The Federal Emergency Management Agency recently changed course to allow emergency relief for churches and other religious houses of worship, on par with non-religious organizations and in keeping with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2017 Trinity Lutheran case involving government grants for religious school playgrounds. How do disaster relief, playgrounds, and religious liberty relate to each other? In a nutshell, as FEMA has now affirmatively recognized, constitutional religious liberty protections mean that religious organizations may not be categorically disqualified from government grants such as for playground materials, to rebuild their houses of worship, or for other programs they may offer - even if they contain religious elements.
Christmas is the season for gift-giving as Christians around the world celebrate Jesus’ birth. More broadly, all religions within the United States enjoy the gift of tax exemption. But just how far does tax exemption extend – and is it truly a gift, or a right? Does tax exemption extend only under Section 501(c)(3)? What other taxes also affect churches? Tax scholar and law professor Edward Zelinsky answers these questions in the newly published book Taxing the Church (Oxford University Press 2017), addressing the diversity of which houses of worship are taxed, the normative question of whether they should be taxed, and provides a fourfold framework for understanding church taxation.
Is the religious housing allowance constitutional or not? For the second time in the last four years, however, Wisconsin federal district court Judge Barbara Crabb has ruled the latter clergy-owned housing allowance unconstitutional, raising enormous religious liberty ramifications as well as extremely significant potential financial implications for many religious institutions. The ruling has been stayed for now, but the battle lines are well marked and controversy surrounding the issue surely will continue. What’s different between Judge Crabb’s two rulings, and what can religious organizations expect next?