Ministers’ housing allowance court case appealed by government lawyerscomment (0)
February 13, 2014
Federal Judge Barbara Crabb’s decision that declared the ministers’ housing allowance unconstitutional has been appealed by government lawyers, who argue the allowance should be upheld. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago will hear the appeal.
The November 2013 decision by Crabb was “stayed” pending appeal, meaning it had no immediate impact on ministers. The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) brought the court challenge to ministers’ housing allowance.
The appeal is welcome news for ministers and provides an opportunity for the federal appeals court to uphold the long-standing statute that allows churches to provide a tax-free housing allowance to ministers. A 2010 ruling by Crabb, which ruled the National Day of Prayer violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment, was overturned by the Seventh Circuit in 2011.
GuideStone Financial Resources, as part of a long-standing coalition of ministerial benefit boards, will seek to file a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the government’s position that the ministers’ housing allowance is constitutional.
“Pastors and ministers are facing challenges here in the United States,” said Tim Head, GuideStone executive officer for denominational and public relations services.
“While we welcome news of the government’s appeal, we recognize this case is far from settled and we remain engaged to advocate for the housing allowance benefit.”
GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins said, “We live in a world that is not as receptive to the ministry of the church or of ministers as the world we grew up in.”
“Rather than discouraging us, that fact serves to encourage our employees to continue to seek out opportunities to advocate on behalf of our participants across the country.”
Ministers should consult www.GuideStone.org/taxguide and www.GuideStone.org/housingallowance to ensure they are properly documenting housing allowance and reporting it on their income tax returns.