Religious Freedom

How Your Church Pays Its Pastors May Change Because of This Case

To those at the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), more than 63 years of providing ministers of the gospel with tax-exempt housing is 63 years too many.

Currently, the law gives churches the ability to designate a portion of ministers’ salary for housing. That portion of their salary, which has strings attached for how it is spent, can be excluded from gross income when it comes to filing taxes.

FFRF cites the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…”) as the basis for its argument against the ministerial housing allowance. But citizens across the country may wonder what religion might be established by continuing to keep the law on the books. 

Here’s the truth: Chances are, even in the next 63 years, we still won’t have an established religion as a result of this law because it actually benefits many different religions. This isn’t a law that singles out Christians, Muslims, Jews, or Sikhs for special treatment. In fact, all of those religions have ministers who benefit from this tax exemption because the IRS broadly defines “minister” to include all religious leaders.

Even though this law does not carve out special privileges for one religion, opponents of the law are still upset that houses of worship are experiencing any benefit whatsoever.

But as a 2016 study showed, the benefits that religious congregations receive does not even come close to the positive economic impact that they have on their communities. Changed lives aside, churches are known in many academic spheres to be “economic catalysts,” meaning they benefit towns and cities by multiplying the effect of every dollar that the congregation spends. The 2016 study authored by Brian and Melissa Grim estimated that religious organizations offer over $300 billion in economic value to our country each year.

Still, the hesitancy to allow churches to participate in any public benefit seems to be a recurring theme.

In fact, Alliance Defending Freedom had to go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court last year to protect a church’s right to participate in a government benefit program that was open to all nonprofits.

Thankfully, the 7-2 Supreme Court victory in that case paved the way for policy changes that make it easier for churches to receive federal disaster relief funds. And ADF will continue to advocate for the government to treat religion as a worthy player in the public square.  

That’s why ADF will file an amicus brief in support of the minister’s housing allowance at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

But we need your help! Ministers can have a voice in the matter and show their support for the housing allowance by adding their signature to the legal argument.

Since this brief may only be signed by ministers, and likely benefits your pastor (I checked, and it benefits mine), please send this article along to the ministers you know. The deadline for signing onto the brief is April 23 – so for their sakes, don’t delay!

Learn More

John Harding

Communications Specialist

John is a Grove City College graduate and serves as a communications specialist at Alliance Defending Freedom.

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