By Sam Brunson
Speaking of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, last Thursday it filed suit challenging the constitutionality of section 6033(a)(3)(A) of the Code.
What does that first sentence mean? Broken down roughly: the tax law requires most entities exempt under section 501 to file an annual information return. That information return—currently Form 990—is filed with the IRS, but must also be made available to the public. It allows both the IRS and the general public a window into the financial workings of tax-exempt organizations, and provides a basis for administrative and public oversight of tax-exempt organizations. (For purposes of this lawsuit, it’s also worth noting that if a tax-exempt organization that is required to file a Form 990 doesn’t for three consecutive years, it automatically loses its exemption.)
Section 6033(a)(3)(A) provides a mandatory exception to the filing requirement, though. Under the Code, churches, their integrated auxiliaries, and conventions of churches don’t have to file a Form 990. While the IRS can still get access to them through an audit (though note that the steps the IRS must take to audit a church are really stringent), the general public has no way to see financial information about a U.S. church unless the church voluntarily discloses that information (which some do). Continue reading “NonBelief Relief and Form 990”
By Sam Brunson
A week from Wednesday, the Seventh Circuit will hear oral arguments in Gaylor v. Mnuchin, the case in which the Freedom From Religion Foundation is challenging the constitutionality of the parsonage allowance.[fn1]
In anticipation of the oral arguments, Professor Anthony Kreis and I are hosting a preview of the case this Wednesday, October 17, at noon. It will be in room 105 of the Corboy Law Center, 25 E. Pearson St., Chicago, IL 60611. There will be pizza, soda, and some great discussion. If you’re free for that hour (and, of course, in or near Chicago), I’d love to see you there! RSVP here. Continue reading “Seventh Circuit Preview: Gaylor v. Mnuchin”
By Sam Brunson
On Wednesday, October 24, the Seventh Circuit is going to hear arguments in the appeal of Gaylor v. Mnuchin. I’ve written about this parsonage allowance case a number of times in the past (see here and here for examples), but as a quick summary: section 107(2) of the Code says that “ministers of the gospel” don’t have to include rental allowances in gross income. Several years ago, the Freedom From Religion Foundation challenged this parsonage allowance on the grounds that it violated the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. They won in the district court, but the Seventh Circuit found that the plaintiffs didn’t have standing to challenge the provision.
The Seventh Circuit also suggested, in a footnote, that if they claimed a parsonage allowance and the IRS rejected their claim, they might have standing. So they did, the IRS did, and the district court again found the provision unconstitutional. And now the Seventh Circuit will weigh in (again).
As a side note, this provision (as well as a bunch of others) made their way into God and the IRS, the book I wrote that was recently published about tax accommodations of religious individuals. The fundamental purpose of the book was to illustrate the ad hoc nature of religious accommodations in the tax law, and develop a framework that could provide some consistency as Congress and the IRS consider providing these accommodations. Continue reading “When Religious Tax Accommodations Are Inconsistent”
By Sam Brunson
I’ve blogged several times about the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s suit over the parsonage allowance.[fn1] Quick refresher: Section 107(1) allows “ministers of the gospel” to exclude church-provided housing from their gross income, while section 107(2) allows them to exclude housing stipends. The Freedom From Religion Foundation sued and won in the district court. The Seventh Circuit found that FFRF didn’t have standing, so two of its executives claimed a refund for the portion of their salary that had been designated a housing allowance and sued again. Again, the district court held that section 107(2) was unconstitutional.[fn2]
Now we’re in the briefing stage. And a week and a half ago, the government and intervenors filed their most recent briefs in Gaylor v. Mnuchin.
I’m not going to analyze the full briefs, but I do want to respond to a central point that the government mentions, and that the intervenors find critical in their opening brief: the idea that the parsonage allowance is part of a series of provisions that relax the default exclusion rule. Continue reading “The Parsonage Allowance in Brief(s)”
By Sam Brunson
So #TaxWeek isn’t going quite the way we expected;[fn1] the House is now expecting to release its tax bill tomorrow. (Or maybe not.) Which means we’re not bringing any coverage of the tax bill today.
But that’s okay! It gives me room to slot it some follow-up to last month’s decision that section 107(2) violated the Establishment Clause. Remember, Judge Crabb found it unconstitutional, but ordered the parties to provide supplementary briefing about the appropriate remedies. Should she enjoin the IRS from providing benefits under section 107(2)? Or should she expand the set of taxpayers who could benefit from section 107(2)? Or something else entirely?
The initial briefs were due (and were filed) Monday. And, unsurprisingly, they all agreed on a lot: Continue reading “Parsonage Allowance Update 1: Briefing Remedies”
By Sam Brunson
On Friday, the Western District of Wisconsin ruled (again) on the constitutionality of the section 107(2) rental allowance for “ministers of the gospel.”[fn1] The litigation between the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the IRS has been going on for a long time—I first blogged about it in 2013—so I’m not going to spend a lot of space here discussing the specifics of the case. If you want to look at what’s been going on, you can check out this post and the posts I’ve linked to in it.[fn2] Long story short, this is the second time the court has ruled the rental allowance is unconstitutional. The first time, the Seventh Circuit reversed on the grounds that the plaintiffs had never tried to claim a tax-free rental allowance, so they had no standing. This time, they did claim a refund, which the IRS refused, the court found standing, and, in a well-written and extremely persuasive opinion, it again found section 107(2) unconstitutional.
Although the court declared that section 107(2) violated the Establishment Clause, it didn’t order a remedy. The opinion explains that in the first round, all of the parties assumed that the only relief available was to declare the provision unconstitutional and enjoin its enforcement. This time, though, the Freedom From Religion Foundation suggests that there may be two other remedies available. The first is to refund a portion of plaintiffs’ taxes and order the IRS to “extend benefits under the statute to those excluded.” The second is to declare section 107(1) (that is, the in-kind provision of tax-free housing to “ministers of the gospel”) also unconstitutional. Continue reading “Remedies and the Parsonage Allowance”