Wisconsin remain unaffected after Crabb stayed the ruling until all appeals are exhausted. Crabb also ruled in 2010 that the National Day of Prayer was unconstitutional; that ruling was overturned the following year.

Earlier this month, the 7th Circuit barred the enforcement of the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate, an issue circulating through federal courts across the country and likely to be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court next spring.

 The parsonage of First Methodist Church in Monroe, Wisc.

Photo by James Steakley

The parsonage of First Methodist Church in Monroe, Wis.

Churches routinely designate a portion of a pastor’s salary as a housing allowance. So, for example, a minister that earns an average of $50,000 may receive another third of income, or $16,000, as a tax-free housing allowance, essentially earning $66,000. Having to pay taxes on the additional $16,000 ($4,000 in this case), would mean an 6 percent cut in salary.

The exemption is worth about $700 million per year, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation’s Estimate of Federal Tax Expenditure.

Crabb ruled that the law provides that the gross income of a “minister of the gospel” does not include “the rental allowance paid to him as part of his compensation, to the extent used by him to rent or provide a home and to the extent such allowance does not exceed the fair rental value of the home, including furnishings and appurtenances such as a garage, plus the cost of utilities.”

Tobin Grant, a political science professor at Southern Illinois University, said the exemption dates from an era when churches paid clergy who lived in church-owned parsonages.

“Over time, fewer churches owned parsonages and instead gave clergy housing allowances, which were also treated as tax-free. The difference, however, was that these were regular salaries that now had an exclusion. Part could be tax-free, part couldn’t. So, why not give a pastor a huge housing allowance, which is tax free?”

The ruling addresses the housing allowance, while parsonages are still tax-exempt properties, like the churches that own them.

Peter J. Reilly, a contributor to Forbes, writes that the exclusion goes back to 1921.

“I’m not sure what Congress could do in this instance,” he said. “There is strong clergy influence on both sides of the aisle though, so there is a good chance that Congress will at least try to make it look like it has done something.”

The law’s tax exemption has been contested since a decade-old dispute between the IRS and California megachurch pastor Rick Warren. In 2002, the IRS attempted to charge Warren back taxes after he claimed a housing allowance of more than $70,000.

He eventually won the federal court case, and that led Congress to clarify the rules for housing allowances. The allowance is limited to one house, and is restricted to either the fair market rental value of the house or the money actually spent on housing.

(RNS4-SEP15) Annie Laurie Gaylor is co-president of the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation, one of the few atheist/freethought organization staffed by a majority of women. For use with RNS-ATHEIST-SEXISM, transmitted Sept. 15, 2011. RNS photo by  Amber Arnold.

Annie Laurie Gaylor is co-president of the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation. RNS photo by Amber Arnold.

Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker, co-presidents of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, which brought the suit, hailed the decision. “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,” they said. “The rest of us should not pay more because clergy pay less.”

The Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and Southern Baptist-affiliated GuideStone Financial Resources plan to fight for the exemption.

“The clergy housing allowance isn’t a government establishment of religion, but just the reverse,” said Russell Moore, president of the ERLC. “The allowance is neutral to all religions. Without it, clergy in small congregations of all sorts would be penalized and harmed.”

Church housing has been a hot topic in recent months as the Southern Baptist pastor of one of the nation’s fastest-growing churches is building a 16,000-square-foot gated estate near Charlotte, N.C. The tax value on the 19-acre property owned by Steven Furtick of Elevation Church is estimated to be $1.6 million.

Earlier this year, the federal government offered the Freedom from Religion Foundation a tax break available to religious groups that it rejected.

Separately, in a federal court case in Kentucky, atheists are challenging IRS regulations that exempt religious groups from the same financial disclosure requirements of other nonprofit groups.


About the author

Sarah Pulliam Bailey

Sarah Pulliam Bailey is a national correspondent for RNS, covering how faith intersects with politics, culture and other news. She previously served as online editor for Christianity Today where she remains an editor-at-large.


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  • Taxing authorities, it seems, are within their Constitutional rights to tax all portions of a church facility that are not directly and solely used for worship and religious education as such. We may see this happen as sprawling megachurch complexes situated on acres of land and sometimes with buildings or portions of them (recreation facilities, for example), all off the tax rolls.
    Strict interpretation of the First Amendment, it seems, requires only that the square footage used for worship and religious education be exempt from taxes. Some might even say that taxing those facilities in and of itself is not a denial of freedom of religion. It requires money to build and keep up those facilities; taxes on them are only any additional part of the cost of maintenance.

    I’m curious to know how it is that churches were made exempt from such taxation in the first place.

  • Hello Sarah. Thanks for your article. Do you know the implications of this? Does it effect ministers outside of the Wisconsin area? In your opinion what chances does this have of becoming law? Thanks for your time.

  • Why does this “constitutionality” issue even come up? Funny how these issues have been arising during THIS current administration.

    There has always been a certain “respect” for clergy, of all faiths. The clergy are those men and women who offer their lives in service to others, in God’s name. Most clergy have high degrees – yet their salaries are minimal. The $50,000 number mentioned in this article is inflated. I know that in my Church, clergy salaries are less.

    Do not be deceived. This issue is just one weapon in a vast arsenal that is being used by our current administration, and their helping hand, the liberal media – in it’s mission to render religion as a private hobby of sorts, making religion a non-issue in the life of our country,

  • This issue was initiated by the Freedom From Religion organization in Madison, WI; not the present administration. I doubt that the present administration would identify at all with the FRR. Your comment just runs in the stream that wants to blame everything on the administration.

  • This administration was the defendant, and somehow failed to make a solid case against this group having standing to bring this suit. They are in no way harmed. The idiot claim that others pay more taxes because of this exemption is easily defeated by the fact that, with 17 trillion in debt, this government has no interest in replacing taxes lost with other taxes. If it was, they would be talking about replacing all the taxes lost by shuttering coal mines.

  • Many of our Founding Fathers wanted as few taxes as possible because the power to tax is the power to destroy.
    Here in Ma. a few years ago there was a movement to tax churches more. The ultimate targets for the politicians pushing for more taxes were Catholic churches and big mainstream Protestant Churches.
    One problem though. A survey showed the big churches could handle the new taxes . But hundreds and hundreds of small and storefront Evangelical and fundamentalist Protestant churches would be driven out of existence as surely as if our state had become the new Soviet Union.

  • Actually, the Obama administration is fighting this lawsuit, arguing that clergy should continue to receive the parsonage exclusion.

  • Hi Eric,
    Here are some parts of the article that might help answer your questions.

    The housing allowances of pastors in Wisconsin remain currently unaffected as the ruling has been stayed by the judge until the appeals are exhausted.
    –So implications won’t be felt until higher courts decide whether or not to take it up. Looks like the 7th Circuit would strike it down, given that they struck down the contraceptive mandate.

    If the 7th Circuit lets the ruling stand, then it could become precedent for courts in Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana.
    –If it went all the way to the Supreme Court and they let it stand, it would impact the law for all states, but I’ve gotten the sense that it likely won’t get that far.

  • We must remember that the Founding Fathers addressed the issue of the obligations and the limits of the federal government. The Constitution leaves it entirely to the sovereign states to handle most matters, although you wouldn’t know that from current practice of many decades.

  • Teachers, nurses, social workers, fire fighters, police, and EMT workers all “offer their lives in service of others” for minimal pay. Where’s their housing allowance? Where’s their tax benefit?

  • All religions should be taxed.

    The priests, the churches, synagogues, mosques. No subsidies for religion should be allowed. The whole concept is unlawful and against the United States of America and its Constitution.

    People will always have the right to practice their religion in this wonderful country. But the freeloading of the properties must end.

  • It’s true that the FFR guys brought the lawsuit, and perhaps indeed the lawsuit is not one that Barack Obama would have personally filed. But given the shameful IRS scandal and some past public statements of Obama Admininistration officials and allies, there’s no use pretending that ths sort of mess is beneath his Administration. It ain’t.

  • I, too, am curious about the tax exemption for churches: At one period of time, in seven of the 13 original states, there was one denomination that was tax-supported (Congregational in the North, Episcopal in the South). That’s why the Second Amendment precludes a federal establishment of religion: because seven of the states already had state establishment.

  • Nepharious liberal and socialist conspiracy theories aside, whether or not any religious institution should get preferrential treatment from our federal government, including tax exemptions of any kind seem to me to hinge upon the interpetation of the word “respecting” in the 1st ammendment.
    It really boils down to whether or not freedom of religion includes freedom from religion. I think the intent of the founders was that the federal government not be partial to any person, or group at all in a religious, or non-relgious context.
    Religious tax exemption result in millions of tax dollars not being paid. As a citizen, I don’t get those same exemptions, and that is simply unconstitutional, and therefore one part of me thinks this should be stopped.
    However since I am also accutly aware if this is done religious institutions will no longer have finacial incentives to not use their pulpits to spread a political message. A part of me thinks the loss of those tax dollars is a cheap price to pay to keep religious institutions out of our political process.
    I fear if they get involved they will become like any other business, which regrettably now has rights to greatly affect our political process with unlimited amounts of money.
    I am convinced not only is this definetly not what our founding fathers had in mind, it will only add to the devisivness in our politics, which is currenly dividing our nation.

  • It’s interesting that people are so aware of the tax benefit clergy gets (tax-free housing allowance) but are rarely aware of the tax burden that clergy are saddled with (are treated as self-employed for FICA, even when they are employed as staff of a church or denomination). So we pay 15.3% for Social Security and Medicare instead of 7.65%. The IRS giveth and the IRS taketh away. Take my housing allowance, fine – but let me be an employee, because I am.

  • Yet another proof of the war against faith. Aside from the foolishness of it I wonder if the people pushing this have thought it through. If churches ultimately pay taxes then there are no restrictions in political involvement. Its one big step towards a functional theocracy. Be careful what you wish for.

    Either way this has absolutely no hope of standing but hey keep wasting your time and money.

  • Stupid argument. You can’t ignore the 14th amendment and claim states rights when it comes to civil liberty arguments. You seem unaware it has existed for over 150 years. Easy mistake made by revisionist conservative wingnutsphere.

    A better argument would be to invoke a more modern SCOTUS ruling, Lemon v Kurtzman. Removing the tax breaks entangles the government with religion in a way which violates the establishment clause.

    Taxing religious organizations gives them a say in the government in a way which they must not have. Plus it gives government a say in religion which they must not have.

  • Back in the beginnings of Federal income taxation, for reasons of consideration for the military and clergy giving up the right to determine where and how they would like to live in order to fulfill their duties to which they were ‘called’ by God and or their country, the portion of their remuneration required for housing for themselves and their families was exempted from taxable income. Now we come to an upside down anti-Christian moral majority in which anything done by Christian Churches is liable to bring a suit against them while it is politically correct to add Islamic holy days to school and municipal calendars, incorrect for a child to pray or speak of God out loud in school while Muslims without a permit can block public thoroughfare to kneel and pray.
    The establishment clause of the First Amendment says Congress shall make no law restricting the free exercise of religion. Now it is only applied to force Christian Churches to abandon their calling to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ publicly and to minister well being in His Name to the sick and needy.
    God’s Church will continue to fulfill God’s calling no matter what the government protects or hinders. The people of America will suffer great harm when illogical, misguided lawyers, politicians, and jurists sever the roots of our ethical system and then wonder why there are not enough jails, why no one pays their taxes, why no one will serve in the military, why no one cares about feeding the poor, why the dollar has lost its place as the world’s currency, why medical care has become unaffordable and ceases to exist, why people are forced to barricade themselves behind walls to protect themselves, why all the people who can afford to have fled the country, and why they did not listen to the wisdom of our American Founders like our Father, George who left us with this thought – This government will only work if it is exercised by God-fearing
    citizens who know that they are endowed by their Creator with rights and responsibilities to seek the welfare of all as His Word declares.

    He was right. More than towers have fallen. Stick a fork in the turkey that remains of Uncle Sam and the great American experiment. Its done.

    I’m thinking that after the devastation has run its course through the earth, there will be some small Christian communities that arise and somehow manage to gently instill hope in mankind that they are children of a loving Father, rescued from themselves by the dying and rising of His Son, our Brother, Jesus Christ, and encouraged to trust, heal, help, forgive, and govern as led by the Holy Spirit as we pay attention to the Gospel and the whole counsel of God in His Word.

  • Clergy and military personnel have the same system. They often live in housing provided for them; in fact, in many cases they are required to live “on base” to insure they ready available. The question arose around figuring out how to tax that form of “compensation” and still be fair to those clergy and military who don’t have housing provided. The solution (first a regulation then a law) was to have those in housing count its value for Social Security and Medicare tax, but not income tax. Those who live off base (or not in a parsonage) are taxed for Social Security and Medicare on the amount they spend for housing, but it is not considered income.
    Teachers, firemen, etc. are not generally provided with housing so the question of taxing its value is mute.

  • The flipside to your conspiracy theory/Obama derangement syndrome is the notion that these suits did not come up previously because the prior administration was working hand in hand with theocrats.

    You are taking the right side, but for goofy reasons. Taxing religious institutions is a bad thing because it entangles government with religion to undermine both. Of course it would not be such a hot issue if not for people who actively want religion intertwined with politics (provided said religion is fundamentalist Christianity).

    The funny thing is for people who want to pretend the US is a Christian nation, taxation should be welcomed as proof that the Christian churches have a legitimate role in the function of government. Taxation brings representation. Obviously religious/conservative politics is not a very consistent POV.

  • Tom is correct, and as far as compensation being fair (teachers, firemen, etc.) often have pensions (government backed from taxes collected from ministers and others) that ministers do not have. Also, someone made the comment above that many ministers make less than $50,000 per year. In our denomination, it is not only less but MUCH less. Some as low as $20,000 to $30,000… It is shameful that most ministers who barely get by have to suffer because of big name ministers who have multimillion dollars who have used these laws in nefarious ways.

  • Three things I would like to say as priest who welcomes dialogue with those of different faiths, whether theistic, pantheistic, polytheistic, or atheistic:

    First, I would be glad for everyone to get the housing tax break we do, as long as they share in the jacked up “self-employment” taxes and fees we pay. The commenter above is right about clergy being employees, but having to pay taxes, SS, and Medicaid as if self employed.

    Second, I’m fine giving atheist clergy a tax exemption as long as they admit that their religion is a religion based on a faith stance about the nature of Ultimate Reaility. If you can’t prove or disprove the reality of God(s) in the same decisive way you can prove that equilateral triangles have the same interior angles, then it is a faith stance, not an empirical proposition. Organized atheism is organized religion, and I am fine with treating it thus with all the same benefits I enjoy.

    Third, I am actually fine with extending clergy tax benefits and responsibilities to ALL non-profit ministers who do community work: social workers, teachers, counselors, community organizers, etc. We should all be striving– in different ways, from different angles, with different skills– to increase the health and well being of individuals and communities in body, mind, and spirit. It’s a tough gig that isn’t well respected in a consumer society (being prophetable is not very profitable!). So I welcome all the help I can get, and would advocate for all the benefits possible for all who work in the “helping professions”.

  • Most of the groups you mention have powerful unions that protect their benefits, pensions and minimal salaries. Clergy do not. Clergy also make, on average, far less than the groups you mention. In addition, because clergy are considered “self-employed” by the IRS, they pay their full Social Security without benefit of employer payroll tax. Many of us have to pay health benefits out of our own pockets and do not have pensions.

  • Speaking as a former vestryperson…There are no more rectories. Priests get a compensation package and get to choose how much to designate as a tax-free “housing allowance.” Being gentlemen, historically, they’ve generally taken a modest 40% or so. Still, here in California that was a nice little package for real estate speculation before the bubble burst.

    As far as salaries, they make upper middle class white guy salaries: more than me–a tenured professor with a PhD. But I’m only a girl. Pensions? Every parish kicks in 18% on top of the salary and housing allowance to the Church Pension Fund for the priest’s pension.

    Whatever tax penalties they may incur, Episcopal priests at least make good money. The diocese–a little business that thinks it’s a trade union–specifies minimums and churches pay because the idea is that these guys are entitled to “professional-level salaries.” I never saw why, but when I suggested that the rector be paid the same salary at the parish secretary no one liked that.

    These guys rich and the housing allowance was just a scam. Good for the court!

  • Shame -you are just playing word games and you know it. Geometry is entirely a mental construct (I would say it is the same with your god(s) theory.) I have nothing to say about an undefined “ultimate reality” (another word game), but I think it highly improbable that this whole mess is the result of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
    Poor Jesus. Nobody consulted him about Christianity. It is fun to imagine his reaction upon visiting say – a Catholic Church with a emaciated, tortured, half naked man’s body depicting himself as their God.

  • You must live in a nice neighborhood, Harriet. In my neighborhood, rural Great Plains, there are many parsonages, especially in the small towns. Clergy are Not well-paid, $35,000 is the high end. In many cases, the pastor leads more than one church to make ends meet for her/his family. The spouse also works.

    The larger geographic entity, in my case the ELCA (Lutheran), is a synod. Lay people on the synod council, with support and input from the bishop’s office, draw up salary guidelines. The pension is significantly less than 18%, though I don’t remember the exact number. Housing allowance when there is no parsonage depends on the local market and is agreed upon by the pastor and church council. It’s right around 33%.

    In more densely populated regions, I’m sure pay is better because congregations can afford more.

    I don’t have a problem with tax exemptions ended. However, we need to be categorized as employees then. It’s what clergy are.

  • Oh. I get it. The logical positivism game. Words only have meaning if they have empirical referent. I’ll play along with the words you used in your post:

    Shame – Nonsense. No empirical referent.
    Geometry – Nonsense. No empirical referent.
    I – Nonsense. No empirical referent.
    Theory – Nonsense. No empirical referent.
    Undefined – Nonsense. No empirical referent.

    If we are going to play that “word game”, you are going to have to give up saying much of anything other than “This! Computer! You! Human!” Either that, or admit that there are a whole host of meaningful concepts that require faith or trust to believe in, which have no empirical referent (including uniformity of natural laws, ubiquity of logic, etc.).

    And maybe it isn’t so much the “Godhood” that the crucifix elicits, but the total self-sacrificial gift of self to pursue justice, peace, forgiveness, and love that it evokes. But if you confine yourself to merely empirically verifiable concepts, I doubt such values warm your heart.

  • “…churches would be driven out of existence”
    Where is the problem? Churches are based on lies.

    If Churches could become “Museums of Dishonesty”
    Maybe some of them could get a tax break for that !

  • Harriet, What you say is not true for all pastors, unless you make less than $20,000 per year that is. That is what a pastor at a small rural church that I know made. In addition to the salary the congregation had a small parsonage for the pastor and his family to live in, on which he paid the utilities. I am not saying this to complain about the congregation, they struggled to pay his salary. I am just stating the facts. So was this pastor’s salary an “upper middle class white guy[‘s] salar[y]”? By the way he has a Master of Divinity degree, in other words a “professional” degree and 29 years of experience.
    The truth is that there are many pastors who make very small salaries, they are not all like your example.

  • On the other hand, Larry, not taxing religious organizations means that the government must make a determination of whether or not a group is genuinely a religious organization. Consider Scientology – the IRS has been badly burned by trying to say they’re not a religious organization in the past, so they continue to accumulate money to buy cruise ships tax free. What about people who set up religious organizations clearly to get around tax rules? What if I set up a Jedi Council whose main function appears to be people donating their house to me, designating those people priests, and then giving those people their houses back, except now tax-exempt?

  • Quick addition – if you’ll remember the guy who flew a plane into a building in Austin, TX a few years back, one of his main complaints was that the IRS hadn’t accepted his patently fraudulent “religion”. Taxing or not taxing religion both give the government quite a deal of power over religion.

  • “you are going to have to give up …… or admit”
    Your autocratic philosophy in a nutshell!
    I suggest that you get past medieval thought. Kant refuted the majority of the “knowledge” content it claimed, and Darwin opened the door to empirical knowledge of “man” stripped of prejudice. The sick and the unhappy no longer have to depend exclusively on prayer and other magic spells for relief. You lot want to drag the world back the time when the Church expressed its Christian love for mankind by burning witches and heretics, and the highest crime was what I am doing now. You really want the power to silence all alternatives.

  • Mark,
    Please look at the bigger picture, every church that I know helps the poor! keeps elderly people’s heat on during winter, helps people pay for drug prescriptions they might not be able, food ,etc…..start taxing churches and the burden on local, state and federal government agencies would be unbearable.

  • No, that would actually be a horrible idea. As a baptist, I DON’T agree with a Catholic, why would I when it comes to unionization?

  • Mark,… you really should read the writings of the day of the adoption of the Constitution. The idea was adopted BY the people who WROTE the Constitution!

  • 80% of America defines themselves as Christian. So, if 80% defines themselves as Christian, it’s a Christian nation. Now, whether I agree with that assessment or not, is mute.

  • Some people are conflating the issue of clergy housing allowance for income tax exemption and real estate tax for properties owned by churches. The issue being discussed here is the first. The second is something that any 501(c)(3) organization benefits from, whether they are religious or not.

    Since all pastors who file with a housing allowance file as self-employed individuals, the overall level of tax they pay is higher than most other employees. Some times their churches or denominations make some sort of adjustment to help with the self-employment tax, but this is not always the case.

    It is hard to make “overall” statements on clergy salaries since the variety of contexts creates wide disparities in salaries (e.g., rural vs. urban, solo pastor vs. multi-pastor staff, small congregation vs. large congregation). The National Association of Church Business Administrators has some resources for understanding these things well, but simplistic pronouncements are not any easier to make about clergy than other professions (

  • This ruling has a very small chance at succeeding. With respect, I disagree with District Court Judge Crabb. I value her opinion, but believe she is in the minority of even liberal judges.
    The Ninth-District US Court of Appeals (based out of San Francisco) has heard similar cases and voted overwhelmingly in favor of housing allowance cases – sometimes up to 14 agreeing and 3 dissenting.
    I really appreciate her willingness to stay the decision until a high court visits it.

  • Please keep in mind at one time there was no *legal* federal income tax at all. The changes came in the 1940s. *Lawful* federal taxes are excise and tariffs. Not sales or income taxes… Public Law 102-14 is a *legal* law defined as. If one even says ( its based on the talmud ) that “Jesus is Lord” you must be beheaded in the USA with no due process. However everyone can keep their head in place till the law comes into effect.

  • Ms Bailey,

    Your statement “If the 7th Circuit lets the ruling stand, then it could become precedent for courts in Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana.
    –If it went all the way to the Supreme Court and they let it stand, it would impact the law for all states, but I’ve gotten the sense that it likely won’t get that far.” is incorrect.

    Rulings of any US District Court apply to all states in the Union. Likewise rulings by the various Circuit Appeals Courts. There is only one US Constitution, if a law is found unconstitutional in one district it is unconstitutional in ALL districts.

  • Fortunately Lew, that’s not the way the courts work. I’m not sure which overturned case you’re referring to but it really doesn’t matter. This is a different case and it will hopefully be judged on it’s own merit.

  • “proof of thewar against faith”
    If you propose that revoking a few unfair tax privileges will engulf us in a theocracy, then your faith is paranoia.

  • No.

    Just because the US is comprised mostly of Christians doesn’t make it a “Christian nation”, it’s not and as long as the Constitution is the supreme law of the land it never will be. It doesn’t matter one iota what religion or lack of religion the majority of the nation espouse. The Constitution cannot be any clearer on this point. If the founders, who were overwhelmingly Christian, wanted to make Christianity the state religion they would have done so yet they expressly and clearly forbade it.

  • That’s good point, too bad it’s not the one you were trying to make.

    If hospitals, whether for profit or not for profit, were to provide employees with a housing allowance the value of that allowance would be subject to income tax. Those who work for non-profits are subject to the same tax laws as anyone else, unless the non-profit happens to be a church and the employee happens to be the minister.

    Furthermore, this court case has nothing whatsoever to do with taxing churches or any other non-profits. If this ruling stands and I hope it does, it will not tax any church or non-profit. It will simply remove subsidy that is currently given (unlawfully) to members of the clergy.

  • Upper Middle Class White Guy Salaries? HAHAHAHAHAAA!

    You live in a big city, I can tell.

    Welcome to small town South Dakota. My wife is a priest and we live in a frigging house trailer.

    Also, to be a priest you need a Master’s degree. Do you require a master’s degree for your parish secretary?

  • I’m curious to know how it is that churches were made exempt from such taxation in the first place? Primary the more crucial question should be about taxations “unintended” (I do believe in 1913 as Ron Paul says a bad year starting the federal reserve and initiating the taxation of free people, and I’ll add the trifecta by loosing states authority through a vote on Senators instead of the balance of powers ordered in the Constitution” consequence. The next generations general thought (“common sense”) dictated that all government agencies at every level (i.e. we the people with complete sarcasm) shouldn’t have to pay taxes to ourselves. (i.e. todays Government Representation with more sarcasm) Generating unequal disparities for everyone and anyone else (i.e. we the people, 99%, middle class) competing for any and all property who must pay the tax or penalty’s and or forfeit any family (Heritage, 99%, middle class) accumulations otherwise. While they increase our burden contrary to all government agencies who never loose anything only to increase by default never having to pay (not the other guy, the rich or business)

  • There is nothing unfair about them first of all and second of all clearly you live in a bubble. This is just one thing in a string of many things fighting against God. A losing battle for sure.

  • No. We have a small proportion of Christian Fundamentalists who like to act like they are speaking for the mainstream of the faith. But do not.

    We are not a “Christian Nation” because that implies that Christians are the only people recognized and favored by its government and laws. That is not true. Just wishful thinking for the David Barton set.

    People who talk about the US being a Christian Nation are usually dishonest in their approach. Although they want to say they want a Christian theocratic government, they usually balk when called out on such things. Resorting to “majority rules, nyah nyha” forgetting that our system is hardwired for keeping protecting the rights of those outside the majority.

  • But are they christian or Christian. The capitalization is important. Fundamentalists like to consider themselves the only sect which matters and identify themselves with a capital “c” as opposed to the overwhelming majority which does not.

    Fundamentalists deliberately conflate the two to give the impression of more support than reality suggests. Its just a form of lying for Christ.

  • They do that anyway. The burden is actually on he organization to prove its avoid taxation.

    If you can convince a tax judge Jediaism is a real religion and not a tax dodge, may the force be with you.

  • “fighting against God”
    Perhaps God is OK. Just your “faith” idea of him/her/it may be on the way out. Paul and Luther may not have been correct. Faith may not be what God requires of man. Perhaps better behavior is preferred.

  • As a retired pastor, I depend upon the housing allowance exemption to help pay my bills. If I were required to pay taxes, I would be in deep trouble. I, as many pastors today, earned a very low salary. I am trying to live on much less than the average U.S. salary and even need to work part time to provide necessities. There are very few of us, rare indeed, who are earning the millions of those hi profile ministers. Rather than spending time on a trying to eliminate a minister’s exemption, I suggest that the U.S. look at the exemptions giving to its corporations….many of which boast of high profits, but pay no or very little taxes!!!! Why aren’t the Christians and Atheists alike trying to eliminate this injustice? And I thank President Obama for standing with the ministers of this country.

  • “Minimal pay,” you say? As a Michiganian I can tell you that many unionized professionals make quite comfortable salaries, very good fringe benefits, and in some occupations the ability to comfortably work a second job on the “off” days. Take a look at the figures for the average teacher salary, for example.

  • Right! And there’s absolutely no inconsistency among liberals who clamor for increased funding each year for social programs that have yet to demonstrate any success in solving problems and refuse even to evaluate those programs.

    “Taxation brings representation”? Oh? So the taxation mechanism is being used by your socialists to give us and enforce on us a “healthcare” program that most taxpayers do not want. How did that happen, pray tell?

  • Why do you ignore the Tenth Amendment? The question is rhetorical, of course. Liberals–they prefer to be called “progressives,” we know– favor the expansion of the federal government’s powers and funding. When they hold office they seek or accept exemptions from these same powers for themselves, as is happening with the exemption of Congress from the Obamacare law that was passed by the liberals alone.

    I’m glad there’s nothing “revisionist” in the attempt by liberals to redefine marriage.

  • Earold, the religious institutions are not outside the political process. There’s a long history of Democrat candidates going to churches, especially black ones, to promote party interests. Spend a Sunday in Detroit during campaign season to see what I mean.

  • Should tax credits be provided for those such as Catholic clergy who have in large numbers used their housing for sex with young children, which has happened in many hundreds of times over the years. Should they be excluded after conviction of sex crimes? George Bush granted immunity to the Pope, do they still receive tax free status for charges of sex crimes with minors ? Tax brakes for sexual misconduct ? A right of any claimed religion?

  • Perhaps some should understand that “a Christian nation” is a descriptor, a recognition that a vast majority of the people claim to be Christian and/or hold beliefs and have a value system that is identified with Christianity. The term does not imply that the federal government grants special privileges only to Christian sects.

    Yes, Christmas gets special attention as a holiday because it is so widely observed. Or is it?

  • Possibly it has to do with someone’s statement that “the power to tax is the power to destroy.”

  • Next to Bush, this administration has bent over backwards to make the religionists happy. Religions can still discriminate when hiring people using federal tax payer supplied funds. Religions can still use a bunch of subterfuges to use federal funds for proselytizing. Religions can advocate during elections from the pulpit without losing their tax exempt status. I’m sorry if you feel picked on (Victimhood seems to be the fallback position of religionists. It’s part of the tradition since Constantine), but you have been and are continuing to be coddled beyond belief.

  • Considering that the “IRS scandal” exists only in the right wing universe, there is no connection between this case and the Obama administration.

  • I know nothing about your individual story, but I am one of four children reared by
    a rural Methodist minister and his evangelical wife. Neither of these two learned about economic reality – or cared very much. We children, however, felt the sting of poverty and our nomadic lifestyle left us out of the larger community of belonging to place – which most people take for granted.
    Frankly, many of the religious clergy, like my parents, are self indulgent, and expect others to support their willfulness. Sorry, but I decline.

  • Duane, there is a difference between the religious leader of a church preaching politics, and a political candidate speaking to a congregation. I agree this is done often during campaign times. However, not surprisingly, your perspective, limited just to Detroit, is one sided. This practice is done by both democrats usually in the north, and republicans usually in the south. All I was trying to point out was that if a religious leader of a church preaches a political message that endorses either side, then they risk loosing their tax exemption status.

  • (1) Why should additional degrees get workers more pay? (2) Social workers have masters degrees, but their MSWs don’t get them nearly the pay that priests’ M.Divs do–because even though women are now ordained, priesthood is still identified as a man’s job while social work, even though there are male social workers is still perceived as a woman’s job.

  • @Duane Lamers

    Except the term is not used in a fashion to denote merely the majority is of the various Christian sects. That is just the answer given to the non-Dominionalist set. If you were merely talking about “majority rules” it would not be so important. Our system is designed to prevent the “tyranny of the majority”. Such distinctions should be meaningless if that was its true meaning.

    People who use the term “Christian Nation” attack 1st Amendment religious liberties which do not address their own faith. They are the same ones who repeat the revisionist nonsense that separation of church and state is a myth. [All one has to do is look at David Barton’s frequent use of the term and how it has become part of the conservative mainstream for examples of this]

    The term is always used to describe a POV that Christianity is the only religion to be taken seriously by our government at society.

    What the definition of a “Christian Value System” is will vary wildly from sect to sect. Or worse get descriptions which are either circular, self-referential or completely objectively meaningless. There is nothing objectively “Christian” in our system of government or laws. It is simply taking credit where it is not due.

  • Because it lost a lot of traction after 1865. Certain things got taken out of the control of the states because it led to some very corrupt and discriminatory practices. Hence the need for the 14th Amendment and equal protection under the law.

  • Ah! The problem is that congregations (in the Episcopal Church) CAN’T afford more. And fewer and fewer can afford the Gentlemen’s Professional-Level Salaries that dioceses mandate. So a lucky few have full-time priests, while an increasing number close down or make do with part-time non-stipendiary clergy who support themselves with other day jobs.

  • I make 29k a year, gross and untaxed meaning I have to pay taxes on that myself. The housing allowance is what allows me and my family to make it on that salary. I work an average of 60 to 72 hours a week for a 40 hour a week because of hospital/nursing home visits, consultations, counseling session, marriages, funerals, late night phone calls and emergency visits, etc. I also have to pay for my own insurance, dental, and anything else health-wise because the church can’t afford to pay anything toward my insurance, along with the insurance and hospital bills for my family. During pregnancy with my now 2 month old, my wife had major complications and had to quit her job. My income is the sole income for my family. My brother-in-law is a fire fighter so I have heard what they go through. However, he, by himself, makes nearly double what i do with health benefits and other financial options. My problem with people like the freedom from religion people is that if you are making it financially, why should you concern yourself with others? If someone is making more than me and doing it within the law then i don’t care, more power to them. Yet I’m barely making enough to provide for my family and these people that more than likely make enough that finding food to feed there family isnt an issue is attempting to make things harder on me and others like me. that is my issue, the selfishness and uncaring attitude of theirs is ridiculous!

  • That may be you and those around you, but I can tell you for a fact that the majority do not get paid more than $40,000, do have to pay 15.3% social security and medicare tax, do not recieve anything towards their retirement, have to also be a secretary, bookkeeper, janitor and lawn care person for the Church.

  • Did you know that nursing homes, even for profit ones, and social service agencies, and churches are exempt from property taxes? They only have to apply for the exemption in some states, and also get a refund if they did pay. The concept is these organizations benefit the community and provide charitable services. I think the reasoning is that the benefit to the community is far greater than any tax that could be collected. Now if the church owned shopping malls and car washes and their interest was commercial profit, that should be taxed. This housing allowance is being viewed as part of a minister’s compensation, but should be viewed as a charitable act provided by the church so their minister has a place to live while serving the congregation.

  • The two occupational group that have the benefit of tax free housing allowance are Clergy and Military. If the law takes away the exemption from Clergy, shouldn’t it also do the same with the Military? Or does the argument made in the US District Court go away when allowing the Military to keep their exemption? If so, isn’t that selective discrimination?

  • Why should churches, synagogues and mosques be tax-free? It is because “the power to tax is the power to destroy”. The only way you can construe this tax-free status as a subsidy is if you assume that all the wealth of the nation ultimately belongs to the state, which graciously “exempts” churches from paying what rightfully belongs to the government.

    I for one believe that separation of church and state is a good thing, both for the state and the church. What we are seeing now, however is a growing infringement by the government of our free exercise of religion. Courts have ruled that the government must have a compelling reason to limit freedom of religion, but guess who gets to decide what is compelling the same government (federal courts) who wants to infringe those rights. It is important to remember that the Declaration of Independence speaks of “inalienable rights” granted by our Creator, not by our government. Since they were not given by the government, neither does the government have the right to take them away.

    Now you personally may be fine with them taking away the rights of religious people, but keep in mind that the same government that tramples our first amendment rights will gladly trample others rights (including those that you hold dear) as well.

  • @ Carlene Byron: It is the First Amendment – not the Second – that prohibits the federal government from establishing a religion, and also guarantees the right to free exercise (my, how those two have been abused and misused).

    While the information about state-sponsored denominations is interesting, the The Establishment Clause was written to prevent a repeat of the religious tyranny previously suffered in England: the establishment of the Church of England (Anglican Church) as the official state religion of England.

  • Yea right, by forcing Christian organizations to go against their beliefs, to provide insurance that pays for abortion and contraception. I really see how this administration is church friendly.

  • They don’t have to pay social security tax…ministers do on all even the housing allowance and not just 7.5% like everyone else….they must pay all of it. 15%. So the whole truth is not being told.

  • In comparison to the education & responsibility of most clergy, their salary & benefits are low. Churches are not profit making companies. My understanding is that most parishes are under 100 people. In addition to their religious activities, parishes do a great many social service activities – thus saving the State from having to do them. Perhaps the tax regulations for super large parishes and their clergy need to be different from those that apply to most parishes & their clergy.

  • As a PK (preachers kid), and as a pastor, I agree with you!! I was asked to kept detailed records of my time. Indeed, clergy do work & study 60,70 and even 80 hours a week. It takes about 20 hours to research & write a sermon, choose the hymns that go with the sermon, and if it is a very small parish, the pastor may also do the bulletin. This is in addition to traveling from place to place visiting the sick & dying, meeting with couples and individuals for pastorial & spiritual & marriage counseling, meeting with committees & boards, community activities,etc., etc…. and then hope you have time to wash your cloths, mow the lawn, have a social and a private life. We lived modestly, and holidays were celebrated in between church activities, phone calls, and persons at the door of the parsonage needing help.

  • As a pastor’s wife, I dont think their example of what a pastor makes is accurate. Most full time pastors in the state of Indiana make roughly $36,000. The housing allowance is set by the pastor. Ours for example is only $3500. In order to get that, non taxable portion of the income, we have to prove that we in fact spent the $3500+. This $3500 includes anything we buy for our parsonage (including repairs, upgrades etc) that is not either food nor clothing. What you don’t also see being brought up is the fact that we spend out of pocket, roughly $4000 a year for medical insurance just for my husband with a ridiculous deductible because as a full time pastor is is required by the conference and church. While it may look fine on paper, this consideration and ruling by this judge will do more harm than good. Its just myself and my husband and I work full time and most months, we barely break even with the church paying for his cell phone, home phone, internet and tv with minimal debt and only one car with a $150 a month payment.

  • I am a full time associate pastor at a medium conservative Baptist church. I do take advantage of the housing allowance and it does help me make ends meet. Excluding my housing allowance, I make less than minimum wage. It is my understanding that the tax break originated to encourage clergy to remain in the clergy because they were considered a stabilizing influence in their communities. Having said that, I am not too concerned if this benefit goes away or not because if the God that I serve is real and has called me to serve Him as a pastor, then there is nothing the US government can do to stop that. God will provide for my needs, not the government. In fact, if this tax break for clergy causes some to think poorly of God, then it should definitely be done away with.

  • It might be good for those that don’t understand to know how clergy are employed; in accordance with the IRS and Social Security Administration, clergy are considered “self-employed”, therefore they pay a much higher percentage, as they have no employer to pay 7.5% of FICA (as employers are mandated to do) they must pay the whole 15% in SECA. Even pastors in very structured denominations, are considered are (for taxes purposes) considered self-employed.
    That is not the case for most other professions.

  • Ok, I can understand the argument that housing allowances violate equal protection under the law. But then so do tax benefits for all nonprofits. Why should a nonprofit get a break? Many of them generate millions in revenue without paying the same taxes as a corporation. Why do home owners get a break over renters?

    The problem is that our ridiculous, politically corrupted tax code is anything but fair. There is no way to achieve “equal protection under the law.”

    A flat tax on every citizen and organization would end the fairness issue. Most of the liberals who cry about ministers getting “unfair” benefits oppose such logical and FAIR treatment for all persons.

  • This is one of the best explanations I’ve seen. However, for many who cry foul over the allowance, it is not about fairness, it is about personal hatred of religion. Most would self identify as liberal and would scream if tax breaks for nonprofits was removed entirely.

  • I am pretty sure all Self employed people pay the same rate of SE Tax…Clergy is not paid at a higher rate. And, they all have to pay their own insurance, pension plans….As much as the clergy profession is respected, don’t compare yourself with others such as….fireman, policeman, military (not saying that you are, but some do),, your life is not on the line most of the time. In so many churches, the SE tax is paid for the pastor, putting a big chunk into his account, and not out of his pocket. If clergy members feel this many different opinions as seen on this website, maybe they should all become W-2 employees….the church pays half, you pay the other half, like most professions….It”s sad that this causes so much dissension. So many churches today have given up Sunday night services, Wed night services, etc…Sorry, hope you all can get it worked out….the people you serve are paying too….

  • And when it isn’t pedophilia it is prostitution- they are using our money to fund their “godly” lives. The more the are exempt from, the more we lowly taxpayers are responsible for.

    We work for our money but have to pay federal and state income tax, Medicare and soc.sec. tax, property tax on home and car, gas tax, sales tax, etc. This is the same money being taxed over and over. For us middle-class earners, we are losing 1/3 of our income to tax – maybe more. But churches are exempt because they are religious nonprofits. If they are nonprofit, how are they buying $70,000 worth of housing subsidies, better yet $1.6 million gated community homes? No profit my foot.

    I don’t get how it is right. And I am fed up being used and abused to line other’s pockets. People making $70,000 /yr can’t afford their own health insurance or children’s college because we are being robbed to pay others. Out of a $68,000 gross we lost $20,000 in tax – probably more when all gas and sales has been factored in. It is quite sad when you take a magnifying glass to the numbers. Bring home $2,800 per month and $1,000 a month goes to state and federal tax approx $700 per month to federal and $300 to state… how is it right that the government takes more than 1/3 of the money I do, when I am the one who works for it? And that is just for income tax not anything else included.

  • Religion is an UNNECESSARY EVIL. It makes people believe that THEY……are somehow “better
    than anyone else. They are “special.” Because THEY have “the only true God”. Which is crap because there is no such thing. Science has prved so much to be untruthful about so-called “Religion”. To me, Religions were INVENTED BY THE ELITE, to control the UNEDUCATED masses. The same holds true today. The “church” (especially Catholic, Mormon, and Jehovah’s Witness; CONTROL their people with rules and more rules.
    BS. I didn’t come here to take orders from some Overtly Wealthy religious nut-job. Of course, MOST corporate-owners USE Religion to make everyone they deal with, THINK the person is “religious” so therefore he must be honest?

  • AZatheist, people who get paid by city or state government, i.e. fire fighters, police, etc, get benefits that far exceed workers in the private sector who are taxed the most. These benefits include, more vacation, sick leave and maternity leave, early retirement with generous severance and up to 90% of their paycheck for life, paid retiree health care, and the list goes on. This is directly funded by taxpayers.

  • What I don’t understand is why pastors need a house to live when they should be doing what Jesus actually preached they should live in shelters giving every cent that they earn to help the sick and poor and not get upset that you can’t live a normal live, you should be living the same life as Jesus would have. I am an atheist and I think we should reward people making the world a better place as opposed to those who say they are while making a profit. I make about 30000 a year and can live fine with the taxes I pay and even make donations to various organizations. Just because you’re a pastor doesn’t make you special you need to chip in like everyone else so that everyone can have a better life in the greatest country on earth

  • with the exception of the VERY FEW “mega church” pastors in the nation, most of us pastors don’t make enough money to really amount to much of anything. Churches are (again generally) funded by the donations, tithes, and good-will of members and guests, and those donations support EVERY function of the church, including the pastor. the pastors also donate a portion of their salary back to the church. Most pastors put in 70 to 80 hours a week, and are on call 24-7 to deal with emergencies in the congregation (death, hospitalization, counseling, etc). Pastor’s don’t just preach from the pulpit, but they tend to their people in MANY different ways.

    What I’m trying to get across to you is that, with the exception of a few loud churches and pastors, the church is NOT at all what you describe! Most of us pastors are beat down, struggle like you wouldn’t believe, hard-pressed, sometimes depressed…believe me we’re not in it for the glory because there isn’t any in this life.

    You can marvel and wonder why we stay in it, and it’s because we believe that there is something greater than this world, and we believe that sharing that good news with others is worth the crap we get from folks like you who refuse to listen, but spend your days criticizing and slandering us instead. “There is nothing new under the sun”, and you are not new by any scope.

    Taking our housing allowance tax break away is just more that we’ll have to struggle with, but we will not be beat, and this “Freedom from Religion” group will not make God’s Church go away. That’s a promise from God, by the way, that He has kept for over 2000 years, and He’ll continue to keep it well after you’re dead and gone.

  • As a member of the clergy, I consider the housing allowance to be a special privilege which is only offered to a select group — a religious group — and is therefore not only a violation of the separation clause, but is immoral because it forces people to subsidize through their taxes a religion in which they may not belong to or believe in.

    Everyone should pay taxes based on a level playing field. Whining about how little a clergy person makes and therefore deserves a tax break is dishonest. Being a member of the clergy is a choice. If you can’t live on your salary, ask for a raise, or get a part-time job. Do not ask the taxpayers to subsidize your misson. I sincerely believe Jesus would not approve.

    Rev. Richard Corey, California.

  • Dishwashers earn very little money, should they get a housing allowance? Being a member of the clergy is a choice. Why should taxpayers subsidize anyone’s choices on how to earn a living.

    Also, if your congregation is unable or unwilling to pay you a living wage, do they really want your services? The workman is worthy of his hire. That means you don’t chisel your plumber or your priest.

    Please see my comment above as well.

    Rev. Richard Corey

  • I can understand why you choose to remain anonymous.

    Apparently your church wants services without paying you a living wage. If they can’t then perhaps they should merge with another church, and pool resources. If they are just unwilling, then perhaps some sermons are being unheard.

    I interpret “Render Unto Caesar” to mean “Pay your Taxes”. I don’t recall seeing anywhere in the Bible it saying: Get people of other faiths to subsidize your calling.

    Rev. Richard Corey

  • Perhaps more priests ought to become firefighters. It is all about choice.

    Cities choose to pay firefighters and other civil servants a certain wage. Perhaps it is negotiated along with benefits. The have to offer competitive salary packages in order to attract qualified personnel. The private sector is no different.

    If a church isn’t willing to pay a fair wage that the priest can live on and pay taxes too, shame on them. If they are unable, perhaps they should disband or merge with another church. Are they holding a gun to your head and saying you have to be their priest at an unlivable wage, and then telling you to to let members of other churches, or members of NO church subsidize your efforts through tax breaks?

    Why should anyone pay MORE taxes so you can pay LESS? Does that sound moral to you?

    Somehow religion — specialty Christianity — in America has crept away from morality in order to let others pay indirectly for THEIR choices.

    This is simply not right. I pay my taxes and will not take advantage of the Clergy Allowance even though I am legally entitled to. Again, why should the guy down the street pay more taxes so I can pay less? My calling is NOT his calling.

    Rev. Richard Corey

  • Members of congregations already are taxed and represented. Separation of Church and State protects religious freedom. Churches are already pretty much unaccountable tax wise. A fairer system would be for churches to become 501c non-profit charities. Then they would also not be able to disregard basic safety laws that others have to adhere to.

    People DIE because of the special privileges that churches enjoy, and many abuse. Is this right? Is it morally correct? Not in my opinion. I certainly doubt that is what Jesus had in mind.

  • I totally disagree. Churches can register as a non-profit entity. What is wrong with that? The only reason to think it might be wrong is if you want churches to be free from adhering to basic safety requirements enforced by the government, Requirements that when legally ignored actually allow some churches to cause real deaths without legal responsibility. Is that the freedom you want?

  • Your statements seem more arrogant than thoughtful. There is no war against faith. There is a war against inflicting any one brand of faith against the well being of others. Others who may have a different interpretation of faith, or no faith at all, which is their RIGHT in the USA.

    This vitriolic type of faith didn’t seem to exist in the 60s. I blame greed.

  • Wow! Just found this site. It didn’t take long to see that d goodman doesn’t know a thing about religion.

  • Then, again, neither does ‘Rev.’ Richard Corey. A real ‘member of the clergy’ (as I am) knows that you don’t ‘choose’ to be a minister; you are called to it.

  • Richard,
    Choice has nothing to do with becoming a minister, unless you are choosing NOT to be one. You say it’s “It is all about choice”, but then you refer to your ‘calling’. It’s one or the other, not both, and your view on this matter possibly reveals the truth behind your statements: in it for the money.

  • Where is the discussion about the other tax regulations regarding ministerial income? Housing allowance isn’t the only way that our taxes are different. We are considered self-employed for self-employment tax purposes. If we’re going to start treating ministers like every other worker, are we going to eliminate that distinction? Ministers don’t get the employer’s half of Medicare and Social Security taxes paid like others do, which means we end up paying about 7.5% more on our entire income – including the housing allowance – than non-clergy do. In my case, I would pay less in taxes if I paid income taxes on the housing allowance, but didn’t pay self employment tax.

    In short, if we’re going to eliminate distinctions for ministers, we’ll have to eliminate all of them.

    Of course, that will mean that churches have to pay payroll taxes on ministers, which will mean that churches are being directly taxed by the government. It will also mean that churches will be obligated to provide the same benefits for full time ministers that every employer is obligated to provide. This will cripple a good many small churches.

    And to all those who suggest that churches simply merge to make decent salaries for ministers possible: that’s a very logical, sensible suggestion that will never, ever work. There might be a congregation here and there that can find another congregation with which to merge and provide a better salary for their pastor, but as a universal solution, it won’t happen in our lifetime – or our grandchildren’s lifetime. Individual churches have too much individual personality and identity to merge with other churches and destroy that identity.

    I guess, in short, my argument is that the housing allowance tax break is simply offsetting – somewhat – the additional tax burden created by being considered self-employed (something that ministers clearly aren’t). If you’re going to eliminate the ‘unfair’ tax break, it makes no sense to leave the ‘unfair’ tax burden. But removing the burden creates a worse situation – the government taxing churches directly. Personally, I don’t like the current situation, but I’d rather have this situation than the ones I’m afraid will come from monkeying with it.

  • For the record, my M.Div. degree required a minimum of 87 credit hours of master’s level work. That’s more hours than a typical law degree. A social work degree requires somewhat less – 60 hours – but I agree that they are paid far too little. But then, they are paid more than the majority of ministers I know. Personally, I make $33k, housing allowance and all professional expenses included, and I get no benefits – no insurance, retirement plan, etc. The Episcopal Church that you are familiar with has the best paid clergy, on average, in the country. They are definitely not the standard.

  • One thing that most of the comments and the writer and the freedom from religion people all miss is that ministers are required by the same tax code that gives us a housing allowance exemption to be self employed therefore churches can’t contribute their share of FICA tax to the minister without it becoming income. Regular employees only pay half of the FICA and their employer contributes the other half. Also the tax rate for self employed people is usually higher. Any and all compensation is taxable even gifts given to ministers at christmas can be taxable if they come through the church. We go into the ministry as a calling. We know the rules going in. Don’t try and change them midstream without trying to change them all. Farmers are in the same boat. Want to be self employed like us then sign up. You will be thankful for the small break you get and won’t begrudge that break to anyone. And the minister must be able to justify the total housing allowance amount as being spent on the housing or that portion becomes income and is taxable.

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  • I am also a member of the clergy. Richard Corey what is the separation clause you speak of? I have a copy of the Constitution in my pocket at all times and no matter how many times I read it, I am unable to locate a clause that separates church and state. You must be one of those liberally educated individuals that was taught something and never spent the time to look and see if it was true. If you do not use your house to minister in or as an extension of the church, then you do not deserve the allowance and I congratulate you for having a ministry job that you can leave at the church.

  • You interpret ‘render unto Caesar’ incorrectly. It is a text on idolatry wherein some are attempting to trap Jesus by forcing him to choose rebellion against Rome vs. bringing an engraved image into the temple. Regardless of that error, you’re wrong on this tax issue. Clergy are considered self employed meaning that we pay the full 12.4% of our social security tax while everyone NOT self-employed just pays 6%. Clergy, however, don’t have the benefits of being self-employed that others in the category do have – like deciding how much to pay themselves or having the ability to open franchises, expand business creatively, etc.
    Every year I claim a significant housing allowance. Every year I pay twice what others pay in social security tax. Then, I do the math and discover I’m consistently 1-2% higher in what I pay than others with similar household incomes.
    In other words, there actually isn’t a story here.

  • Churches are 501c status. I beginning to think you aren’t actual clergy. Online certified maybe? Anyway, it’s clear you don’t have a handle on what happens at an actual church.

  • Great article. Thanks for the info, you made it easy to understand. BTW, Just in case anyone needs to fill out a tax forms, I found a blank forms in this site PDFfiller. This site also has some tutorials on how to fill it out and a tons of fillable tax forms that you might find useful. Here is a link to the blank IRS form 4868 that I was able to fill out

  • For those many pastors who have very low earnings, they would have very low (or no) taxes.
    The same logic of your position would apply to teachers, many of whom work long hours for low wages, and probably do more public good than pastors, but don’t received a parsonage allowance.
    There is NOTHING in the Bible to indicate that God’s church should be supported by tax exemptions; instead Jesus Himself paid taxes, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

  • God bless you, first off, and hang in there. I am starting a Church, and if I could afford it would fund it completely. I agree, you deserve tax free living.

  • Michael, Richard is a little more up on SCOTUS decisions than you are, it seems. That phrase was used by Jefferson and quoted by SCOTUS repeatedly in cases dating from 1878 through 1947. Giving tax exemptions to clergy would qualify as a clear violation of the condition that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” Refer to your pocket copy of the Constitution.

  • Why don’t you EXAMINE how all synagogues in Lakewood, New Jersey are TAX FREE while the rest of the residents of Lakewood are “footing” the bill for them. We got a $2500 increase in our RELATIONSHIP 2015!! How is this constitutional????

  • I am familiar with that section of N. J. I also heard that the Jewish clergy are also tax exempt re- their homes, secular pay,etc. because they are classified as students. They do not get married under the laws of the USA but under the Jewish laws, thus their families are eligible for gov. assistance. I am looking for a interview where Pope Francis stated that “All Religions should be paying taxes.” By the way we used to live in Hazlet N.J.