A three-year project to monitor legal actions affecting the tax exemption of organized religion has been initiated by the National Conference of Chirstians and Jews (NCCJ).
Funded by a $30,000 grant from the Lilly Endowment, the Project on Church, State and Taxation also will report on the growing public debate over such tax exemptions.
It will publish a regular newsletter, issue occasional special reports, set up a resource center and encourage a network of contacts among persons concerned about religion and taxation.
Several well-known figues in church-state relations are involved in the research project. The two chief consultants, who are serving as non-staff codirectors, are the Rev. Dean K. Kelly of the National Council of Churches and the Rev. Charles M. Whelan of the Fordham University Law School.
Members of advisory committee include the Rev. Robert F. Dirnan, the Democratic Congressman from Massachusetts; the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, the Lutheran theologian, and Stanley Weithorn, a New York attorney noted for work on religious tax exemption.
The project was organized and is being coordinated for the NCCJ by Elliott Wright, an author and freelance journalist.
"Our project is not competing with any group or publication already studying religion and taxation," Wright said. "Rather we hope to bring together the significant work being done by others to supplement this with original research. One reason for this project is the absence of any national clearinghouse for information on religion and taxation."
The project's first special report, according to Wright, will deal with "mail order ministers" and taxation. "However our research," he said, "will not be confined to the more exotic cases of disputes over exemption. Many well-established churches, their organizations and parishes, across the country are engaged today in disagreements or litigations with taxing agencies."