Religion and Taxation


I was quite pleased to find that Professor Samuel Brunson led off his recently released book - God And The IRS Accommodating Religious Practice in United States Tax -  with a discussion of the tax shenanigans of Kent Hovind.  And then there is the part of the book that makes me wish I was on Breitbart and could lead with something like "Professor Would Have IRS Apply Sharia Law To Accommodate Muslims " , but we are talking about a serious treatise here, although, frankly, it is also a fun read if you have the right set of interests.  In exploring the way religious beliefs have been accommodated or not accommodated in federal tax law, Professor Brunson takes us on a quirky tour of somewhat obscure parts of American history.

Expecting It Should Make Sense

Brunson's thesis is that accommodations to religious individuals have been implemented in a random, haphazard manner without any sort of overarching system.  The point of Brunson's survey is to demonstrate the "ad hoc, reactive lawmaking" that has created exiting religious accommodations in the tax law. From there he goes on to suggest a rational rubric and then apply that rubric to a number of situations that might call for accommodation.

I have a sense that Brunson's quest is somewhat quixotic, but you can always hope.  Over the next couple of years bright lads and lasses in law school may read Brunson's book.  The brightest of them will be clerking for Supreme Court justices in a few years when the parsonage exclusion litigation now before the Seventh Circuit makes it to the big leagues.  

Well Crafted

God And The IRS is well crafted to be appreciated by anyone interested in the intersection of religion and taxation.  I realized that as I was finding parts of the first two chapters a little tedious and it dawned on me that not too many people read as much about taxes as I do.  Chapter 2 Making the Tax Law is actually quite good, I was just impatient to get to the part about Kent Hovind.

Chapter 3 - Accommodation in the Intersection of Religious Practice and the Tax Law - explains the problem that accommodations are designed to address:

When religious actors are taxed, their religious practice sometimes becomes subject to the intrusive oversight of the IR. If, however, the legislature chooses to exempt religious actors from taxation, the IRS must police the borders of that exemption. Either way, religion becomes entangled with the state.1 Not all of these entanglements implicate the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment, of course; a religious taxpayer who claims no religious objection to taxation is subject to intrusive oversight, but it is the same intrusive oversight as nonreligious taxpayers. The oversight has no religious significance. Still, some entanglements between tax and religious belief or practice do represent a burden on individuals’ religious beliefs or practices. And when the tax law impinges on an individual's religious beliefs or practices, the government must decide how to resolve the conflict.

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