Eliminating tax-free housing benefit for pastors would hurt small churches

Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Charlie Butts (OneNewsNow.com)

Pastors need not be concerned in the short run about a decision declaring their housing allowance unconstitutional – that's the advice from the founder of Liberty Counsel.

The decision was handed down Monday by a federal judge in Madison, Wisconsin, who wrote that the exemption "provides a benefit to religious persons and no one else, even though doing so is not necessary to alleviate a special burden on religious exercise." The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed the suit, arguing that the law unconstitutionally establishes religion.

Staver, Mat (Liberty Counsel)Liberty Counsel founder Mat Staver is familiar with the judge in the case: Federal Judge Barbara Crabb.

"This particular judge in the past has been known to be someone who sides with groups like the Freedom From Religion Foundation on these Establishment Clause cases," he tells OneNewsNow. "So it's not surprising that the judge came to this particular decision."

In 2010, Crabb ruled the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional, but that was overturned on appeal.

Staver, who says the exemption doesn't establish a religion, as FFRF argues, adds that the housing allowance is beneficial – particularly to small congregations.

"Many of these churches are small and they don't have the funds to pay clergy," the attorney points out. "And so consequently, one of the ways that they're able to provide housing and benefits and to actually have a minister is to have this housing allowance – and if this housing exemption is taken away, it's going to affect a lot of small congregations across the country."

Staver says there have been conversations about establishing a cap – for example, a church paying a pastor $100,000 a year or more disqualified from the deduction. He says that could set the groundwork for a discussion, but the ruling by Judge Crabb seeks to have them banned for everyone.

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