Friday, May 31, 2019

Tax Court Denies Deduction For Evangelist's Expenses

In Oliveri v. Commissioner (US Tax Ct., May 28, 2019), the U.S. Tax Court rejected claims by a Catholic evangelist that the disallowance of a charitable deduction for many of his evangelistic activities violated his rights under the First Amendment and RFRA:
Petitioner contends that respondent is characterizing his evangelism as if it were not a religious activity and that respondent’s characterization violates the First Amendment. Petitioner mischaracterizes respondent’s position, which is that petitioner’s expenses for evangelistic activities are not deductible as charitable contributions under section 170, not that they are not religious activities. Not all religious activities are services “to or for the use of” a religious organization for purposes of section 170....
Petitioner contends that disallowance of his section 170 deductions violates his right to the free exercise of religion by placing a substantial burden on his evangelization, in that it would result in his having less money to evangelize. We disagree. In Hernandez v. Commissioner, 490 U.S. 680, 699 (1989), the Supreme Court said that “we need not decide whether the burden of disallowing the §170 deduction is a substantial one, for our decision in Lee establishes that even a substantial burden would be justified by the ‘broad public interest in maintaining as ound tax system’”. 
The Tax Court also rejected petitioner's claim that "three audits of his Federal income tax returns within 10 years resulted in excessive Government entanglement with his exercise of religion."