As a minister, I benefit from the clergy housing allowance. A portion of my pay is designated as a housing allowance from the church. (I inform my church how much I expect to spend on housing related expenses each year.) This money is not taxed, so this is obviously a financial benefit to ministers.
This housing allowance has faced some significant legal challenges the last few years, which several lawsuits claiming that the housing allowance violates the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
But the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the housing allowance doesn’t violate the constitution.
Christianity Today reports on this:
Churches can stop worrying that their pastors’ best benefit will be taken away by an atheist lawsuit—for now.
Today, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court’s high-profile decision that the longstanding clergy housing allowance was unconstitutional. The 60-year-old tax break excludes the rental value of a pastor’s home from their taxable income.
The article also references an amicus brief from The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which gives three purposes for the housing allowance.
The allowance serves three purposes, according to The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which filed an amicus brief in the case. “It ensures that ministers are treated the same as similar nonreligious employees; it reduces tax discrimination among ministers from wealthy and poor denominations; and it keeps the government from making intrusive judgments about how ministers use their homes. Without the allowance, many minority or poor faith groups would have difficulty providing for their ministers.”
I personally would hate to see the housing allowance taken away. I think it would hamper many churches from being able to pay their ministers an adequate salary. I understand why atheists might dislike the housing allowance, but my understanding is that the housing allowance is available to clergy from any denomination or religion.
I would have no issues with the housing allowance being extended to some job position among atheist organizations that corresponds to clergy. I don’t know what that position would be. And I don’t know how the government would oversee that. But, if they could think of a way, I would not object to it.
You can read Christianity Today’s report here: ”Good News for Pastors: Court Overturns Atheist Victory on Housing Allowance”.
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