Last month, 8899 pastors joined an amicus (friend of the court) brief in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, standing up to protect the ministerial housing allowance which was declared unconstitutional by a federal judge in October 2017. Mauck & Baker attorney Noel W. Sterett helped write the amicus brief together with Alliance Defending Freedom. In the suit, Gaylor v. Mnuchin, Freedom from Religion Foundation founders Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker, filed their taxes with a housing allowance and were denied the claim by the IRS because they specified that they were not “ministers of the gospel” as the tax law requires. The FFRF challenged the law and is trying to have it removed from the tax code, saying it discriminates against secular employees by giving religious employees better treatment.
This could have a large impact on the wallets of ministers of the gospel. That’s why the Alliance Defending Freedom rallied pastors to sign the amicus brief. The pastoral housing benefit saves $800 million a year in taxes for those who receive it. In February 2018, The Becket Fund filed an appeal in the Seventh Circuit challenging U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Crabb’s striking down of the minister’s housing allowance in October as unconstitutional, saying it violates the Establishment Clause. It is our hope that the ruling is overturned.
Judge Crabb wrote in her opinion that she did not mean to imply that ministers don’t deserve the exemption or that they don’t need it, but that other nonreligious employees might be equally deserving of it. Judge Crabb wrote, “The important point is that many equally deserving secular employees (as well as other kinds of religious employees) could benefit from the exemption as well, but they must satisfy much more demanding requirements despite the lack of justification for the difference in treatment.”
Since 1954, a tax rule has allowed a “minister of the gospel” to be exempt from income tax on compensation that is part of a housing allowance. The term “minister of the gospel” has been interpreted broadly to cover a whole range of religions and not restricted to Christian ministers.