Religion Feed

Full disclosure: I didn't watch HBO's documentary on the Church of Scientology last night. We don't get the premium channel and anyway I had zombies walkers to follow. But I plan to catch "Going Clear" when it's available on video on demand or some streaming option. HBO "Going Clear" trailer Alex Gibney's two-hour film apparently focuses more on certain specific allegations about the church, particularly in connection with two of its most famous members, actors John Travolta and Tom Cruise, than did the book upon which it is based. From a tax standpoint, how the Scientologists came to be officially... Read more →

Pope Francis has been in the news recently. There was, of course, his annual Christmas mass and Christmas Day address to the tens of thousands gathered in St Peter's Square. As is so often the case with this pontiff, he focused on Dec. 25 on the struggles of those with in dire straits -- abused children, refugees, hostages and others suffering from violence worldwide. Just a few days earlier, in his Christmas greeting to the Curia, he accused the group of cardinals, bishops and priests who make up the church administration of suffering from spiritual Alzheimer's, forgetting what drew them... Read more →

Maybe it's just me, but I haven't heard much this year about the so-called war on Christmas. In case you've missed the battle because you're too busy every December, here's a quick refresher. This is the assertion that there's a consolidated, aggressive effort by governments, media, advertising, retailers and various other secular movements to strip Dec. 25 of its religious meaning. Basically, say pro-Merry Christmas/anti-Happy Holidays combatants, people are trying to take Christ out of Christmas. Or maybe I haven't heard so much this year about the annual (traditional?) fight because, according to a recent survey, the war on Christmas... Read more →

By now, most Americans have wrapped up their annual tax-filing duties. And it's probably safe to say that a lot of folks are feeling a lot poorer after fulfilling their tax responsibilities. Some individuals, however, have tried to use a religious vow of poverty to avoid taxes altogether. In these egregious tax evasion cases, they haven't been successful. Poverty vow was a poor tax argument: Take the case of Timothy Dale Jackson. The 50-year-old orthopedic surgeon from Pass Christian, Mississippi, claimed to have taken a vow of poverty with a Utah-based church. Jackson said that his monetary sacrifice exempted him... Read more →

Legal minds great and not-so-great have and will continue to parse today's Supreme Court decision that closely-held corporations can't be required to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives over their owners' religious objections. The justices' ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. was based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). This law, enacted in 1993, essentially prohibits government actions that substantially burden the exercise of religion. RFRA does provide an exception for actions that constitute the "least restrictive means of serving a compelling government interest." Hobby Lobby's owners, as well as the Mennonite owners of Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp.... Read more →

Many folks spent Easter, either the full weekend starting on Good Friday and ending on this important Christian holiday, going to church services and/or visiting family. But sometimes, a break is welcome. A good one on this Easter Sunday is to take in an appropriately themed movie. Faith-based movies are in vogue right now, with several recent releases, including Noah, Heaven is Real and Son of God doing well at the box office. Hey, believing is important, but so is paying real-life bills. Check your local Cineplex to see if these flicks are still on the wide screen in your... Read more →

With Mary so close to delivering her child, why did she and Joseph risk traveling to Bethlehem? Taxes. A census was ordered to determine the taxes due from the residents of the Roman Empire. Each person had to return to his home town to meet the decree's requirements. So Joseph and Mary headed out from Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, specifically to the city of David known as Bethlehem, an estimated three-day trip, because Joseph was of the house and family of David. And the rest is Biblical history. Our Texas Nativity, with a Lone Star and a colorful Mexican... Read more →

What child tax breaks are these?

The birth of Jesus is one of the most well-known stories. For Christians, it is, as the saying goes, the reason for the season. But even many non-believers are moved by the tale of the birth of a child in stable, with a manger serving as his crib. One of the most beautiful renditions of those humble circumstances is in What Child is This? It was a tough call, but that song barely beat out Away in a Manger for the final spot on the 2013 Christmas Tax Tip Tunes play list. Both songs celebrate the birth of a child.... Read more →

One of the most-hallowed tax breaks for ministers has been struck down by a federal judge. Judge Barbara Crabb of the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin ruled on Nov. 21 that the parsonage allowance is unconstitutional. She also issued an injunction discontinuing the tax code section. Don't panic, ministers et al. Your tax bills aren't going up just yet. Crabb stayed her ruling until the conclusion of any appeals, which is standard legal operating procedure. Housing allowance tax history: The housing allowance is an amount designated by a church -- any church, despite the Protestant-sounding... Read more →

Sure the Pope gets a lot of attention thanks to the annual Christmas services at the Holy See. But just as important to some is the world's smallest sovereign state's duty-free shopping opportunity. The Vatican's St. Peter's Basilica, courtesy Wikimedia Commons The Associated Press reports that The Vatican's duty-free department store offers bargains on flat-screen televisions, a variety of Samsonite luggage, custom shoes, luxury watches and a variety of other high-end items. Got a golfer on your list? Then there's a leather-bound travel trunk from Florence's "The Bridge" leather works that comes with a matching leather golf club bag. I'm... Read more →

Concern about tax-exempt religious groups literally using a bully pulpit to get their congregants to vote a certain way apparently was greatly exaggerated. Only 5 percent of voters who attend religious services monthly or more reported hearing explicit political directives from their clergy, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll. And that small percentage is this week's By the Numbers figure. Ninety-three percent of the Pew poll participants said they didn't get any electoral endorsements from their religious leaders. Of the few who did, 3 percent reported that they were urged by their clergy to vote for Republicans. Less... Read more →

Evading taxes apparently is in fashion in Italy. Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, founders of luxe Italian fashion house Dolce & Gabbana, are scheduled to go on trial in December for tax evasion. The designers allegedly avoided Italian taxes when they sold their business in 2004 to a Luxembourg-based holding company, Gado Srl, that tax officials contend they created specifically for tax evasion purposes. Meanwhile, the fashion houses of Hugo Boss and Valentino also are tax trouble. Italy's tax police revealed earlier this month that had confiscated $83.5 million worth of land, holdings and real estate, including a 15th century... Read more →

I'm not a church-going gal, much to my mother's chagrin, but I know that a minister's (or priest's or rabbi's) job is not easy. Father Niles, the Episcopalian priest who officiated when the hubby and I got married, had to travel several hundred miles to make our union legal in the eyes of man and God. But he did so because his faithful congregant, my father-in-law, thought our private-residence rite needed a touch of spirituality. So even though I'm not in a church on Sundays, I know that many folks are at weekly (and more) services and that their preachers... Read more →

Despite all his wealth, Mitt Romney has one thing in common with a lot of other Americans who make much, much less money than he does. They all donate to religious groups. In 2011, American contributed more than $298 billion to charitable organizations. This was a four percent increase over the amount donated in 2010, according to Giving USA 2012, the latest annual report on philanthropy by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis. Almost a third of those donations, or almost $96 billion, went to religious organizations. Once again, this sector got most of the year's... Read more →

Mitt Romney is rich and he doesn't pay a lot of tax on his money. Big whoop. We already knew that the presumptive Republican presidential nominee has boatloads of money -- more than $250 million by one estimate -- is no surprise. Neither is it a big shock that Romney, like the also uber-rich Warren Buffett and dozens of big companies, pays little in federal taxes. C'mon. The guy has enough money to buy accounting and tax law firms to make sure the sends as little as possible to the U.S. Treasury each April. We all should be so lucky.... Read more →

What do the Pope and tax cheats have in common? Italy wants all of them to pay more taxes. OK, it's not specifically Pope Benedictus XVI that Italian tax collectors are after. Rather, the country reportedly is pressuring the Roman Catholic Church to start paying taxes on its massive property portfolio. The tax collections, say supporters of Prime Minister Mario Monti's proposal, could help Italy weather its economic crisis by raising ups to 800 million euros. That's just over $1 billion in United States currency. They also argue that it's the proper thing to do. It's unfair, they say, that... Read more →

Given the troubles caused by the many, many natural disasters this year, a lot of folks have been beseeching a higher power. I totally understand that. Whatever gets you through the tough times. But remember to ask the Internal Revenue Service for help, too. As I noted last week at my other tax blog, the federal tax code can offer some tax relief for disaster victims. And speaking of the convergence of taxes and religion, last week over at I also raised the question of whether it's time for the clergy housing tax break to go. That topic was... Read more →

Last month the New York Department of Taxation threatened to fine some Amish business owners who didn't follow the state's new electronic filing mandate. Since May 30, the Empire State has required businesses that collect sales taxes to send in the necessary returns and payments electronically. Each e-file failure carries a $50 penalty. The change has been hard for the state's Amish who eschew modern conveniences, such as telephones and computers. Heck, they aren't even on an electric grid. When the traditional and tax worlds collided last month, state officials promised to be "judicious" in levying any fines against Amish... Read more →

New York businesses who collect sales taxes now must file those returns and make payments electronically. If they don't, the state's Department of Taxation and Finance will assess a $50 penalty for each failure to e-file. Most Empire State businesses who fall under the mandatory e-filing law which took effect May 30 won't have a problem meeting the electronic requirements. Unless they are Amish. Since they shun electricity, the Amish don't own computers or phones with which they could e-pay their taxes. And that adherence to age-old traditions mean that the rest of the world's technological advances are which making... Read more →

No tax refund donation, no communion?

A Texas pastor has been accused by his congregation of holding communion hostage in return for their tax money. Pastor Calls Flock Devils, Demons: Parishioners at Houston Unity Baptist church say that the Rev. John Goodman told them that if they didn't donate their tax refunds to the church, he would withhold the usual Sunday rite. And he did just that. Goodman acknowledged that he refused communion to his flock. The pastor also admitted that he referred to some in his 30-member church as devils and demons. But Goodman told a Houston television station the name calling and withholding... Read more →