October 10, 2017
If the name Barbara Crabb sounds familiar, it should. The Wisconsin judge has long been synonymous with religious harassment since before she first struck down the National Day of Prayer as unconstitutional more than 7 years ago. In 2013, she turned her hostility to religion on our nation's clergy -- striking down as unconstitutional the longstanding law giving pastors tax-free housing allowances. The Seventh Circuit later overturned her ruling citing a lack of standing. The anti-faith extremists at Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) (the same plaintiffs who -- not so coincidentally -- sued in Crabb's court against the National Day of Prayer), came back with a second lawsuit -- again arguing that ministers should have to pay taxes on any income that is designated for their housing payments. On Friday, Judge Crabb struck down the housing allowance once again.
The FFRF and their friend Judge Crabb step over the fact that going back to Patrick Henry in 1785, society has tried to relieve the clergy's housing burden because of the tremendous social benefits churches offer the culture and because so many clergy, despite their exceptional educations, receive only modest salaries. Congress has long used tax-breaks and incentives to encourage that which is beneficial to society as a whole. What's changed in the last eight years that would create an environment where such a lawsuit would be taken seriously? The eight years of religious hostility under the Obama administration (as detailed in our 66 page Hostility to Religion Report) goes a long way toward answering that question.
I'd like to ask Judge Crabb: Where are the atheist-run soup kitchens, clothes closets, relief agencies, orphanages, adoption agencies, counselors, and hospitals? They are not there. They don't exist. It is churches -- led by pastors -- that primarily provide these benefits to communities and society in general. Americans donate over $100 billion to religious charities, including churches, every year because they believe it makes a positive difference. Churches have been central to the relief efforts in the aftermath of hurricane damage in Southeast Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. The outreach ministries of church help address a host of social ills that would otherwise become the sole burden of taxpayers and the federal government. Thankfully, the Becket Fund has promised to appeal Judge Crabb's animus driven ruling. I believe this case will mirror the outcome in the National Day of Prayer case: in embarrassment for Judge Crabb.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.