FFRF requests investigation into tax exemption abuse

Wichita politician lives in church house, church avoids taxes

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is asking a Sedgwick County appraiser to investigate a misuse of a church parsonage exemption claimed on the home of a Kansas state Senate candidate.

FFRF is a national state-church watchdog based in Madison, Wis., with over 19,000 members nationwide, including members in Kansas.

Michael O'Donnell II told The Wichita Eagle that he "lives where he says he lives," which is a home owned by Grace Baptist Church in Wichita, Kan. — a home that should be exclusively used by an acting minister who regularly conducts religious services. O'Donnell's father is the senior pastor of the church and lives in a neighboring city. It does not appear that the parsonage has been lived in by a practicing pastor in some time.

Sedgwick County records show that the church-owned home has been exempt from property taxes since 1996. The Wichita Eagle reported that O'Donnell has been a registered voter at his residence since 2007 and uses it as "his official address on campaign filings and for his position as a Wichita City Council member."

A local complainant tipped FFRF off to what appears to be a misuse of a charitable tax exemption. FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott wrote an Aug. 21 letter to Sedgwick County Appraiser Mike Borchard: "We request that Grace Baptist Church or Mr. O'Donnell pay the appropriate amount of current taxes, back taxes and penalties owned."

Elliott added that "taxpayers should not have to pay more taxes because a church and its leaders have falsely claimed an exemption."

FFRF is currently in federal court challenging preferential income tax benefits for "ministers of the gospel," commonly known as "the parsonage exemption," created by an act of Congress in 1954. Ministers, who are paid in tax-free dollars, may exclude from their taxable income "housing allowances" furnished as part of compensation. 

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

FFRF has received a 4 star rating from Charity Navigator

 

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FFRF is a member of Atheist Alliance International.