What is the future of faith-based tax benefits?

By | March 20, 2024

This article first appeared in the State of Faith Newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox every Monday evening.

If a church-affiliated charity offers the same services as a secular charity, should it still be considered religious?

A divided Wisconsin Supreme Court said no last week in a ruling that sparked an intense debate over the future of faith-based tax breaks.

Justices in the majority said a Catholic organization can no longer receive a religious exemption from the state because its efforts to serve the poor are not “primarily” religious.

“They offer services that would be the same regardless of the provider’s motivation, a strong indication that the subentities are not ‘operating primarily for religious purposes,’” Judge Ann Walsh Bradley wrote for the majority, according to The Associated Press. .

The case is believed to be the first of its kind. Previous faith-related financial fights generally focused on property taxes, while this one focused on unemployment taxes.

In property tax lawsuits, judges are considering whether the land is not only owned by a religious organization, but also used by that organization for religious purposes, The Associated Press reports.

Similarly, the judges in the Wisconsin case weighed whether the Catholic charity’s work is motivated by religious teachings and whether its services are religious in nature.

“The record shows that (the Catholic Charities Bureau) and its sub-entities, which are organized as separate corporations separate from the church itself, neither attempt to imbue program participants with the Catholic faith nor provide religious materials to program participants or employees .” Bradley wrote.

If Thursday’s ruling stands, the agency will have to start paying Wisconsin’s unemployment system. The organization is currently taking advantage of an unemployment program run by the Catholic Church, according to the Catholic News Agency.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is among those cheering the ruling, saying it believes offering tax exemptions to religious charities like the Catholic Charities Bureau is a slippery slope.

“If the charitable groups had prevailed, the next step would be arguments to exempt religious hospitals and colleges, such as Marquette University, from paying unemployment taxes,” a foundation representative told The Associated Press.

But many others rejected Thursday’s Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling, arguing that majority justices misunderstood and characterized the work of faith-based charities.

“The Wisconsin Supreme Court has completely mishandled this case,” Eric Rassbach, vice president and senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the firm that represents Catholic charities and their subentities, told The Associated Press.

The Catholic Charities Bureau plans to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Hot off the press

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Term of the week: the nones

I know what you’re thinking: “I already know about the nones!” After all, it was only two months ago that I wrote about an in-depth survey of religiously unaffiliated Americans.

I’m revisiting the phrase because I came across a nice alternative definition for it on Friday. Apparently the ancient Romans called a specific day of each month “the nones,” just as they called the middle of the month “the ides.”

So March 7 was/is the nones of March and March 15 was/is the ides of March. In shorter months like April, the nones shifts to the 5th, while the ides shifts to the 13th.

Shoutout to Stylebot’s weekly newsletter for bringing all of this to my attention.

Here is the full newsletter breakdown of how the ancient Romans divided a month: “The first day of the month was the ‘calends’, followed by a period known as ‘before the nones’. After the nones… came the period known simply as ‘before the ides’. That was of course followed by the ‘ides’, which falls on the 15th day in months of 31 days. After the ides we have ‘before the calendars’, since the calendars would then be the first day of the next month.

What I read…

Do you think non-religious liberals have gone too far in their efforts to keep public institutions secular? You are not alone. A new Pew Research Center survey on religion and politics shows that 50% of American adults feel this way. But there’s a catch: Nearly as many Americans (48%) are frustrated that conservative Christians are doing the opposite by allowing more religious displays in schools and government buildings.

The Associated Press recently offered an inside look at an Amish mud sale, an annual event in which Amish families sell food and use farm equipment to raise money.

Curious to see how BYU basketball’s Aly Khalifa did in his first Lent game? My colleague Jackson Payne wrote about Khalifa’s Ramadan experiences during last week’s Big 12 tournament.

Odds and ends

My favorite professional organization, Religion News Association, turns 75 this year! If you’re interested in supporting the future, consider purchasing RNA-themed shirts or accessories.

Will you be filling out a March Madness bracket this week? Sports and religion scientist Paul Putz tweeted about the teams in the men’s tournament that are in some way connected to organized religion.

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