ACRU: Leave Clergy Housing Allowance Alone
Freedom from Religion Foundation is “trying to use the federal courts to destroy religious freedom and independence from government control,” said American Civil Rights Union Chairman Susan A. Carleson.
Washington, D.C. (April 14, 2014) —- An Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rule allowing clergy to have a tax-exempt housing allowance is a reasonable accommodation of religion, not an unconstitutional establishment of religion, the ACRU argued in a federal court brief filed on April 9.
The brief, filed by ACRU Senior Legal Analyst Kenneth A. Klukowski on behalf of the Liberty Institute, asks the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn a ruling by Senior U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb of the Western District of Wisconsin.
On Nov. 21, 2013, Crabb ruled that the clergy housing allowance violated the Constitution’s Establishment clause. Crabb, a Jimmy Carter appointee, also ruled in April 2010 against Congress’ recognition of the National Day of Prayer. She was overruled a year later by the 7th Circuit.
In an amicus brief filed at the 7th Circuit in Freedom from Religion Foundation v. Lew, the Liberty Institute brief states that, “The United States Supreme Court has long recognized that the First Amendment requires accommodation, not mere separation or toleration in the state’s attitude toward religion.” The brief notes that the housing allowance is “an elegant, effective, and permissible accommodation” that ensures “that all ministers are treated equally with respect to whether their housing is taxable.”
The current IRS code does not discriminate in favor of clergy living on church property, as some do, or live elsewhere. One benefit is that if a married minister dies, the church will not have to evict his wife and children from the parsonage, the brief notes.
Furthermore, the brief states, the current tax provision keeps the government from wading into the thicket of church doctrine or church internal affairs, and the IRS code grants housing tax breaks to other groups, including people in low-income housing, first-time home buyers, military veterans, and members of the Peace Corps.
“This case is yet another example of a virulently anti-religious group trying to use the federal courts to destroy religious freedom and independence from government control,” said ACRU Chairman Susan A. Carleson. “We’re proud to join the Liberty Institute in this important case.”