American Atheists and other secular groups are taking the IRS to court over what they say is the preferential treatment the tax-collection agency gives to religious organizations.
Studies show that Americans subsidize religious organizations to the tune of an estimated $71 billion annually, in the form of tax-exemptions.
“This is about equality,” American Atheists President David Silverman said in a statement. “This is about the U.S. government holding everyone to the same standard and giving the same rights to all. No exceptions. We are seeing religions getting preferential treatment by our government, a government that is supposed to serve us and respect us all as equals, and that’s wrong. It’s not what this country is about and it’s unpatriotic.”
Dave Muscato, a spokesman for American Atheists, told Newsweek, “We find it discriminatory, so we’re suing. The way that this is set up, we all pay for it. We’re all supporting churches for what they do.”
In court filings, the advocacy group argues that a 1961 U.S. Supreme Court opinion that “neither the federal government nor state governments can ‘constitutionally pass laws or impose requirements which aid all religions as against non-believers, and neither can aid those religions based on a belief in the existence of God, as against those religions founded on different beliefs’” supports their claims. American Atheists is also arguing that church-only tax breaks, such as the “parsonage exemption,” which lets clergy members write off housing expenses from their taxable income, aren’t constitutionally kosher, since “non-religious entities may not take any deductions for the housing or living expenses of their employees or volunteers.”
Because religious organizations are automatically granted a tax-exempt status and are not required to file forms that non-religious organizations must, American Atheists claim secular groups are unfairly burdened, while religious organizations have a fundraising advantage that includes not having to reveal their donors.
Oral arguments began last week.
The same American Atheists organization has just began a billboard campaign denouncing so-called aid from religious organizations that includes spending money on prayer and bibles for victims of natural disasters, including Super Typhoon Haiyan.
In related news, as The New Civil Rights Movement reported last week, a federal district court judge has declared “unconstitutional” a portion of U.S. law that allows “a minister of the gospel” to not pay income tax on a specific portion of their compensation. That tax exemption was estimated to cost U.S. taxpayers $2.3 billion from 2002-2007 alone, likely more in the years since.
Image by Joshua Doubek via Wikipedia
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