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Supreme Court of the United States

Pastors, Stand up for the Ministerial Housing Allowance

By Christiana Holcomb posted on:
April 17, 2018

The Ministerial Housing Allowance is under legal attack. A federal court in Wisconsin struck down this tax exemption as unconstitutional, and the case is now on appeal at the Seventh Circuit.

Pastors, you have the unique opportunity to make your voice heard on this issue by signing onto Alliance Defending Freedom’s friend-of-the-court brief.

For decades now, pastors across the country have benefitted from the ministerial housing allowance.  This allowance permits “ministers of the Gospel” to exclude from their gross taxable income a rental allowance paid to them as part of their compensation package.

But that tax exemption is now under threat. An activist atheist group, Freedom From Religion Foundation, filed a lawsuit claiming that the minister’s housing allowance violates the Establishment Clause. They filed a similar case a couple years ago, but ultimately lost on procedural grounds. This time around, it’s the real deal. We expect the federal appeals court to consider head-on the constitutionality of the ministerial housing allowance exemption.

The exemption is certainly constitutional. It does not threaten to “establish” religion or impermissibly favor religion in violation of the Establishment Clause. It accommodates religion. And it keeps the government from excessively entangling itself with the affairs of church. Alliance Defending Freedom will make these arguments in its brief.

But pastors, it is also important that the court hears your voice. You and your church will feel the brunt of this decision if the ministerial housing allowance is struck down.

Of the estimated 375,000 churches in America, as many as half are congregations of less than 80 members. For many small or poorer churches, this tax exemption makes the difference between existing and extinction. Many churches cannot afford to pay their pastor a living wage, so the pastor relies heavily on the housing exclusion to reduce his family’s tax burden and make ends meet. Without the exemption, some churches would be forced to close and their pastors leave the ministry.

Take one pastor in central California, for example. He was called to pastor a small church of 40 members in a financially depressed area with a high unemployment rate. The only form of compensation the church could offer was a housing allowance. And he graciously agreed to serve this small, needy population.

This spring, you have the opportunity to communicate to the court the importance of this tax benefit to carrying out Gospel ministry. Pastors and ministry leaders, it is important that the Seventh Circuit hear from thousands of pastors across the country, expressing how important this tax benefit is to their mission. And it all starts with lending your voice.

Alliance Defending Freedom is filing a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of America’s pastors. As part of our Church Alliance mission, we equip, empower, and advocate for churches across the nation. Our mission is to help keep the doors open for the spread of the Gospel, and one of the ways we do that is by strategically filing friend-of-the-court briefs in key cases that shape the legal landscape.

To advocate effectively on your behalf, we are looking for thousands of churches across the country to sign onto our brief. We want the Seventh Circuit to know that its decision in this case will impact not only churches in its jurisdiction, but ultimately pastors and churches across the nation.

Join us, by signing onto the brief before April 23.



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Christiana Holcomb

Christiana Holcomb

Legal Counsel

Christiana Holcomb serves as legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, where she is a key member of the Center for Christian Ministries.

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