MADISON – 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.”
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.”