Letter to Editor — Houston Chronicle’s series on tax exemptions for parsonages

 

Letter to Editor published in Houston Chronicle, Dec. 21, 2021

Maintaining separation between religion and government is good for religious organizations and their leaders. It safeguards their autonomy, enables them to practice their faith and to speak out without fear of government interference or reprisal and checks governmental favoritism of any particular denomination or congregation.

The Chronicle’s series about religious organizations and parsonages raises troubling questions about this foundational American principle in Texas.

Why are congregations exempted from taxes that others must pay, especially when the Texas Constitution demands that “no preference shall ever be given by law to any religious society?”

Why, according to the attorney described as one of the state’s foremost authorities on Texas property tax law, do “church organizations get more benefits than any other exempt entities in the tax code?”

Why does Texas have a law that benefits some houses of worship over others?

Why are taxpayers effectively subsidizing the pay of some clergy or even religious activities by churches that assert that the tax savings enable them to spend that savings elsewhere?  Taxpayers should never be forced to support religious beliefs to which they do not subscribe.

Why is the law so vague and general that some appraisers believe they have no authority to question a parsonage request?

Most troubling, why are some appraisers so reluctant to hold religious organizations accountable under Texas law?

This law has given religious societies special treatment.  Religious privilege is not religious freedom. We need to reclaim true religious freedom–fairness without favor and equality without exception—in Texas.

Maintaining separation between religion and government is good for religious organizations and their leaders. It safeguards their autonomy, enables them to practice their faith and to speak out without fear of government interference or reprisal and checks governmental favoritism of any particular denomination or congregation.

The Chronicle’s series about religious organizations and parsonages raises troubling questions about this foundational American principle in Texas.

Why are congregations exempted from taxes that others must pay, especially when the Texas Constitution demands that “no preference shall ever be given by law to any religious society?”

Why, according to the attorney described as one of the state’s foremost authorities on Texas property tax law, do “church organizations get more benefits than any other exempt entities in the tax code?”

Why does Texas have a law that benefits some houses of worship over others?

Why are taxpayers effectively subsidizing the pay of some clergy or even religious activities by churches that assert that the tax savings enable them to spend that savings elsewhere?  Taxpayers should never be forced to support religious beliefs to which they do not subscribe.

Why is the law so vague and general that some appraisers believe they have no authority to question a parsonage request?

Most troubling, why are some appraisers so reluctant to hold religious organizations accountable under Texas law?

This law has given religious societies special treatment.  Religious privilege is not religious freedom. We need to reclaim true religious freedom–fairness without favor and equality without exception—in Texas.

Nancy Friedman
President, Houston chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State