Three years ago, a federal judge in Wisconsin declared that the long-standing clergy housing allowance violates the First Amendment. The $800-million-a-year tax break is an unnecessary benefit for religion, Judge Barbara Crabb said. The Justice Department appealed, arguing the plaintiffs—leaders of the atheist Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF)—weren’t harmed because they could’ve claimed the “ministers of the gospel” benefit for themselves. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals agreed and overturned the decision. FFRF leaders promptly applied for the benefit, were denied by the Internal Revenue Service, and sued again. This fall, Crabb again ruled on their behalf, saying the policy showed “a preference for ministers over secular employees.” The case will likely be appealed again to the Seventh Circuit, which has also reversed Crabb’s ruling that the National Day of Prayer was unconstitutional.
The Trump administration’s proposal to double the standard deduction to $12,600 for individuals and $24,000 for joint filers means more money in taxpayer pockets. But it also means those who itemize their charitable deductions on their IRS Form 1040 would drop from about 30 percent of the population to about 5 percent. Researchers estimate that could cause a drop of between $5 billion and $13 billion in charitable giving, depending on how much tax policy motivates a giver. Experts say an even bigger danger is that by narrowing the deduction to only the wealthiest givers, opponents can argue that it should be eliminated. Not only would that discourage giving, but it would withdraw ...1
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Gleanings: December 2017
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