Pastors, it’s time to make your voices heard.
In 2017, a federal judge ruled against the ministerial housing allowance, which allows ministers to exclude the allowance they receive for housing from their gross income. Striking down this exemption could affect hundreds of thousands of pastors and other religious leaders across the United States.
Thankfully, this ruling will not be the last word, as it has been appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.
This challenge was originally brought by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which claims that this exemption violates the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution by establishing a national religion.
But this is simply not true. This exemption has been a part of the tax code for more than 50 years. It applies to all religious leaders, and so does not provide a special exemption for any one religion. The truth is that we are no closer to an established national religion than we were 50 years ago.
Alliance Defending Freedom will be submitting a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the ministerial housing allowance, and we are asking pastors across the country to sign their name on the brief so the court understands exactly what is at stake. After all, the pastors and the churches in this country are the ones who stand to lose the most if the Freedom From Religion Foundation prevails.
Here are three reasons pastors should consider signing onto the brief:
1. The ministerial housing allowance actually provides more separation between religion and the government, not less.
As the ADF brief notes: “When it comes to taxation, some degree of entanglement is inevitable.” By allowing the housing allowance, the government is distancing itself from religion. And “when the government is faced with taxing or exempting religion, providing an exemption often is the least-entangling and most neutral choice.”
2. The ministerial housing allowance allows churches to use their resources to further their mission without government interference.
“The exemption… makes it possible for houses of worship to hire the staff needed to serve their congregations and communities and fulfill their religious mission.” Striking down the ministerial housing allowance would force many churches to divert funds from other areas of the ministry in order to offset the financial burden of no longer receiving this exemption.
3. The ministerial housing allowance helps pastors in rural areas answer the call to ministry.
“Without the exemption, many ministers would face tremendous financial pressure to forego their religious calling and pursue a full-time secular job to earn higher pay.” This is especially true of “ministers of smaller, less-established religious groups and denominations,” as their congregations cannot shoulder the burden of increasing their pastor’s compensation.
Imagine if you had escaped government oppression in search of freedom and safety for your family in a new country—only to be greeted yet again with the government treading on Constitutional rights.
As pandemic restrictions have begun to ease over the last few months, churches and religious organizations have started to ask: If this happens again, how can we ensure that religious freedom is protected?