The federal government wants to give Annie Laurie Gaylor a tax break for religious leaders because she leads an atheist group.
Gaylor, the head of the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation is trying to stop the government, and has even gone to a federal judge to prevent it.
The standoff started as the court battle over the parsonage exemption for clergy continues. The tax exemption allows ministers to claim part of their salary as tax-free housing allowance.
Gaylor’s organization claims the exemption gives religious groups an unfair advantage making it unconstitutional. The case is based on the fact that the foundation board voted to give Gaylor and her husband a housing allowance of $15,000 per year.
However, the couple says they can’t claim the amount as tax free income since they are not clergy.
However, government lawyers have shot back that atheist leaders can be ministers too, since atheism can function as a religion.
“No, thanks. We are not ministers. We are having to tell the government the obvious: We are not a church.”
The legal status of parsonage has been challenged since the dispute between the IRS and Reverend Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in California.
Warren attempted to claim $70,000 in housing allowances, which resulted in Congress having to intervene and clarify the rules for housing allowance.
The allowance is now limited to either fair market rental value of the house or the money actually spent on housing. Clergy can claim the tax break on one house.
In a briefing, the Justice Department argued that leaders of an atheist group may qualify for the exemption because belief in a deity is not required. Buddhism and Taoism were cited as examples.
The foundation on the other hand is not after the tax exemption, which is beside the point. Gaylor believes the government should not give any religious groups with any special treatment.
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