FFRF, Gaylor, Barker overturn ‘parsonage exemption’ clergy privilege


The Freedom From Religion Foundation and its co-presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker have won a significant ruling with far-reaching ramifications declaring unconstitutional the 1954 “parish exemption” uniquely benefiting “ministers of the gospel.”

“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,” Gaylor and Barker commented.

U.S. District Judge Barbara B. Crabb for the Western District of Wisconsin issued a strong, 43-page decision Thursday declaring unconstitutional 26 U.S. C. § 107(2), passed by Congress in 1954. Quoting the Supreme Court, Crabb noted, “Every tax exemption constitutes subsidy.” The law allowed “ministers of the gospel” paid through a housing allowance to exclude that allowance from taxable income. Ministers may, for instance, use the untaxed income to purchase a home, and, in a practice known as “double dipping,” may then deduct interest paid on the mortgage and property taxes.

“The Court’s decision does not evince hostility to religion — nor should it even seem controversial,” commented Richard L. Bolton, FFRF’s attorney in the case. “The Court has simply recognized the reality that a tax free housing allowance available only to ministers is a significant benefit from the government unconstitutionally provided on the basis of religion.”

Written By: Freedom From Religion Foundation
continue to source article at ffrf.org


  1. Thank you Annie and Dan. May history remember you for all the good work you are doing!

  2. Wouldn’t it be great if Annie and Dan could run the country! We need more people with their courage and moral fibre standing up for what is right. Well Done.

  3. The real test of this ruling will come when appeals are quashed and that the those working in religion businesses are taxed equally as all other employed people. This could set new legal precedents worldwide.

    Nice Work you two!

    Canada, the tax code: Special rules for the clergy

    I guess it is time for each of us to start asking questions in our own jurisdictions and put a stop to this
    unreasonable benefit to one sector of the workforce. It is time for an email to my MP.

  4. “Every tax exemption constitutes subsidy.” I wonder if giving public voucher money to Christian schools will be ruled a subsidy someday?

  5. I love it. Thank you very much. And I hope other organizations take inspiration from this great achievement, to remove the unfair fiscal privileges of the religious in their own countries.

  6. proud supporter of richard dawkins and the ffrf.org. my 2 fav places to christmas shop too.
    not easy to support monetarily on my va disability check but I am honored to do so.
    somehow i usually end the month with an abundance that allows me to do so.
    Glorious Day Brothers and Sisters!

  7. That is astounding. Congratulations! There will be gnashing of teeth when the Christians notice. Surely it will be appealed.

    The TV evangelists have multi-million dollar homes. They will be particularly stung.

    With that precedent, surely churches cannot continue to evade property taxes.

  8. Congratulations, Dan, Annie Laurie and FFRF!!! Thank you.

    Got up, feeling a little dreary, and then read this!! Instant rejuvenation.(Don’t they look sweet?! ) These good folk have struck a powerful blow for fairness and justice.I’m thinking that as Religion becomes less lucrative, fewer of the money mad will take it up as a ‘vocation’ hence further crumbling of the religious edifice.Well, maybe.

    Filled with a warm glow at the thought of the ‘mega’ wailing and gnashing of teeth to ensue.Life does perk up at times.

  9. In reply to #13 by Roedy:

    That is astounding. Congratulations! There will be gnashing of teeth when the Christians notice. Surely it will be appealed.

    The TV evangelists have multi-million dollar homes. They will be particularly stung.

    With that precedent, surely churches cannot continue to evade property taxes.

    In a time of austerity, it should potentially free up some money to apply to something useful!

  10. Well done, Annie Laurie and Dan! While there are so many who speak out, you also get real results! Can’t wait to listen to howls on the Right.

  11. Beautifu! If Barbara Crabb ever runs for public office, I won’t bother to find out what party she is with–I will just vote for her. As the Yiddish expression goes, “May she live a hundred and twenty years!”

  12. Can’t wait for the first appeal, then the next appeal. In about 12 years, we’ll know how this turned out.

  13. Public subsidies for religious corporations and workers will only cease when more people speak up at elections. This flies under the radar unless and until we all take a stand against it.

  14. Bravo!!! I’m astonished this went through so quickly. This is the best news of the year. Congratulations to Annie Gaylor and Dan Barker for their wonderful work. And thank goodness the case fell into the lap of a judge that doesn’t believe the devil is real.

  15. This makes me proud to have become a dues paying member of the FFRF!

    This case will in all likelihood go all the way to the SCOTUS, but hopefully not before one or more of Scalia, Thomas and Alito have kicked the bucket and been replaced by Obama with more sympathetic justices.

  16. This could be a big one. Kind of like the serial killer and gangster politician Al Capone owing being immune from justice owing to police corruption. Then nabbing him for tax evasion.

    Pretty much anyone who works for government monopoly operations, or who is paid by firms which are predominantly suppliers to government with various degrees of separation, are effectively paid from overt and covert taxation. i.e. They are subsidised directly by government just as government employees are subsidised. Their nominal taxes withheld for payment are not meaningful – the net resource outputs they receive are basically just those same resource inputs acquired from the various tax imposts on everyone else who is not directly or indirectly associated with government and its suppliers, or government licensed financial and legal intermediaries.

    So a de facto consequence of government subsidies via tax exemptions is to put the beneficiaries of those exemptions effectively on a similar basis as part time government employees – part time to the extent that their accumulated financial benefits from tax exemptions contribute to their overall wealth from all capital gain and income sources.

    This wouldn’t seem to be of great consequence until you look at their accumulated wealth structure. You may find that capital gains from high end residential property appreciation, an indirect consequence of intergenerational theft via covert taxation via monetary and credit creation, may account for a major proportion of these peoples’ wealth accumulation over the years. If you deduct their meagre direct salary earnings (presumably via tax-free donations from church goers) you may find that their residual equivalent income means that these church officials have effectively been full-time government employees, and on the equivalent of very large salaries over many years.

    Given their activities involve overtly religious proselytising then, as de facto government employees; there is an arguable case for breaching the principle of separation of church and state.

    On the other hand, a reasonable defence might be that these people are merely employing religious activities as a routine façade to exploit gullible people. Evidence of any other fraudulent and criminal activities they’ve routinely been involved with would also serve well to exonerate them by proving that they are merely opportunistic parasites and therefore technically no different from dishonest politicians. Politicians are also de facto government employees and it is well accepted that they routinely lie and deceive and make dubious claims to religious beliefs in order to acquire political power and access to government resources and income.

    To avoid the breaching the principle of separation of church and state then all they’d need to do is to publicly assert their atheism and they’ll probably be in the clear. Then they can continue to be regarded as pillars of society – just like politicians, and their lawyers and bankers.

    This case might seem a small issue but it raises some questions about the emerging megacults channelling various commercial operations via their religious institutions. Possibly a politically sensitive situation given their ability to fund covert electioneering and deliver votes from gullible followers.

    It’s basically something that creates an incentive for people to pretend to be religious. Maybe that’s how people become religious – they start by pretending. Or maybe many religious people are really just pretending. I read somewhere that many US blues musicians in the 1950’s and 60’s became ministers in their own personal churches. Presumably a consequence of these taxation exemptions. Possibly explains the connection between religion and blues/soul music as in the movie The Blues Brothers – being on a mission from god. Not so much as something emanating from religious services but the tax loopholes with religion create a common heritage.

  17. In reply to #25 by Roedy:

    Does this ruling just apply to Wisconsin, or the whole USA?

    That’s a good question. I could be wrong but I think this applies to the whole US because it was a federal law. I think there could be an appeal to the supreme court though, I’m surprised that wasn’t mentioned in the article, or if it was I missed it. In the mean time I think what will happen is the IRS will just stop doing it. The accountants for the churches will get an update for the next year letting them know that this loophole no longer exists.

    My guess is the pro-religion people may not even bother asking for an appeal to the supreme court. Frankly I was amazed to read this and realize that such a blatantly unconstitutional exemption was actually law. I doubt even people like Scalia would uphold this and certainly swing votes like Kennedy would not. Good for the people who caught this and brought it to trial.

  18. In reply to #25 by Roedy:

    Does this ruling just apply to Wisconsin, or the whole USA?

    It does not apply to anywhere, yet, as it has been stayed until appeal. That puts it in the pipe where it moves up. Because IRS exemptions must be uniform across the U.S., it will have to be put in effect everywhere, or nowhere. The SCOTUS will either make it universal or reverse it. They can’t avoid it because that action, in itself, would make it law.

    The importance of getting this sharp end of the wedge in such a pivotal crack in religious privilege, cannot be overstated. So many times these efforts have been stopped by lack of standing or other technicality. This one opens so many other cracks, that will be hard for the religious to plaster over. It will probably take another couple of years get to the top, but it is on its way.

Leave a Reply