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(RNS) — A federal appeals court has ruled that the clergy housing allowance authorized by the Internal Revenue Service is constitutional.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation argued successfully in a Wisconsin district court that the long-standing exemption for religious housing in the IRS tax code violated the First Amendment’s establishment clause. But a three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower court decision on Friday (March 15).
FFRF - Allowance - Ministers - Churches - Benefit
The FFRF argued that the allowance gives ministers and churches a financial benefit that is not available to secular nonprofit groups. But the court determined in a unanimous ruling that it did not overly entangle church and state.
“Any financial interaction between religion and government — like taxing a church, or exempting it from tax — entails some degree of entanglement,” wrote Judge Michael Brennan. “But only excessive entanglement violates the Establishment Clause.”
Allowance - Exercise - Clause - First - Amendment
He noted that the allowance also is not forbidden by the free exercise clause of the First Amendment.
Under current IRS regulations, clergy do not have to pay taxes on housing that is supplied by their congregation in a parsonage or on the portion of their salary that they use for housing expenses.
FFRF - Clergy - Housing - Allowance - Renders
FFRF claimed that the clergy housing allowance “renders unto God that which is Caesar’s,” Brennan said at the conclusion of the decision. “But this tax provision falls into the play between the joints of the Free Exercise Clause and the Establishment Clause: neither commanded by the former, nor proscribed by the latter.”
Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the association of atheists and agnostics, expressed her disappointment in the decision.
Housing - Allowance - Handout - Churches - Clergy
“The housing allowance is so clearly a handout to churches and clergy, and it so clearly shows preferential treatment and discriminating in favor of ministers,” she said.
She told Religion News Service that FFRF is analyzing the ruling and has not made...
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