Book Announcement: God and the IRS

I’m thrilled to announce that my book God and the IRS: Accommodating Religious Practice in United States Tax Law (New York: Cambridge UP, 2018) has just been published and is available for your reading pleasure.

As background to the book, the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment (as well as the jurisprudence courts have used to interpret and apply the Religion Clauses) have a sometimes-complicated interplay. Because the law sometimes imposes on individuals’ ability to practice their religion, the government can sometimes accommodate their religious practice, exempting religious individuals from generally-applicable laws. At the same time, though, in general, the law can’t favor religion over non-religion; as a result, sometimes religious people can’t get an exemption from the generally-applicable law. A lot of religious litigation turns on where, in a given situation, the line between permissible and impermissible accommodation falls.

To my interests, tt turns out that sometimes, religious practices affect practitioners’ financial lives. Sometimes, that spillover between religion and finance even has tax implications. But the question of religious accommodation in the tax law differs from general accommodation questions. Why? Because the courts have held that raising revenue is such an important government interest that no religious practice requires accommodation. At the same time, though, the Tax Anti-Injunction Act makes it virtually impossible for taxpayers to challenge an accommodation that Congress has decided to grant.

Which brings us to my book. Essentially, Congress has enacted a handful of tax accommodations. But these accommodations have been enacted on an ad hoc basis, with no theoretical connective tissue between them; because Congress doesn’t have an underlying theory of tax accommodation, moreover, there are situations that might merit accommodation that haven’t been granted that accommodation.

In God and the IRS, I tell the stories of the various religious exemptions that Congress has granted, as well as the stories of some that Congress hasn’t granted, and then I propose a framework that Congress could use to evaluate whether a religious practice with tax implications should be accommodated.

I’ll note that this book isn’t focused on Mormonism. I tell tax stories about Catholic tax protests over abortion funding and Quaker objections to funding war through their taxes. I lay out the history of Scientology and the tax deductibility of auditing payments. I talk about churches’ tax-free provision of housing to their ministers (including the history of the beautiful Chicago Temple of Chicago’s First United Methodist Church). I write about Islamic finance. I write about communitarian churches that have adopted the economics of the Apostolic church.

Honestly, I’m probably a little biased here, but if you’re interested in the interaction of religion and the modern state, I think you’ll find something valuable in my book.

But even if you’re just interested in discussions of Mormonism, I have a couple chapters for you. Because of course a discussion of religion and tax cannot entirely ignore Mormonism. In one chapter, I give perhaps the most complete history to date of the Davis case, where the Supreme Court held that parents’ gifts to their Mormon missionary children were not tax-deductible.

In another, I discuss individuals who have evaded taxes in the past. In some cases, a taxpayer can make up those back payments on a payment plan (meaning that, while they pay interest on the past-due taxes, they don’t have to pay them in a lump sum). The IRS calculates the amount an individual can pay monthly based on both their income and certain expenses. In a number of situations, individuals have attempted to reduce the amount they can pay by the amount that they tithe; in one recent case, a Mormon argued that keeping his temple recommend (and stake Scouting position) was sufficient to allow him to pay tithing.

A couple last things: first, if you’re interested in getting the flavor of the book, Cambridge allowed me to post the introduction on SSRN; you can download and read it for free.

In addition, Peter Reilly, a CPA and blogger at Forbes with a deep interest and knowledge the intersection between tax and religion, has posted a review of the book here.

Comments

  1. Congrats, Sam. Sounds like an interesting book . . . for accountants and tax lawyers!

  2. Wally, thanks! I certainly hope it’s interesting for accountants and tax attorneys; like I said, I also hope it’s interesting for anybody interested in the intersection of religion and the state. I wrote it trying to hit the sweet spot where it has something to say to specialists in the area, but that it can also speak to people who aren’t enmeshed in questions of taxation (or even, for that matter, in questions of religious accommodation).

  3. Yes, great news, Sam.

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    I read a prepublication version and thought it was great. I’m confident that our readers would really enjoy it; being a tax professional not required.

  5. J. Stapley says:

    This is great news. Congrats! Having read a few draft bits I’m really excited to dig into the final project. I think a lot of people will be interested in this volume.

  6. Aussie Mormon says:

    How quick of a read is this? That is, as someone that doesn’t know a whole heap about US taxation law etc, will I spend more time looking up the definition of terms than I do reading the actual book?

  7. Aussie Mormon, it’s about 220 pages of substance. (After that come endnotes and the index.) I think it’s an interesting and engaging read but, at the same time, admit that I’m biased.

    It is almost exclusively about US law, though. (I I mention the way Israel taxes kibbutzim in contrast to the way the US taxes communitarian organizations, but I’m pretty sure that’s the only non-US law I discuss.) Still, I tried to write it so that non-tax people could still read and understand it. (And frankly, if anything just doesn’t make sense, you—or any other reader—can feel free to email me, and I’d be happy to try to clarify and explain.) (At least, after this week, when I’m no longer answering my students’ pre-finals questions.)

  8. John Mansfield says:

    Which tax/religion issue in the book was the most difficult to resolve using legal principles?

  9. I will put it on my summer reading list.

  10. Terry H. says:

    Got it. Thanks for the heads up. Perhaps we can sell a few. It looks reasonably priced, especially for a Cambridge publication.

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