Advancing Religious Liberty
11/15/11 at 05:23 PM 0 Comments

Top Legal Issues that Concern Churches – Issue #9: Housing Allowance

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Author: ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot

The long-standing tax provision that permits churches to provide pastors with a non-taxable housing allowance was recently challenged in the case Freedom from Religion Foundation v. Geitner in a California federal court. The radical group that filed the lawsuit voluntarily dismissed it after the Supreme Court handed down its decision in ACSTO v. Winn – an ADF case that severely restricts the ability of anti-religious organizations to challenge government programs that acknowledge the autonomy of religious organizations and the benefits they provide our communities.

But the atheist organization filed another lawsuit challenging the housing allowance in the federal court in Wisconsin on September 17, 2011. We at the ADF Church Project are monitoring that case closely and will move to intervene if the Department of Justice does not vigorously defend this important acknowledgment of the value of churches and pastors. Critics of the housing allowance ignore the unique benefits that churches provide communities. For instance, a Baylor University study found that kids attending church in low-income neighborhoods have a better chance of staying in school and succeeding academically. Another study concludes, “Churches and religious groups offer a vast array of services to their local communities…that sometimes are not being provided elsewhere, such as [a]fter-school programs, refugee resettlement, homeless shelters, [and] food banks….”

ADF has church clients that spend all their money on programs and do not even pay their pastors a salary. The only way the pastor of these small congregations can afford to minister at the church is by taking advantage the housing allowance. Striking it down would not only be a blow to these pastors, but to our communities at large because it will reduce the ability of churches to continue to help the poor and disadvantaged in ways no one else is doing.

Churches can continue to provide pastors with non-taxable housing allowances, but they should watch for updates on this case that attempts to limit the effectiveness of churches in our country.

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This post originally appeared here.

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