Religion Feed

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 Bankrate.com 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: MyFoxHOUSTON.com 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 →


I'm not a particularly big churchgoer, even for special events like today. But amid all the expectations and expenses, I like to return to the reason for today's celebrations, the Biblical story of the birth of Jesus. I do have a nativity scene. And this year, purely by accident, it reflects a bit of Texas. A change in our holiday plans meant we (and by we, I mean me) didn't go as Christmas decorating crazy as in past years. I left the items that usually fill our foyer console during December boxed and instead put our Raku pottery nativity there.... Read more →


Earlier today, nearly 100 pastors spoke to their congregations about political issues. The special sermons were part of this year's Pulpit Freedom Sunday. Like the first Pulpit Freedom Sunday in 2008, also a general election year, the ministers are defying tax laws that say tax-exempt organizations cannot support politicians and keep their tax-advantaged status. The ministers, egged on encouraged by the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based nonprofit Alliance Defense Fund, say they are just exercising their right to free speech. Yes, reverends, you, like every other American, can say pretty much what you want. But if your group is getting a tax break,... Read more →


And so in the end, it was Uncle Sam, not a global cataclysm, that destroyed the dinosaurs. Or at least that's the fate of the dinosaurs that are part of creationist Kent Hovind's dinosaur-meets-the-Almighty theme park. Last week, the U.S. District Court in Pensacola, Fla., ordered that Hovind-owned properties, including the Dinosaur Adventure Land theme park, be seized to pay debts related to the conviction of Hovind and his wife, Jo, for tax fraud. The Hovinds were the owners of Creation Science Evangelism (CSE), a nondenominational religious organization espousing creation science over evolution. After various business iterations, in 2003, the... Read more →


Pulpit Freedom Sunday not likely to get an 'amen' from IRS ... or congregants

For members of some churches this Sunday, their church is no sanctuary from politics. A group of ministers, around 35 at last count, will tell their congregations to vote for either Barack Obama or John McCain. This so-called Pulpit Freedom Sunday message is a direct challenge to the tax law that prohibits tax-exempt organizations from participating in overtly political activities. It also might not be as welcome as the clergy might think, according to a recent poll on combining religion and politics. More on this survey in a bit. Free speech or tax free? The tax law at issue was... Read more →


IRS issues word on churches & politics

With the Democratic Party Convention kicking off tomorrow and the Republican Party event on its heels, the IRS thought it a good time to remind religious groups what is and isn't acceptable as far as tax-exempts group and political activities. OK, maybe it wasn't an act of the tax gods, but merely a coincidence. Still, what with the recent Saddleback Show, it's a good idea to make it clear -- again -- that the IRS still has some degrees of separation of church and state when it comes to collecting revenue. Blur those lines, and the agency will want some... Read more →


More 'home' church tax breaks

Apparently, that guy in Illinois who turned his home into a church, thereby avoiding an $80,000 tax bill, is not alone. Today's South Florida Sun-Sentinel takes a look at a $3.2 million, 12,000-square-foot Coral Springs, Fla., estate whose owner is able to escape a $64,000 tax bill because the residence periodically houses missionaries working in Haiti. Oh yeah, that property-tax-free owner also lives there on occasion. He's the founder of the Church of Bible Understanding in Philadelphia. According to the newspaper, the value of Broward County properties considered tax-exempt for religious purposes totaled $1.8 billion in 2007. Most were traditional... Read more →