Feds Offer Tax Breaks to Influential Atheist Who Fights Against Benefits for Clergy


Annie Laurie GaylorMADISON – The U.S. government is seeking to give a prominent atheist tax breaks for leading a secular organization, even though the same atheist believes such taxing policies are unconstitutional.

Annie Laurie Gaylor is the 57-year-old co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), a national non-profit committed to keeping all references to God or religion out of government. Gaylor is also a staunch feminist, abortion-supporter and liberal.

For several years, Gaylor and her husband have been challenging the legality of Section 107 of the U.S. government’s Internal Revenue Code. The law allows “a minister of the gospel” to keep a portion of his income as a tax-free housing allowance. As stated in various lawsuits, the atheist couple believe this provision is unfair and unconstitutional.

After the case was brought to the U.S. district court for western Wisconsin, government lawyers decided that Gaylor and her husband—despite their outspoken atheism—do actually qualify for the housing allowance provision, due to their positions in leadership at FFRF. In a legal brief, the government explained that the couple “may not presume that a law’s reference to religion necessarily excludes beliefs that are specifically non-theistic in nature.”

In other words, when it comes to filing taxes, the IRS says atheist leaders are comparable to “ministers of the gospel,” and deserve all the benefits given to actual clergy.

Following this proclamation from the government, Gaylor was unsatisfied. As stated in an interview with The Tennessean, she is now angry that the IRS considers her a religious leader.

“We are not ministers,” she argued. “We are having to tell the government the obvious—we are not a church.”

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So, in late July, Gaylor filed yet another legal paper with the Wisconsin district court, arguing that they do not meet the standards for the tax exclusion given to religious ministers.

“Based on the facts as Gaylor knows them,” the 66-page document states, “she cannot claim the exclusion, including because she does not perform services for a church or religious organization; she is not ordained, commissioned, or licensed by a church or a religious denomination; she does not perform sacerdotal functions or worship prescribed by the tenets of any religion; and she has no congregation or church where she provides religious services.”

Not only does Gaylor believe she shouldn’t qualify for the tax break, but she also believes the entire housing allowance ordinance should be removed from the tax code. The most recent draft of Gaylor’s lawsuit attempts to accomplish this goal.

“Nullification is an appropriate remedy in the case of a constitutionally underinclusive tax code provision such as [the housing allowance law],” it states. “Here, the Plaintiffs’ discriminatory treatment can be judicially addressed by nullifying [the law], which is the remedy that is least disruptive to the Government’s tax collection responsibilities. It is also a remedy that Plaintiffs have standing to pursue in this court.”

The district court has yet to respond to Gaylor’s most recent court actions. However, Eric Stanley of the Alliance Defending Freedom told The Tenneseean that the First Amendment gives churches and other religious groups special privileges, so he believes that the housing allowance tax provision is fully appropriate.

“What is really going on is that they don’t like the housing allowance,” he said. “The [FFRF] wants the government to be hostile to religion.”

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  • http://FFRF Harold

    Churches and their adherents should be taxed in the same manner as a great many of the religions are that are in the European countries annually as part of their annual income tax claims, and as a tax-paying people and / or religious entity they can continue to participate openly as organized groups and individuals in their capacities, representing their particular brand of political or cultural issues,locally,nationally,regionally,or internationally. Isn’ this what all religions are doing anyway? Yet they continue to do so without contributing to their fellow citizens government,and all at a great cost and burden,to their fellow citizens who must ever bear this burden, even to the point of losing their own lives,liberty,property,and happinesses all to afford this luxurious exemption not afforded to other citizens!

    • Kurt Bowers

      Harold, you are dead wrong. Churches DO contribute to their fellow citizens. They collect and distribute food and clothing for the poor and homeless, host free dinners which provide hot meals for the needy, offer educational opportunites to the community, give free space in their buildings for elections, visit the elderly in nursing homes, assist in rehabilitation of criminals by ministering in jails and prisons, clean litter from the roadways, raise money to fight disease and illness and so many other services too numerous to list. It is on this basis that the law allows them and all non-profit charitable organizations tax exemption because they are providing these services DIRECTLY to the citizens rather than paying taxes for the government to do so. The benefits provided society by churches far outweigh any so called “luxurious” tax exemption and certainly do not create a “burden” on it’s citizens.

      • charles sparrow

        John Gotti gave away free turkeys at x-mas.

      • clifford

        Altruism creates dependency…Which generates power and control for the few while striping resources from the many; being self-reinforcing. This is a universal construct of subjugation.

  • William van Druten MD

    Mrs. Gaylor is correct. Her organization is not a religion. The denial of religion is not religion. Not being pregnant is not a form of pregnancy.

    She is correct also that a secular government must not favor a religious stance nor fund it. The many abuses of that American principal must be voided for fairness sake.

    Her organization, ffrf, does not object to religious people having their various gods and religions in our nation. It simply does not want government favoritism of religion nor funding it by tax avoidance for example. If religions care to to chaplaincy for the military or religious hospitals the religions meed to fund those projects. Otherwise the general public including the non-religious is in the position of funding that which they do not agree.

    Clearly in a secular nation, America, the non-religious citizens need not support religion in any government ways.

    I personally agree with Mrs. Gaylor on these issues.

    • Kurt Bowers

      Tax exemption is not given on the basis of religion – it’s given on the basis of being a non-profit charitable organization. Whether or not an organization is religious in nature is beside the point and has nothing to do with it. If tax exemption places the general public in the position of “funding” all organizations that are tax exempt, even those organizations with which they don’t agree, that would include ALL tax exempt charitable organizations: Public Broadcasting (PBS), The American Cancer Society, Muscular Dystrophy Association, etc. If tax exemption should be denied to religious non-profits, that would be discrimination on the basis of religion. In that case, there should be NO tax exemption for ANY non-profit organization.

      • Kurt Bowers

        And I might add, Dr. Van Druten, no more tax deductions for you charitable donations…

  • obinna

    The denial of religion is sure religion. What is religion? isn’t it a system of beliefs? Not believing is a belief too. There no such thing as free thinking cos nature abhors a void. If you think your spirit and your senses are void of the inherent clamor for God then you lie to yourself! Transforming yourself into a follower of the devil who’s the father of all lies! Come out of self deceit and be free!

    • me

      Give me break. You confuse denial of religion with no belief whatsoever in a deity of any sort. Does not believing in Santa Claus make you a believer in Santa Clause?? Every time I hear your tired argument against atheists, simply because YOU can’t understand what it means to make your own way through this life without a god lording over your every move, I wanna reach through this screen and smack you people around (figuratively of course). USE YOUR BRAIN – you know, the one your god supposedly gave you and nature couldn’t have evolved on its own.

  • infidel1000

    The 501(c)(3) exemption is inherently discriminatory against non-church nonprofits, because the filing and reporting requirements are different. But that’s another issue. The issue is: Should a minister qualify for a fully tax exempt housing allowance simply because that vocation is religious? There is no rationale for this that can not be shown to be discriminatory against every other vocation. Preaching can not be shown to be more important or essential or deserving of the exemption than any other job. Therefore, barring a discriminatory decision by a biased right wing court majority (which HAS happened in recent years), this law will eventually be found unconstitutional because it violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment. May that finding come as soon as possible.

  • Nathan Wilson

    The minister’s housing exemption is more complex than you might at first think (trust me, as a pastor, my taxes are a nightmare!). This exemption is based on the fact that many churches own the building that they house their pastor in. To then tax the pastor for the value of rent on that house is implying that the state is the ultimate owner of properties held by churches and that therefore the state and church are not separate. There are important reasons for maintaining separation between the spheres of authority of the church and of the state.