An Illinois court ruled recently that the state can’t tax a religious ministry to underprivileged children. The Illinois Department of Employment Security had attempted to assess unemployment compensation taxes to By the Hand Club For Kids, a ministry of The Moody Church, reversing the Department’s previous determinations that By the Hand was nontaxable since its creation in 2001.
What is a church? According to materials released early 2018, the venerable Christian radio and publishing ministry Focus on the Family pressed that question with the IRS, successfully garnering official reclassification as a “church.” The IRS’s willingness to accede to Focus’ request, as reflected in recently released IRS documentation, may be surprising and certainly invites further evaluation of what constitutes a “church” for legal purposes.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s recently issued Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruling may afford more protection for civil discourse and diverse opinion than appears on the surface. Although it narrowly focused on the Colorado law’s unconstitutional application in the majority opinion, the Court also addressed the intersection of dignity, respect, conscience, and liberty within the context of important First Amendment Free Exercise rights. The case thus reflects the developing contours of the Court’s still newly minted framework established in the 2015 landmark Obergefell v. Hodges same-sex marriage case, with some cause for religious liberty optimism.