Secular Movement Watches Mesa for Church-State Test Case

Contact: Luke Douglas, Executive Director, Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix
(971) 272-7150 –

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Secular Movement Watches Mesa for Church-State Test Case

(Mon., July 29, 2019) Mesa, Ariz. — The Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix (HSGP), a freethought education and advocacy nonprofit headquartered near Arizona State University, made newsthis month by launching a constitutional challenge to the “parsonage exemption,” which gives ministers of the gospel preferential treatment under federal tax law. The national secular movement is watching Arizona for a test case on separation of church and state.

The Internal Revenue Code allows churches to pay housing allowances to “ministers of the gospel” that the ministers are not required to report on their federal income taxes, a benefit that has no limit on the amount of income exempted and no comparable benefit for secular organizations. The Freedom From Religion Foundation, an atheist advocacy group in Wisconsin, recently concluded an unsuccessful federal lawsuit challenging the parsonage exemption as unconstitutional. 

The Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix believes its new test case can pick up where the last case left off, but this time succeed.

“It all comes down to equality, plain and simple,” says Luke Douglas, the executive director of HSGP. “Either the parsonage exemption should apply to nonprofit leaders across the board without singling out ministers, or it should apply to nobody.”

HSGP has approached the issue differently than the previous case. By cutting its executive director’s salary and awarding him a housing allowance that is tax-free under the parsonage exemption, it believes it will create a strong test case to extend equal treatment to secular organizations under the law.

“I do everything for HSGP that a minister does,” says Douglas. “I’m an ordained Humanist celebrant who officiates funerals and gives invocations. I organize a community of nonbelievers that fills many of the roles people associate with churches, and as a former fundamentalist Christian myself, supporting people who are searching for hope after traditional religion is so much of what Humanism is about for me.”

The Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix is a warm and welcoming community of Humanists, atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, and nontheists of all types. HSGP aims to enrich the lives of any who join us through explorations in science, philosophy, history, and the arts.