In the random musings of my head, many things from the internet weave their way in. Like having a Facebook page now, rather than going to Google for my news stories when I feel like hunting up something to write (when I really should be working on one of those novels I’ve got lying about begging to be finished). So occasionally something comes across the “Feed” that draws my attention.
So imagine my reaction when I come across some website called The New Civil Rights Movement running an article called: Breaking: Federal District Court Declares A Religious Income Tax Exemption Unconstitutional
To sum it up, apparently a federal court has decided that the tax exemptions given to ministers are now unconstitutional, being a violation of the first amendment. I’ve copied the text of the 1st Amendment from wikipedia and put it below.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Now, I’m not a legal expert, but I’m guessing that the issue probably falls under the fact that Congress is not to make a law respecting the establishment of religion. That being said, as long as the tax breaks cover all religious ministers, then it isn’t favoring any one religious group, there by no violation of the constitution has occurred.
However, it is possible that this ruling could violate the constitution by banning the tax exemption. Here’s why, as best I can figure it. See, the tax exemptions allow ministers to keep more of their pay, since they don’t have to put it into paying taxes. Now, when we consider that most ministries are small, and I’ve met a number of ministers in several faiths who had to work a second, even a third job in addition to their ministry to support themselves. Of course, this isn’t uncommon when we consider the economic situation these days.
But first, let us look at what a minister does, or at least has done, over the last two and a half centuries here in America. First of, Ministers typically were some of the most learned men in the area, providing valuable knowledge to their community. They also worked as councilors, proton-psychologists if you will, who guided people through hard times in their life. The would organize their communities, help the poor, help the destitute and mourning. They provided essential social services which have only been supplied by the government over the last forty to sixty years or so, depending on what we’re talking about. In some cases even today, where cities outright work to hurt their poor, Ministers and their congregations help when no one else will. And they still offer all the services above to people, as well as weddings, funerals, rituals, and much more.
Often to congregations which have between 10-100 members, maybe a bit more if you’re talking about places that have a minister whose ministry is his only job. It’s rare that you get the congregations in the high several hundreds like you see on TV. Certainly, it doesn’t seem right that those TV preachers get to take in all that money and not pay taxes on it, but we have to remember that most churches are at best the tiny places you pass on the road. Places who pay their minister, and their expenses, out of weekly donations. Not government hand outs. Not capitalist manufacturing or selling.
Donations. From the people they serve. Donations to pay the rent and the electricity and the gas, and then whatever is left over goes to the guy up front who takes his or her time and energy and pretty much volunteers their life and soul to help people. That’s who these tax breaks go to. And that’s why these tax breaks have pretty much been universal to this nation, likely since the beginning where the Founding Fathers understood the needs and services that Ministers provide to their community.
Of course, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the driving force behind the lawsuit to end these tax breaks is an Atheist organization called “Freedom From Religion Foundation” who view this as not only a good thing, but a noble cause to spend tax payer dollars on. Citing numbers in the 70+ Billion range in “lost tax revenue” (which I personally skeptical about since I don’t think there’s that much money in the religious business to start with) the FFRF runs its campaign to cut these tax breaks primarily because it is religious based. I wonder if they would be so eager slash these tax breaks if it was going to folks that were providing secular services that match those provided by ministries.
Of course, I’m sure people are asking why I’m talking about something that primarily affects what at first glance primarily Christians. But we have to remember that this isn’t just going to take down those bombastic preachers that drive us nuts on Sunday morning tv. It’s going to hit Rabbis, Muslim clerics, Buddhist priests, Sikhs, Wiccans, Heathens, Pagans, etc.
Because we Pagans and Heathens know how hard the spiritual path can be to walk. To start with, it takes hours every week to center oneself spiritually. At a minimum (based on my own practice) you need about 2 hours a week. It’s best if you can get more. There there’s the time, energy, and money needed to make and maintain the items you need for the religious practice which is consuming of both time and money. Then there’s maintaining the sacred space for your group, cleaning, repairing, paying the rent if needed. Then there’s the time for services, which can run anywhere between at minimum 2-4 hours a month, all the way up to 50+ hours a month, not counting set up and clean up. Then there’s being available for counseling, non-scheduled rites (funerals, weddings, blessings of a child, etc). All of which is done by one person, maybe two, for what ever 10-20 people on average (who tend to be pretty damn broke) can scrape together for your trouble. Even under the best conditions, where you’re a Pagan coven doing your rite in a park for free, with 20 people, the most you’re going to make in tithes is probably 200 bucks, if you’re really lucky. If you’re not lucky, you’re going to be looking more at 20 bucks, maybe, per rite or service. $80-$800 in a month, for what probably adds up to between 23 – 61+ hours of work in the same time period.
Or roughly between $1.31 – $3.78 per hour at worst, and maybe $13.11 at best. In a month. Breaking that down further into a weekly paycheck you’re looking at making $4.59 – $200 a week. That’s why a lot of ministers work multiple jobs and pretty much volunteer their services to the community, especially in our Pagan circles, and often are lucky to be able to provide us services at the major Holidays, much less a weekly service that we’d all love to go to.
So these tax cuts allow ministers to keep more of their earnings, earning they put towards their houses and their families and their community, because don’t kid yourself, ministers often have to buy the stuff they need for their services the same way teachers have to buy supplies for their students, and they don’t get millions in government grants to do it. We all know that sometimes the difference between having a roof over your head is five bucks. How many ministers serving smaller groups will be able to keep doing their jobs to the community, if they can’t take that time away from work that actually pays them and supports their families? To give a personal example, I’ll use this blog. I used to post every day of the week on here a year ago. Then I got a job that was 40+ a week, high stress, and tore me to pieces. Not only did I not have the time to write, I didn’t have the energy to write. I didn’t have the energy to sit at my altar and pray, to speak with the divine and offer up to them. And those are things that could take maybe thirty minutes if I rushed. I couldn’t help my community, or plan rituals, or organize and publicize them to the larger community. And while I don’t consider myself vital or integral, I do sometimes wonder…was there someone out there I could have helped, if I hadn’t been so busy? Imagine if that was a full blown minister, serving his community. How many helpful projects would he have to cancel, how many people would go without comfort or aid?
I hope these tax cuts remain, even though I don’t receive them. I hope this, because I understand what ministers do, and the role they play, and just how hard it is to do that. Something the FFRF doesn’t seem to know or care about.
If you have thoughts, leave them below. 🙂