Great Stuff — Response to Court Opinion on Clergy Housing Allowance

Found over on WMLTblog.org:

 

On November 22, 2013, a Federal District Court in Wisconsin held that the clergy housing allowance is unconstitutional. Specifically, the judge entered an Order and Opinion declaring 26 U.S.C. Section 107(2) unenforceable because it violates the First and Fifth Amendments to the United States Constitution. The judge entered an order enjoining the IRS from enforcing the provision but provided that the injunction will not be effective until all appeals have been concluded or the deadline for filing an appeal has expired, whichever comes later.

Click here to read the opinion.

This Order and Opinion most certainly will be appealed, and we expect voluminous amicus briefs to be filed in support of a reversal of the decision.  For this reason the Opinion will have no immediate impact and will not be effective until all appeals have been exhausted.

Synod General Counsel has been monitoring this case and earlier similar cases for many years and has been reporting on the issue to the LCMS Board of Directors.

Given the recent release of the court’s ruling, church bodies, religious organizations, and legal counsel are assessing the options for response and the potential impact of this ruling. We will provide updated information as it becomes available.

Ronald P. Schultz,
Chief Administrative Officer
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod


Comments

Great Stuff — Response to Court Opinion on Clergy Housing Allowance — 81 Comments

  1. @Jais H. Tinglund #48
    I tried to put a smiley in there – but the system wouldn’t let me …

    Obviously this system will, since I did it.
    But thanks for recognizing that I was trying to be mildly humorous. :)

  2. helen :
    But thanks for recognizing that I was trying to be mildly humorous.

    Actually what I was trying to do was acknowledge that you got away with it very well.

  3. helen :
    @Jais H. Tinglund #48
    I tried to put a smiley in there – but the system wouldn’t let me …
    Obviously this system will, since I did it.

    Not on my computer, you didn’t.
    Anyway, you probably know how, and that is kind of like cheating – in the same way, I guess, as it is cheating to take all the tax deductions the law offers and gives and thus invites and encourages you to take …

  4. @Randy #5
    Exactly. And also in the same way I “cheat” everyday by driving a large 4×4.

    Compared to all the ships crossing and recrossing the Pacific to bring us cheap Asian clothes and trinkets we don’t need, the fuel for your 4×4 is small potatoes.

  5. @helen #6

    So true! And when the automakers manufacture an affordable truck that will pull a boat, haul a cord of wood, and pull a stump out of my front yard all while getting the mileage of a Prius, well, I’ll be at the front of the line;-)

  6. Jais, a “smiley” is just a : (omit space) ) colon(omitspace)rightparen :)

    [But you are correct. Some programs simply won’t reproduce them. It won’t work on my mail program. (No doubt there is a virus laden site where I could download them.)] :(

  7. Regarding the difference between libel and slander, like many I get into the habit of informally treating internet “conversations” as such.

    I have not libeled you in the slightest. You on the other hand have stated regarding my brother pastors:

    “the tax code is pretty consistent in explicitly disallowing double dipping. So it would seem that, in general, congress/IRS considers double dipping to be unethical as well. I find it particularly sad that MINISTERS are the ones that are eligible to and actually do take advantage of this double dipping.”

    However, the IRS states:

    “If you own your home, you may still claim deductions for mortgage interest and real property taxes.” [http://www.irs.gov/taxtopics/tc417.html]

    You demand, on pain of being publicly branded by you as “unethical,” that pastors adhere to your idiosyncratic personal opinion rather than the tax code and its implementation by the IRS. Perhaps you do not appreciate how gross and serious an allegation it is for for you to publicly judge the pastors and other workers of our synod across the board over the internet as “unethical,” supposedly on the basis as you state above of the “tax code” and what “congress/IRS considers . . . to be unethical.” This is absolutely false and you DO owe an apology for the statement quoted above.

  8. My 2 cents on the concept of ethics related to this discussion:

    Taking an allowable/legal deduction is in no way unethical. I’ll let a pastor get into the Greek origin of Ethos, but the following should be made clear.

    The concept of ethics is based on a set of guiding principles. Ultimately for Christians the guiding principles are distilled down to two categories: The “Law of God” and the “law of man.” Regarding ethics, behavior must be measured against the two and the Law of God should always take precedence, yet unfortunately it does not. After all, the “law of man” is of the flesh and sinful in nature.

    For instance, abortion is legally allowed in the US (state trigger laws aside). However, abortion clearly violates the Law of God (You Shall Not Murder). Therefore, even though abortion is legal it is unethical.

    On the other hand, taking a legal/allowable deduction does not violate the “law of man” as stated in the Tax Code. However, a Christian must also measure this behavior against the Law of God. One would be hard pressed to argue that the commandment “You Shall Not Steal” is being violated since the government itself is allowing the behavior. One could ask, “Stealing from whom; stealing from the one allowing the behavior?” That is not stealing, but accepting what is rightly yours and freely given is it not? It would be different if the government said you were allowed to take your neighbor’s yard gnome whenever you felt like it. That’s the whole “redistribution of yard gnomes” argument, but I digress.

    Finally, I have myself at times fallen into the trap of relativism by attempting to judge others based on my personal opinion. For that I am sorry. We should all work to avoid that concept.

    Matthew 22:21 “They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (ESV)

  9. Randy…

    also don’t forget: What we render to God is deductible from what we render to Caesar. :)

  10. It could also be argued that we render to Caesar we are really also rendering to God …

  11. @Randy #7
    …while getting the mileage of a Prius, well, I’ll be at the front of the line;-)

    Let me know when you find it! I have a Dodge Dakota and I’d be happier for better mileage to drive to work. :)

  12. Helen, do I remember correctly that you work at the University of Texas? My daughter is a freshman there and loves it. She is studying bassoon with Kristen Wolfe Jensen. She got a full ride (even gets paid a living stipend) as a Forty Acres Scholar. God bless Texas and my thanks to all Texas taxpayers!

  13. @Rev. Kevin Vogts #16
    Helen, do I remember correctly that you work at the University of Texas? My daughter is a freshman there and loves it.

    I’m glad your daughter is having a good experience here. Has she found a church home?
    If she would like a traditional service, with communion every Sunday, St Paul, 3501 Red River, is practically a campus congregation. Our Pastor Stenson is the link to Christ on Campus, I think.
    If she’s already attending, ask her to say hello to me. (That avatar is more useful than some people think, especially since the college students are usually sitting in the back.) :)

  14. @Pastor David L. Prentice Jr. #2
    If you say taking the deductions allowed by law are evasion, simply because one person gets them over another, oh well.

    I say that when you are rich and influential enough to have the tax code written with “loopholes” to your advantage, that’s evasion and unethical… but “legal”, of course! [When Mitt Romney has to finagle to get his marginal rate UP to mine, there’s something rotten…. and the odor isn’t coming from Denmark!]

  15. Re: 4X4’s, Prius’s, Caddy’s, etc. Somebody has to say it: WWJD? What Would Jesus Drive? (a [Dodge] Colt? the foal of a donkey? Or, maybe the church should pick up people for Sunday School not with a bus, but with a Honda–after all the church was all in one Accord in the book of Acts, right?) Okay. I’ll stop now.

  16. >>Has she found a church home?

    Yes she is attending St. Paul’s where my old friend Rev. Mark Nuckols is your pastor. In addition to the full scholarship having such a fine LCMS church nearby was another great attraction of UT. You may have heard her playing the bassoon several times during services.

  17. @Rev. Kevin Vogts #10

    Rev Vogts,

    In reviewing your posts I see that you used the word “if” in one case and appeared to imply without explicitly stating in another case. Only you and God know whether or not you meant to imply the accusation to be against me. If so, then it was a false accusation as has been shown previously. I will put the best construction on it and assume that you did not mean to imply it against me. Consequently I apologize to you for accusing you of libeling me and ask for your forgiveness.

    As for your claim that “This is absolutely false”, what specifically is false? Please elaborate so that I and everyone else on this thread can be absolutely certain as to what you claim to be false.

  18. The following is statement is false when applied to ministers of religion taking a deduction for mortgage interest that was paid with funds from a housing allowance that is exempt from federal income tax:

    “Indeed the tax code is pretty consistent in explicitly disallowing double dipping. So it would seem that, in general, congress/IRS considers double dipping to be unethical as well. I find it particularly sad that MINISTERS are the ones that are eligible to and actually do take advantage of this double dipping.”

    Asserting an objective basis in the “tax code” and what “congress/IRS considers . . . to be unethical” for the subjective opinion that it is “unethical” for ministers of religion to take a deduction for mortgage interest that was paid with funds from a housing allowance that is exempt from federal income tax is false, because in fact the IRS actually states exactly the opposite:

    “If you own your home, you may still claim deductions for mortgage interest and real property taxes.” [http://www.irs.gov/taxtopics/tc417.html]

  19. @helen #18
    Are you kidding??? Mitt and even myself who have stocks in a portfolio, do gain from this, but it is ethical, not double dipping. OK, he has a lot more than myself. We have already paid taxes, then we “invest”. Just like taking housing allowance within the confines of the law, even with a mortgage.

    Sounds like some liberals are popping into BJS?

  20. @Pastor David L. Prentice Jr. #24
    We have already paid taxes, then we “invest”. Just like taking housing allowance within the confines of the law, even with a mortgage.

    I don’t think we are talking about the same thing, Pr. Prentice, unless you invested in Bain Capital and you have a bank account in the Cayman Islands, too. I do think it is unethical to destroy companies, (with their own money), robbing the employees of jobs and pensions in the process. [If you can justify the destruction of Enron, for just one more example, your sense of right and wrong is seriously skewed.]

    It is a cause for wonder to me that people who only hope to make 6 figures will stoutly defend the Wall Street thieves who put their earned income into capital gains (because they’ve lobbied the congress for the exception), and then pay half as much tax on the multi-millions they claim to “earn” (because they have lobbied the congress for the exception).

    The oil companies are wealthy beyond their dreams (charging us $4 for gas led to the most profitable quarter in history… so did they NEED to charge the minimum wage earner $4 for gas?)

    I have not argued against your housing allowance.

    I’ve never been called a “liberal” before, but are you saying that all LCMS Lutherans have to be registered Republicans? … or just that they have to be UPPER middle class? (I’ve gotten that impression from other sources, too, recently.)

    Luther was a peasant who begged in the streets to get an education until someone took him in. Jesus Christ, by His own description, was homeless.

    If your grandfather wasn’t a Preus, he probably was nobody in particular, too. Those who had land and houses in the old country usually stayed there.

  21. @helen #25
    OK Helen, I will back it down, and I will pull back the liberal comment…just when many bring up modern capitalism, some always see it as bad. If you are rich and do evil, you are wrong. If you are poor and do evil you are wrong.

    We “seem” to be in an environment where social redistribution is playing well in our country, to some.

    And not all six figure people are bad either, yes, some earn it by hard work, some by “evil” means.

  22. >>Pardon me for asking.

    No pardon necessary! I’m extremely grateful to you and all the other generous Texas taxpayers! :)

    It’s neat that you are attending the same congregation. Sometime if you make out who she is — if a small group is playing for a service, she’s the one with the bassoon! — please introduce yourself and tell her you “know” her father. She’d get a kick out of that.

    In such situations I always sing “It’s a small Synod after all.” My son will be studying in London next year and just a few miles from the university is an LCMS-related ELCE congregation where an old friend and classmate of mine is the pastor! “It’s a small Synod after all!”

  23. @Rev. Kevin Vogts #28
    It’s neat that you are attending the same congregation. Sometime if you make out who she is — if a small group is playing for a service, she’s the one with the bassoon!

    Yes. Perhaps, if she plays for “Old fashioned Christmas” in the fellowship hall on the 15th. (But she may be on her way home by then.) Our musicians, except the bell choir (which won’t fit, or they would, too) reside in the balcony on Sunday morning.

    @Pastor David L. Prentice Jr. #27
    If you are rich and do evil, you are wrong. If you are poor and do evil you are wrong.

    If you are rich enough and steal enough, nothing at all happens. You may even be thought clever! Only Bernie Madoff is in jail; that’s because he bilked fellow Jews. Those who stole from the rest of us are rewarded with cabinet positions.
    If you are poor and steal a little, you go to jail.

    I have friends among the 7 figure people; it is possible to earn that honestly and not look down on people whose profession doesn’t pay as well, too. (Those who snub others are usually only a few thousand ahead and insecure besides.)

  24. While doing some preparation for my taxes I just came across another IRS document which states:

    “Pursuant to IRC § 265(a)(6) and Rev. Rul. 87-32, 1987-1 C.B. 131 even though a minister’s home mortgage interest and real estate taxes have been paid with money excluded from income as a housing allowance, he or she may still claim itemized deductions for these items.” [http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-utl/ministers.pdf]

    So there are the references to the official IRS regulations and rulings on this matter. I don’t see how this could be any clearer, and, though I myself have for various reasons not taken this deduction, I still believe that an apology, which has not yet been forthcoming, is owed to those ministers who do, for the following unfounded accusation:

    “Indeed the tax code is pretty consistent in explicitly disallowing double dipping. So it would seem that, in general, congress/IRS considers double dipping to be unethical as well. I find it particularly sad that MINISTERS are the ones that are eligible to and actually do take advantage of this double dipping.”

  25. Pastor Vogts is correct.  IRS can hardly consider the deductions as unethical when it proactively and explicitly encourages eligible filers to claim them.

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