Skip to main content

View Diary: Fed Court: Ministers now have to pay income tax on their "free housing" (323 comments)

Comment Preferences

  •  Well, (12+ / 0-)

    For my minister, and the many who receive a truly modest salary in exchange for his family's housing here in the Bay Area, it probably will.

    Hell, for my cousins who preach in the south, it probably will, too.

    •  but why do they deserve tax free housing (20+ / 0-)

      when the rest of us don't?  If they are making little money, they will pay little taxes.  They are probably still exempt from paying property taxes which the rest of us pay for them.  (We pay more so they can pay nothing.)

      As my father used to say,"We have the best government money can buy."

      by BPARTR on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 05:58:28 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Many will have to pay more than "little taxes" (5+ / 0-)

        If their cash pay is $1000/mo; but the market value of the house they are allowed use of is $150,000; they may have to use a signiificant amount of limited cash income to pay taxes on a relatively modest home.

        “Texas is a so-called red state, but you’ve got 10 million Democrats here in Texas. And …, there are a whole lot of people here in Texas who need us, and who need us to fight for them.” President Obama

        by Catte Nappe on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 06:10:59 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Wild accusation. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        WineRev

        "They are probably still exempt from paying property taxes"

        Not. Utterly false.

        "Be just and good." John Adams to Thomas Jefferson

        by ogre on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 07:31:52 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Care to explain (6+ / 0-)

          Why that is a wild accusation and utterly false?

          An exemption from property taxes for church-owned property is extremely common.

          "Well, I'm sure I'd feel much worse if I weren't under such heavy sedation..."--David St. Hubbins

          by Old Left Good Left on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 07:43:17 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Pastors pay property tax when they own their (0+ / 0-)

            homes.  I think that's what ogre meant.

            •  But Most Pastors IME (0+ / 0-)

              Don't.  

              •  The quote, AGAIN... (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                shanikka
                They are probably still exempt from paying property taxes...
                And that wasn't about churches. It was about clergy.

                It was an accusation based in pure, hostile ignorance. And it wouldn't have taken more than a couple minutes to verify it online. It's the kind of behavior I'd expect on Redstate. Here? Well, there was this idea that we were rather attached to the idea of facts and reason.

                But maybe that evaporated over the past six months or so while I've been really busy.

                MY property taxes haven't been lifted by a cent by becoming clergy.

                And at least in my tradition, many of the churches make a point of making an in lieu of taxes payment to the municipal government whose services they use. Taxation is a device that can be -- has been, is -- used to suppress some activities. Which is why churches are tax exempt (separation of church and state), as long as they opt in to that status -- in return for which they give up partisan political activities (those are the rules -- they are free to take up issues, but cannot support parties or candidates).

                It's frustrating and distressing to watch people on the left indulge their (our) frustration with the abusers by just going after everyone who is associated with them even vaguely.

                Burning the forest to get at the poison oak.

                "Be just and good." John Adams to Thomas Jefferson

                by ogre on Sat Nov 23, 2013 at 07:11:20 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

              •  Actually... Most do. (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                JesseCW, TrueBlueMajority

                With the decline in church membership and the recession, many congregations have sold or repurposed their parsonages. It is considered a boon to be called to a congregation with housing.

                However,  many churches make up for it with a housing allowance separate from income. This has been tax-exempt, saving both the church and the minister money.

                "Do not believe in any thought that dehumanizes you." - James H. Cone

                by Word Alchemy on Sat Nov 23, 2013 at 07:13:22 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

      •  There's a fundamental misunderstanding here. (5+ / 0-)

        A number of people seem to have the impression that I disagree with the ruling. I don't, and (at least in this subthread) no-one seems to. I just don't think first about the rich megachurches being impacted by this, I think about families I've known.

        So I still agree, but my agreement is more sober than some.

        Code Monkey like freedom / Code Monkey like peace and justice too
        Code Monkey very nerdy man / With big warm fuzzy bleeding heart
        Code Monkey like you!

        Formerly known as Jyrinx.

        by Code Monkey on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 07:41:14 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  This could be a good thing (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          War on Error, fumie, JesseCW

          For a Minister with a family who makes on the low end of the pay scale.

          A minister, wife and 2 kids with a pay of 1500 per month would have pay of 18k a year.

          If they now have to add in fair market rent value to earned income, say 1k per month, that would raise income to 30k a year.

          BUT WAIT!! for a family of 4 that 30k is a write off with standard deductions and personal exemptions.

          And the real good news?

          The addition of the housing income will bring the family up near the max of earned income credit.

          A lower income minister and his/her family may come out ahead.

          •  Time for churches (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            BPARTR, J Rae

            to pay a living wage then, just like Wal-Mart, which at least provides some tangible benefits to its, errrrr, parishioners.

            Salvation inside, new lower prices everyday!

            •  You do grasp the difference, I hope... (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              TrueBlueMajority, J Rae

              between a global megacorp that makes billions upon billions in profits every year, and tiny institutions that are sustained largely on the donations of people who choose to donate what they can.

              And as for benefits to... errr...

              We're the people who folks that are organizing against the death penalty come to, looking for support and public voices that will get listened to. Just a for example. And the place that families that are down and out come to find some access to warm clothing and food and housing (only some of which we can provide--because funds are desperately short--but we provide them assistance in finding the public (and non-public) resources that can help them, that they are incapable (based on the evidence and experience...) of finding and navigating on their own.

              And so on.

              "Be just and good." John Adams to Thomas Jefferson

              by ogre on Sat Nov 23, 2013 at 07:17:05 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  You mean, the difference between a transnational (0+ / 0-)

                megacorp like the Roman Catholic Church and a transnational megacorp like Wal-Mart?

                Yes.  One is at least notionally subject to taxation.

                What you do is try to earn a living.  You tell fairy tales and people give you a check for it.

                There's nothing wrong with that.  Storytellers should be free to find a paying audience.

                But it's just another business activity at the end of the day.

                "I read New republic and Nation/I've learned to take every view.." P. Ochs

                by JesseCW on Sat Nov 23, 2013 at 08:15:22 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  Faulty assumption (0+ / 0-)

                  Fairy tales?

                  That might be a fair (harsh, but fair) critique for some traditions.

                  But not for others.

                  Not mine. If I tried to teach or preach the traditional magical stories (or other magical stories) about Jesus or some other figure, my congregation would revolt and run me out on a rail.

                  Many of them are Atheists and Humanists.

                  You're projecting a single story onto all religion, and a simplistic understanding of it, as well.

                  "Be just and good." John Adams to Thomas Jefferson

                  by ogre on Sat Nov 23, 2013 at 08:52:15 AM PST

                  [ Parent ]

          •  You Have that Backward (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            ogre, TrueBlueMajority

            More income means less EIC.  At 30K, a family is beginning to get close to being disqualified completely from receiving it.

        •  If they don't earn much, they may be exempt anyway (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          War on Error

          If they are not far above the poverty limit they may not be liable to pay like many poor families. Or perhaps the taxes will come out of the community church coffers where they all pay it.

          •  Ad the additional income will make them eligible (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            gffish

            For Obamacare, right?

            This will help ministers in the red states refusing the Medicaid expansion, which they would qualify for if they are really paid $1,500 a month.

            I imagine Joel Olsteen has a prosperity plan in place for impoverished ministers families.

            Do you know that the Mormon clergy are all volunteers, given no pay at all, except for the really big wigs, most of whom are quite wealthy anyway? 30ish people volunteer to keep each church and Sunday school programs up and running.

            It's difficult to be happy knowing so many suffer. We must unite.

            by War on Error on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 09:49:16 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Volunteers aren't taxed. But the church gets $ (0+ / 0-)

              I'm not very familiar with non-profit organizations but I expect some get tax breaks. If so, a truly non profit church can get the same. But if I pay money to be part of a non religious group which makes enough to own buildings and pay salaries and so forth, I would expect that organization will be taxed somewhat. Those salaried employees are taxed and if we are housing them I'd expect that property to be taxable etc. And some churches do own businesses which do turn a profit or own valuable real estate which isn't taxed. Is that fair?

              Why should religions not be taxed other than they are groups of people who believe in entities which can't even be demonstrated to exist? Can someone define their non profit group to be declared sacred because they hold a belief in something to become exempt? Why can't secular positions be declared sacred if you don't need to demonstrate that the beliefs in those positions are based on something that cannot be demonstrated as real?

          •  what are community church coffers? (0+ / 0-)

            Politics is like driving. To go backward put it in R. To go forward put it in D.
            Drop by The Grieving Room on Monday nights for support in dealing with grief.

            by TrueBlueMajority on Sat Nov 23, 2013 at 09:31:35 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

      •  Actually, some go into the ministry for the money (6+ / 0-)

        Let's not ignore that other side of it. We are talking many billions of dollars a year in lost tax revenues from mega churches and all their side businesses. I wonder how much 10 years of tax collection from them would ease the deficit?

      •  Why (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Word Alchemy, TrueBlueMajority

        Do you worry about what you are not getting? Do you believe that you are lessened, somehow?  That's the same reasoning that begrudges poor people food stamps--heaven help us that someone else is getting what you aren't.

        Most true ministers of the gospel, as opposed to the many hucksters admittedly out there, live a life of simplicity and poverty that depends upon the voluntary contributions of their congregants.  Arguably for a public (I.e. the larger good) purpose. That it's a purpose you don't believe in should not be the only salient factor in deciding what happens.  IMO, of course.

        The folks who brought this suit may have felt vindicated but IMO it was mean spirited.  Because it did nothing more than prove a political point, at the expense of many good people who did nothing to them personally.

        All IMO and YMMV of course.

        •  If they're living a life of poverty, odds are (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          KathleenM1

          good they still won't be paying taxes on the value of their rent.

          Treating them differently under the law is abhorrent to anyone who truly values the separation of church and state.  You have argued  

          Arguably for a public (I.e. the larger good) purpose.
          that religion is a public good that should be actively encouraged by treatment preferable to any other non-profit.

          That's a simple and forthright rejection of the basic concept of religious freedom, and it is odious.

          But, at least and at last, it was honest.  You disagree with the decision because you disagree with the right of others to be free from promoting your religious beliefs.

          "I read New republic and Nation/I've learned to take every view.." P. Ochs

          by JesseCW on Sat Nov 23, 2013 at 08:21:37 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  what does this mean? (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            shanikka
            If they're living a life of poverty, odds are good they still won't be paying taxes on the value of their rent.
            i see this argument being made elsewhere and I do not understand it

            Politics is like driving. To go backward put it in R. To go forward put it in D.
            Drop by The Grieving Room on Monday nights for support in dealing with grief.

            by TrueBlueMajority on Sat Nov 23, 2013 at 09:32:53 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

    •  Then the church needs to pay him a bit more (15+ / 0-)

      so that he can afford to pay the taxes on the in-kind salary equivalent he gets by way of housing.

      Churches look at housing as a freebie. They own the property outright, so putting the minister up in the house is a non-expense to them.

      But under the law, if I pay the rent for someone, they have to declare it. This ruling essentially makes that rent visible as "income".

      Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves. - William Pitt

      by Phoenix Rising on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 06:06:22 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Any church which is unwilling to hold an annual (6+ / 0-)

      fundraiser to cover their minister's new taxes should ask themselves if they truly believe their founder when he said, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's..." [Mark 12:17].

      We-The-People are Caesar in this land. Churches should consider themselves very fortunate in avoiding property taxes, considering the amount of municipal services they all consume. The dodge by church governing bodies to make part of their minister's salary a (till now) non-taxed benefit has always struck me as a further perversion of a church's non-tax status, which itself is unconstitutional.

      Such churches should heed "The laborer is worthy of his hire." [Deuteronomy 24:14, I Timothy 5:18, Luke 10:7] A church which forces its minister to accept their housing as part of his salary is engaging in doctrinally questionable behavior.

      Full disclosure: I'm not only a PK, I'm the child of missionaries and was partly raised on my parents' mission station in Liberia. Although I'm now an atheist I still endorse what I consider the good stuff in the Bible, even the few good parts of Paul's books.

      Enough fossil fuel remains on Earth to warm it 6 degrees C by 2100 AD if it is all used. A +6 C planet will only sustain half a billion humans. Human population will rise to 9 billion by 2050. Any questions?

      by davidincleveland on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 06:45:25 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  my folks can barely afford to pay me as it is (0+ / 0-)

        a fundraiser to pay my taxes is a nonstarter

        a lot of them are on fixed incomes, and elderly, and working class

        meanwhile Kenneth Copeland isn't going to feel a thing

        Politics is like driving. To go backward put it in R. To go forward put it in D.
        Drop by The Grieving Room on Monday nights for support in dealing with grief.

        by TrueBlueMajority on Sat Nov 23, 2013 at 09:36:02 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I assumed it was clear I was talking about the tax (0+ / 0-)

          on a previously untaxed part of the minister's salary. Assuming you would qualify because your job salary includes untaxed housing, I am not suggesting that your job pay all your taxes. I am only suggesting that your job pay those new taxes you are suddenly faced with paying, due to a re-interpretation of the religious property tax exemption.

          I am not unsympathetic about the plight of caregivers, whether physical or spiritual, who struggle to make ends meet because of their chosen profession; my father worked as a porter and also maintained a truck farm (pre WWII) because his congregation couldn't afford a salary. Father had an interesting thing to say to his oldest son (the author of that book) about the farm and his neighbors [p 48, 4th para], who were mostly elderly, all domestic working class, and invariably quite poor.

          Enough fossil fuel remains on Earth to warm it 6 degrees C by 2100 AD if it is all used. A +6 C planet will only sustain half a billion humans. Human population will rise to 9 billion by 2050. Any questions?

          by davidincleveland on Mon Nov 25, 2013 at 10:20:40 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  Too bad (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JesseCW, KathleenM1

      What part of "no special treatment just because you say you work for Jesus" is so hard to understand.

      I guess if this impoverishes a few priests and ministers, they'll have to get a real job like everyone else, won't they?

      People of faith do not do better things than others. They don't contribute more to society. They are only morally superior to others by their own assertion.  Drop the sentimental image of the humble man of god. He doesn't exist, or if he does he no more represents a higher law than an atheist community activist.

      Poor widdle priesties gonna have to get a job.

      •  What Part of (4+ / 0-)

        Just because you hate religion you shouldn't impose your hatred on others who did nothing wrong to you or anyone else, and live simple lives, part don't you understand?

        Impoverishes "a few."  You clearly don't know many ministers.  Just to prove a political point, atheists decided that it was perfectly OK to cause financial hardship on folks they don't know and don't want to know who do nothing but good.  With the response when someone expresses concern about that harm not anything in mitigation (i.e. yes, I needed to prove my point, now let's see how we can nonetheless allow you to live and continue to do good works which, while I personally could care less about them, I must acknowledge most of you do) "too bad!".

        I appreciate your right to have an opinion different than mine.  Should my response to you about knee-jerk reactions to atheisms be as insensitive as yours was on this issue ("Too bad")? I personally think not.  

        But perhaps because that was because I was raised in the church, have benefitted from the role of religion in my life, and have family who preach the gospel today.  In other words, I was raised right and know how rude such a callous response is.

        /shrug

      •  Housing allowance (3+ / 0-)

        codified the fact that many churches themselves were impoverished and could not afford a cash salary high enough to pay a pastor a living wage.
        (Indeed many a pastor lived on his own vegetable garden, chickens, donation to him of 3 sacks of salt, 40 lbs. of potatoes and 6 sacks of flour, with hardly any cash spending money at all.)

        In many denominations by mid-20th century, the pattern was clergy salary + housing in the parish manse. Clergy serving various parishes would spend their careers earning less than many similarly educated peers. Then, since their Social Security and pension payments were based on a % of their lifetime earnings, they would continue this pattern until death.

        (BTW, in the comments up to this point, NO ONE has noted that federal law REQUIRES congregations to treat clergy as independent contractors and by LAW are prohibited from paying FICA? (Social Security/Medicare/Disability) ALL clergy are required BY LAW to pay BOTH ENDS of FICA. So instead of the 7.65%, clergy have paid 15.3%, and YES that includes HOUSING ALLOWANCE.
             So ALL clergy pay INCOME TAX like everyone else and DOUBLE FICA TAX (like only retired military officers do--a very weird combo, I know, but that is the law.)
             But facts like these are perhaps not welcome?)

        Starting mid-century, with the sharp rise in homeownership for the middle class, the clergy noted at various assemblies, etc. that many of their parishoners upon or near retirement would sell that largest house they ever owned (the kids are grown and gone), move to the Sunbelt and buy a smaller place at a sharply lower price, and have the difference as something of a nest egg for support in retirement.
        (As clergy for decades I attended many a pre-retirement seminar for clergy. The metaphor always used was "the 3-legged stool" for retirement income: Social Security, pension, and net proceeds from downsizing housing.)

        The 3rd of these was not available to clergy living their entire careers in parish housing, so beginning in the 1950s there was a strong trend toward providing larger clergy salaries and (using the 1954 ruling noted in the dairy) then designating every year (in advance, per IRS rule) how much of this would be housing allowance IN LIEU OF parish housing.
               This allowed clergy to buy their own houses and follow the path of wealth building rather like their parishoners when retiring. These houses are private property and so clergy PAY PROPERTY TAX, FIRE INSURANCE, CITY WATER, SEWER, STREET REPAIR ASSESSMENTS etc. on their own homes JUST LIKE EVERYBODY ELSE.

        By the mid-1980s about 80% of congregations paid housing allowance to clergy rather than providing a house. There were/are 2 exceptions:
        1. Rural Congregations.
        My friend Steve did ministry in Malta, Montana. Heard of it? Cattle outnumber people in Phillips County by a ratio of 15 to 1.
              If you move there as clergy, you can indeed buy a house for your housing, and at rather a good price since, for instance, in February, you personally shopping for a house may be the ENTIRE buying market. People live there, are born there, grow up there and stay there.
              So, after several years (the clergy average is 7) if Steve wants to move, he has to sell his house.
        To whom?
        Got it paid off yet Steve? No? Looking forward to house payments here in Malta and house payments in your new location? DOUBLE HOUSE COSTS?
              For this reason, many rural congregations have kept their clergy house/manse. As they often date from the days of larger families it is not unusual for a solo clergy person to be living in a 2-story, 5 bedroom place. OTOH the next clergy with 4 kids might find it a godsend.
             (All maintenance and repair is from the congregation---and there are horror stories by the bushel of trying to get walls patched, furnaces working, 1917 knob-and-tube wiring upgraded. Besides all that, if clergy choose to CHANGE THE LOCKS on the doors, this is generally seen as a hostile act by the congregation, since now EVERYONE's KEY will no longer work on THEIR house.
        After all, the members of the altar guild need to drop in unannounced to see how nicely you dust THEIR house...
        AND THEY DO, make no mistake!)

        2. Urban congregations in high-cost cities have usually kept and own their clergy housing.

        Mid-town Manhattan, San Francisco, Washington DC, etc. You know who you are. While clergy salaries are typically the highest in such denominations, as many of you know so are living costs, with housing costs astronomical. Could Trinity Lutheran in Tribeca, not far from the Twin Towers site, afford to pay its clergy a Manhattan living salary PLUS enough more in housing allowance to allow the pastor to live 6 blocks from the church? Really? You think so?
               So yes, there are certain parish houses in such settings that WERE built (often like the church itself) in the 19th or early 20th century and have been kept up. For the time they were often considered modest or ordinary, but we now, decades later consider these well preserved beauties luxurious.

        So there's a little more of where clergy housing came from over the last 100 years.

        If you now want to continue reveling over the hardship this ruling will impose across the country (if upheld on appeal) upon thousands of clergy (hardly ANY of whom are pedophiles---yes there are a few---, hardly ANY of whom have mega churches---yes there are a few who can have their faces on the air, much to the embarrassment of everyone else who can NOT so afford)...
        and if you want to revel over hundreds of congregations that may close as a result of this, whose clergy and leaders stay up nights wondering how to feed the hungry when SNAP is throwing more people on the church food shelf operation, how to clothe the naked when WalMart pays crap wages, or just how many MORE people the church basement can accommodate as temporary shelter for evicted families,

        well

        please proceed, atheists.

        Shalom.

        "God has given wine to gladden the hearts of people." Psalm 104:15

        by WineRev on Sat Nov 23, 2013 at 07:23:52 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  i knew you would rock this question WineRev (0+ / 0-)

          wish this were a separate diary

          now back to figuring out how I am going to get more turkeys for our Wednesday night dinner since we expect lots of extra homeless and hungry people on the day before Thanksgiving ♥

          Politics is like driving. To go backward put it in R. To go forward put it in D.
          Drop by The Grieving Room on Monday nights for support in dealing with grief.

          by TrueBlueMajority on Sat Nov 23, 2013 at 09:39:55 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

  • Recommended (145)
  • Community (68)
  • Elections (34)
  • Media (33)
  • Trans-Pacific Partnership (31)
  • Environment (30)
  • 2016 (29)
  • Law (28)
  • Culture (27)
  • Civil Rights (26)
  • Barack Obama (24)
  • Hillary Clinton (24)
  • Science (23)
  • Climate Change (23)
  • Republicans (23)
  • Labor (21)
  • Economy (19)
  • Marriage Equality (19)
  • Jeb Bush (18)
  • Josh Duggar (18)
  • Click here for the mobile view of the site