Judge Barbara B. Crabb
Judge Barbara B. Crabb

USA: Court victory for secularism

Cheers to Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF)!

A Federal District Court in the USA has declared a religious income tax exemption unconstitutional, fixing a huge leak that allows religious ministers of all stripes – priests, rabbis, imams and others – to avoid income tax payment for a considerable part of their salaries. The so-called parish exemption is currently benefitting about 44,000 religious salary earners and costing U.S. tax payers some $ 700 million a year.

The law, 26 U.S. C. § 107(2), “provides a benefit to religious persons and no one else”... “It violates the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution and must be discontinued,” ruled District Court Judge Barbara B. Crabb of the Western District of Wisconsin on 22nd November 2013 in a lawsuit that had been brought by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF). The ruling is a major court victory for secularism.

The parish exemption has been on the books since 1954. Its sponsors, back in the fifties, made no bones about their anti-secular spirit: They openly called for creating a reward for religious ministers for carrying on a “courageous fight against the godless and anti-religious world movement”. This “reward” costs U.S. taxpayers an estimated $ 2.3 billion from 2002-2007 alone, still more in the years since.

The encouraging court victory does not put an immediate end to the unconstitutional flow of extra dollars into clerical pockets. Appeals against the ruling are announced. And the case comes only into effect after all appeals are exhausted. In another relevant case in 2010, Judge Barbara Crabb declared the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional, but her ruling was overturned in 2011. It is expected that the influential clergy will move heaven and earth to achieve the same outcome here.