Should an organization which professes Freedom from Religion have a right to the same treatment as an established religious organization when it comes to Federal taxes? According to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, that is the case. The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed suit against the Federal Government for the exemptions that the IRS provides to persons who lead a religious body (priests, ministers, rabbis, etc.). The Foundation argued that these people are individuals, and should therefore be subject to individual taxes, and that exempting these individuals from taxes was the same as violating the First Amendment guaranteeing separation of Church and State in the United States.
Prior to their case, the FFRF paid the taxes of their leaders, rather than those leaders claiming an exemption. In their oral statement on the case, one of the judges asked “Why they should be required to engage in a futile action in order to bring a challenge?” With that statement, it becomes clear that the FFRF did not need to pay the taxes for their leaders, just as a Methodist minister should not have their taxes paid by the Methodist congregation they serve. The very fact that a judge made that statement should serve as validation of the IRS providing tax exemptions to religious leaders in the U.S.
Because the FFRF did not need to provide tax help in order to make their case, it is clear that the U.S. Government does not want to favor any religious group (or anti-religious group) when it comes to taxes. By providing for the same exemption for religious leaders serving a religious body, the IRS would not be violating the separation of Church and State – all religious groups would be afforded equal protection under IRS regulations and the Constitution.
Unfortunately, the final outcome of the case was in favor of what the FFRF wanted: the IRS not providing tax exemptions to religious leaders, and forcing them to be treated as individuals and therefore subject to the same tax obligations as the members of their congregations. When it comes to the Freedom of Religion in the United States, there disruption of that Freedom is coming from multiple sides with tactics that are designed to convince lawmakers that the people of the United States no longer hold their Religious Freedom as something that is not to be trifled with. But when religious bodies as a whole stand together to show the people that Religious Freedom in the U.S. is something that is not only sacred, but necessary, perhaps those groups who wish to transform our First Amendment rights – and the other rights guaranteed by the Constitution – into the antithesis of what the Founding Fathers had established will be pushed back and lose the power they seem to be reaching for when they bring lawsuits such as this into public light.