The Senate voted 99-1 Wednesday against forcing churches to return tithing paid by members who later file for bankruptcy.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who co-sponsored the bill with Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said it "responds to the unacceptable assault on religious freedom that occurs when a judge tells an individual that he is not permitted to tithe to his church when his faith requires it."He said such orders seriously threaten "the ability of religious institutions not only to function, but to survive."
Hatch said that's because "churches and charitable institutions are placed in the precarious and uncertain position of not knowing if and when a court will order them to repay money that may already have been spent.
"In addition, churches and charitable organizations face enormous and sometimes devastating legal costs in order to respond to the rulings of bankruptcy courts," he said.
The bill would not force churches to refund tithing as long as they have qualified as a charity under Internal Revenue Service rules. It allows them to keep up to 15 percent of the debtor's gross income in the year the payment was made.
"This bill amends the bankruptcy code to protect the religious liberty of the many Americans who tithe," Hatch said.
The bill now goes to the House for consideration.