By Aaron Earls
Pastors can rest a little easier in their homes today knowing they or their churches won’t have to pay any additional taxes on their residences—for now.
After the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit unanimously affirmed the constitutionality of the pastors’ housing allowance in March, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) decided against appealing the decision to the Supreme Court.
On their website, Becket, a religious liberty law firm that had been defending the allowance in court, said if FFRF had won, churches and other religious organizations would face nearly $1 billion in new taxes.
Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, celebrated the end of the current legal battle and the protection of the tax exemption that has been in place for over 60 years.
“The tax code has long exempted housing allowances for ministers under the same principle that it exempts housing for soldiers, diplomats, peace corps workers, prison wardens, non-profit presidents, oil executives, school superintendents, teachers, nurses, fishermen, and many more,” said Goodrich.
“The court rightly recognized that providing this kind of equal treatment to churches is perfectly constitutional, and churches should be allowed to serve the neediest members of their communities without the tax man breathing down their neck.”
According to Goodrich, the court found that without the pastors’ housing allowance, the IRS would be forced into “excessive entanglement” between church and state, as the government “would need to interrogate ministers on the specifics of their worship activities [and] determine which activities constitute ‘worship.’”
Becket represented several religious leaders who intervened in the case, including Chris Butler, pastor of Chicago Embassy Church.
The church is not able to pay Butler a full salary but offers him a housing allowance so he can live near the church and the community they serve.
“This is a victory for all houses of worship that serve needy communities across the country,” Butler said.
“I am grateful that my church can still be a home for South Side Chicago’s at-risk youth, single mothers, unemployed, homeless, addicted, victims of gang violence and others on the streets.”
FFRF says they remain as committed as ever to their 2016 lawsuit against the IRS over the clergy housing allowance but felt hesitant moving forward at this moment.
“We’re not waving the white flag,” FFRF co-president Annie Gaylor told The Washington Times. “But we’re letting the clock run out.”
In an statement to the Free Beacon, Gaylor, the namesake of the housing allowance case, Gaylor v. Mnuchin, said, “We have full confidence in the legal merits of our challenge of the discriminatory pastoral housing allowance privileges. We did not, however, have confidence in the current Supreme Court.”
In a release on their website, however, they say they’re ending the challenge now to make it possible for “another challenge to be taken in the future, and we hope to be part of that.”
AARON EARLS (@WardrobeDoor) is online editor for Facts & Trends.